NORML: Marijuana is here to stay


America’s real-world experiment with regulating marijuana has been a success.

Twenty-six states now regulate the plant’s therapeutic use, and four states and Washington, D.C., authorize its use and sale to all adults.

Contrary to the fears of some, these policy changes are not associated with increased marijuana use or access by adolescents, or with adverse effects on traffic safety or in the workplace. Marijuana regulations are also associated with less opioid abuse and mortality. In jurisdictions where this retail market is taxed, sales revenue has greatly exceeded initial expectations.

The enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of color. It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco.

A majority supports this policy change. Voters have grown tired of seeing their fellow citizens arrested nearly 600,000 times annually in marijuana possession cases. According to Gallup this month, 60% of adults endorse legalizing the marijuana market for adults — the highest percentage ever recorded in polls.

But legalization does not mean replacing criminalization with a marijuana free-for-all. Rather, it means the enactment of a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults, but also restricts and discourages its use among young people. Such a regulated environment best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse.

By contrast, advocating marijuana’s continued criminalization does nothing to offset the plant’s potential risks to the individual user and to society; it only compounds them.

Despite nearly a century of criminal prohibition, marijuana is here to stay. America’s laws should reflect this reality, and they should regulate the marijuana market accordingly.

Paul Armentano is deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).