Editorial: Take opportunity to legalize marijuana


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On Aug. 29, the U.S. Justice Department announced that federal prosecutors would not target state laws allowing for the use of marijuana for personal or medical reasons, leaving cannabis activists across the nation feeling optimistic about the plant’s legal future.

And with good reason. Recent polls have found more and more Americans support the use of marijuana for medical as well as personal use. An October 2011 Gallup Poll found 50 percent of Americans favored legalization of marijuana, with 46 percent opposed, the first time more answered in favor than opposed in the history of the question, first asked in 1969. Broken down by age, 62 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds favor legalization.

Although medical marijuana is legal in 20 states, with pending legislation in four more, weed still remains illegal in the majority of the United States, a relic of a time when Reefer Madness captured the imagination of the public.

Despite the illegality of pot, 48 percent of adults say they have tried marijuana, according to an April Pew Research poll, the highest percentage ever. And more and more say they are regular users of cannabis as well.

However, this reality is not reflected in our sentencing guidelines. In Iowa, the possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

To put that in perspective, serious misdemeanors such as assaults that are hate crimes are punishable by up to one year in prison and fines between $315 and $1,875.

Laws prohibiting marijuana needlessly clutter our prisons, disproportionately affecting minorities and ruining lives as a punitive measure for a crime that hurts no one.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes the time has come for state governments such as Iowa to stop the prohibition of marijuana and start allowing it for personal and medical use.

Though change is unlikely to happen on a federal level, where the DEA has doubled down on its classification of marijuana as a “Schedule 1” drug, putting cannabis on the same level as heroin and other drugs with a “high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use,” Colorado and Washington have both legalized the personal use of marijuana, bringing dividends not just for stoners but for state governments.

In Colorado, the sale of medical marijuana in 2012 was a boon for government revenue, bringing in nearly $6 million in sales tax from dispensaries alone. Once adults (21 and older) in Colorado are allowed to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana from licensed dispensaries for personal use, one can only imagine the amount of revenue the law will bring in.

But the use of marijuana isn’t all carefree. Driving a vehicle under the influence of pot can be dangerous, and the jury is still out on what health risks, if any, marijuana users face down the road in life. Current laws would need to be adapted to clarify that an OWI is still an OWI if the driver is high on “legal” marijuana.

But considering the fact that marijuana is the third most commonly used recreational drug in America behind alcohol and tobacco, these are small hurdles toward an inevitable future.

The consensus of Americans is clear: Marijuana is not a hard drug. It’s time to start treating it that way.

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