Marijuana Legalization Debate Creates Sharp Divide


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“The Times They Are a-Changin’” sang Bob Dylan in the title track of his 1964 album by the same name. And very few issues underscore how much they’re changing in modern day America than the movement to legalize marijuana.

Although marijuana has been regulated as a drug by every state since the mid-1930s, it was first listed as a Schedule I drug during the enacting of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Schedule I drugs are defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

In 2014, the movement to legalize marijuana on a state and federal level has gained incredible momentum, with marijuana becoming legal in Colorado and Washington for recreational use and even the New York Times publicly supporting legalization.

Here is a look at both sides of the divide, starting with the proponents of marijuana legalization.

Proponents of Marijuana Legalization

Who They Are: Many coalition groups formed to support legalizing marijuana, including the National Cannabis Industry Association; many publications, including the New York Times; and 58 percent of Americans, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.

What They’re Saying: Arguments range from bombastic rhetoric to well thought-out and defined logical arguments about why marijuana should be legalized. The gist is that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, two drugs legal and widely consumed. Marijuana also has medicinal purposes in treating serious illnesses such as Lou Gehrig’s disease and multiple sclerosis. And there is also a social justice issue at play, as African Americans and Latinos, especially young men within those subsets, are disproportionately arrested for marijuana use, as shown in this study from California.

Opponents of Marijuana Legalization

Who They Are: Many coalition groups formed to oppose legalizing marijuana, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana; the American Medical Association, from a 2013 article; and 39 percent of America, according to the same 2013 Gallup poll.

What They’re Saying: Arguments on this side of the divide can be equally bombastic but well thought-out and defined logical arguments pervade as well. The gist here is that marijuana can be psychologically addictive, can damage the development of the brains of people under the age of 18, and can lead to more road accidents when people smoke and drive. While the tide has certainly turned in the favor of legalizing marijuana in the court of public opinion, these staunch opponents of marijuana legalization still have their say, as when dueling advertisements were run in the New York Times, one for marijuana legalization and one against.

It remains to be seen if marijuana will be legalized at the federal level, removed from the list of Schedule I drugs, and promoted for recreational use nationwide by companies that are now part of the booming marijuana industry. But in the end, both sides will have their say.

The times, yes, they are a-changin.

Image via Wikimedia Commons