Though one in eight U.S. adults say they smoke marijuana and the support for legal marijuana is up to 60 percent, there are still popular myths that paint marijuana as the big bad wolf. If you're one of the countless people who's managed to live a well-rounded, fulfilling life and still smoke weed, here are the four most common arguments against making your hobby legal, and why they're total BS:
1. It's a gateway drug
The gateway theory argues that because heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine users often used marijuana before graduating to harder drugs, it must be a ‘gateway’ to harder drug use. The theory implies that there is a causal mechanism that biologically sensitizes drug users, making them more willing to try—and more desirous of—harder drugs.
But looking into how many heroin, cocaine, or meth users have used marijuana in the past is not the most comprehensive or logical way to test the “gateway drug” theory, especially if “harder” drug users are more likely to have been exposed to drug use at a young age or might have traits that constitute an “addictive personality.”
A more logical approach to conclude whether marijuana is a gateway drug is to study the evolution of a marijuana consumer's drug use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”
2. It's as addictive as heroin, and will inspire new weed smokers instead of catering to existing ones
Yes, the U.S. DEA—the agency for domestic enforcement of federal drug laws—still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
But ask an average American on the street what they think, and they’ll absolutely call it out as bullshit. Marijuana is scheduled as such due to archaic and idiotic reasons.
It all started in 1970, when Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act, signed by President Richard Nixon. The act temporarily listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, subject to review because, specialist Kris Hermes told IBTimes, “[Nixon] didn't really know where to place marijuana on the list of schedules.” National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse issued a series of reports concluding that marijuana was “less a serious threat to public health than a sensitive social issue and recommended changes to federal law that would permit citizens to possess a small amount of it at a time, while still maintaining that the drug should not be legalized.” Although the world has a better, more thorough understanding of marijuana since 1970, attempts to reclassify marijuana have been unsuccessful.
The truth is, you can get addicted to marijuana, but it’s highly unlikely—and weed is definitely not as addictive as heroin (despite what the DEA says). According to the Washington Post:
People who try marijuana are significantly less likely to become dependent on it than users of just about any other drug, including tobacco, heroin, cocaine, alcohol or stimulants: "The life-time risk of developing dependence among those who have ever used cannabis was estimated at 9% in the United States in the early 1990s as against 32% for nicotine, 23% for heroin, 17% for cocaine, 15% for alcohol and 11% for stimulants." More than nine-in-ten people who try marijuana don't get addicted to it.
And as for the argument that legalizing weed would create new users rather than cater to existing ones, Washington Post recently reported that following Colorado’s weed legalization, teen marijuana use actually dropped significantly. If the DEA were to legalize and reclassify marijuana, then it could also apply a federal age restriction—which according to multiple studies on tobacco age restrictions—would recreate Colorado’s success on a national scale and cause decreases in underage prevalence.
3. It'll screw up the economy
Political action committee Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM) argues that in 2005, “for every $1 collected in taxes on alcohol and tobacco, almost $14 was spent to repair the vast social damages caused by their use.” But there aren’t enough comprehensive, longitudinal studies on marijuana’s “social damages” to compare—and no available metric when it comes to national economy, since weed legalization is a state, not federal, matter.
(Though Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron did estimate that legalizing marijuana could save the U.S. government $13.7 billion by “eliminating prohibition enforcement costs and adding billions in tax revenue.”)
But in states with legal medical and recreational marijuana use, there are case studies of weed’s effect on local economies. According to an analysis from the Marijuana Policy Group, legal weed created more than 18,000 full-time jobs in Colorado, and added about $2.4 billion to the state’s economy last year. “Between the dollars that customers spend and the money businesspeople invest in their crops and shops, pot is generating more wealth and activity than almost anything else on a pound-for-pound basis,” ThinkProgress reports.
A business boom of that caliber would typically cause a ripple effect enough to benefit those far outside its immediate influence, with money circulating through other consumer markets. According to ThinkProgress, however, this cycle is prevented from reaching its full potential due to federal prohibition, and cannabis businesses not being able to access traditional financial services.
So while it’s unknown what impact marijuana will have on the national economy, it’s clear that federal restrictions are negatively impacting marijuana markets and hindering potential economic benefits. Initial analysis of local marijuana markets show increased jobs, tax gains, and improved state economies—imagine how much better and far-reaching the impact could be with federal support and regulation.