Utah has many reasons to legalize marijuana

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Aside from worries that too many Puritan garments will get ruffled, Utah has no good reason not to decriminalize and/or legalize cannabis. The arguments for cannabis legalization have been repeated often enough to become cliché, but until the social evil of the War on Drugs is finally ended, they cannot be repeated enough.


Utah is the original breeding ground of bad cannabis legislation. Along with Harry Anslinger’s 1930s anti-narcotics crusade — fueled with yellow journalism, racism, bad economics and overall stupidity — Utah legislators also played a role in early United States cannabis prohibition. As explained by USC law professor Charles Whitebread in a 1995 speech given to the California Judges Association, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints returning from the not-so-successful exportation of polygamy to Mexico gave the drug the stateside exposure it needed to earn prohibition: “The Mormon Church has always been opposed to the use of euphoriants of any kind … in August of 1915 the Church, meeting again in synod in Salt Lake City decreed the use of marijuana contrary to the Mormon religion and then — and this is how things were in Utah in those days — in October of 1915, the state legislature met and enacted every religious prohibition as a criminal law and we had the first criminal law in this country’s history against the use of marijuana.”

Cannabis prohibition in United States history is fraught with unethical textile industry power plays, racism, poor science and attempts at political marginalization of anti-war movements. Since it has become illegal, criminal charges for cannabis possession have been an enormous burden on our legal system. According to FBI statistics, 42.4 percent of all the drug arrests in the U.S. in 2012 were for cannabis possession. Drug-related arrests accounted for 12.7 percent of all arrests, meaning that cannabis possession-related arrests accounted for 5.38 percent of all arrests, a statistically significant percentage.

Since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, cannabis has been listed as a Schedule I substance, ostensibly having “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug … under medical supervision.” Its political scapegoat status can be understood simply by comparing this bunk classification with the findings from double-blind scientific studies published in reputable journals that show that cannabis-derived medicines are effective in treating glaucoma, cannabis use is inversely correlated with bladder cancer risk and anticonvulsant properties of the drug show promise for treating epilepsy.

These are just some of the scientifically established medicinal benefits of the drug. Last week the U.S. Surgeon General spoke on national television, stating that “marijuana can be helpful” for treating certain medical conditions and symptoms. One can’t help but notice the political dissonance in national drug policy.

Cannabis is certainly not a dangerous drug. It is less addictive than alcohol, a federal study has shown that THC-positive drivers are not more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes and it is virtually impossible to overdose on. A study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that daily cannabis use is not associated with brain morphometric measures in adults or adolescents. Cannabis is also one of the most-experimented-with drugs: according to 2008 numbers in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey, 41 percent of the U.S. population had smoked cannabis at least once.

Utah interestingly started down the path of cannabis decriminalization in July of last year, when legislation was passed making cannabis oil extract available for those suffering from epileptic seizures. Under this legislation, patients need a neurologist’s prescription and a Utah Department of Health waiver to qualify. Distribution of the medicine via state liquor stores has been proposed as well. In Utah, maximum penalties for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis or paraphernalia is still at least $1,000 in fines and six months in jail, but the epilepsy treatment law is a step in the right direction, and indicates where the impetus for change in Utah might come from — its neighbors. The cannabis oil law seems to have been passed primarily to allow for importation of the epilepsy medicine from Colorado.

Utah is now an anomaly among western states that have loosened up cannabis regulations. Nevada and California have medical and decriminalization laws, Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana have medical laws, and Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have full cannabis legalization. Utah should take note of these states’ related recent successes in crime reduction and other areas of social policy.

In the interests of preventing small-time users from becoming for-profit prison fodder, countering tourism lost to Colorado, generating tax income, saving money on law enforcement, disconnecting soft and hard drug markets, disincentivizing organized crime, allowing patients access to medicine, driving scientific medicinal research and allowing for freedom of consciousness, Utah should move to decriminalize and/or legalize cannabis.

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