Karsten Erzinger: The marijuana debate needs nuance

In the push for marijuana decriminalization, there is one thing legalization advocates do consistently: overstate the benefits and understate the downsides. While this is to be expected, what’s disconcerting is the lack of skepticism pundits and the media have towards arguments in favor of legalization. The public would benefit from more skepticism, particularly given the assumptions legalization advocates rely on in their arguments.

One thing commonly overlooked in this debate is the law of unintended consequences. Marijuana legalization, the argument goes, would benefit the government due to the tax revenue that would result. In the next breath, legalization proponents will claim that the black market will disappear the moment the drug is decriminalized.

The problem is that legalization and taxes won’t eradicate the black market; they certainly haven’t with cigarettes, where the black market persists. This will be especially true of marijuana, a plant easily grown and distributed. It’s doubtful that all mom and pop growers will allow the government to take a share of their profits while at the same time subjecting themselves to the regulations and scrutiny that would accompany legalization. Legalization might provide added revenue to the government, but it won’t be as much as claimed and it certainly won’t eradicate the black market at the same time.

The next argument commonly used in favor of legalization is that it will keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. When I think back on my teenage years (which were thankfully not too long ago) the opposite was the case. It was easier to get alcohol than it was marijuana, as you needed to know a shady character to supply you (although both weren’t that difficult to get a hold of). Legalization will simply mean that kids will be able to get their booze and weed at a one-stop shop from an older sibling or friend, rather than having to track down someone of ill-repute willing to supply them. This is something likely to become more common with time following legalization, as the stigmatization of marijuana fades.

There are many problems with the status quo and I am unsure of how they are best addressed. That said, legalization won’t solve the problems that exist with our current system and will add a new set of issues into the mix. While arguments go back and forth, one thing remains certain; more skepticism is needed in this debate.

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