How North Carolina Would Benefit From the Legalization of Cannabis


Social Problem

Cannabis is a drug, also known as marijuana. The issue of legalizingcannabis progresses to be contentious. Countries have taken differentapproaches concerning whether to legalize cannabis or not. Countrieslike Netherlands use the approach of quasi-legalization (Van Ours,2012). Others have made cannabis legal for medical purposes alone,while in countries like Australia it is legal to grow smallquantities of cannabis for personal use (Van Ours, 2012). Mostcountries prohibit the growing, supply and use of cannabis. However,cannabis is a very popular prohibited drug. For instance, despite thedrug being illegal, research shows that in 2009 alone, close to 125to 203 million individuals worldwide used the drug (Van Ours, 2012).The figures are a clear indication that prohibition of the drug isineffective in curbing its use as a result, the issue of whether tolegalize cannabis or not progresses to gain momentum. In the US, somestates have legalized its use, while others are reluctant.Considering that people continue to use the drug despite prohibition,the paper explores how North Carolina would benefit from thelegalization of cannabis.

Benefits of Legalization

Reduce Social Costs

By prohibiting cannabis use in North Carolina, the state incurssocial costs, which can be avoided through the legalization ofcannabis.

According to Single (1989), the social costs linked withillegalizing marijuana include financial expenses by law enforcementinfringement on personal freedoms when facilitating drug enforcementthe negative effects of having a criminal record for many convictedlawbreakers and the effect of penalties on cannabis users. Thelives, professions and education of many individuals are destroyed bythe stigma associated with being arrested, or having a criminalrecord (Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &amp Drummond, 2002). Most cannabisusers are socially underprivileged because of their association withdrug use. For such individuals, criminal penalties due to possessingcannabis frequently results in additional costs, like paying fines,loss of housing or employment. An individual convicted for cannabisuse may also lose their job, which means lost source of income(Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &amp Drummond, 2002). In this case, socialcosts are experienced by cannabis users. While states may arrest,fine and penalize users with the intention of deterring them fromfuture use of marijuana, the opposite effect may also be achieved.Once an individual becomes stigmatized, loses their job or housingthey become emotionally affected. Such a person may result in moredrug abuse to deal with their emotions. As such they become repeatoffenders. Hence, as Single (1989) notes, criminal penalties orarrests have no strong deterrent impact. North Carolina could benefitfrom reduced and repeat civilian arrests by legalizing marijuana.

Already implemented cannabis control laws create a wedge amid policeand the people they protect (Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &amp Drummond,2002). In the fight against marijuana use, police often have toconduct searches in homes where they suspect people to be using thedrug. The searches result in infringement on personal freedoms whenfacilitating drug enforcement. Many people feel that police are notjustified to conduct searches in their homes. It is linked to aninfringement on personal freedoms, specifically when the searches donot result in any fruitful outcomes. For instance, police may searcha house where they suspect marijuana is being kept. Upon the search,they may not find any evidence to incriminate the suspects. Thus, thesuspects may feel that the police are infringing in their personalspace. The impact on the relationship between police and societybecomes strained. It is important that police and society have a goodrelationship. This makes it possible for civilians to report crimes.However, when civilians feel that police are likely to infringe ontheir rights, they are less likely to report crimes. Legalizingmarijuana will reduce the costs and need for North Carolina police toconduct searches in civilians’ homes, especially when thesesearches at times result in no evidence that the individual was inpossession of marijuana.

Costs are also incurred due to increasing marijuana arrests, whichare among the highest drug arrests nationally. As the figure ofarrests increases so does the amount of money allocated to drugcontrol. Researchers approximate that almost 2.1 billion dollars,approximately 3% of the country’s law enforcement budget wasallocated towards the enforcement of marijuana law in 2001 (King &ampMauer, 2006). Out of the 2.1 billion dollars, 1.7 billion was used inenacting the restriction of marijuana possession (King &amp Mauer,2006). The authors provide statistical data from 1990-2002 onmarijuana related arrests. The data is then compared to arrestspossession and trafficking of the drug. From 1990, the authorsconclude that there have been more arrests due to marijuanapossession. These arrests are then compared to the amount of moneyrequired in incarcerating and trial of cannabis users. It becomesapparent that the more the arrests, the more money allocated toenforcing marijuana laws.

In another study, the American Civil Liberties Union (2013)notes that in 2010, states used an approximated 1. 7 billion dollarsin marijuana possession arrests, while 1.3 billion dollars was spentin the adjudication of marijuana related cases. Provided that thearrests associated with marijuana progress to be on the rise, federalmoney allocated to the enforcement of marijuana law is also expectedto be on the rise. Law enforcement also spends money in theincarceration of marijuana offenders. The more people continue tospend time in prison due to marijuana offenses, the more lawenforcement will continue to need more money to cater for prisonexpenses. Allocating money towards law enforcement against the use ofmarijuana minimizes resources that could be used in enforcing lawsthat focus on more serious offences.

Law enforcement incurs a lot of expenses in the fight against druguse. Regardless of the criminalization of cannabis, it is common forpeople to use the drug in most American states (Wodak, Reinarman,Cohen &amp Drummond, 2002). This is because of the high demand forthe drug. Prohibition results in the emergence and proliferation ofblack markets to meet the high demand for cannabis hence, moreillegal sources of the drug emerge (Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &ampDrummond, 2002). Law enforcers, in turn, spend more money not justarresting cannabis users, but in investigations aimed at unearthingthe black markets. In addition, law enforcers have to spend moremoney in fighting other illegal drugs that become easily accessiblewith the proliferation of black markets. Supposing that cannabis islegalized in North Carolina, law enforcement will spend less infighting drug use.

North Carolina will benefit by Limiting the Use of Illegal Drugs

The unrestricted black markets make it possible for cannabis users tocome into direct contact with people that sell other illegal drugs.Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen and Drummond (2002), include a study in theirliterature that supports the increase use of illicit drugs in stateswhere cannabis is prohibited. The study, which was conducted onfrequent marijuana users in San Francisco and Amsterdam, noted thathalf of the respondents in San Francisco were able to purchase otherillegal drugs at the same places they purchased cannabis. Contrary,in Amsterdam only a few percent of the respondents were able to buyother drugs from their cannabis source. Important to note is thatdespite San Francisco prohibiting cannabis, while Amsterdam does not,the former has a higher rate of illegal drug use (Wodak, Reinarman,Cohen &amp Drummond, 2002). There is a connection betweenprohibiting marijuana and access to other illegal drugs. Byprohibiting marijuana, North Carolina enhances the possibility thatcivilians are also lured to buy other drugs. However, legalizingmarijuana makes it available and hence users will no longer depend onblack markets, which in turn reduce the use of other drugs.

Reduction in Crime

As already discussed, states spend a lot of money in the enforcementof marijuana laws. Legalization of marijuana means that the money isinstead invested in solving other more serious crimes (Miron &ampZwiebel, 1995). By investing too much money in marijuana arrests andincarceration, law enforcement may fail to allocate an equal amountin solving more serious crime, such as crimes involving violence ordomestic offences. Also, when people are prohibited from usingcannabis, they may resort to abuse of legal substances such asalcohol. Alcohol abuse is a major cause of both, domestic and violentcrime (Markowitz, 2000). By legalizing the use of recreationalmarijuana, North Carolina could reduce the consumption of alcohol.This in turn resonates to a decline in violent offences. In addition,the prohibition of marijuana has resulted in easier access to harddrugs, like heroin and cocaine (Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &ampDrummond, 2002). These drugs are also linked with violent crime.Legalizing marijuana reduces the time police spend in incarceratingusers and following up on court cases associated with marijuana use.Hence, North Carolina police officers will have more resources andtime to solve serious crimes in the state.

Legalization of Cannabis may Reduce Use

According to Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &amp Drummond (2002),countries justify the prohibition of cannabis by arguing that itreduces use of the drug. The authors state that prohibiting the drugdoes not necessarily imply that people will stop using the drug.Endeavors to prohibit the sale, distribution and use of marijuanathrough intensive law enactment have been counterproductive in statesthat prohibit cannabis. In 11 US states that decriminalized marijuanause in the 70s, the use of the drug has not increased as compared tostates that prohibited the drug (Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &ampDrummond, 2002). When people are restricted from using the drug, theyfeel a greater urge to use it. On the contrary, when the drug islegally available, people are less likely to feel the pressure to useit because they know they can access it at any time. Colorado is oneof the states, which has fully legalized cannabis. To date, there isno evidence to depict that use of the drug has increased sincelegalization of recreational marijuana in 2013. In fact, researchdemonstrates that the use of the drug among teenagers has been on thedecline. Hence, if legalization has reduced the use of marijuana inColorado, the same effect could be expected in North Carolina.

Medical Benefits

There are many studies linking marijuana to medical benefits. Donya(2007) states that marijuana results in pain relief to personsuffering from peripheral neuropathy. It is an intensely painfuldisease of the nerve, which affects a third of the individuals livingwith HIV. For such individuals, conventional drugs do not result inany relief. In a study conducted on individuals living with HIV andsuffering from nerve illness, those that smoked marijuana on a dailybasis, claim to have experienced a 34% pain reduction (Donya, 2007).The same study indicates that smoking marijuana minimizes pain by upto 72% in cannabis users. Important to note is that the studyparticipants indicated no side effects from using the drug (Donya,2007). Hence, the use of marijuana for such patients should belegalized to ease their pain. In addition, legalizing cannabis formedical purposes is likely to reduce suicide rates among males aged20 to 30 in American states (Hall &amp Weier, 2015). Research showsthat states, which have legalized cannabis, have lower death ratesarising from suicide as compared to states without legalization (Hall&amp Weier, 2015).

Source of State Revenue

Other drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are legal. States generate alot of income from taxing the manufacturers. It is possible to taxthe drugs because they are legal and hence freely sold in the market.On the contrary, because cannabis is illegal, it is largely sold inthe black markets. This means that all the possible tax revenue thatcould be generated from cannabis ends up in the pockets of illegalsellers. By legalizing the drug, its production, distribution and usealso become legal. Thus, it ceases to be a black market business.States will be able to follow up on the business and taxmanufacturers. Considering the widespread use of the drug, it couldacts as a great source of revenue for North Carolina.

Future Research

Research on the benefits of legalizing cannabis explains in detailhow North Carolina will save costs, drug use, and crime rates andresult in medical benefit. One of the studies discussed demonstratesthat in states where marijuana use is legal or decriminalized, theuse of the drug has not increased as compared to states thatprohibited the drug (Wodak, Reinarman, Cohen &amp Drummond, 2002).Based on this study, the conclusion is that legalizing the drug has apositive effect of reducing its use. On the contrary, prohibiting theuse of the drug has a negative effect on reducing its use. This isone of the many studies that have been conducted on the issue. Whilethe findings may be true, in such a social problem, it is importantto consider both sides of the argument. It is possible that bylegalizing cannabis in some states, its use could increase as thedrug now becomes freely available. Hence, future research shouldfocus on finding conclusive results regarding the legalization ofcannabis and its impact on its use. Researchers should conduct thestudy on all states that have legalized the drug. Once data has beencollected on the use of the drug, researchers should then compare useprior and after legalization. The outcome will be more currentfindings on the issue.

Another area of future research should be on the impact oflegalizing marijuana and reducing crime. Marijuana arrests have beenhigh and continue to be on the rise. Hence, it is argued that bylegalizing the drug, law enforcers reduce the number or arrests made.The effect is a general reduction in cannabis related arrests. Also,law enforcement will spend more money in solving other crimes.However, more research needs to be conducted on the link betweenmarijuana use and crime. It is possible that cannabis users may alsouse other drugs like alcohol. Alcohol is a major contributor ofviolent crime. Supposing that an individual uses alcohol andmarijuana and commits crime, then cannabis also becomes linked toviolent crime. This means that while legalization of the drug,reduces crime, it could as well be a contributor in violent crime. Assuch, conclusive research is needed in substantiating the types ofoffences committed by cannabis users. The objective is to ensure thatlaw enforcement does not completely focus on other crimes, andpresume that cannabis users are less likely to cause violentoffences.

Cannabis has been used for medical purposes, specifically to relievepain, by chronically ill patients. Most of the studies on the medicalpurposes of cannabis focus on the positives. However, future studyshould focus on substantiating how marijuana smoking could also leadto more health problems for sick persons. The research could be mademore general by focusing on the negative health effects of marijuanaon users. As people advocate for unrestricted marijuana use, it isalso important to consider how the medical use of marijuana may aswell result in abuse by patients. Marijuana, unlike other medicaldrugs, is not yet given in doses or prescription. A patient may beadvised to smoke one or two marijuana cigarettes to relieve pain.Studies have not been conducted to substantiate the possibility ofmaking it a prescription drug, as a measure to avoid abuse bypatients. A different area of research concerning the medicalbenefits of marijuana should focus on whether it is advisable to usethe drug in line with other prescription drugs.

Ethical Outcomes

North Carolina would without a doubt benefit from the legalizationof cannabis. From a social impact view, legalizing marijuana ensuresthat police and society have a positive relationship. It reduces thenumber of searches in civilians’ houses, which could result in aninfringement of personal space. When police conduct searches, attimes they may not find evidence to incriminate a suspect. At times,the search could be inspired by false alarm. Civilians who becomevictims of such police searches may feel victimized and develop anegative attitude towards law enforcement. Such cases can be avoidedthrough cannabis legalization, which makes it unnecessary to searchprivate property. However, it is necessary for police to conductsearches, for instance in people’s homes, when enforcing laws.Although at times the searches may be unfruitful, their significancecannot be refuted. In most cases, and when dealing with crimes likeillegal possession of weapons, such searches have made it possible toarrest criminals. Also, people that sell marijuana are also likely tosell other illegal drugs. Legalizing the drug will make it difficultfor law enforcers to arrest users and sellers of drugs like heroin orcocaine.

Legalizing marijuana could act as a source of revenue for NorthCarolina. The government has a better opportunity to trace themanufacturing and distribution of the drug, which eases the taxationprocess. The tax revenue is then invested into other importantfunctions within the state. Marijuana taxation contributes to agrowth of North Carolina’s GDP, and ensures that the money does notresult in the proliferation of the black market. In addition, themoney collected from cannabis taxation can be used in the fightagainst other harmful drugs, like heroine. However, as the governmentintends to collect revenue following the legalization of marijuana,other negative impacts cannot be ignored. Legalizing the drug couldincrease accidents involving individuals, who drive after smokingmarijuana, increase cases of violence arising from drug intoxication,and increase drug dependency, which are some of the problems that lawenforcers have to deal with due to the legalization of alcohol(Markowitz, 2005). This finding is supported by statistical data from2006-2011 in a Colorado Preliminary Report (2013). The study’spurpose was to find the number of drivers involved in fatal crashesdue to driving under the influence of cannabis in Colorado. Thefindings indicate an increased percentage from 2.9 % to 8.9%(Preliminary Report, 2013). The money collected from taxescould end up being spent in law enforcement endeavors aimed atreducing the cases of driving under influence or violence due tocannabis use. In addition, the state may end up spending the money inrehabilitation centers that assist people deal with their addiction.Hence, it is not worthy to legalize a drug that could end up creatingmore problems for both society and law enforcers.


The contentious issue of legalizing cannabis could result in anumber of benefits for North Carolina. These benefits include savingon social costs, limiting the use of illegal drugs, reduction incrime, reduce use of the drug, medical benefits and act as a sourceof revenue. In order to enact marijuana laws, law enforcement spendsa lot of money in arrests and trial of cannabis users. Legalizingcannabis has been linked with reduced access to heroin or cocaine.Since the drug is illegal, it is mainly sold in the black marketwhere the other drugs are available. Once, legalized cannabis willbecome easily available and reduce the lure to other drugs. Policeofficers tend to make more marijuana arrests across all states. Thus,arrests for other crimes may be low. Legalizing marijuana ensures lawenforcers spend time and resources solving more serious crimes.States that decriminalize marijuana experience a decline in its use,and may generate revenue by taxing manufacturers and distributors.The medical benefits include relieving pain and reducing suiciderates. However, there are ethical outcomes deriving from thelegalization of marijuana. For instance, North Carolina will be ableto generate revenue from taxing the drug. However, the moneygenerated may be used by law enforcers in dealing with problemslinked to drug abuse. Users may drive or engage in violence under theinfluence. As such law enforcers must arrest such people. A lot ofresearch also needs to be conducted to authenticate issues like theconnection between legalizing cannabis and reducing drug use or crimerates.


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