Criminal Justice

Should marijuana be legalized?

After decades of the war on drugs, followed by the gradual legalization of marijuana in different States all over the U.S., liberals and conservatives have been debating whether decriminalizing marijuana altogether at the federal level wouldn’t be the best option.

Rise of the Issue

The issue of marijuana has been a highly debated one in the past century. Initially not regulated at all, it started becoming controversial in the 1930s, which resulted in an increasing number of regulations to win the fight against marijuana over the years. The consumption of marijuana, although tightly controlled, never truly faded and instead created an array of new problems to deal with. A movement then started in the opposite direction, advocating for the loosening of rules regarding its use, and ultimately leading to today’s debate around the decriminalization of marijuana. 

Overall, the debate revolves around a few key micro-issues: the effects the drug has on people’s health, whether its legalization harms or protects its consumers, whether it reduces drug-related criminal behavior, the disadvantages of having more people under the influence of the drug, and finally, whether legalizing the substance will boost the economy or add more costs to it.

Issue Timeline


Anslinger Bans Marijuana in 29 States by 1933

The 1930s is a period predominated with the fight against marijuana, at the time considered a substance associated with loose morals and immigrants more generally, which was led by Harry Anslinger.


Nixon Passes the Controlled Substance Act

After three decades of the gradual growing use of the drug by artists, activists and hippies of the Counterculture, Nixon decided to harden the fight against marijuana by categorizing the substance as being as dangerous as hard drugs like LSD and heroin.


Reagan Tightens Measures against Marijuana

Together with his wife’s efforts to campaign against the use of drugs amongst teens with her “Just Say No” campaign, the President reinforces the “war on drugs” previously put in place by Nixon.


California Becomes the First State to Legalize Marijuana

California, by legalizing the use of the substance for medical purposes, started a domino effect all over the country, which led 29 more States to legalize marijuana by 2017.


Marijuana is Legalized for Recreational Purposes

After a first failed attempt to make adult-use of the drug legal in California in 2010, two other States managed to get it passed in 2012, Colorado and Washington.


U.S. House Attempts to Pass a Decriminalization Bill

After two decades of States deciding whether to legalize the drug or not, the issue reached the federal level, with bills being sponsored to decriminalize marijuana altogether.

Micro Issues



While proponents of the drug’s legalization believe it brings users a natural option that can serve as an alternative for prescription pills, its detractors argue that it might actually have negative effects on users in the long term.



Those against believe that making marijuana legal and therefore more accessible will increase its consumption and broaden its pool of users, while its proponents think that legalizing it will help make its consumption safer by regulating it.



Those in favor argue that taking the drug off illegal markets and including it in legal economic channels will boost the economy, while those against believe that by giving free access to the drug, the costs related to the negative effects of its consumption will inevitably rise as well.

Pro Arguments


Legalizing the drug creates new jobs.

By allowing legitimate businesses to sell marijuana legally, it will create a new industry with its need for employment, and will therefore create more jobs.


The government can collect taxes from marijuana-derived products.

Tax revenues in legal marijuana will give the government the opportunity to invest more in public services in dire need of investment.


Legalizing marijuana protects its consumers.

Legalization makes sure that the products on sale are regulated and meet high-quality standards, thereby limiting dangers related to its composition.


Legalization decreases the number of marijuana arrests.

A study on the impact of marijuana legalization on the state of Colorado showed that since legalization the number of marijuana arrests were cut by 68%, decreasing both the number of marijuana possession and marijuana sales arrests.


Marijuana legalization increases tourism.

A new kind of tourism has emerged in states where marijuana is legalized which has people from all over the world booking a trip to get what they call a “cannabis experience”.

Con Arguments


The use of marijuana might harm its consumers in the long run.

Legalizing marijuana makes the drug look like a non-dangerous substance when it is still under debate whether its consumers could suffer negative health consequences from prolonged use.


The legalization of marijuana increases drugged driving.

Marijuana’s current high level of potency means that with its legalization, more people under the influence of the substance are on the road, which ultimately increases the number of incidents of drugged driving.


Legalizing marijuana increases the need for healthcare infrastructure.

With a rise in the number of the drug’s consumers come increased risks related to its use, and thus the need for infrastructure to help cope with this higher rate of drug-related emergencies such as hospitalizations.


The prolonged use of marijuana is particularly harmful for adolescents.

Legalizing the drug normalizes its use among youth, while studies have shown them to be susceptible to long-term health problems if they consume marijuana heavily for a long period of time, with possible damages such as altered brain development and dependence.


The legalization of the drug might increase substance abuse among young adults.

While trends show a decrease in alcohol consumption among young adults, it also shows a net increase in marijuana consumption for that same group. It also shows that there is an increase in the practice of mixing drugs and alcohol, which in turn often leads young adults to experiment with other harder drugs.