Alabama is not a political trendsetter. Our state government is not interested in being at the forefront of legislative developments or trying out new and interesting policy proposals to rectify the many issues we have as a state.
However, when it comes to the issue of legal marijuana, Alabama still has the opportunity to be among the progressive, forward-thinking states at the head of the movement. Though it would no doubt be a difficult process to legalize this drug in a state as conservative as Alabama, doing so would create a happier, more compassionate and better-funded state.
Aside from its recreational purposes, marijuana has proven health benefits, helping people to cope with chronic illnesses like epilepsy and Crohn’s disease. It works to relieve pain, a much better alternative to highly addictive and dangerous opioids, and increases appetite, which can help people going through chemotherapy and its array of adverse side effects.
In addition to helping treat physical maladies, marijuana can be very effective in helping to treat mental illnesses. Of course, everybody’s mental illness is different and it may not be effective for all people, but when used as part of a doctor-approved treatment plan, it can help to relieve some of the negative side effects of clinical anxiety and depression.
Clearly, based on the multiple therapeutic effects of marijuana, any sympathetic legislature would move toward the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, Alabama should go even further and fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, as well.
One major benefit of doing so is the immense amount of tax revenue legalization could provide to the state. Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, received $506 million in taxes paid on marijuana sales between its legalization in 2014 and mid 2017. The vast majority of these taxes have been put toward education, with smaller parts of the sum going to drug prevention and treatment programs.
Imagine what Alabama’s funding-starved public education system could do with an injection of nearly half a billion dollars. Teachers could be given well-deserved raises, students could receive newer and better learning materials, facilities could be rebuilt – and the list only goes on. Additionally, Alabama could mirror Colorado in using some of the money to help fight the opioid crisis, an addiction that has hit Alabama particularly hard.
Marijuana’s legalization and decriminalization would help Alabamians in other ways, too. One of the most substantial effects would be on Alabama’s overly clogged judicial system, from arrests to prosecution to prisons. The state could save a significant amount of money and time if police officers and state prosecutors did not have to worry about the sale and possession of marijuana.
Additionally, the Alabama prison system, which as of May 2017, was operating at 173 percent capacity, could see some relief from releasing those imprisoned for marijuana charges. Though the number of people incarcerated for possession of marijuana in the state has been decreasing over recent years, any reduction in our extremely over-crowded prison system would be a welcome change. Many of those incarcerated for marijuana-related charges are people of color, meaning that a move towards legalization would be a small step in rectifying the Alabama government’s long history of racism.
Many people in Alabama frame the debate in moralistic, religious rhetoric, harkening us back to the historical temperance movement and the passage of Prohibition. Like those teetotalers, those who argue against any decriminalization say that they are protecting families and the very moral fiber of our nation.
These people are just as misguided as their historical counterparts, and they would do well to realize that there are some behaviors that the government cannot, and should not, regulate, like the adult usage of a relatively harmless drug. People in this state and around the country are going to continue smoking marijuana no matter what the laws say, and to continue to outlaw it only means hurting the sick, depriving the state of revenue, and incarcerating more Alabamians.
This Editorial Board calls for our state legislature to break with tradition and look toward the future instead of at the misguided moral regulation of the past. Do not let every other state pave the way before we make the best choice for our state and its citizens. Alabama, don’t wait to legalize marijuana.