Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know

Synopsis

Should marijuana be legalized? Public opinion in the United States couldn’t be more evenly divided; the latest Gallup poll reports that exactly half of Americans say "Yes."

Marijuana is forbidden by international treaties and by national and local laws across the globe. But those laws are under challenge in several countries. In the United States, there is no short-term prospect for changes in federal law, but sixteen states allow medical use and recent initiatives to legalize production and nonmedical use garnered more than 40 percent support in four states. California’s Proposition 19 nearly passed in 2010, and as we write a number of states are expected to consider similar measures in 2012.

There’s more to the issue than a simple "yes" or "no" on a survey or ballot. Marijuana legalization turns out not to be a single question but a whole collection of questions.

Should people be allowed to use marijuana? If yes, does that mean only people with medical need, or social and recreational users as well? Adults only? In public, or only in private? Should selling marijuana be legal? Or semilegal, as it is in the Netherlands? If so, under what rules? At what price? With what taxes? Or should users be restricted to growing their own or joining noncommercial cooperatives? While the drug remains illegal nationally, does it make sense to legalize it locally?

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