Cannabis prohibition causes more problems than cannabis use ever could. It has:
And what do we have to show for it? Consumer demand for cannabis is as strong as ever, and it is not going away. The only questions are who will meet that demand and how.
Prohibition forces cannabis sales into the illegal market, which can create dangerous situations for consumers, as well as the sellers and producers. When disputes arise, there is no avenue for legal recourse, and all too often it results in violence. Illegal cannabis sales are also a source of revenue for individuals and criminal organizations (such as gangs and cartels) who engage in other illegal activities.
Regulating cannabis would remove the criminal element from cannabis production and sales. Products would be produced and sold by licensed businesses in tightly controlled facilities, where security can be present and law enforcement can step in if needed.
Cannabis that is produced illegally and sold in the underground market is not subject to any health or safety standards. Consumers do not know what they are getting, and they may be exposed to harmful contaminants or other illegal substances.
In a regulated market, products are subject to rigorous health and safety rules. Products are tested and labeled with important information about potency, serving sizes, and ingredients. And if products are ever found to be contaminated, there is a mechanism by which they be recalled.
One of the most frequently heard arguments in support of cannabis prohibition is that it is needed to protect young people. Yet teens have been reporting for decades that they can easily access cannabis despite its illegal status. Oftentimes, they can access it easier than adults. This is partly due to the fact that illegal dealers don’t ask for ID and may not see any incentive for limiting their sales to adults.
In a regulated market, cannabis is sold by licensed retail stores that are required to confirm proof of age and risk losing their licenses and other serious penalties if they sell to minors. In states that have regulated cannabis for adult use, regulators report compliance rates for cannabis retailers have been as good or better than alcohol and tobacco retailers. Teen use rates also remain relatively unchanged in these states since legalization, according to state government surveys, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Taxes on regulated cannabis sales generate significant new revenue for state and local governments, and a lot of this money is being used to create or boost services and programs that positively impact public health and safety. In Colorado, for example, the state government has collected more than $1.5 billion in cannabis-related revenue since regulated adult sales commenced in 2014, and hundreds of millions of dollars in addtional tax revenue has been collected at the local level.
These funds have been used to build schools; hire more school nurses; support drop-out and bullying prevention programs; fund substance abuse prevention and treatment; build community centers; and construct shelters and increase services for people experiencing homelessness. Cannabis revenue and licensing fees are also directed toward DUI prevention and enforcement, law enforcement coordination and training, and covering the costs of enforcing cannabis regulations.
Adults who do not qualify for Florida’s medical cannabis law face serious penalties for cannabis offenses. Under state law, possession of less than three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Cannabis convictions can also result in criminal records and other potentially life-altering consequences, including loss of employment or professional license, inability to gain employment, loss of housing and other public benefits, and more.
There is a mountain of evidence demonstrating cannabis use poses less potential harm than alcohol, both to consumers and the broader community. In states that have legalized and regulated cannabis for adult use, arrests for cannabis offenses have plummeted and the sky hasn't fallen. It is unnecessary — and extremely unfair — to treat responsible adult cannabis consumers like criminals. As former President Jimmy Carter once said, "Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself."
Cannabis prohibition has long been tied to racism against Blacks and Hispanics, and it continues to have a disparate impact on communities of color. An exhaustive report compiled by the ACLU found that, on average, a Black person in the U.S. is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use cannabis at similar rates. These arrests often mark people’s first brush with the criminal justice system, resulting in criminal records and other consequences that follow them the rest of their lives.
Ending cannabis prohibition is not a silver bullet for ending bias-based law enforcement, it would eliminate countless arrests in communities of color.
Cannabis prohibition has caused significant harm to families and communities. Countless individuals have been sent to jail or prison for cannabis-related offenses, and even more have been branded with criminal records that haunt them their entire lives.
Several state and local governments have taken steps to repair some of these damages either in tandem with the implementation of adult-use legalization laws or shortly following their passage. Examples include:
By forcing non-medical cannabis sales into the underground market, Florida is forfeiting hundreds of millions of dollars per year in cannabis-related revenue. In states where cannabis is regulated for adult use, sales are subject to standard state and local sales taxes and/or special sales and excise taxes similar to those imposed on alcohol and tobacco.
As of February 2021, state governments have reported a combined total of $7.1 billion in tax revenue from regulated adult-use cannabis sales, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Colorado alone — which has less than one-third the population of Florida — has collected more than $1.5 billion in cannabis-related revenue since 2014.
While cannabis revenue makes up just a small fraction of massive state and local budgets, it is significant and can go a long way in helping citizens and communities. State and local governments have used cannabis-related revenue to fund a wide range of services and programs. There are far too many to list them all here, but some examples include:
Establishing a regulated adult-use cannabis market would create opportunities for entrepreneurs and foster new businesses that create thousands of good jobs in Florida. In addition to creating positions with “plant-touching” companies (e.g., retail stores, cultivation facilities, and product manufacturers), it would result in employment opportunities with a wide variety of ancillary businesses (e.g. service and equipment providers).
America’s legal cannabis industry supported 321,000 full-time equivalent jobs as of January 2021, according to the 2021 Leafly Jobs Report. To put this in perspective, the report notes, there are more legal cannabis workers than EMTs and paramedics, and more than twice as many as dentists.
In addition to fostering new cannabis-specific businesses and jobs, a regulated adult-use cannabis market would create opportunities for other industries. Cannabis businesses retain workers and utilize services and products from a wide variety of collateral sectors, including construction, engineering, technology, security, legal, insurance, real estate, and agriculture. It could also contribute to tourism and all the industries that benefit from it.
An economic analysis of Colorado's legal cannabis industry found it generated $2.4 billion in overall economic activity in 2015 alone, and cannabis sales have increased by more than 60% since then.