Marijuana VS. Legality

Image result for marijuana legalizeNot yet even five years passed was a storied day in Washington state history. Initiative 502 passed by a slim margin to legalize the cultivation and usage of recreational marijuana. Today, marijuana dispensaries (think of it as a grocery store but for marijuana) are as commonplace as Starbucks, and weed culture is flourishing under the new law.

Across the nation, leniency towards marijuana has also increased. Today, 8 states and our capital, Washington DC, have legalized recreational marijuana. A total of 30 states have legalized marijuana in some form, mostly for various medical reasons. Attitudes toward the drug are shifting, and our country is gradually becoming more and more green. However, this could have serious ramifications on our government, and the debate over its necessity and legality will soon be more and more prolific as tensions increase.

Here’s a quick video detailing the basic structure of legal recreational marijuana, and some of the rules surrounding the drug. This video came out a few days after Initiative 71 was activated in 2015.

There’s a slight problem with states legalizing marijuana: it’s a federally illegal drug. Yet, states don’t seem to care… let’s take a look at how states (and voters) came to legalize marijuana

  1. Financial boost:

States make serious revenue from marijuana dispensaries.

Here’s the tax revenue from marijuana sales for the state of Washington in just four years since legalizing marijuana. please note that this includes: state sales tax (2.9%), retail marijuana sales tax, retail marijuana excise tax(15%) and licensing and fees. Marijuana is an expensive business that makes tons! 

according to The Washington Post, legalizing marijuana nationwide would create at least $132 billion in tax revenue and more than a million new jobs across the United States in the next decade.

2. Marijuana wasn’t illegal in the first place?

To understand why making marijuana legal is reasonable, we should first revisit why it was made illegal in the first place. Back in the 1920’s, there was a spike in immigration of Mexicans to American following the Mexican revolution.  At the time, though cannabis was a very popular product in American goods, the immigrants referred to the plant as “marihuana”. They used it as a medicine and as a relaxant, not unlike Americans were using it at the time.  In order to control the population of Mexican-Americans, the media began to play up the term marijuana, spreading claims about the Mexican-Americans and using marijuana as their muse to do it. It worked brilliantly, and across American people began to fear the horrible marijuana, which supposedly did things such as making men of color violent and lust after white women, and responsible for the “dangerous” behavior of the immigrants. Meanwhile, those very same americans had counters full of cannabis, but because it was a new term the connection wasn’t made.

Marijuana was used to control the Mexica-Americans – after the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which effectively banned its use and sales. Which basically gave the government an excuse to search, detain, and deport Mexican Americans…

3. Ineffective and violent prevention methods

We’ll get into this one later. Hint: methods were not good.

Ok now I’m going to introduce the game, and the players, though I won’t solve the game until the end of the paper so you all have a chance to vote for an outcome. The game is the full legalization or fighting legalization of marijuana, and the players are the government and the state. They each have their reasons, and ways they can act towards achieving either goal. I’ll begin with listing off some of their motivations for potential actions.

The State:

  • Makes tons of money by allowing the legalization of marijuana
  • As more states enlist in the ranks of those with fully or partially legal marijuana, the (potential) battle with the supreme court becomes easier and easier
  • The State already made the first move by legalizing it


  • The current U.S. Office has already made a few moves in this game. Not only has the office stated that they will revamp the war on drugs, attorney general Jeff sessions rescinded a federal policy created during the Obama presidency that allowed recreational marijuana to be used in Colorado and Washington
  • Marijuana is still federally and internationally illegal considered a schedule 1 drug
  • public outcry in some states which are decidedly against marijuana could be serious if too drastic of measures were taken

There’s always been a sort of stigma surrounding marijuana. Following the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which was deemed unconstitutional, The Substances Act of the 1970s looked to establish rankings and punishments based on the severity of certain drugs. Under this act, Cannabis was originally placed in the most dangerous category, though President Nixon commissioned a third party report to have the final say on the matter of marijuana. The Commission declared that in fact, marijuana should not be in schedule I (the most severe category). However, the commission was ignored and marijuana remains as a schedule I substance to this day.

The illegality of marijuana was reinforced by the war on drugs, the government’s campaign of a prohibition of drugs, with the stated aim of reducing the illegal drug trade. The movement began in the 1970s, though its failures are partially responsible for the legalization of marijuana today. As New York Times writer puts it, “The war on drugs in the United States has been a failure that has ruined lives, filled prisons and cost a fortune”. The War on Drugs disproportionately target minorities such as African Americans, and [President] Nixon used it as an excuse to criminalize and disrupt black and hippie communities and their leadership. Not only that, but the US targeted the supply of drugs, rather than the actual problem which was American demand for illegal substances. As a result, drugs became a more precious material and black market drug prices rose, incidentally creating larger profits for those selling the drugs. Those enhanced profits were reinvested in the form of State of the Art weaponry, Gangs being hired to ensure safety of product, and paying off public officials. Countries south of the US are now infested with drug gangs, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Meanwhile, drug abuse is still a prominent problem in the States.

I mentioned earlier that the failure of the war on drugs was a reason for legalizing marijuana. The large majority of marijuana users are nonviolent, taking part in only small-scale possession. The incarceration rates for small-scale possession have previously had massive effects on the US population:

In the United States today, 6 out of 10 adults recognize marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol, and most are beginning to think it should be legalized:Pew Research Center chart on support for marijuana legalization In states that have legalized marijuana, teen binge drinking is dropping dramatically while marijuana smoking rates have stayed even. Adults are also turning to marijuana as a replacement for alcohol, and this effect is predicted to reduce drunk driving accident rates. As for teenagers using it to an uncontrolled degree, unlike other drugs, you can’t really overdose on marijuana.

BI Graphics_Marijuana Trump Chart (1)Not only that, but the political debate over marijuana is not really causing any sharp divides, in terms of parties and supporting candidates. 4 of the states which voted to legalize marijuana (at least partially) in the 2016 ballot, Arizona, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota, also voted red, in contrast to the stigma that only liberals and Democrats utilize cannabis. In Florida, support of a marijuana initiative received over two million more votes than Donald Trump did! Celebrities, actors, athletes, and musicians alike are all speaking out in support. The other day complex news released an interview with ex-pro athletes where the athletes themselves claimed between 80-85% of their leagues (NBA and NFL) used marijuana.



Internationally, The US isn’t doing so bad. Worldwide laws concerning marijuana play out as so:

However, complete US Legalization of marijuana could potentially have some interesting global effects as well. Cited as “The bedrock for the global prohibition against recreational marijuana”, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Similar to the current US Federal Laws, it classifies marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic (in the same class as heroin and cocaine). It states that the cultivation, sale, and purchase for any reasons other than medical (tightly regulated) or scientific are strictly illegal. Ironically, in the 70s this document was considered a US victory, one of the results of the war on drugs. So basically, to put it into simple words, for the US to legalize marijuana would be “flouting a convention that it orchestrated and ratified.”

In a simulated game, the government has 3 options:

A: Do nothing. Essentially pushes back the problem to another administration

B: Fight it. Govern states that have legalized weed and command that it be policed. Take action with the supreme court if necessary.

C: amend the constitution, and officially legalize weed.

And the State really only has 2:

A: Take a stand for legalizing marijuana, take the legal battle to the government. Link up with other states and take action with the supreme court if necessary. 

B: continue with its current laws, ignore any rumblings of problems in the system

Federal Government
State A 80, 25 10, 15 90, 10
B 70, 50 35, 75 100, 40

The most beneficial outcome for both parties would be the government going ahead and legalizing marijuana (C), while the state doesn’t really do anything and goes on its way with its current regulations (B). This is the Pareto optimal solution.  However, If the government ignores Washington (and the other states which have taken action), and decides to make a decision only beneficial to itself, as it’s realistically likely to do, it will end up protesting and fighting to reverse the laws made in those states which legalized recreational marijuana. Afterall, fighting marijuana nearly exhibits complete dominance, a case in which all results for an option are better than the results for other options. In Nash Optimality, the game style where players attempt to optimize their own results, we would calculate that the government would pick Option B a significant portion of the time. Since the State could also make this calculation, it would most likely pick B to avoid the costly A, B. The most nash optimal solution on the board or the situation most likely to occur is B,B @ 35 for the state, and 75 for the Government.

Ok So that’s how the model tells us things will play out; I think things will go a little differently. First, watch this video for a concise summary of our current situation (Jan 7, 2018)

Plain and simple, marijuana will be legalized, regardless of what the game tells us.

  1. The top reason is that the game itself is flawed. In the video, the inconsistencies within the trump administration are discussed as key points for the harsh senate reaction to Jeff Sessions actions. For our model, they’re game breaking. The government doesn’t really know what it wants with marijuana, which means it doesn’t care enough to go out and fight a legal battle for it, and much less enforce federal law in 30! states. Which leads to the next point
  2. States don’t have to do anything to help the government police marijuana usage. While preserving international relations on this topic is a pretty noteworthy business for the US, It’s even worse business to spend millions or even billions of dollars shutting down a market that has the potential to generate astronomical taxpayer dollars and millions of jobs.
  3. States, unlike the government, don’t have to act in unison. While many states may lay down and play it safe, others won’t. The model can be applied to every state that has legalized, and with many more projected to legalize this year, that means many more will risk defending their rights.
  4. In these scenarios, I eliminated the human factor. what I mean by this, is that I did not factor in the possibility that there might occur protests or rallies for nationwide legalization of marijuana. I think that in the current political scheme, marijuana will fall by the wayside while other more pressing issues are dealt with, and this game was only modeling the current office. In the years to come, people will recognize the right to use marijuana as a healing device, anxiety and stress reliever, and relaxant.

So what: 

Maybe you made it all the way through this and you still won’t defend marijuana. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about that high school health class that told you that marijuana was the devil’s lettuce. If you’re an adult, maybe you’re fearful your child will grow up to be that pothead rolling a joint behind the school gym. But if you don’t fear change, I’d like to help you see that become a reality. I offer a link, a link that might save a few people from going behind bars, a link that might help seriously ill patients get a little relief in their life:


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