The case for legal marijuana: Setting a high standard for alternative pain treatment

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On Nov. 8, Americans voted to legalize marijuana for either medical or recreational use in eight states, bringing the total number of states in which marijuana is legal in some form up to 28, as well as the District of Columbia.

Marijuana legalization has been a hot topic across the country for the past few years, with traditionally liberal states such as Colorado and Oregon taking the lead. Surprisingly, a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use came before the Utah legislation last year. More surprisingly, it passed the state Senate before stalling in the House during this current legislative session.

There’s a strong argument to be made for the legalization of marijuana, at the very least for medical purposes and many Utahns would seem to agree.

According to a poll released by Dan Jones & Associates, 61 percent of Utahns support the legalization of marijuana for medical use. Surprisingly, the majority of Utahns over the age of 45 support legalization, while those between the ages of 18-24 oppose it.

Opponents to legalization cite concerns about crime rates rising as a result, but the evidence out of Colorado seems to contradict these claims. In 2014 there was an overall decrease in crime of one percent, with homicides, robberies and burglaries seeing the biggest decrease, according to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation crime report. Incidents of impaired driving while under the influence of marijuana also dropped slightly.

However, instances of public display or consumption of marijuana rose dramatically, increasing from 184 in 2013 to 1,186 in 2014.

Not only has crime decreased, but the marijuana industry in Colorado generates a large amount of money from taxes and fees, bringing in $135 million in 2015. This is additional money the state can put into infrastructure, schools, public safety and other areas in which more funds may be needed.

Because marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, banking services are largely unavailable for dispensaries. This creates problems for many dispensaries, which are forced to deal in cash only to avoid having to deal with potentially breaking federal law.

Another area of concern is the improper storage of marijuana edibles. A pot gummy bear is nearly impossible to differentiate from a regular gummy bear, which can make them a tempting target for children.

According to a study by JAMA Pediatrics, there was a 15 percent increase in children being admitted to the hospital for accidental marijuana consumption of edibles. In 2014 there were 86 reported cases, which is more than the previous four years combined.

Marijuana is a perfectly viable and highly effective alternative to opiates for treating pain, especially considering that Utah is ranked fifth in the nation for opioid related deaths. Medical marijuana would provide a safer option for many who are wary of prescription drugs. It would also provide additional tax revenue that could be pumped back into Utah’s education and infrastructure systems.