Last Updated on October 4, 2023 by Team Spinfuel

An Argument for the Federal Legalization of Cannabis in the United States

Federal Legalization of Cannabis Introduction

[ez-toc]The debate on the legalization of cannabis has been at the forefront of policy discussions in the United States for several years. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, several states had already legalized cannabis for recreational use, while others had decriminalized it or legalized its medicinal use1.

However, the substance remains illegal at the federal level, classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act2. This essay discusses the reasons the federal government should legalize cannabis use for citizens over 21 years old.

This perspective acknowledges potential downsides, but ultimately posits that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Arguments for Legalization

  1. Economic Benefits

The legalization of Cannabis legalization could result in significant economic benefits, such as revenue from taxes and job creation. A 2020 report suggested that full legalization could yield up to $129 billion in tax revenue and create over a million jobs across the country by 20253. By regulating and taxing cannabis, the government could divert profits away from illicit markets and towards public coffers.

  1. Criminal Justice Reform

The legalization of Cannabis would reduce arrests and incarceration rates for non-violent drug offenses. As of 2019, 40% of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses, the vast majority of which were for simple possession4.

This over-criminalization disproportionately impacts minority communities, exacerbating systemic racial inequities5. By removing these legal penalties, the government could promote social justice and reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.

  1. Health and Safety

The legalization of Cannabis would also allow for quality control and safety standards in cannabis production. Currently, illicit cannabis products can be laced with harmful substances or contain varying levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana6. Through regulation, these safety issues could be mitigated. Additionally, legalization could also increase research opportunities into cannabis’ medical benefits7.

Arguments Against Legalization of Cannabis

Despite these benefits, there are potential downsides to legalization that must be considered.

  1. Potential for Increased Use and Dependence

One concern is that legalization might increase marijuana use and dependence. Critics argue that making the substance more accessible could lead to increased substance abuse, especially among young people8. However, evidence suggests that legalization does not significantly impact youth use rates9.

Additionally, cannabis dependence is significantly less harmful and less common than dependence on alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal10.

  1. Public Safety Concerns

Another argument against legalization relates to public safety. Critics suggest that increased cannabis use could lead to more cases of impaired driving. However, effective policy and public education, similar to those for alcohol, could help mitigate these concerns11.

  1. Potential Public Health Risks

Some worry about potential public health consequences of widespread cannabis use, such as mental health issues and lung damage. While these risks are real, they are arguably no greater than those associated with legal substances like tobacco and alcohol12.


The arguments against the legalization of cannabis  should not be dismissed lightly. However, on balance, the economic benefits, criminal justice reform opportunities, and potential for improved safety and health standards offer compelling reasons for the federal government to reconsider its stance on cannabis.

Regulatory mechanisms, coupled with strong public education efforts, could mitigate the potential negative impacts. By learning from the experiences of states that have already legalized cannabis, the federal government can implement a policy that prioritizes public safety, health, and social equity.

  • John Manzione


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, “State Medical Marijuana Laws,” September 2021,
  2. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, “Drug Scheduling,” ↩
  3. New Frontier Data, “Cannabis In the U.S. Economy: Jobs, Growth and Tax Revenue, 2020 Edition,”
  4. FBI, “Crime in the United States 2019,” ↩
  5. ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,”
  6. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Marijuana and Public Health,” ↩
  7. National Institutes of Health, “Marijuana Research Report,”
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Marijuana Research Report,”
  9. JAMA Pediatrics, “Association of Marijuana Laws With Teen Marijuana Use,” ↩
  10. Lancet, “Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach,” ↩
  11. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Marijuana-Impaired Driving,”
  12. New England Journal of Medicine, “Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use,” ↩

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