Last week, the Obama administration pledged to stop cracking down on citizens using medical marijuana, as long as they were complying with state laws. Fourteen states have laws allowing medical marijuana, and more may follow in the coming years. The growing acceptance of marijuana as a legitimate medical treatment has directly resulted in legislative change, and the latest moves by Obama suggest the issue will be left to the states.
Many GW students may see this as a positive indication that legalized marijuana nationwide will soon be a reality. Perhaps smoking a bowl with friends will no longer have to occur in secret, and residence hall rooms will no longer be raided by University Police Department officers looking for pot paraphernalia. But anyone thinking only college students would be affected by the legalization of marijuana would be ignoring the increasing population of adult smokers who make up a large part of the pot smoking population in the U.S.
As many would expect, the largest demographic of marijuana users is people ages 18 to 25. According to the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive, close to 44 percent of high school seniors have tried pot, and more than 50 percent of college-aged Americans reported using marijuana at one time in their lives. These statistics lead many opponents of pot to label it as a drug of abuse for youth.
But doing so ignores the steadily increasing demographic of older pot users. While more than a quarter of college-aged kids report using marijuana in the last year, close to 14 percent of people ages 26-34 have smoked pot in the last year, and more than 8 percent of people ages 35-49 say the same. It is easy to assume the efforts to legalize marijuana are coming mostly from our generation, namely kids in their late teens and early 20s. That assumption makes the legalization effort easy to dismiss, as though it is coming from a bunch of hippy college kids who just want to get high. But the statistics show that, more and more, marijuana use is extending into middle age and even becoming a more accepted part of adult life.
All told, more than 22 million Americans have smoked pot in the last year. That’s a sizable portion of the population breaking the law. That high amount of law-breaking leads to a high amount of arrests. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, police nationwide arrested nearly 850,000 people last year for marijuana-related offenses. Those arrests cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and though marijuana laws are seen as a way to protect children, the laws affect more adults than ever before.
In the same way Prohibition in the 20th century bred bootlegging and organized crime, marijuana legislation has wasted taxpayer money, put millions of people in jail and helped start a full-fledged drug war in Mexico. The current administration has made it clear they will not pursue a full legalization of marijuana. But with more adults showing up to the pot party, legal marijuana may no longer be a pipe dream.
The writer, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is a Hatchet columnist.
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