As of now, the polls look promising for making legalization of cannabis the law of the land throughout the nation, but there is no telling what voters in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada will do regarding the pending initiative measures come election time. This can pose many obstacles. To begin with, we have faced resistance from new, organized and well-funded groups in recent campaigns. Although legalization currently receives more public support than ever before, critics are using this against us stating we are treading unknown waters. Opponents are creating hysteria about legal cannabis in order to hype and motivate voters using distorted reports about the impact of legalization in states where legislation has already been enacted.

Another thing to keep in mind is that although growers in California favor an end to prohibition, they fear competition from big business under Proposition 64 which will go before voters this fall. Many growers find it more profitable to sell marijuana to non-legal states creating opposition from existing cultivators and another roadblock to reform. If this happens it will emphasize the need for national legalization, but can also create repercussions that will continue to stall legalization in other states. In order to successfully legalize the sale of cannabis, we need to educate the critics and help them realize that the sale of illegal cannabis is a successfully thriving industry under current prohibition. Despite all efforts by law enforcement to control the illegal industry, marijuana has remained widely available. According to national survey data, millions of people sell marijuana every year yet only an average of 90,000 arrest are made. This is roughly only 2 percent.

These facts alone should be enough to convince critics that prohibition is useless. There are two sides to the issues at hand. On the one hand, supporters of prohibition are in denial as to the extent, scope and determination of the illegal marijuana market. On the other hand, advocates of legalization avoid speaking about the yearly arrests for marijuana sales when addressing the need to abolish the illegal market. The public empathizes with the injustice of arresting marijuana users; however, they do not have any remorse towards people who sell marijuana. Legalization advocates know this, and consequently rarely refer to sales arrests when they make arguments against prohibition. But they need to start doing this to close the deal.

Marijuana sales arrests are important because in the aggregate, looking at the total, they quantify the futility of trying to make prohibition work as an effective means of drug control. Ironically, many individuals arrested for marijuana sales are in fact only marijuana users. Current law states that individuals possessing more marijuana than lawmakers feel is deemed as recreational are to be arrested, charged and prosecuted with intent to distribute. Many cultivation cases are charged as manufacturing with the intent to distribute based on a prosecution argument that the amount being grown is more than an individual would consume in a year’s time. They make this case by exaggerating the potential yield of the plants involved and minimizing the amount of marijuana someone might consume.

There are also many cases of people who smoke marijuana and simply buy large amounts in order to get better prices and avoid multiple trips in traffic; hence saving time and money. These individuals could be arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute solely because of the amount involved. These are some examples of how marijuana sales arrests are not a good indicator of how many professional drug dealers have been arrested. Even when people possess marijuana with the intent of selling it, their plans are to sell it to a close circle of friends in order to decrease cost (a fact also supported by national survey data).

In any event, sales arrests tell us something important about public policy—there is no way to control the current illegal marijuana market through arrests and criminal sanctions. That deserves discussion, and greater attention to this issue also will call supporters of prohibition to account for their implicit support for overpriced, non-regulated illegal marijuana sales. This is the discussion the public needs to hear in order to close the deal on legalizing cannabis throughout the United States.

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