Texas should learn from increased acceptance of marijuana's benefits

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At Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, a new revolutionary drug will be tested for its potential to treat epilepsy. The hospital has been selected as one of only 10 sites for the trial tests for the new drug. The drug itself, named Epidiolex, is “a highly purified extract of the cannabis plant containing pure cannabidiol or CBD.”

Translation: A new drug derived from marijuana could help treat epilepsy, and Texas is at the center of the issue. 

The irony is obvious: Marijuana is not only still illegal at the federal level — because of its standing as a Schedule I drug within the Controlled Substance Act (a classification it shares with drugs such as heroin and LSD, not to mention the fact that it is deemed more dangerous than Schedule II drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine) — but also at the state level, where Texas was “among the nation’s leaders in marijuana possession arrests” in the first decade of the 2000s. 

The testing soon to begin at Texas Children’s Hospital is further proof that marijuana decriminalization is an issue far bigger in scale than an issue of mostly young citizens wishing to get high legally. Marijuana is illegal mostly because of cultural paranoia, not a genuine breadth of knowledge and understanding of the substance’s few dangers. In fact, marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug within the Controlled Substance Act has only made it more difficult for scientific research to be conducted on the drug, as a plethora of bureaucratic obstacles stand in the way.

But improvement of health, though a valid reason for decriminalization in and of itself, is not the only contributing factor to the argument. In its first year of legally selling “retail” marijuana to adults over the age of 21, the legal marijuana industry of Colorado has been a huge financial success. From January to the end of June, “sales of retail marijuana have reaped about $18.9 million in state taxes … according to the [Colorado] Department of Revenue.” And that number is only expected to increase, as in April, Colorado Gov. Tom Hickenlooper said he anticipated that by mid-July, the state would collect $114 million in taxes and fees — of an anticipated $1 billion in total sales — by mid-2015.

Unfortunately, the paranoia of a few has become the social and political norm for all. Recall Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Las Vegas casino mogul who amassed fame during the last presidential election for his extravagant campaign contributions. Adelson has reportedly funded 85 percent of Florida’s anti-pot campaign. Because of our post-Citizens United political climate, a climate that has ultimately allowed both corporations and people to donate an unlimited amount of money to political campaigns, middle-class individuals in the state of Florida simply cannot contend monetarily with a billionaire who, due solely to his deep pockets, can influence elections with nothing more than a fat check. 

Yet marijuana’s medicinal purposes, not to mention the estimated $114 million of tax revenue from Colorado’s  sales, can only mean one thing: that marijuana usage will only continue to become more and more socially accepted. The recent midterm elections saw Washington, D.C., and the state of Oregon decriminalize marijuana for recreational purposes, and as time goes on, it stands to reason that more states will follow suit. The question then becomes not if marijuana becomes legal, but when.

The state of Texas would do well to be one of the states to tackle this issue sooner rather than later. Not only would our state benefit from the extremely lucrative taxing and selling of marijuana, but the issue itself seems ready to be taken by either political party.  On one hand, marijuana could be seen as a states’ rights issue and an issue of private freedom over federal enforcement — an issue that would ostensibly fit perfectly within the Republican Party platform. On the other hand, decriminalization of marijuana can be seen as a socially progressive issue, one that derives from apparent unequal enforcement of the law, as even in Texas, African-American residents have a higher rate of arrest for possession of marijuana than white residents. 

Only time will tell how Texas and the rest of the U.S. react to the growing acceptance — socially, legally and even scientifically — of marijuana’s benefits. One can only hope that Texas will soon stand on the right side of history instead of being late to the party on an issue with positive effects so heavily outweighing the negatives.

Sundin is an English and radio-television-film senior from San Antonio. Follow Sundin on Twitter @ericwsundin.