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Money Talks: Why Marijuana Remains Illegal in Most of the U.S.


By: David Zwanetz

Recreational marijuana laws have either relaxed or been almost completely abolished in a few states in the U.S. in recent years, while others have made major strides towards legalizing small amounts for personal possession or its usage in a medicinal context. States that are moving towards legalization or decriminalization have seen several benefits, including increased tax revenue, increase in population, and increase in tourism.

And yet many other states aren’t budging towards legalization or even decriminalization, despite study after study showing its safety and the perks it provides to state and local economies. At Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake, we know how frustrating this double standard can be—especially when public opinion and polls often indicate a significant majority of people want punishments for possession either reduced or eliminated.

Despite the changes in recent years, countless people are still getting locked up for marijuana-related offenses every year. It’s our goal to help anyone who was affected by a marijuana-related arrest throughout the Baltimore area, including Columbia, Howard County, Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Frederick County, and Queen Anne’s County.

Big Industries and Occupations Count on Marijuana Being Illegal

If you’ve ever wondered why some states have been dragging their feet on changing marijuana laws or simply making it less of a crime to possess it, there are a few important facts to consider.

First, politicians often resist making marijuana legalization or decriminalization part of their platforms due to a reluctance to be associated with it. Second, marijuana arrests and its status as a controlled (illegal) substance are the lifeblood of several major industries, including:

Law enforcement—Starting with the “War on Drugs” in the 1980s, law enforcement officers throughout the U.S. have made huge numbers of arrests in every state for marijuana-related offenses. Declaring war on drugs—including marijuana—meant big boosts to department budgets and revenue. In addition, police departments also benefit from asset-forfeiture, which is a program that allows them to keep property that’s seized during marijuana arrests and busts. The claimed property and funds are often funneled back into the departments themselves to fund future arrests and busts.

Pharmaceutical—The pharmaceutical industry pumps out billions of pills per year designed to treat virtually every ailment and illness known to man. The Mayo Clinic recently reported that 70-percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug. That’s roughly 225 million people—and that represents big business for big pharmaceutical companies.

A large number of prescription opioid-based drugs are administered to patients who are looking to manage pain, which happens to be one of the primary uses for medicinal marijuana. While opioids are associated with a host of serious side effects and complications, marijuana is much milder, but it remains illegal in many states due to pressure from drug company lobbyists.

For-profit prisons—The prison industry is also big business, and they’re no longer designed, built, or run exclusively by federal and state governments. Many private companies are in charge of some of the country’s biggest prisons, and every inmate represents more money for their bottom lines. Harsh marijuana laws mean larger inmate populations, which means packed prisons and bigger profits.

The ACLU estimates that around half of all drug-related arrests are marijuana related, and 88 percent of marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 were for possession. If all states decriminalized or legalized marijuana, private prison companies could stand to lose billions of dollars—and that’s a loss many simply aren’t willing to accept.

Prison guards—Whether they’re government-run or operated privately, prisons often function as their own economical ecosystems. A large support industry has built up to keep America’s huge prison population and prison system running smoothly and efficiently, and prison guards are at the front lines of that industry. Many prison guards belong to well-funded and well-organized unions that have been influential in passing laws to keep prisoners behind bars and in need of plenty of guards to oversee them and transport them.

In fact, prison guard unions helped pass California’s “three strikes law” in 1994, and they campaigned heavily to stop a measure that would have deferred prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders. They’ve also been active in recent years by attempting to defeat medical marijuana laws and asset-forfeiture reform.

Forestry—The marijuana plant is strongly associated with its use as a drug, but it has many practical uses beyond its psychoactive and medicinal properties. Hemp is produced from marijuana plants, but its paper-like qualities have caused it to be under attack from powerful figures dating back to William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper empire in the 1930s. To increase his profits, Hearst owned thousands of acres of forests, which were harvested to publish his newspapers.

Decades later, not much has changed, and both the forestry industry and industries that support it, including trucking, oppose marijuana legalization due to the threats that hemp poses to traditional tree-based paper production methods.

Alcohol companies—Alcohol companies have spent decades and billions of marketing dollars reinforcing the idea that the best way to relax and unwind is with a cold alcoholic beverage in your hand. The idea that people could switch to a natural alternative that doesn’t cause hangovers scares them—and they’re one of the leading industries that trying to keep marijuana illegal. Both beer and liquor companies have donated to lobbying groups that are doing their best to defeat measures designed to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in states throughout the country.

Without Experienced Attorneys, the Legal System is Stacked Against You

At Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake, our Maryland criminal defense lawyers are here to help whether you were charged with DUI/DWI, marijuana-related offenses, traffic violations, or other charges.

We believe in transparency and excellent client service, and we’ll keep you in the loop about every we step we take to fight for your rights and your freedom. Contact us today for a free consultation.