The debate on whether or not to legalize marijuana has been blazing for years, but two U.S. congressmen are now pushing for national legalization by arguing it is common-sense fiscal policy.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, and Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, say the move could save the government billions of dollars by generating tax revenues while cutting costly expenditures on enforcement and incarceration.
Polls show a majority of Americans support legalization as more people dismiss the idea that marijuana is gateway drug to more dangerous drugs. Furthermore, Blumenauer said the persistent availability can't be ignored.
"I haven't been in any community where people think junior high students can't get marijuana right now," Blumenauer said. "If we legalize and regulate and we concentrate our energies on a policy that makes sense, we end the hypocrisy and we focus on making sure it's not in the hands of kids."
In Minnesota, many members of the Legislature support legalizing marijuana. In fact, a bill legalizing the drug for medical use passed four years ago, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Gov. Mark Dayton has been hesitant to consider marijuana legalization and he has pledged to veto any bill that does not have the support of the Minnesota Peace and Police Officer Association. Currently, that group opposes legalization -- and therefore, so does Dayton.
"As long as law enforcement believes whatever law is being proposed is going to make society more dangerous, I'm going to honor their concerns," Dayton said.
After Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use last fall, the executive director of MPPOA, Dennis Flaherty, told the Associated Press their position would remain unchanged because they would not contradict existing federal law. If federal law changed, it's unclear whether the group's position on the issue would shift as well.
From a fiscal standpoint, there is no question that billions in revenue could be sent to state and national government coffers in a similar way to cigarette, alcohol, and tobacco sales. So it seems the main question remaining is whether the benefits of the fiscal boom outweigh possible societal effects.
FOX 9 News spoke with Kurtis Hanna, executive director of MN NORML -- a branch of the national Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Tom Prichard, of the Minnesota Family Council about the topic. Watch the video for more information.
Randy Meier: "Tom, marijuana is being legalized in more-and-more states and for the first time ever. PEW Research finds the majority of Americans are in favor of making pot legal. What is the strongest argument "against" especially when it stands to bring in billions in tax dollars that could go to schools, health initiatives and other government programs?
Tom Prichard: "Well I think you have to look at the social cost of it and realize that marijuana is not a benign substance it's a mind altering, addictive and a gateway drug. I think we're starting to see how it really plays out when it starts to be legalized in California which has medical marijuana. There's greater prevalence in drug driving than drunk driving. The rates of addiction and substance abuse are almost twice as much as they are with states that aren't and over 200 cities and counties in California have banned it because they see the problems resulting."
Randy Meier: "Kurtis, the lawmakers pushing this reform say it's all about money but Tom raises a valid point there has to be more to this debate than revenue. You tell me is it more than money? What about the risks? What about our kids?
Kurtis Hanna: "I actually agree with Tom in that the societal cost really needs to be factored in and when we realize that there's over 12,000 people in Minnesota being arrested every year for marijuana. These are people's lives that are being shattered. It is correct that they are breaking the law but it is an illegal act because of the laws that we have on the books and that is something that we can actually reform through organizing together and organizing with groups like MN NORML."
Randy Meier: "..but but your concern is keeping it out of the hands of kids and keeping away from people who use it as a gateway drug which is a huge concern."
Kurtis Hanna: "Correct. Once again I agree about the societal costs and i agree that we do not want kids to be using cannabis and actually believe at MN NORML that by taxing and regulating cannabis that it will be harder to get cannabis as a child than it is to be able to get that normally."
Randy Meier: "Tom, one of the interesting parts of this conversation we do stories all the time about someone drinking and driving that person ends up killing themselves or someone else, it's not often we hear about a person smoking pot, getting in their car and doing the same. What makes marijuana worse than alcohol?
Tom Prichard: "Well as I just mentioned in California they're finding greater prevalence with drugged driving than drunk driving just because they have medical marijuana and I think that s an example of where you are seeing the consequences. And with medical marijuana it's supposedly quite limited. But in fact they are basically finding out that it basically legitimizes its use among young people and our concern is that they see with just medical marijuana which is supposed to be narrow are exploding in California and they're having problems with it."
Randy Meier: "Kurtis, groups like Hazelden, a premier addiction facility, say marijuana is a gateway drug. These experts know what marijuana can lead to. Why risk it?"
Kurtis Hanna: ""I completely agree that Hazelden sees a lot of people in their facilities because of marijuana but often why they are there is because a court has determined it has given them the option between going to court and going to jail and that's because a lesser of two evils that's decided."
Randy Meier: "Quickly for both of you ten seconds each do you think marijuana will be legal in Minnesota or this country in the next 5 years?"
Tom Prichard: "I don't think it will in Minnesota and I think as we see the experience played out in other states played out with medical marijuana I think that there will be a reaction and a realization to that and a realization that this is not a benign activity. "
Kurtis Hanna: "Honestly, I believe that it will be legal in Minnesota within the next five years because of efforts of people like the people of "MN NORML."