Not such a high price to pay: City should legalize permit-based marijuana cultivation

September 1, 2017 — by Lina Kim

During the 2016 election, Proposition 64 was approved by California voters.

As a result,  recreational marijuana use will be legal starting next January, permitting citizens to grow up to six plants in their homes but also giving municipalities the right to control use and planting within city limits. In other words, in spite of Prop 64, individual cities can still choose to ban marijuana cultivation.  

Some cities have already begun to do this: Cupertino, Campbell, Palo Alto, Foster City, Hayward, Martinez, Santa Rosa and Saratoga have all banned the cultivation of the drug. This is a mistake. Instead of banning the cultivation of marijuana altogether, cities should allow responsible citizens to apply for permits to grow it.

Saratoga officials have voted to formally ban the cultivation of marijuana permanently. According to the San Jose Mercury News, city officials believe that growing marijuana will lead to risks such as “public safety, health and welfare associated with commercial and outdoor cannabis cultivation … crimes within the city, increased youth exposure to and use of cannabis, increased risks of car accidents and potential odor.”

While cultivating of marijuana can lead to some risks, most of the risks outlined by Saratoga officials are easily solvable or have negligible impact.

To begin with, Saratoga’s city government has incorrectly posited that marijuana cultivation will lead to an increase in crime. Contradicting this idea, a study conducted by researchers at University of Texas at Dallas indicates that higher levels of marijuana usage are associated with lower rates of violent crime, including homicide. Marijuana-related crimes typically arise only when users attempt to obtain marijuana in states where it is illegal. Making marijuana easier to obtain by legalizing some degree of cultivation would only serve to shrink the marijuana black market and actually lower crime rates.

Furthermore, individuals who oppose marijuana cultivation on public safety grounds must also remember that alcohol, a substance that can actually kill and is heavily linked to crime, is legal and as available as the next Safeway. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol plays a part in 40 percent of all violent crimes, in addition to about 3 million violent crimes occurring every year.

And even if legalizing the cultivation of weed isn’t the most utilitarian option, policy makers must realize that America is built on the foundation of freedom and autonomous decision making, even if an individual’s decisions may risk harm to themselves. In the U.S. it is legal for individuals to both grow tobacco and purchase alcohol and tobacco without a limit, despite the fact that, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco kills 480,000 people each  year while alcohol kills 29,000 U.S. citizens as well. Still, in order to further minimize risk, the city can create special marijuana cultivation licenses issued only to responsible and educated adults who have passed a series of background checks. Similar regulations have been set in place for the private fermentation of alcohol to prevent dangerous bootleg alcohol from being publicly distributed.

Proper handling of marijuana would eliminate the dangers of marijuana falling into the hands of children and marijuana causing odor problems. Further legalizing some private cultivation of marijuana detracts from the stigma of marijuana usage and promotes better education, awareness, and understanding of the drug. Instead of being social taboo, marijuana can instead be a substance that everyone, including teens, is aware of and educated on its risks and benefits.

City officials must not forget that marijuana is not only a drug but a medicine that can improve human lives. Marijuana has been used to treat many mental and physical illnesses, including arthritis, cancer and depression. It is time society stops viewing marijuana as an entirely harmful substance — Saratoga can and should take steps toward the progressive normalization of marijuana usage by allowing permit-based marijuana cultivation.