By Zach Colona
About two years ago 21-year-old Allen Johnson (not his real name), was arrested for possession of marijuana in Chester County. Although he did not possess any other drugs, he admits he was struggling with addiction.
Johnson was given two options: jail or drug court, which is similar to probation.
He picked drug court, a process which took about two years, required a $2,000 fine and countless drug tests to clear his record. He successfully completed the requirements of the program over several months and was released.
Like Johnson, many are affected by laws that prohibit the distribution and consumption of a drug that is rapidly becoming legal in many states.
Nineteen states allow marijuana for medicinal purposes and four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington) have legalized it for recreational purposes.
The most recent to make a move towards decriminalization is the District of Columbia, which just passed a bill with 70 percent approval that as of Feb. 26 allows people to grow, consume and possess marijuana in Washington D.C.
This is just one of many places in America that now allows weed to be controlled and treated similar to alcohol.
Advocates for legalization claim benefits to the economy, prison system and the health industry.
Proponents say that benefits to the economy are clear because legalization will open a new market; essentially, drug dealing will turn into store fronts, thereby creating new taxable jobs. Supporters also say that the much larger and greater impact is the drug’s tax revenue.
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the 10 percent tax on retail marijuana has raised more than $51 million as of February 2015.
Supporters also claim legalization will have a positive effect on the prison system because if there are less people in jail there’s less funding needed to keep the prison operating.
In a State of the State address in 2013, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke on the subject of marijuana , saying, “These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize and they create a permanent record. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it must end now.”
He also said roughly 50,000 arrests occur each year in New York City for marijuana possession.
Today there are actions taken to reduce the penalties on marijuana right here in the city of Philadelphia.
As of Oct. 20, Mayor Michael Nutter signed a bill into action that only fines individuals who are caught with weed $25 to $100 if they posses less than 30 grams.
Laws like this will cut back on the number of people put in jail for marijuana related charges, experts say. Furthermore processing 50,000 people through any level of jail costs a lot of money.
Finally, proponents say marijuana has health benefits which some doctors support.
“Marijuana can be helpful,” said Vivek Murthy, the United States acting Surgeon General. He also hopes to let science dictate policies on the drug.
Some clear benefits are easing the effects of chemotherapy and increasing one’s appetite for patients undergoing cancer treatments or suffering with terminal illness.
Many states have legalized cannabis for health purposes and many high profile doctors have good things to say.
“I think most of us have come around to the belief that marijuana is hugely beneficial when used correctly for medicinal purposes,” said Dr. Mehmet Oz, a tv personality and professor of the Department of Surgery at Columbia University.
Some advocates wonder if prior charges will be removed from peoples records if the drug is made legal.
Johnson spent nearly two years attending meetings and was subject to random testing.
But if Johnson was arrested a couple of years later, he most likely would have been fined $25 to $100 and sent on his way. Still, Johnson, who works at a supermarket in Bear, Del., says he doesn’t regret it.
“It’s crazy how fast things change,” said Johnson. “My whole life would be drastically different. I don’t think I could do it again, but I think [the experience] made me a better son and brother.