For decades, a steadfast group of Americans have called for the decriminalization of marijuana, liking its use to that of alcohol and cigarettes, which of course are legal.
On Thursday, two U.S. lawmakers lent their support to the cause, introducing legislation that would eliminate marijuana from the federal government's list of controlled substances.
The bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, wouldn't legalize marijuana, but would leave states to decide how to regulate it.
Saving the Government Billions?
In announcing the proposed repeal, Frank said that he doesn't encourage people to use marijuana just as he doesn't promote alcohol or tobacco use. "But in none of these cases do I think prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions is good public policy."
Further, the Boston-area lawmaker said, "Criminally prosecuting adults for making the choice to smoke marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources and an intrusion on personal freedom."
A recent study by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, found that legalizing marijuana would save federal, state and local governments $8.7 billion a year, money now spent enforcing the drug's prohibition. A similar amount in revenue would be derived through taxes from the legal sale of marijuana at a time when governments at every level are facing massive deficits, the report showed.
What isn't clear is what federal decriminalization of marijuana might mean for jobs. For example, law-enforcement officers now tasked with targeting and arresting those who grow and use marijuana would instead be allocated to some other police function, says Jeffrey A. Miron, a senior lecturer in economics at Harvard University and a co-author of the report.
An Industry in the Shadows
Further, Miron tells AOL Jobs, predictions of employment growth in industries that support growing and using marijuana are "hopeful or misguided ... because, basically, all that's happening now. It's just not being counted as part of the official economy."
So while measured employment might well go up among those who, say, grow marijuana legally -- since illegal growers aren't now counted -- "the actual number of marijuana farmers wouldn't be any different," Miron says.
Moreover, he notes that in some places, such as those states where medical marijuana use has been legalized, components of marijuana production, such as fertilizer sales, already are being recorded.
Workers Who Use
There's another aspect of employment that could see change, though it isn't in the proposal that Frank put forth Thursday. It's in one that the lawmaker introduced last month that would reclassify marijuana from its current status as a dangerous drug with no medical value and allow its use as a prescription drug in states that permit such use.
The bill, should it pass, would aid workers who use medical marijuana during non-working hours to treat pain, depression or other maladies. Currently, workers in some of the 16 states that allow medical marijuana use can be legally fired from their jobs should they fail drug screening as a condition of employment.
In addition, a state government's stamp of medical marijuana approval doesn't eliminate the possibility that users, dispensers or growers won't be arrested by local and state law enforcement officials, using the federal ban as a reason, says Kris Hermes of the medical-marijuana advocacy organization, Safe Access Now.
"It doesn't make much sense, but that is often the justification" for such arrests, he says.
While Frank's reclassification bill doesn't specifically address workers' rights, Hermes says, "it would invariably compel states to remove such discriminatory policies if they exist."
Next: If Medical Marijuana Is Legal, Why Are Employees Getting Fired for Using It?
Stories from CNN Money
- Initial unemployment claims rise more than expected
- Postal Service to skip retiree fund payments
- Why America is going the way of the freelancer