Graphic by Olivia Bocanegra
Graphic by Olivia Bocanegra

Since Proposition 215 passed in 1996, which legalized medical marijuana use in California, there have been debates and friction regarding its implementation at the city, state and federal level. Despite being passed by a majority of voters, many officials have circumvented the democratic process and banned the opening of medical cannabis dispensaries in several cities and counties, including Riverside. However, on June 2 a ballot measure called the Riverside Medical Marijuana Restriction and Limitation Act will be voted on, which aims to “permit, tax, and regulate a small number of dispensaries” within Riverside. Isn’t it time that we stop limiting patients’ rights and earn money for our city’s floundering economy?

I’m not trying to argue that marijuana is a magic panacea that will cure all major diseases and usher in a hazy utopia, despite the fact that more than half of medical professionals condone its use. However, it offers an alternative to patients who hope to avoid narcotics, and has been approved for treatment of AIDS, cancer, anorexia, insomnia, arthritis and numerous other ills. While there are medicines that offer treatment for these ailments, the side effects for some of the treatment options are often too much to bear.

Consider the oft-prescribed treatment for insomnia: Ambien. While effective, it boasts an extensive list of side effects, including: chest pain, confusion, shakiness, anxiety, fainting, irregular heartbeat, paranoia, irritability, sores and ulcers. Furthermore, marijuana has been shown to help cope with side effects of drugs prescribed for major ailments, such as AIDS.

It doesn’t take a master economist to see that industry in Downtown Riverside is dotted with dilapidated storefronts, and the unemployment rate is a whopping 7.4 percent in Riverside County. Drugs sell, and having an avenue where people can purchase marijuana, one of the most profitable drugs in the world, dispensaries will have no choice but to hire workers to deal with the influx of patients. Furthermore, taxation of these transactions will aid our state’s economy, and the influx of revenue may prevent Sacramento from having to make more budget cuts.

Detractors of medical marijuana argue that people who aren’t suffering from serious ailments abuse the dispensary system. Is it so bad that a few people abuse a loophole in the system? The initial ban on dispensaries didn’t end all marijuana consumption in Riverside, and allowing a legal option for stoners to buy marijuana may prevent some of your friends and family from suffering injury or death at the hands of a shady drug dealer in some dark alley somewhere. In addition, closing dispensaries because of a few bad eggs only punishes people who use medical marijuana for honest reasons. That would be like banning pool cues because some people use them in bar fights.

For those worried about the impact dispensaries could have on the children of Riverside, the law has a stipulation that states that dispensaries can’t open near “parks, schools or homes.” In addition, children may actually be safer if these dispensaries are allowed to operate, as Colorado has seen a decrease in their violent crime rates since legalization.

Some of the state profits made from marijuana sales in Colorado have been used for anti-drug programs in schools, which could be the difference between kids choosing to say “yes” or “no” at a young age. Since decriminalization for medical purposes is often a first step before legalization, the passing of the “Riverside Medical Marijuana Restriction and Limitation Act” seems poised to only offer further benefits for our state and city.

For those who fear cannabis and oppose decriminalization purely because “it’s illegal,” look into a brief history of marijuana prohibition. There weren’t any grand scientific trials that proved marijuana posed a health hazard — it was instead criminalized because it was associated with African-American jazz musicians and Mexican migrant workers, and predominantly white lawmakers feared that the influence of non-Caucasians would ruin our country.

Marijuana has merely been on the wrong side of history, and we now have a chance to help limit an outdated, pointless law. When you consider the benefits and the lack of detriments, more dispensaries is the right choice for Riverside.