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Local experts debate marijuana's legal status

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Amarillo, TX - Marijuana has been used by many cultures for thousands of years, but its legal status is still a point of contention in most countries. And this evening (May 2), a debate between a district attorney and a criminal defense lawyer weighed the costs and benefits of legalization.

Marijuana is by far the most widely used illegal drug in the nation, with an estimated thirty million smokers in the U.S.  And opponents say legalization would only open the floodgates for even more widespread abuse and the societal ills that come with it, as Randall County District Attorney argues, "If we legalize it, instead of 30 million people smoking it, we're going to see 70, 80, 90 people doing it on a regular basis and so instead of four million people dependent, we're going to see twelve million -- what's the cost?

The United States is the number one buyer and consumer of black market drugs from Mexico.  And one main argument for legalization is that doing so would take considerable power away from ruthless drug cartels.

"If marijuana was legal in this country, I think a huge percentage of organized crime would disappear, because there'd be no market for what they were doing any more," says Jeff Blackburn, a local criminal defense attorney.

Currently fifteen states have legalized medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana.  and advocates for legalization say the rest of the nation should follow suit for both logistic and moral reasons.

"Marginalizing young people - and even not-so-young people over doing something as relatively harmless as smoking weed is highly immoral," says Blackburn.

"What's the real reason you want to see marijuana legalized?" asks Farren.  "It's not because you want to help people who have HIV or cancer and you want to make it available to them, or you want to break the backs of the drug cartels. The real reason you want to see marijuana legalized is because you like to smoke it and get high."

The Department of Agriculture estimates the monetary value of marijuana at about $40 billion, which dwarfs almost every other agricultural sector combined.  Marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA since 1972, when President Richard Nixon commissioned a study on cannabis.

If you'd like to see that report for yourself or learn more about the arguments for and against legalization, follow the links attached to this story.

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