It's Time for Decriminalization of Marijuana Argumentative Persuasive Essays

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It's Time for Decriminalization of Marijuana Lately it seems that drug policy and the war on drugs has been in the headlines quite a lot. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the policies that the United States government takes against illegal drugs are coming into question. The mainstream media is catching on to the message of organizations and individuals who have long been considered liberal "Counter Culture" supporters. The marijuana question seems to be the most prevalent and pressed of the drugs and issues that are currently being addressed. The messages of these organizations and individuals include everything from legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, to full-unrestricted legalization of the drug. Of course, the status quo of vote seeking politicians and conservative policy makers has put up a strong resistance to this "new" reform lobby. The reasons for the resistance to the changes in drug policies are multiple and complex. The issues of marijuana's possible negative effects, its use as a medical remedy, the criminality of distribution and usage, and the disparity in the enforcement of current drug laws have all been brought to a head and must be addressed in the near future. It is apparent that it would be irresponsible and wrong for the government to not evaluate it's current general drug policies and perhaps most important, their marijuana policy. With the facts of racial disparity in punishment, detrimental effects, fiscal strain and most importantly, the history of the drug, the government most certainly must come to the conclusion that they must, at the very least, decriminalize marijuana use and quite probably fully legalize it. The history of marijuana in North America is integral in understanding the reasons it is now illegal and how today's policies have evolved. It is important to look to the past and see factors leading to the outlawing and criminalization of marijuana-especially the stages of misinformation, silence, and the imposition of zero tolerance or severe penalties for such victimless crimes -before looking at the effectiveness and future of these policies. While marijuana was not actually outlawed until the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 it was a part of the country and society since before the arrival of its current transplanted inhabitants. Hemp is the name of a species of Cannabis that has been used throughout history for many things including rope, clothing, medicine, oils and other such novelties. Marijuana and hemp are both of the species Cannabis Sativa and occur naturally along with a score of other variations of the plant. Marijuana is simply a form of hemp that is higher in delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana's naturally occurring psychoactive chemical. Today we hear many nicknames for marijuana including: weed, pot, budda, grass, and bud to name a few. Marijuana has long been used by the indigenous peoples of North and South America for many things, from medical to religious purposes. Of course a select few Europeans exploited narcotics and different types of marijuana. However, in Europe it was not a widespread phenomenon, and neither was it from the time of colonization or even industrialization in America. It was not until the era of the 19th amendment to the U.S. constitution, known as prohibition, that marijuana became a widely used substance in the U.S.. A large part of the original fear and misrepresentation of marijuana was due to ethnic and racial concerns, especially in the southeastern United States. Immigrant populations moving from Mexico into the U.S. and some other groups such as Jamaicans and other West Indian transplants from the slave trade were introducing the weed into the population of the U.S. as a recreational drug much like Alcohol or Tobacco. It was a xenophobic reaction to this seemingly alien population and their customs and actions that spawned an early backlash against the drug. In 1937 the federal government created the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively making the sale and possession of the plant illegal. During this early period of a prohibitive stance on marihuana no research was conducted into the effect of the weed and any possible detrimental effects that it could have. Yet due to the government and society wide ignorance of pot and its true characteristics-largely due to an ethnocentric refusal to accept the views of the native and traditional cultures of the continent-weed was assumed by the government and media and consequently society to be a narcotic that caused psychological dependence and led to violent crime and insanity. The first of three general strategies or trends used to fight marijuana in U.S. society was silence and denial. As a consequence of this, discussion of the subject was prohibited in public schools during the 1930's. The Motion Picture Association of America stopped the images of narcotic use from being shown on film. This unofficial and unannounced policy lasted from around 1934 until 1956. When it became apparent that this approach was ineffective, an approach of gross exaggeration and distortion was launched. The objective of the new policy was to scare people who may use marijuana into abstention. Publications such as medical journals and newspapers printed stories that told of the power of the drug to drive people to heinous inhuman crimes (perhaps such as those which had earlier been committed by the U.S. government on the native population). Such films as Reefer Madness (1936) were framed as "documentaries." Reefer Madness is the most famous of these films and is narrated by a high school principal imparting his wisdom and experiences with the "demon weed". The bulk of the film focuses on almost slapstick scenes of high school kids smoking pot and quickly going insane, playing "evil" jazz music, being committed as insane, and going on murder sprees. Penalties for marijuana use have historically fluctuated with the public's perception of the level of danger, which the drug posed. In other words, during decades in which the public perceived the drug to be seriously detrimental, the penalties were stiff, and in times when it was seen as less of an issue, the penalties were not as harsh (we are seeing an exception to this pattern at the moment). One of the first mandatory prison sentences for selling marijuana was introduced in the 1950's: a ten year minimum prison sentence for marijuana possession and a mandatory death sentence for selling marijuana to a minor. In the following two decades penalties decreased as usage increased with eleven states eventually decriminalizing personal use. In the 1980's, while usage declined, the so-called "three strike rule" was implemented requiring that third time offenders be sentenced to a mandatory life term. Judges who used to be able to use personal/professional discretion in sentencing were now required to base their punishment on "the most serious provable charge". ( Technically, should there be a worry about the effects of marijuana? Is it addictive and physically damaging? These are questions that must be answered in order to determine the validity and real reasons for today's laws. As with many answers to marijuana questions these are quite simple to answer. Even in 1975 respected authors said things such as, "The consensus is that marijuana in moderate amounts is not addictive." (Schroeder p.49) Today this consensus has been proven by even more current and scientifically respectable studies. On the question of whether marijuana is physically damaging or not, one can simply refer to the multiple studies that have shown alcohol and Tobacco to be far more detrimental to human health. "No brain damage has been documented relating to marijuana use, in contrast with the well-established brain damage of chronic alcoholism." (Schroeder p.51) This, of course, has been recently backed in quite a few independent and government studies as well as with information that alcohol when consumed in large amounts even when not in an alcoholic nature is libel to cause brain damage. So should we technically worry about the effects of marijuana? The answer would seem to be that we should worry about the psychoactive qualities of the drug, but that it is no more damaging or risky than alcohol or tobacco. Many believe that the government and public's current attitude towards marijuana is based on the belief that relaxed policies lead to greater use. However, Holland, which legalized marijuana in 1976 has witnessed, according to a government study, a 40% decrease in regular use. (Zinberg and Robertson) This is a strong argument for legalization in the United States. While facts about usage are powerful, perhaps the most sobering facts are those of the clearly racist and arbitrary application of the current laws and policies regarding the drug. The hammer of incarceration for drug offenses has by no means fallen equally across race or age categories, with young, African American men suffering unprecedented rates of incarceration for drug offenses. "According to the Sentencing Project, nearly one in three (32%) black men between the ages of 20 and 29 were under criminal justice control in 1995. A recent report by the Building Blocks for Youth Initiative found that black youth were admitted to state public facilities for drug offenses at 48 times the rate of white youth." ( This is a truly sobering statistic in an era that is supposed to be the most tolerant and equal in history. Further more, it is reported that, "From 1986 to 1991, while the number of blacks imprisoned for violent offenses rose by about the same amount as whites (31,000 and 33,000, respectively), the number of blacks imprisoned for drug offenses increased four times as much as the increase for whites (66,000 vs. 15,000). This occurred at a time when survey data showed that five times as many whites were using drugs as blacks. The consequences of mass incarceration affect individuals and whole communities. The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch has reported that by 1998, 1.4 million African America men, or 13% of the black male adult population, had lost the right to vote due to their involvement in the criminal justice system." ( It is obvious from such blatant, unequally applied laws and punishments are a reflection of the problem that this system has historically had with only persecuting the ethnic minority as a proverbial scapegoat. Further showing the inequality of the current drug laws in this country are these facts, "... Human Rights Watch released a report focusing on the extent to which African Americans "have been burdened with imprisonment because of nonviolent drug offenses." The findings of the report were sobering: * While blacks make up about 13% of regular drug users in the US, they make up 62.7% of all drug offenders admitted to prison. * While there are 5 times as many white drug users as black drug users, black men are admitted to state prison for drug offenses at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than that of white men. This drives an overall black incarceration rate that is 8.2 times higher than the white incarceration rate. * In seven states, blacks constitute 80 to 90% of all drug offenders sent to prison. In 15 states, black men are admitted to state prison for drug charges at a rate that is 20 to 57 times the white male rate." ( On April 5th, 2001 at the George Washington University a panel of experts on the Drug war discussed its effectiveness and its validity. Much of the discussion focused around the reasons for the government's continuation of ineffective drug policies. Panelists included representatives from the Committee for Common Sense Drug Policy (CSDP), Amnesty International, the White House Drug Policy Office and a Latin American Studies Professor from George Washington University. Some interesting statistics were brought up at the discussion. According to Kevin Seese of the CSDP, half of the marijuana consumed in the United States is grown here while the government is spending money to stop marijuana production in Latin American countries. He also pointed out the fact that one out of four prisoners in the world are imprisoned in the United States, a significant percentage of which are non-violent offenders, this in a country that is supposedly the freest on earth. Richard Baum of the White House Drug Policy office asserted that the United States drug war budget for 2001 will be in the region of a staggering 19 Billion dollars, much of which is specifically earmarked for marijuana interdiction and enforcement. It is quite obvious that the decriminalization and/or legalization of marijuana would have a positive effect on America as a whole. Beginning with the freeing up of billions of dollars that are being spent on the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders a shift in laws and policy would lift a huge burden on the penal system and allow for the money, or a portion of it, to be spent on things like rehab and treatment programs. The legalization of marijuana would also reduce the risk of it becoming a "gateway drug." With marijuana legalized and regulated (like tobacco and alcohol) it would not facilitate the introduction of users into the world of harmful drug use, by taking the illegal dealer out of the equation. In a world of legal marijuana the closest a buyer would come to meeting a dealer who happened to also sell heroin or another dangerous narcotic would be as close as any other average citizen. With legal marijuana we would hopefully not see the systematic oppression of this country's minorities by a legal system that seems to be doing everything, but trying to help them. This would theoretically change the face of the progressive drug use problem, of exposure, that we see today when buyers meet dealers who sell many drugs other than just marijuana. Furthermore, legalization would remove the harmful image that the federal government has gained for historically not admitting when it has made a mistake. A bold shift in policy would most likely allow the public to regain confidence that the system as working for public benefit rather than political gain. The history of marijuana and the gross injustices that we are currently seeing in the penal system together provide a near indefinable argument for legalization. If we hope to see a drop and reversal in the racial and ethnic discrimination that we see in our government's conduct legalization would be an effective and positive first step. American's have been living in what has been coined " a Puritanical hangover" for most of our history. It is time for us to shake off the shackles of our historical submissiveness to the wishes of a minority of citizens that feel they must dictate to us our ethical and moral responsibilities in the name of their beliefs and distorted opinions.

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