Why Marijuana Should Be Legal

Why Marijuana Should Be Legal

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Marijuana has been an issue of debate for many years. As each year passes more ordinary people, elected officials, newspaper columnists, economists, doctors, judges and even the Surgeon General of the United States are concluding that the effects of our drug control policy are at least as harmful as the effects of drugs themselves (Bennett). By removing the illegal drug label from marijuana some of these harmful effects would go with it. Marijuana is a drug obtained from dried and crumpled parts of the ubiquitous hemp plant Cannabis sativa (or Cannabis indica). It is smoked by rolling it in tobacco paper or placing into a pipe. It is also otherwise consumed worldwide by an estimated 200,000,000 persons for pleasure, an escape from reality, or relaxation (Legalization of Marijuana). By this definition it does not appear that marijuana is that much different from the legal drug, tobacco. Marijuana should be legalized due to the reasons that it's prohibition infringes on our liberty, costs the government and taxpayers billions of dollars, and there is great potential for the medical benefit that could be derived from its legalization. The government does not have the right to restrict the public from exercising it's right to freedom. Also, the government is wasting billions of dollars in the prosecution against possession of marijuana when there are clearly more important issues to which these monies could be redirected. Finally, Marijuana should be legalized because it can be used as a treatment to some illnesses and its potential health risks are unclear. As a call to action, I will provide instruction on how to act for the legalization movement at the conclusion of the argument.

People deserve the right to exercise their own freedom of choice when considering using marijuana. From a philosophical point of view, individuals deserve the right to make choices for themselves. According to the philosopher Herbert Spencer, what equal freedom means is that: (a) people will have the responsibility for their own lives, rather than surrendering this responsibility to others (or pretending that they have given up responsibility, which is every bit as destructive), (b) since that will be true, fewer mistakes will be made, as people will be able to see directly the consequences of their mistakes, and be able to quickly correct them (Marijuana: The Facts). So, according to Spencer the government is damaging the human race in the long run by not allowing individuals the freedom to make their own choices and thus destroying the chance for them to develop a sense of responsibility.

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He would say that individuals couldn't fully develop when shielded by the artificial agency of government from the consequences of one's own actions (Marijuana: The Facts). Freedom, in this sense, will allow individuals to improve themselves. By giving individuals the freedom to make their own choices they will receive the necessary practice in order to develop self-sufficiency and self-control so that one's desires, when acted upon, will not involve the destruction of the equal freedom of another (Marijuana: The Facts). The ethics of any society that criminalizes and seeks to punish 5% of its population over a simple plant must be called into question (Mcvay).

The government only has a right to limit those choices that endanger others. This does not apply to marijuana, since those who choose to use marijuana do so under their own free will and without harm to anyone else. It is even unclear if it harms the individual using it. The government also may have a right to limit individual actions if the actions pose a significant threat to the individual (him/herself). But this argument does not logically apply to marijuana because marijuana is far less dangerous than some other drugs, which are legal, such as alcohol and tobacco (norml.org). The following are statistics on Alcohol vs. Marijuana:
1. Over 100 thousand deaths annually are directly linked to acute alcohol poisoning.
2. In 4,000 years of recorded history, no one has ever died from a pot overdose.
3. Alcohol causes physical and psychology dependence.
4. Alcohol is reported to cause temporary and permanent damage to all major organs of the body.
5. Cannabis is a much less violent provoking substance than alcohol (Armentano).

Americans have referred to privacy as one of the basic human rights. According to U.S. traditions, there is a strong case to be made against the legislation of the private behavior of adults, so long as that behavior does not in turn violate the rights of others. Some people feel that this reasoning should hold also for marijuana. A person who smokes at home is not causing injury to others and, as it will be discussed later, the injury that is undergone by the individuals is not clear. It does not seem that smoking marijuana is any worse for a person's health than smoking cigarettes are. The marijuana user is indulging in a minor pleasure over which the government should have no jurisdiction (Legalization of Marijuana). Again, Spencer's philosophy tells us that freedom means that people will have responsibility over their own lives and only through our ability to choose will individuals fully develop and allow society as a whole to progress. Furthermore, the government's restriction on our freedom's regarding marijuana don't make sense because no injury is being inflicted on others, and the personal injury being undergone in unclear.

Moving on to the next issue, the government is wasting our time and money by locking up citizens who use marijuana, by concentrating its efforts on a relatively minor crime, and by spending billions of dollars on the persecution, prosecution, and incarceration of individuals breaking marijuana related laws. In 1998, the federal government spent $16 billion on the "drug war." Approximately 53%, or $8.4 billion dollars, were spent on enforcement, court, and prison expenses, while the rest was used for treatment and education. In 1991, the most recent year for which data are available, state and local governments spent a total of nearly $16 billion, of which about 80%, or $12.5 billion, was used for enforcement, court, and prison costs. The total annual criminal justice system expenditure for federal, state, and local governments is $20.9 billion ($8.4 billion + $12.5 billion). Marijuana, as usual, is lumped in with all illegal drugs; so, specific drugs do not break down this total annual expenditure of nearly $21 billion. Since, marijuana crimes account for 44% of all drug arrests, it is estimated that the war on marijuana consumers costs taxpayers $9 billion annually (mpp.org). This means that, taxpayers are forced to pay billions of dollars to persecute, prosecute, and incarcerate individuals while the government continues to ignore more important issues (norml.org). We could save billions of dollars every year as a nation if we stop wasting money, locking people up for having marijuana. In addition, if marijuana were legal, the government would be able to collect taxes on it, and would have a lot more money to pay for effective drug education programs and other important causes (norml.org). According to Van bakel, marijuana is the United States' #1 cash crop producing annual sales of 32 billion. A 6% tax on this would generate 1.9 billion dollars a year for the government.

Again, the federal budget would benefit from legalizing marijuana in two ways: Federal revenues would increase, because marijuana cigarettes would be taxed at the point of sale. The companies that make the cigarettes would also pay income taxes, adding to the federal coffers. Secondly, there would be a reduction in the amount spent on law enforcement efforts to apprehend and prosecute users and sellers of marijuana. The drug enforcement authorities might reduce their budget requests, or, more likely, focus more intensely on hard drugs and violent crimes. The courts would be relieved of hearing some drug cases, as well. The most important gain would be in the quality of government. The sorts of temptations and opportunities that lead to corruption would be significantly minimized. The illogical pattern of law enforcement, which now considers marijuana as being more dangerous than alcohol, would end. It would set more achievable goals for law enforcement, and this would lend strength and credibility to the government (Legalization of Marijuana).

Finally, marijuana should be legalized because it can be used as treatment to some illnesses and the potential health risks are unclear. According to the Marijuana legalization organization, marijuana can be used as medicine. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence, as well as some scientific research, which supports the belief that marijuana can be effective as a treatment for some illnesses. Benefits of marijuana can include appetite stimulation for cancer and AIDS patients, and general pain relief for various illnesses. Yet our government consistently stands in the way of research and testing of marijuana as medicine (Medical Marijuana Reports).

The reason that marijuana poses a health threat, at all, is because most people smoke it, and smoking anything is hazardous to your health. But there are other ways to use marijuana, which pose no health risk. One of the best ways to get high is by digesting the drug. Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that marijuana in food form, such as brownies, produces a more enjoyable high. But eating pot is not a choice for most people because it takes more marijuana to get stoned that way and marijuana is expensive. So most people who use pot choose to smoke it, and risk damaging their health, simply because it is illegal and therefore expensive. Legalize marijuana and the health risks will be reduced (MLO)! By legalizing marijuana, the price of marijuana would go down and people would be able to afford to ingest it instead of smoking it, thus reducing some health risks. In addition, marijuana could be grown in more favorable conditions, thus removing some of the naturally present toxins found in the environment from the marijuana and reducing the health risks even further.

According to an article posted on the marijuana.com web site, the medical value of marijuana has become increasingly clear to many physicians and patients, although they do not say exactly how many physicians and patients. There are three reasons for this. First, it is remarkably non-toxic. Unlike most of the medicines in the present pharmacopoeia, it has never caused an overdose death. Its short-term and long-term side effects are minimal compared to medicines for which it will be substituted. Second, once patients no longer have to pay the prohibition tax, it will be much less expensive than the medicines it replaces. Third, it is remarkably versatile. Case histories and clinical experience suggest that it is useful in the treatment of more than two dozen symptoms and syndromes, and others will undoubtedly be discovered in the future (cannabis.com).

Due to the abundance of information highlighting the benefit that could be derived from the legalization of marijuana I have argued that marijuana should be legalized. The reasons that I have cited in support of it's legalization include the fact that it's prohibition infringes on our liberty, it costs the government and taxpayers billions of dollars each year, and there is great potential for the medical benefit that could be derived from its legalization. These reasons should be enough to convince even the most rigid conservative of the benefits that would come from the legalization of marijuana. Therefore in order to fight for the cause you can: Write a letter to your government leaders and tell them that marijuana should be legal, Vote for candidates who support legalization and for ballot measures or propositions that support it, and you can volunteer for the Marijuana Legalization Organization, MLO.

Works Cited

Arementano, Paul. "Cannabis and the Brain: A User's Guide." 14 Feb 2006. NORML Foundation. 7 Mar 2006.

Armentano, Paul. "Cannabis, Mental Health and Context: The Case For Regulation." 29 Jan 2006. NORML Foundation. 7 Mar 2006.

Bennett, B., Johnson, R. "Current Felony Marijuana Inmates in the US Tops 135,000." 22 Dec 2002. BBS News. 7 Mar 2006.

"Cannabis Boosts Brain Power in Rats." Journal of Clinical Investigation. 16 Oct 2005. Medical Research News. 7 Mar 2006.

"Cannabis/Hemp FAQ [Part 1]." 26 Dec 2005. Psychotropics Cornucopia Inc. 7 Mar 2006.

"Large Marijuana Leaf." No Date. Online Image. Drugs and Drug Users (Paranoia). 1 Apr 2006. .

"Marijuana: The Facts." 2006. Drug Policy Alliance. 7 Mar 2006.

McVay, D. (1991). Marijuana Legalization: The Time Is Now. SAGE Publications Inc. 22 Apr 2006.

"Medical Marijuana." 2006. Drug Policy Alliance. 7 Mar 2006.

"Medicinal Marijuana Posters." No Date. Online Image. Wo/Mens Alliance for Medical Marijuana. 1 Apr 2006. < http://www.medical-marijuana-testimonials.org/free-poster-downloads.htm>.

"Medical Marijuana Reports." 6 Sep 2005. NORML Foundation. 7 Mar 2006.

"Small Marijuana Leaf." No Date. Online Image. Alexabebe.com. 1 Apr 2006. < http://www.alexabebe.com/wp-content/MarijuanaLeaf2.gif>.

Stimeling, Gary. "Straight Dope: The Research on Marijuana Safety." 2005. Psychotropics Cornucopia Inc. 7 Mar 2006.
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