Legalizing Marijuana

Legalizing Marijuana

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Abraham Lincoln once stated that, “Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.” In today’s society, this statement still applies in reference to the illegal use of marijuana. Marijuana prohibition causes far more harm than marijuana itself. Keeping marijuana illegal is expensive and causes crime. Out of four possible connections between drugs and crime, at least three would not exist if drug prohibition laws were repealed. First, crimes which occur billions of times a year are producing, selling, buying, and consuming strictly controlled and banned substances. If drug prohibition laws were repealed, these activities would obviously cease to be crimes. Next, many users commit crimes, such as robbery, dealing, prostitution, and running numbers to earn money to support their habits. If marijuana was less expensive and easier to obtain, which would be the case if it were legalized, the crimes committed under these circumstances would dramatically decline. The third drug-crime link I drug trafficking.

Without prohibition laws, those people trying to make a living by selling and distribution would not be thrown in jail. Support for legalizing marijuana is at its highest level in 30 years, according to the USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll. Since 1996, voters in eight states have passed initiatives supporting marijuana for medical purposes at least. Polls show more than 70% of voters support medical marijuana. Polls in Canada and England show half the population now supports legalization. The USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found support for legalization “highest among 18 to 49 year olds, people in the West, and independent voters. Opposition was greatest among the elderly, those who attend church weekly, and Republicans.” Those people generally do not accept change or want anything to be different. Marijuana should be legalized, if not completely then at least for medicinal purposes. Many argue that legalizing marijuana allows anyone to grow, smoke, and use the herb. The Lakeland Police Department calls marijuana “a psychoactive drug which increases anxiety, depression, paranoia, delusion, lack of motivation, aggression, risky behavior, and depersonalization” (Marijuana Legalization Issues 1). Opposers of legalization say that marijuana can cause physical harm if ingested in great amounts for a long enough time. They argue that passing an amendment to legalize marijuana under the pretense of medicinal purposes gives all people, including children, felons, and prison inmates, a constitutional right to grow and smoke it for a headache, cold, or any other common ailment.

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Another argument is that unlike other drug addicts, the marijuana addict is slow to recognize his addiction. The gateway effect is well established in research. Use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are major factor for addiction and harder drug use. Yes, marijuana users are more likely to try and to use harder drugs than those who never smoked in the first place. Does that mean marijuana should not be decriminalized? Of course not. Like alcohol, marijuana use is only unhealthy if ingested irresponsibly or in mass amounts. An idea to ban marijuana based on addictive properties would hardly be consistent with allowing tobacco to be legal. By using dosage and quality controls, safety guidelines, and an age limit, marijuana can be regulated for medicinal or other beneficial usage. By letting others know of the conditions associated with marijuana use, such as any prescription drug’s side effects, people can choose whether they want to use marijuana and they maybe more careful. Marijuana should be legalized, but with caution. The cost for prohibition is high, regarding money and people’s lives. Since 1981, federal expenditures on drug enforcement have more than tripled from less than 1 billion dollars a year to 3 billion (Nadelman 8). According to the Drug Enforcement Board (DEA) and the Coast Guard have risen during the past 7 years from about $220 million to roughly $500 million. During the same period, FBI resources devoted to drug enforcement increased from $8 million a year to over $100 million; U.S. Marshals resources from $26 million to about $80 million; U.S. Attorney resources from $20 million to about $100 million; U.S. Customs resources from $180 million to about $400 million; and Bureau of Prison resources from $77 million to about $300 million. Expenditures on drug control by the military and the intelligence agents are more difficult to calculate, although by all amounts they have increased by at least the same magnitude and total hundreds of millions of dollars per year (8-9). Federal, state, and local government spend about $75 billion a year on law enforcement and criminal justice programs. About $20 billion of that is directly related to drug law enforcement. Roughly another $15 billion is related to crimes committed to obtain drug money or is systematically related in some way to drug commerce. This means about $35 billion per year is spent on drug law enforcement and lost by crimes committed to obtain drug money. The $35 billion along with money squandered on the ineffective drug suppression activities of the government, and the money lost as a result of the unnaturally high price of drugs, creates a $100 billion total (Duke 354-355). Benson Roe believes, “It is time to recognize that the problem is not the drugs but the enormous amounts of untaxed money diverted from the economy to criminals.” The economic incentive for dealers to push their product aggressively is a multi-billion dollar return, which has much more power to increase substance abuse than any enforcement program could possibly do to constrain that usage. Roe said to, “Look at the fact that a relatively low budget public education campaign has resulted in a significant decline in the U.S. consumption of alcohol and tobacco during a period when a costly and intensive campaign to curtail illegal drugs only resulted in their increased usage.” Scrap the nonsense of trying to obliterate drugs and acknowledge their presence in our society as we have with alcohol and tobacco. Legalization would result in purity assurance under FDA regulation, labeled concentration of the product (to avoid overdose), obliteration of vigorous marketing (pushers), savings in expensive enforcement, and significant tax revenues. Efforts and funds can then be directed to educating the public on the hazards of all drugs (110-111). Legalization would save our government mass amounts of money. In the U.S., all levels of government now participate in the war on drugs. Society currently spends billion every year to hunt down fairly peaceful citizens who just happen to enjoy getting high. These people are locked up in prison and taxpayers must foot the bill. If marijuana were legal, the government would be able to collect taxes on it, and would have much more money to pay for effective drug education programs and other important causes, such as education, children, and healthcare. There would be much more money to spend on important issues if marijuana were legal. In the past thirty years, over 10 million people have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the U.S.; most of them were for possession and use. In 1996 there were 641,600 marijuana arrests in America. 85% were for possession, more than in any previous year (Glasser 133). Those were real people who were paying taxes, supporting their families, and working hard to make a better life for their children. Suddenly, they are arrested, jailed, and treated as criminals, solely because of their recreational choices. Tens of thousands of people are now in prison for marijuana offenses. An even greater number are punished with probations, fines, and civil sanctions, including having their property seized, their licenses revoked, and their employment terminated. Courts also deny marijuana defendants access to state and federal benefits, including college loans, small business loans, farm subsides, occupational licenses, and government grants contracts and fellowships (Morgan and Zimmer 38 and 43). According to government statistics, federal and state prison populations have increased by 90% since the mid 1980s, while the crime rate remains virtually unchanged. Over half the prison inmates are still there on drug charges (Heath 48). That this massive incarceration has had little effect on reducing crime is evident. Increased reliance on mandatory sentencing, eliminating parole, and building more jail cells has nothing to do with rehabilitation and apparently accomplishes little in the way of deterrence. Criminalizing marijuana users does harm by blocking effective treatments and incarcerating far to many people. Our prison and jail population, now more than a million and a half, has doubled over the past decade, and more than tripled since 1980 (49). Every serious scholar and government commission examining the relationship between marijuana use and crime has reached the same conclusion that marijuana does not cause crime. The vast majority of marijuana users are peaceful and do not commit crimes other than the crime of possessing marijuana. Among those who do commit crimes, marijuana plays no casual role. Almost all human and animal studies show that marijuana decreases rather than increases aggression (Morgan and Zimmer 88). If marijuana were legal, any violence associated with it would disappear. Controlled distribution of the drug in a safe, regulated environment will eliminate the black-market and its associated criminality. We should legalize marijuana to reduce crime and violence even further. Jailing innocent people solely on recreational choices is a travesty of justice that causes enormous pain, suffering, and financial hardship for millions of American families. It also invokes disrespect for the law and the criminal justice system overall. Responsible marijuana smokers present no threat or danger to society, and little reason exists for treating them as criminals. Marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes; it is safe and effective medicine. Marijuana, or cannabis, has never achieved the medical status of other drugs, such as morphine and opium, although its medicinal qualities have been recognized for centuries. Marijuana was utilized as far back as 2737 B.C. by a Chinese emperor named Shen Nung. Some 2900 years later in A.D. 300 a Chinese physician mixed cannabis resin with white wine to make a surgical anesthetic. By the 1890s medical reports had stated the drug was useful as a pain reliever. However, despite its historical significance, the use of marijuana as medicine has become a widely debated and controversial topic (Grispoon 136). Marijuana has been tested to treat glaucoma, asthma, convulsions, epilepsy, migraine headaches, and the reduction of nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy. Many medical professionals, as well as their patients, believe marijuana to be promising in the treatment of these disorders, and others, including multiple sclerosis, and spasticy in amputees and people with neurological disorders. There is abundant anecdotal evidence, as well as scientific research, supporting this belief. 85% of Americans already support the allowance of seriously ill patients to legally access marijuana to relieve pain and suffering. Many have had a family member sick with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, or some other potentially devastating disease, who had to risk has had to risk arrest and jail to obtain marijuana to alleviate side effects of chemotherapy, AIDS wasting syndrome, or treat other serious, and potentially life threatening illnesses (Stroup 14-15). Supporters of medical marijuana make three arguments against opponents, proving their ideas to be flawed. The first is over a pill called marinol, which is made of THC, the main ingredient in marijuana. The pill, besides being expensive, seems to cause higher levels of anxiety and depression. The pure THC also produces stronger, more unpleasant psychoactive side effects than smoked marijuana. Brookhiser says, “Since I was trying to combat vomiting, I didn’t think the pill was the smart way to go”(149). The next argument is that the reason marijuana has not been thoroughly tested is because the government gives scientists the run-around. Dr. Donald Abrams, an AIDS researcher, has been trying to obtain marijuana, for research, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The NIDA says that if it supplies Abrams, it may be overwhelmed with requests from other researchers. “Can’t have that,” says Brookhiser; “then there might be some research”(149). The third argument is that instead of setting a bad example for children targeted by drug pushers, they are shown an image of a drug user as a bald, cancer patient stuck on Intravenous drugs. This can show children drugs are not glamorous and fun. Basic human compassion and common sense dictate that ill citizens should be allowed to use whatever medication proves most effective for them, subject to supervision of a physician. Many groups and states have already taken strides to decriminalize medical marijuana. Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), expresses a belief that the government’s opposition to doctors prescribing marijuana for pain relief and nausea had helped legalization efforts. “The longer they fight this battle, the more progress we make” Stroup says “Americans rethink their position on marijuana when they see a government disinterest in helping dying patients.” Robert Hussey agrees that medical marijuana had given momentum to advocates of legalization (Cauchon 1). The “Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative,” if passed, allows, licensed physicians to prescribe marijuana for medical treatment of seriously ill individuals. It would allow marijuana to aid in the treatment if HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, muscle spasms, cancer therapy, and other serious illnesses. It would legalize marijuana possession, use, cultivation, and distribution for those illnesses which marijuana medically benefits. The initiative would also require the Director of Public Health to propose the D.C. council a plan providing for distribution of marijuana to qualify patients enrolled in approved programs. Using marijuana without a recommendation from a physician would be strictly prohibited. Eleven states, led by Oregon, adopted modified versions of decriminalization in 1973. Each state retained only a small civil fine of minor marijuana offenses and eliminated arrest and jailing; a small citation similar to a traffic ticket was substituted. To the marijuana smoker the advantage of this approach is obvious. The individual is spared the indignity of an arrest and jailing, and avoids a criminal record. The approach also benefits law enforcement by freeing up officers to focus on actual serious crimes. Nearly one-third of Americans live in places which have now had a 15-20 year real world experience with marijuana decriminalization, and their experience had been overwhelmingly favorable (Stroup 12-13). Contrary to fears that have been expressed, marijuana usage rates are the same if decriminalized states as well as states where smokers are still arrested. Attitudes towards marijuana use among young people in decriminalized states have also stayed the same. The evidence shows that the government can stop arresting marijuana smokers without harmful consequences. In February of 1996 the NORML Board of Directors issued a statement entitled “Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use,” which defines the conduct a responsible marijuana smoker should follow. Marijuana should be for adult use only. No one should drive while under the influence of marijuana. The marijuana user should take into consideration his set and setting and know when not to smoke. The smoker should resist abuse, only use responsibly, and not become a junkie. The marijuana smokers should also respect the rights of others and not smoke around those who do not approve. Within the five guidelines there are more stipulations (Stoup 11-12). In November of 1996 California and Arizona had the opportunity to debate medical marijuana’s merits when the issue was presented in statewide ballot propositions. In both states, voters agreed marijuana should be allowed for medical purposes. In California the proposition was entitled Prop. 215, and in Arizona it was named Prop. 205. As of 1998, Arizona’s legislature had effectively rescinded the proposition, while law enforcement officials in California adopted a range of innovative strategies to deal with the new law. The ramifications of the law have not yet become clear, but credit is given for its merit, and other states watch California’s experiment carefully (The War on Drugs 142). As Lester Grispoon and James B. Bakalar wrote in a 1995 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “One of marijuana’s greatest advantages as a medicine is its remarkable safety. The drug has little effect on major psychological functions. There is no known case of lethal overdose in humans; on the basis of animal models, the ratio of an effective to lethal dose is estimated as 40,000 to 1”(Postrel 175). Society heard in the 1970s that marijuana destroyed brain cells, caused psychosis, lowered testosterone levels and sperm count, led to breast development in adolescent males, damaged memory and intellectual functions, compromised the immune system, and caused chromosome breakage, genetic damage, and birth defects. The publications of these findings followed a typical pattern. The findings became a front-page report with alarmist commentary; then when investigators would report the findings could not be replicated; the report then appeared as a short story in the back pages. The public often kept the idea that the existence of the latest hazard had been scientifically proven. So far, not a single case of emphysema, lung cancer, or any other significant pulmonary pathology has been found attributable to cannabis (Grispoon 139). Research funded by the American government in Jamaica and Greece found no physical or mental problems among men who had used marijuana, even heavily for many years. Many studies showed no physical dependence or withdrawal had been induced by even high dose, long-term marijuana use. Over the past 25 years, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has funded research into nearly every anti-marijuana claim established during the Eastland hearings of 1974. Researchers compared sex hormone levels and brain-wave patterns in marijuana users verses nonusers. Scientists have looked for abnormalities in sperm of men who smoke marijuana and have looked for damage in children of women who used marijuana during pregnancy. Medical scientists have examined lung cells taken from long-term marijuana smokers, and have given the repeated tests of pulmonary functions. Social scientists have administered personality, social adjustments, and intelligence tests to both marijuana users and nonusers. The scientists have compared grades of students who smoke marijuana to those who do not, as well as wages of marijuana users and nonusers. Researchers examined data on driving fatalities to determine relationships between marijuana use and highway accidents. Epidemiologists have looked for a link between marijuana use and hard-core, illegal drugs. In laboratory research, marijuana has been given to people to evaluate the drugs effect on memory, motivation, psychomotor skills, and social interaction. Other scientists have given large doses of THC to people and animals every day for months to discover any physical dependence. Researchers have exposed human cells to THC as well as marijuana smoke in the laboratory. Then, scientists searched for cellular abnormalities under a microscope. In 1982, committees on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed the research on marijuana, including 10 years of investigation subsequent to the Shafer Commission’s review in 1972. Neither committee found any convincing evidence of biological harm, psychological impairment, or social dysfunction among marijuana users (Morgan and Zimmer 8, 11-12). The evidence does not suggest that marijuana is totally harmless or that the drug cannot be abused. All drugs, including legalized ones, may be abused and are dangerous. However, evidence does show moderate marijuana use to be relatively harmless. Marijuana is far less harmful to the user than either tobacco or alcohol. Any risk smoking marijuana that presents falls within the ambit of choice permitted to the individual in a free society. The only clear risk of marijuana use is respiratory damage caused by smoking. This risk is confined to long-term, heavy smokers. Claims of other biological harms, such as brain damage, infertility, and immune-system impairment are based on studies done on animals and cells, using doses of marijuana up to 1,000 times the psychoactive dose in humans. People who use marijuana have produced no harmful side effects. Unlike most other drugs humans consume, no dose of marijuana is fatal. After its debut in 1914, penicillin rapidly earned a reputation as “the wonder drug of the 40’s. This came with 3 major reasons. Penicillin was remarkably non-toxic, even at high doses, inexpensive to produce on a large-scale, and extremely versatile. Marijuana parallels all 3 respects. Although not harmless, it is surely less toxic than most conventional medicines it could replace if legal. Medical cannabis would also be extremely inexpensive. Street marijuana costs $200 to $400 an ounce, while a reasonable estimate of cost, if marijuana were legal, is $20 to$30 an ounce. That equals out to about 30 cents to 40 cents per marijuana cigarette. Both the marijuana cigarette and an 8mg ondansetron pill, $30 to $40 each, are effective in treating nausea and vomiting, induced by chemotherapy, in most cases (Grispoon 142-1213). However, cannabis would be 100 times less expensive. Marijuana is also extremely versatile; cannabis is useful in treatment of various illnesses, as well as in enhancing moods, and relieving tension. “The undeniable fact remains that hemp is probably the single most versatile and benefic agricultural product known to man (after the soybean). Its direct applications and by- product effects on the environment are well documented ( 2-3). Marijuana can produce rope, twine, fabric, parchment, a cleaner burning and more efficient fuel. If marijuana was legalized, instead of focusing money on prohibition, society would have more money to clean up the towns and spend on spend on schools. Schools could have more classrooms, buy enough books, computers, and essential needs, and do away with the Robin Hood program. Legalizing cannabis would also cut back on overcrowded prisons. If marijuana was legal, the government could tax it, which would create more revenue for the government; it could turn around the economy. Whether the drug is called weed, grass, cannabis, bud, smoke, hash, Mary Jane, kill, blow, dro, herb, 420, killer, Mary-j, sticky-icky, wacky-tobacky, hydro, toke, lid, fire bud, maui-wowie, purple haze, purple sticky punge, Columbian gold, Acapulco gold, Californian sooth, or hydroponic, marijuana should be legalized, at least for medicinal use.


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