Marijuana is the term used to refer to the dried form of a hemp plant called Cannabis Sativa, including its stems, seeds, flowers and leaves. “Marijuana is a drug that comes from the hemp plant and can be smoked or eaten” (Millhorn et al., 2009). The most common way in which users 'consume' or inhale Marijuana is by using it along with cigarette. Apart from this common mode, it is consumed as part of food, brewed as part of tea and even in a liquid form. The main chemical found in the plant which gives the users of Marijuana the ‘mental 'high' is the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, THC for short. Although, Marijuana was maximally consumed for recreational purposes, when its medicinal properties were discovered, it started to be used for therapeutic purposes as well. Certain components of Marijuana like THC, cannabinoids, etc., are proven to treat or even lessen the complications arising out of various diseases and health problems. Because of these beneficial properties, there are calls to legalize Marijuana for medicinal purposes, so the needy patients can get access to it without any hassles. Currently, it is illegal to possess and consume Marijuana (with only few states giving exceptions) and so the authorities are implementing extensive and tough measures to impede its movement. These measures are resulting in high costs for the government, and quite contrastingly, certain studies showed that controlling measures are in-turn leading to more crimes, thus validating the need for legalization.
When the purpose or use of Marijuana is viewed from an opposite perspective, it provides a slightly negative picture. That is, consumption of Marijuana could cause even more serious health problems for the users (more that its’ therapeutic purposes), thus raising calls against legalization. When THC reaches the brain, it could destabilize it, thereby impeding its normal functions and also can cause adverse effects like distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, etc. In addition, it could also affect the physical organs including lung, heart, etc., and could cause health complications including cancer. In addition, legalization of it could provide opportunities for the young people to access it in more illegal ways. Thus, it is clear there are both pros and cons regarding the legalization of the Marijuana. However, as the cons against legalization can be managed, this paper after discussing both sides of the legalization argument, will favor legalization of Marijuana.
Pros for Legalization
Marijuana has been used, as part of medicinal practice, from early centuries and it was only around 1850's, it was embraced by the Western medical practitioners. (Millhorn et al., 2009). It was part of the United States' pharmacopoeia as one of the prescription drugs till 1941, treating both minor as well as major complications. However, with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1930s, the practitioners were impeded from prescribing it. (Gunnlaugsson & Galliher, 2010). In the present context, although there are severe restrictions in the use of Marijuana for medical purposes, various studies are going on, which proves the efficacy of it against many health complications, thus necessitating the legalization of it.
The medicinal value of Marijuana particularly its components THC and cannabinoids can help in the treatment of various diseases and also the complications arising out of those diseases. “An alternative literature suggests that cannabis may have medicinal value for addressing a wide range of various medical diseases, though smoked product may be harmful, the active ingredients in cannabis, most notably THC/dronabinol may have medicinal value” (Johnson et al., 2008). Even if it is not able to fully treat the diseases, Marijuana can play an effective role in minimizing the physical pain and other complications that are associated with those diseases. Marijuana's main medical application is as a pain reliever. “The use of marijuana relieves pain, which results from side effects of AIDS treatments” (Millhorn et al., 2009).That is, majority of the diseases including AIDS, Cancer, etc., can cause unbearable pain to the patients. When Marijuana is taken by these patients, the cannabinoids in it can act on the pain receptors in the nerves, thereby reducing the pain sizably. Another health complication that could be normally seen in AIDS and Cancer patients is continuing nausea. Particularly in the Cancer patients, it is a common adverse side effect of chemotherapy and other therapies. (Alexander, 2008). So, in those cases, Marijuana is as an effective treatment option controlling or easing the occurrences of nausea. “Today, advocates of medicinal marijuana report that marijuana is also useful in relieving cancer patients of nausea and vomiting, which result from radiation and chemotherapy treatments” (Millhorn et al., 2009). Marijuana can also active as an effective appetite stimulant and help emaciated HIV patients to get the much needed diet and nutrients. That is, patients with AIDS will normally have an impaired appetite, along with nausea. Marijuana can treat or lessen both these conditions, thereby elevating the health status of the AIDS sufferers. (Reinarman et al., 2011). In addition, studies have shown how Marijuana can lessen the Muscle Spasticity, which is one of the painful problems faced by patients having Multiple Sclerosis and other spinal cord injuries. Here again, cannabinoids in Marijuana is shown to act on the nerve endings in the muscle and relax it, thereby controlling the muscle spasms. (Charuvastra, Friedmann & Stein, 2005). All these medicinal benefits can lessen or even fully treat the struggles of many suffering patients. However, all the patients may not have access to Marijuana, sot they can try it for medicinal purposes due to the severe restrictions. This being the case, if Marijuana is legalized, all the patients can access it through their physicians to treat or lessen their health problems.
The key reason why legalization of Marijuana has to be carried out throughout the country is because already many American states have initiated pro-Marijuana policies. Many of these policies were being implemented from 1960s itself, with many states reducing the penalties for marijuana use. Thus, “by the end of 1971, only three states maintained mandatory minimum felony penalties for possession.” (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). Sizable number of states also took the route of decriminalizing marijuana use with Oregon being the first state to do that in 1973. One of the key Marijuana related legislations passed by the state of California, which augurs well for the future legalization of Marijuana is the Proposition 215 in 1996. California for its part has come up with many initiatives for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. It passed the Proposition 215 or Compassionate Use Act providing legal protection for the people using Marijuana on doctor’s recommendation, from any criminal prosecution. It even allows the “patients to cultivate and use marijuana for medicinal purposes with the written or oral recommendation of a doctor.”(Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In spite of these protections, federal agents have arrested patients, who used “medical marijuana”, on the basis of other laws. (Reinarman et al., 2011). To avoid these negative scenarios for the patients, it becomes crucial to implement the legislation of Marijuana.
The other key advantage, which could be gotten through legislation of Marijuana, is the cutting down of government costs that arise due to the measures to curb Marijuana. (Gunnlaugsson & Galliher, 2010). That is, government spends sizable financial resources to curb, capture and prosecution growers, distributors and users of Marijuana. “U.S. law enforcement against the sale and possession of marijuana has been estimated to cost close to $8 billion a year in criminal justice resources.” (Shepard & Blackley, 2007). Thus, it is implied that if legislation is actualized all those costs can be saved or even minimized, and diverted to other constructive purposes. That is, if Marijuana is legalized, the police and judiciary costs spent on nabbing and punishing Marijuana sellers and users can be cut down. In addition, with legalization, Marijuana can be taxed, leading to more revenue to the government.
One of the arguments being put forward against non-legislation of Marijuana is that, only through the restriction of Marijuana use, other crimes can be reduced, which could also result in cost savings and importantly benefit the society. However, certain studies show that the restriction of Marijuana does not result in any major decreases in the crime rate. On the contrary, it increases the chances of more crimes. Studies conducted by Shepard & Blackley (2007) showed that “property crimes, hard drug crimes, and homicides actually go up when marijuana arrests increase, suggesting that get-tough policies on marijuana may increase other crime, rather than reducing it.” This being the case, there is no logical reasoning for avoiding the legalization of Marijuana, in relation to the crimes. On the positive side, legalization of Marijuana for medical purposes can help many suffering individuals.
Cons against Legislations
Although the above discussed aspects in favor of Marijuana legislation, particularly legislation of Marijuana for medicinal purposes holds well, there are some opposing arguments as well. That is, Marijuana usage or over-usage by the common people particularly the youth, and also by the patients can lead to a lot of physical and mental problems for them. These problems could be more than the ones, the Marijuana legalization is supposed to solve, thus nullifying the need to legalize it. Consumption of Marijuana can affect the normal functioning of the brain and this affect lasts for several days. (Yacoubian, 2001). Marijuana hinders the thinking and memory of the person, leading to various mental disorders. That is, the “drugs can affect the nervous system and can alter a person's mood and/or emotional state; the alteration of mood is generally noticeable to those who are close to the drug user.” (Millhorn et al., 2009). Johnson et al. (2005) adds some more mental related complications that could happen to Marijuana users and they are “withdrawal syndrome, dependence, mental health problems (especially schizophrenia), amotivational syndrome”.
Speaking about withdrawal syndrome, the long term use of Marijuana is more harmful, because even if the person wants to give up his/her habit of consuming Marijuana, the body is not ready to accept the change. Persons, who stop consuming Marijuana after a history of long-term use, experience withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, nervousness and a strong urge to use the drug again. (Alexander, 2008). It can also lead to mental depression and suicidal tendencies among the users. Apart from these mental problems, it can also lead to various physical health problems. The normal functioning of organs such as brain, heart and lungs could be severely affected leading to cardiovascular dysfunction, poor motor functions, and also breathing problems. (Millhorn et al. 2009). In addition, “some medical professionals believe that marijuana poses more of a cancer risk than tobacco.” (Millhorn et al., 2009). Thus, the whole physical body could be affected, if the user continuous to use Marijuana for a longer period of time. This was validated by Johnson et al. (2008) who stated that Marijuana can cause damage to the “body's cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, immunosuppression, and psychiatric functioning”. Thus, it is clear, although, Marijuana is said to treat or even the lessen the complications of many health conditions; it can also lead to various health problems, deteriorating the health even further.
These mental and physical body related problems caused by Marijuana overuse can also result in social problems, concerning not only the users but also other individuals. “The use of marijuana can have long-term physiological and psychological effects and can cause serious social problems” (Millhorn et al. 2009). Marijuana causes distorted perception, and so driving under the influence of marijuana increases the probability of accidents. The lives of other people are put at risk due to this factor. Persons who are addicted to Marijuana are more prone to antisocial activities and behavioral disorders, and are more likely to engage in violent activities when they become highly unstable due to heightened use of Marijuana and even when they do not have access to Marijuana. (Bourgois, 2009). This could happen among the patients as well. That is, when individuals or patients are given restricted or nil access to Marijuana, their mind could become unstable from the withdrawal, leading to aggressive behavior. “Individuals who use illegal drugs for medical purposes may resort to crime if withdrawal symptoms or other behavioral changes result from reduced use because of drug enforcement activities.”(Shepard & Blackley, 2007). The impacts of Marijuana on the physical, mental and social aspects of individuals’ life make it necessary to view the problem with gravity. However, the key perspective in favor of legalization is that, all these problems could arise only when an individual or patient overuses or misuses Marijuana. If it is used only for medicinal purposes within specified and limited doses, it may not cause these issues. (Yacoubian, 2001). Evidences suggest “that marijuana causes few significant health or behavioral threats to the vast majority of the people who consume it.” (Bourgois, 2009)
The other key argument put forward against legalization of Marijuana is that it could send wrong signals to the Youth. With legalization, there would be more avenues for the youths to get hold of Marijuana for recreational purposes or abuse. (Yacoubian, 2001). The most productive years in one's life could be wasted because of the addiction to Marijuana. General Barry McCaffrey, who was the former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, typifies this concern. “These measures threaten to undermine our efforts to protect our children from dangerous psychoactive drugs…Labeling marijuana as “medicine” sends the wrong message to children that it is a safe substance” (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). However, the counter-argument is youth will try to access Marijuana due to other personal and social factors, and whether it is legalized or non-legalized, it does not matter to them.
From the above analysis, it is clear that Marijuana can benefit human beings, if it is correctly used as part of therapeutic means. However, when people misuse Marijuana to derive pleasure from it and also overuse it, then it can ruin their health. Thus, as mentioned above, Marijuana will not cause major problems, when used in apt quantities and in an apt manner. Only when it goes over the limit, it could lead to major problems. In the world, there are many products, which can be effectively used and at the same time misused, and it is not the fault of that product if it is misused, but that of the user. In that direction, misuse of Marijuana has to be curbed through tough measures. On the positive side, its applications in the medical field are a welcome thing and that should pave the way for its legalization. In addition, the cost advantages provided to the government through the legalization should also be considered. Thus, the legalization of Marijuana for medicinal purposes can aid in providing better lives for many people, who suffer from various health complications and chronic pains, as Marijuana can lessen the suffering and could even treat the problems. With the beneficial uses of Marijuana outweighing the misuses, it would be better to legalize Marijuana.
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