The controversy regarding the legalization of marijuana has endured for at least half a century. Though 17 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government still considers growing, buying and using it a criminal act. Opponents to legalization continue to insist it is a “gateway” to other, more harmful drugs and warn against making yet another harmful substance legal. They believe making marijuana legal in any form would legitimize drug use in the minds of young persons. Proponents point to the harms caused by criminalizing a medically useful and largely benign substance that grows naturally. The war on drugs has been fought for 40 years costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars while filling up prisons, ruining the lives of people who have committed no harm and has escalated organized crime. There is very little separation between the various types of drugs in the minds of those opposed to legalization of marijuana but for those that choose to understand the nuances of the issue the differences are vast. Knowledge is the chasm that separates the two sides. One side is fearful of what they don’t choose to understand, the other has been pleading for a common sense approach to marijuana, one that will cause the least harm to American citizens.
The drug war, the prohibition of marijuana, has caused innumerable harms to millions of Americans. Many advocates for legalization have said that the criminalization of marijuana fails to learn from the past. The days of alcohol prohibition did not stop consumption; it just drove it underground and allowed criminal gangs to prosper. That’s true but alcohol is a much more dangerous substance. Alcohol prohibition at least made sense on some level although in practice it was a dismal failure meaning the prohibition of marijuana of beyond the comprehension of any reasonable, rational person. The only explanation for this logical disconnect is that more lawmakers drink than use marijuana, both in the 1930’s and today. Nearly one million Americans are arrested each year for various marijuana violations, about 90 percent for simple possession. Alcohol, a physically addicted substance, as opposed to marijuana, accounts for approximately four percent of fatalities worldwide. Alcohol causes more deaths than violence or AIDS yet is legal, taxed and socially acceptable. Roughly 2.5 million people die from alcohol related reasons worldwide every year. “If we can ignore this fact year after year, that legal drugs are so much more damaging than marijuana, why is it such a stretch to legalize a drug with so many benefits?” (King, 2012).
President Nixon started the “War on Drugs” in 1970 with a budget of $15 million. Today the money spent on this futile effort has reached $15 billion per year. More than one trillion dollars of taxpayer money has been wasted in total. We learned nothing from the dark days of alcohol prohibition (1919-1933). People then and now had their lives ruined from consuming an unlawful substance that someday will be legal. Their reputations will never recover from a criminal past, however. Alcohol or marijuana prohibition means spending money and allocating law enforcement to increase the criminal element. That’s not the intent but is certainly the result. Gang violence slowed dramatically after alcohol was legalized and the same will happen with marijuana. Legalization will encourage a new market where locally owned businesses will need to hire thousands of employees. Taxing sales will generate millions in tax revenues for local and state governments. Some of that new tax money can be spent of drug education and rehabilitation facilities which will reduce usage and harms to society. This initiate has already been proven to work. Part of cigarette taxes over the past 30 years has gone to educating youths resulting in a dramatic drop in tobacco use among teens. “If these reforms were adopted, we would be on our way to lessening tragic street violent and incarceration, but also promoting a safe and sustainable new industry while minimizing its adverse side effects.” (Hayden, 2010).
Unlike legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco, marijuana has been proven to provide multiple medical benefits including to aid in the treatment of alcohol abuse. Both the American Cancer Society and Federal Drug Administration have concluded the cannabinoids, the active ingredient, in marijuana “relieve nausea and vomiting and increase appetite in people with cancer and AIDS.” (Smith, 2012). According to the American Cancer Society “marijuana has anti-bacterial properties, inhibits tumor growth, and enlarges the airways, which can ease the severity of asthma attacks.” (Smith, 2012). Marijuana, according to Scripps Research Institute in California, inhibits the formation of Alzheimer’s plaques in addition to protein clumps that slow memory and cognition more effectively than any other drug on the market. A study conducted by scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University found marijuana played a “critical role” in controlling epileptic seizures. Dr. Robert J. DeLorenzo of the VCU School of Medicine said “although marijuana is illegal in the United States, individuals both here and abroad report that marijuana has been therapeutic for them in the treatment of a variety of ailments, including epilepsy.” (Smith, 2012).
Multiple sclerosis patients have for a long time reported that marijuana relieves pain in joints and muscles in addition to controlling spastic episodes. A recent clinical study by Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom confirmed what MS patients have known for years. The lone side effect was that it made them “feel good.” Glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness, was one of the first ailments known to be effectively treated with marijuana use. Researchers say “marijuana helps reduce and relieve the intraocular pressure that causes optic nerve damage and helps reverse deterioration too.” (Smith, 2012). Arthritis symptoms are another aliment that has long been recognized to be successfully treated with marijuana. Its use reduces inflammation and helps the sufferer to sleep. A “joint” 2005 study by SUNY Albany and USC of 4,400 depression patients found that “those who consume marijuana occasionally or even daily have lower levels of depressive symptoms than those who have never tried marijuana.” (Smith, 2012). In addition, the study concluded that weekly use of marijuana improved general mood and had no side effects as opposed to other anti-depressant medications. Colitis and Crohn’s disease patients have had few options for treatment except for steroids which come with mood-altering effects and are essentially ineffectual. Marijuana eases their pain and reduces inflammation which allows them to eat solid foods. Marijuana was shown to be effective in lessening the symptoms of morning sickness according to research by the British Columbia Compassion Club Society. The University of California at San Francisco concluded marijuana improved the effectiveness of drugs used to treat Hepatitis C. Patients achieved a “sustained virological response.” (Smith, 2012).
3dscience.com Know Cancer
Marijuana has also been confirmed to be effective in treating a range of medical issues such as, but not limited to Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, colorectal cancer, anorexia nervosa, leukemia, sleep apnea, collagen-induced arthritis, posttraumatic stress disorder, sickle-cell disease, asthma, skin tumors and psoriasis. (King, 2012).
Prominent New York State Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach pleaded with New York lawmakers to legalize marijuana for medical use stating “This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue.” (Caher, 2012). In his writings Judge Reichbach revealed he was suffering from Stage 3 pancreatic cancer and while he was given just six months to live the judge has survived more than three years by enduring the painful effects of chemotherapy. “Because criminalizing an effective medical technique affects the fair administration of justice, I feel obliged to speak out as both a judge and a cancer patient suffering with a fatal disease.” (Caher, 2012). He went on to say that his very survival has come at a great price. The illness along with the treatment and prescribed medication has kept him constantly nauseous and unable to sleep or eat well. This along with the months of torturous radiation treatments and brutal surgery has caused him to think of all the others suffering from similar circumstances. “Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep,” Reichbach wrote. “The oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance (marijuana).” (Caher, 2012). He concluded by saying a few puffs prior to mealtime allowed him to eat and a few more before bedtime allowed him to get the sleep he so desperately needed.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, aware of Justice Reichbach’s condition and letter to lawmakers, is still not swayed to support legalization, that the benefits do not offset the risks. His main concern is the often repeated yet still not verified rationale the marijuana is a “gateway drug,” that it leads to harder types of drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The notion that using a relatively harmless yet illegal substance might be the first step leading up a ladder to more harmful substances is plausible at first glance. When drug addicts recant their drug use history, marijuana is almost always the first illegal drug they tried. A clear correlation does exist between marijuana and other drug use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse “a person who smokes marijuana is more than 104 times more likely to use cocaine than a person who never tries pot.” (Szalavitz, 2010)
This is a logical fallacy. Correlation is not the same as causation. An example would be: people who join motorcycle gangs are 104 times as likely to have ridden a motocross style bicycle when they were young. These bicycles are hardly a gateway to biker gang involvement. It means that the majority of kids ride bikes and those few who do not are less likely to ride a motorcycle. Kids who do not ever smoke pot are less likely to shoot-up heroin but marijuana is not a gateway to heroin use. By the “gateway” logic, high schools are a gateway to drug use and the school bus is the literal vehicle for use. More than a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in a report to Congress debunked the “gateway” theory. “Because underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common, and is rarely the first, “gateway” to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” (Szalavitz, 2010)
Dr. Jack E. Henningfield, Ph.D. Philip J. Hilts. (Aug. 2, 1994) New York Times
Marijuana prohibition, a relatively harmless drug when consumed responsibly especially when compared to tobacco and alcohol use, has not served its intended purpose. Instead, prohibition has caused numerous racially-biased convictions of otherwise law-abiding citizens, diverted law enforcement resources from more egregious types of criminal activity, funded a $30 billion illegal underground market which has increased street gang participation and made murderous Mexican cartel leaders very wealthy and powerful. What prohibition hasn’t accomplished is preventing Americans from using marijuana. Estimates of marijuana user in the U.S. range from 20 to 30 million and the numbers are rising. Teens report it’s easier to find and buy marijuana than alcohol. “There’s that Talmudic principle that a law that’s not obeyed is a bad law,” said UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman. “And I think we’re pretty much at that point.”
It’s “high time” to try a different approach. Legalization could take many forms; each form involves tradeoffs along with several ways to fail at the attempt. If made legal in the way tobacco is legal, cigarette companies would retool their processes very quickly to accommodate the new demand. It’s possible a huge increase of use would result, at least at first. Those same companies that targeted its marketing towards youths will do so with marijuana. A strong marijuana lobby will emerge likely as powerful as the tobacco lobby as historically been. It will seek to write and pass legislation that would deregulate the industry just as any other lobbyist group would do. If decimalization is opted for instead of full-out legalization, billions in tax revenue would not be collected but the human misery that comes with incarceration would end and police officers would have more time to fight real crimes. Decimalization, while a positive step would promote the use of a product that remains illegal to grow and sell. (Brookes, 2012).
States are one-by-one legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. The federal government has two options. One is to re-double its efforts on enforcing the laws on the books, entering marijuana dispensaries and smashing them apart much the same as in alcohol prohibition days. We’ve all seen the black and white clips of barrel axing by the feds. Imagine that occurring again but on a wider scale in the middle of strip malls. Armed, and heavily padded policemen wearing helmets with shields smashing glass cabinets while seizing money, property and tons of marijuana. This is an unlikely scenario because city, state and the federal budget in already stretched to the limit. At present, states that have dispensaries do not want to cooperate with the feds because they don’t have the resources or the will in many cases. The other option is to save money, misery and heartache by turning a blind eye to the states. Let them become the laboratory for sensible marijuana laws.
Three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado have legalization on this November sixth ballot. Of the three Colorado is most likely to pass the law. According to Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, Colorado “is definitely the best shot so far.” A recent poll predicts the measure will pass by a wide margin. This lobby organization has donated $1 million to support Amendment 64 in Colorado which would allow the sale of marijuana with restrictions similar to alcohol sales. Sellers and producers would be licensed and buyers must be at least 21 years of age. Tax revenue would be collected at a similar rate of alcohol. (Brookes, 2012). Colorado will go further than most states that stop at allowing marijuana for medically purposes only. If the law passes this will be a good experiment to see if practically full legalization will work as intended.
Daniel B. Wood. (December, 2011). The Christian Science Monitor
Apparently, no amount of evidence or convincing will sway some people who, for what they believe to be good intentions, are never going to be for legalization. To be fair, both sides of the issue use data that is favorable to their argument. According to opponents, the use of marijuana has declined since the 1970’s which is “a major public health triumph and not a failure.” (DuPont, 2010). Marijuana is abused more than any other illegal drug and those who would legalize it do not understand the harms incurred to society are not from the prohibition of the drug but from the drug itself. Other than alcohol, marijuana is the leading source of substance abuse.
In 2008, marijuana use accounted for more than half of people who are drug abusers. This means more than half of Americans afflicted with substance abuse have marijuana to blame. If the federal government legalized marijuana the number of abusers would skyrocket causing even more overcrowding in hospitals, more time allocated to the problem by law enforcement and more harms to society. In the U.S. about 70 million smoke cigarettes, 130 million drink alcohol and 15 million use marijuana. Legalize marijuana and the numbers may not increase to alcohol user levels but they would certainly climb. Legalization will increase the overall addition to substances which is not a positive. As marijuana use increases, the instance of driving impaired will also. Marijuana is problematic for drivers now causing injury and death. No need to increase these numbers so that stoners can have a toke whenever they please with no fear of retribution. “In a recent national roadside survey of weekend nighttime drivers, 8.6 percent tested positive for marijuana or its metabolites, nearly four times the percentage of drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 g/dL (2.2 percent).” (DuPont, 2010). Instead of legalization, drug policies should utilize modern technologies to reduce use. Monitoring parolees would be a great start since criminals are among the country’s heaviest drug users. “Monitoring programs that are linked to swift and certain, but not severe, consequences for any drug use have demonstrated outstanding results including lower recidivism and lower rates of incarceration.” (DuPont, 2010). Reducing marijuana usage is a necessary action that will improve the country’s health and productivity.
The opposing side certainly offers passion and good intent, if not facts and suppositions based in realty. Prohibition of marijuana causes many more harms than it prevents. States are finally waking up to this. Prisons are overcrowded because of prohibition which allows real criminals to get out early. Now that’s a real harm to society marijuana legalization would help alleviate. Children for at least two generations now have understood the hypocrisy of the more harmful alcohol and tobacco being legal and socially acceptable while marijuana is neither. It makes them question the authority of their parents and the validity of the legal system. It only makes sense, in every possible way, to legalize marijuana. It will happen on a nationwide basis although it may take one state at a time.
Brookes, Julian. (July 26, 2012). “Pot Legalization is Coming.” Rolling Stones http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/pot-legalization-is-coming-20120726
Caher, John. (May 21, 2012). “Justice’s Disclosure Highlights Medical Marijuana Debate.” New York Law Journal. http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/PubArticleNY.jsp?id=1202555169055&thepage=1
DuPont, Dr. Robert L. (April 20, 2010). “Why We Should Not Legalize Marijuana.” CNBC http://www.cnbc.com/id/36267223/Why_We_Should_Not_Legalize_Marijuana Hayden, Tom. (August 31, 2010). “Marijuana Initiative Challenges Costly, Bloody Drug War” Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-hayden/marijuana-initiative-chal_b_699503.html
King, Lisa. (July 17, 2012). “Marijuana and the reality of the war on drugs: It's a cash crop for Appalachia.” The Washington Times http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/appalachian-chronicles/2012/jul/17/marijuana-and-reality-war-drugs-its-cash-crop-appa/
Smith, Dave. (August 8, 2012). “‘Medical’ Marijuana: 10 Health Benefits That Legitimize Legalization.” International Business News http://www.ibtimes.com/%E2%80%98medical%E2%80%99-marijuana-10-health-benefits-legitimize-legalization-742456
Szalavitz, Maia. (October 29, 2010). “Marijuana as a Gateway Drug: The Myth That Will Not Die Time Magazine.” Healthland Times. http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/29/marijuna-as-a-gateway-drug-the-myth-that-will-not-die/
Daniel B. Wood. (December, 2011). The Christian Science Monitor http://www.flatheadbeacon.com/articles/article/confusion_reigns_over_medical_marijuana_as_states_and_feds_clash/25777
Dr. Jack E. Henningfield, Ph.D. for NIDA. Reported by: Philip J. Hilts, New York Times, Aug. 2, 1994 “Is Nicotine Addictive? It Depends on Whose Criteria You Use. http://www.medicalmj.org/
Medical Marijuana: a Sticky Situation for Cancer Patients!” Know Cancer http://www.knowcancer.com/blog/medical-marijuana-for-cancer-patients/