Stipulating comprehensive regulations is the best solution for containing the problem of marijuana abuse in the United States of America.
The following discussion proves this contention.
The US has been experiencing increasing acceptance with regard to the medicinal use of marijuana. This could have promoted the altered attitude of teenagers regarding this substance. Since the year 1996, 18 states have legalized the acquisition of marijuana by adults, who have obtained a prescription from a doctor. In the month of November 2012, Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for any person above the age of 21 years (Moyer 19). This development has been attributed to the widespread authorization of medical use of cannabis.
However, in comparison to adults, teenagers are at a greater danger from cannabis. A study had been conducted for 25 years by the Duke University and other institutions. This study disclosed that heavy marijuana use could cause permanent cognitive damage to adolescents. Moreover, individuals who had been diagnosed as being marijuana dependent had depicted a decline in their intelligence quotient (Moyer 19). This decline was not set right with the discontinuance of cannabis use in adulthood.
Moreover, in the US the rate of smoking tobacco has come down significantly, among teenagers. However, this has been offset by a substantial increase in the number of people smoking cannabis. In addition, several of these teenagers believe that smoking cannabis is less harmful than smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol (Moyer 19).
A steady increase has been noticed in the daily use of marijuana. Around 6.5% of high school seniors had been found to be smoking cannabis, on a daily basis. This was in the year 2012, and such increase had been taking place, despite the constancy observed in the use of marijuana. It was declared by Johnston, a distinguished senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at Michigan University that the increase in daily marijuana use would lead to dependence, brain damage, and impairment of intelligence quotient among the users (Knopf 1).
However, approximately 23% of the 12th graders had used marijuana and 36% had admitted to having smoked cannabis during the year 2012. With regard to 10th graders it was discerned that 17% had engaged in the past month use of cannabis, whilst 28% had smoked cannabis during 2012. With regard to eight graders, 1.1% admitted to being daily users; however, 11% of the eight graders had smoked marijuana during 2012 (Knopf 1).
Problems with Marijuana Abuse
The risk of addiction to marijuana increases, when cannabis use commences during adolescence. Such risk on the whole has been estimated to be 1 out of 11, whereas the corresponding risk tends to be 1 out of 6 for teenage users, and a much higher proportion among the daily users of cannabis. With regard to the occasional use of cannabis, 41.7% of the eight graders were of the opinion that it was harmful. However, just 20.6% of the 12th graders had regarded it as being harmful. With respect to regular use, just 44.1% of the 12th graders had deemed regular smoking of marijuana to be harmful (Knopf 1).
In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future conducted a project. This project disclosed that just 44.1% of the students in 12th grade regarded the regular use of marijuana as harmful. As such, a third of high school seniors had smoked cannabis in the year 2012. Moreover, one out of 15 students had been smoking marijuana on a daily basis (Moyer 19).
The National Institute of Drug Abuse announced that the regular use of cannabis had deprived several young people of their capacity to achieve and excel in academics and other areas. It also voiced its concern regarding the high rate of cannabis use among high school seniors. Moreover, there was a noticeable reduction in the perception of risk regarding the use of marijuana (Knopf 1).
In this regard, Volkow, the Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse stated that marijuana use that commenced during adolescence would reduce the intelligence quotient of the user and damage other mental functions, by the time the user became an adult. In the US, the youth were of the opinion that marijuana was a safe substance. This change in perception had been caused by the increasing acceptance of marijuana for medical use. This could culminate in increased use of cannabis (Knopf 1).
Volkow, also warned that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the chief ingredients in cannabis, had been identified as a transformer of the hippocampus’s ability to communicate effectively with the other regions of the brain. The hippocampus had been identified as the seat of learning and memory in the brain (Knopf 1).
Moreover, as many as 18.9 million Americans aged 12 years and older have been discovered to be in the habit of using marijuana. This constitutes 7.3% of the particular age group. Among this population, 7.6 million have been seen to be daily users of cannabis. With regard to the older Americans, who indulge in illicit drugs, there has been a tremendous increase among the baby boomers (McCarthy f5544).
The illicit drug usage of this cohort had surpassed that of the older cohorts. For instance, among the 50 to 54 year old group, illicit drug use had increased from 3.4% in the year 2002 to 7.2% in the year 2012. The corresponding increase for those in the 55 to 60 year group was from 1.9% to 6.6%. With regard to the 60 to 64 year group, the increase was from 1.1% to 3.6%, a greater than threefold increase (McCarthy f5544).
Policies and Legislation Issues
The policies and legislation related to marijuana have generated considerable controversy, across the world. The issues arising from these initiatives tend to be intricate with several economic, health, political, and social ramifications. Central to the debate on marijuana is whether the use of this drug can be effectively curbed via legal sanctions (Clements and Zhao 235).
Those who favor the legalization of marijuana or at the least relaxation in legislation, contend that legal sanctions have not succeeded in reducing cannabis use. These individuals have also argued that law enforcement resources would be better utilized if they were to be spent upon preventing the use of the more dangerous drugs. Moreover, these people argue that the imposition of a criminal charge is disproportionately severe with regard to people who use cannabis. Furthermore, young cannabis users could be compelled to interact with the dealers of the hard drugs, if cannabis were to be illegal (Clements and Zhao 235).
Those who oppose the legalization or liberalization of the laws relating to marijuana use contend that such actions would serve to inform the public that it was acceptable behavior to indulge in the use of cannabis. These people have also cautioned that easier access to cannabis could provide a conduit for users to transit to harder drugs (Clements and Zhao 235).
Moreover, several public policy options are in vogue, regarding cannabis. These run the gamut of total prohibition, prohibition with civil penalties for minor offences, partial prohibition to full legalization. At this juncture it is essential to realize that several nations, such as the US, Australia, and the Netherlands have reduced the penalties for possessing small quantities of cannabis (Clements and Zhao 235).
Furthermore, several surveys in the US, involving a very large number of respondents, had disclosed that marijuana is the most commonly employed intoxicant among the older adults of the general populace. The National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse of 1999 to 2001 provided data that revealed past year marijuana users to be 1.1% of older adults. This proportion was expected to increase to 2.9% by the year 2020. However, this proportion had been realized by the year 2008, when the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health showed that the 2.8% of the adults had reported past – year marijuana use (DiNitto and Choi 732).
Significantly, survey figures could commit the error of underestimating the use of illicit drugs. This could happen, especially with regard to the older adults. For instance, Rockett et al. found in a study conducted among the emergency department patients that adults aged 65 years were more likely to conceal substance use, in comparison to the 18 to 24 year old group (DiNitto and Choi 732).
Moreover, Glintborg et al., conducted a study in Denmark, wherein they discovered that despite the infrequent use of illicit drugs among the older adults, there had been substantial under – reporting regarding the use of cannabinoid and benzodiazepine. Studies in the USA regarding demographics and other correlates of illicit drug use among the older adults discerned that marijuana use was more prevalent among the 50 to 64 year old men, the unmarried, and those suffering from major depression (DiNitto and Choi 732).
As such, Colliver et al., discovered that the chances of past-year marijuana use were higher among individuals with education that was lower than high school, among the users of cocaine, hallucinogens or heroin, and those who had commenced the use of marijuana by the age of 16 (DiNitto and Choi 733).
Furthermore, in the year 2009, the US Department of Justice had issued a memorandum to US Attorneys. This was in the aftermath of President Obama’s ascension, and it directed these attorneys to accord a low priority towards prosecuting individuals indulging in medical marijuana. All the same, the federal law enforcement agencies had been raiding the marijuana dispensaries (Lu). Their objective was to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act at any cost.
An instance of this attitude is provided by the following incident. In October 2011, four US Attorneys of California had warned the landlords of marijuana dispensaries. These attorneys had accused the tenants of these landlords of employing the Compassionate Use law to engage in large scale sales of cannabis (Lu).
As such, in the US, Marijuana enjoys the status of being the most used illegal drug. Since the year 2007, the use of cannabis has been on the increase among the young people. This increase has been associated with a reduction in the perception of danger associated with the use of marijuana. This has been occasioned by the increasing public debate regarding the legal status of cannabis (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
The federal government had classified marijuana as a Schedule I substance or a substance that was devoid of medicinal value and characterized with high risk for abuse. However, two states had legalized cannabis for adult recreational use. Moreover, 21 states had enacted legislation to permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. There had been a general consensus among the public to legalize marijuana for treating conditions, such as pain and nausea in HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other ailments. However, clinical evidence had not yet established that marijuana had therapeutic benefits that were greater than the risk it posed to health (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Moreover, in order to be deemed a legitimate medicine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a substance should possess well defined and quantifiable ingredients that do not vary from unit to unit. Several hundred chemical compounds have been detected in cannabis. These could produce different effects and vary from plant to plant. Moreover, cannabis is usually smoked, which makes it an onerous task to evaluate its benefits as a medicine (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
While enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress had classified marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. In the year, 2012, the residents of Washington and Colorado states, voted for the legalization of marijuana use by people who were 21 years old or older (White House).
This legalization was to be rendered under the state laws. Akin to the state medical marijuana laws, Congress had stipulated that marijuana was a dangerous drug whose illegal sale and distribution constituted a serious crime. The Department of Justice had expressed its intention to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, in accordance with the aforementioned Congressional determinations (White House).
As a Schedule I drug, marijuana possesses a substantial capacity for abuse. The principal active ingredient of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This chemical acts upon the cannabinoid receptors of the brain, and triggers a sequence of reactions that culminate in the intoxicated state experienced by the user who imbibes cannabis. The maximum density of cannabinoid receptors are located in the areas of the brain that affect concentration, coordinated movement, memory, pleasure, and sensory and time perception (White House).
It had been recommended by the Drug Policy Alliance that marijuana legalization should be effected via a market that was well regulated with respect to the production and distribution of marijuana. That organization had been seized with bringing about changes to the state and federal laws relating to the legalization of cannabis. The Drug Policy Alliance had embarked upon a pioneering campaign, in the year 2010. That campaign had supported Proposition 19 in the state of California (Drug Policy Alliance).
Subsequently, in the year 2012, Colorado and Washington achieved the distinction of emerging as the first states in the US to approve the legalizing and monitoring of marijuana in a manner that was similar to that applied to alcohol. This was the first move of this nature across the world. The Drug Policy Alliance worked in close cooperation with national and local allies, during the formulation of these initiatives (Drug Policy Alliance).
In addition, the extant liberalization policies tend to be midway between legalization and prohibition. Some of these are medical marijuana, decriminalization, and drug stores and addiction treatment facilities operated by the state. These tend to be extremely unstable, from the political perspective. It has been rightly pointed out by Holcombe, an expert in public policy that the difficulty associated with such proposals is that they do not address the problems associated with illegal drug use (Thornton 430).
Furthermore, the issues arising from the above proposals are the outcome of the presence of underground markets. These problems can be eliminated only by legalizing the sale of drugs. In the event of these half measures proving to be a failure, there would be a much stronger move to implement more powerful drug laws. Such endeavors would state that decriminalization had been attempted without any success. Half way measures fail to achieve the objective, as they continue to promote the incentives to trade in the illegal markets (Thornton 430).
Increased Support for Marijuana
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in the year 2014. This survey disclosed increasing support for marijuana use. Around 75% of the public believed that marijuana would be legalized throughout the US. As such, the public regarded marijuana to be far less harmful than alcohol, with regard to the health of the user and with respect to society (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press).
A very important feature of American society lies in the fact that its citizens are in favor of a less punitive approach to the use of drugs. With respect to the possession of small quantities of cannabis, as much as 76% of the public believe that such individuals should not be sentenced to a term in jail (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press).
Although there is increasing support for legalizing marijuana, several Americans have opined that such legalizing should be subject to restrictions. Thus, 54% of the people believe that such legalization would increase the number of underage people trying cannabis (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press).
The use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other such substances had increased three fold among adolescents and young adults. This increase had been reported by the National Adolescent Health Information Center, and was independent of race or ethnicity. With regard to individuals aged 12 years or older, marijuana tends to be the drug of choice. It constitutes a third of the most frequent abused drugs in the emergency departments of hospitals, across the nation (Claros and Sharma 9).
The extant literature had revealed that approximately 60% of the students had used cannabis, marijuana in combination with alcohol, and other intoxicants. Lower emotional intelligence scores were correlated to problematic conduct related to enhanced use of intoxicants, such as alcohol (Claros and Sharma 26).
In addition, a study by Claros and Sharma, disclosed that 55% of its participants had smoked cannabis at some stage of their life. Among these individuals, 59% had used marijuana within the previous month. Moreover, two percent of the participants had disclosed that they had used marijuana when they had been 10 years old or younger. In addition, 82% of the participants who were using marijuana reported having engaged in first time use between the age of 14 and 16 years. Furthermore, 31% of the cannabis users admitted to risky use (Claros and Sharma 27).
Furthermore, it had been declared by Friedman that the legalizing of drugs would reduce the crime rate and improve the quality of law enforcement. With regard to the abuse of drugs, it was his sincere belief that persuasion would prove to be far more effective than the use of force. With the passage of time, the importance of decriminalizing drugs had improved and gained urgency (Thornton 424-425).
Alcohol and tobacco have a very harmful effect upon the user. Despite these extremely harmful effects on health and society, tobacco and alcohol have not been banned. In fact, these drugs are promoted with great vigor.
With regard to cannabis, it causes much less harm than alcohol or tobacco. Marijuana has medicinal uses and it does not make a person violent or deprive control over emotions, as is the case with alcohol. Nevertheless, the government is keen to prohibit cannabis, due to political reasons.
In the case of adolescents, there is considerable danger of impaired functioning and compromised academic excellence, upon consuming marijuana. This is much less than what alcohol causes. However, the fact remains that it is inadvisable for these class of individuals to indulge in intoxicants of any kind. Such people are in the developing stage of their life, and the emphasis should be upon their all-round development.
The federal and state agencies seem to be opposed in their dealing with cannabis use. Considerable confusion is being created, due to this muddling situation. Several of the states have legalized medicinal marijuana, and two of the states have also made recreational use of cannabis legal. However, for recreational use, the user has to be at least 21 years old.
This is the situation obtaining in the contemporary US. The need of the hour is to introduce comprehensive legislation to address this peculiar situation. Any person below the age of 21 years should not be permitted to ingest or smoke cannabis, for recreational purposes. On the other hand, people who are 21 years or older should be permitted to use cannabis. Marijuana for medicinal purposes should be permitted without any restriction on age. However, much more research has to be undertaken to identify the specific conditions for which cannabis or its derivatives can be used effectively.
This research work concludes that enacting comprehensive legislation that addresses all the issues discussed above, provides the best solution for resolving the problem of marijuana abuse.
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