Marijuana is considered to be an illegal drug in all states of the United States. Under federal law, the possession or growing any amount of it is considered to be a criminal act. This policy is based on the Marijuana Tax Act, a legislation enacted after the Prohibition was lifted, criminalizing the substance mainly due to the initiatives of moral crusaders, interest groups, among others (Vito, Maahs, and Holmes, 357). The reasoning behind this is that it is a narcotic and is blamed for violence, rampages, danger to health, among other related factors. It came to be categorized with cocaine and opiates.
Currently, there are many critics of the said law who advocate the legalization of marijuana. In fact, ten states (California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon) have started to decriminalize it by imposing fines instead for possession rather the jail time as punishment. There are sectors who argue that the substance is not harmful and, hence, should be excluded from the illegal narcotics classification, in effect, criminalizing its possession. This paper will investigate whether this argument has merit and that it is reasonable to decriminalize its possession and use.
There are two major arguments behind the call to legalize marijuana. The first is the reasoning that it is not harmful to health. Proponents often cite medical studies and research that find marijuana as a safe drug. For example, there is the Drug Enforcement Administration own administrative judge Francis Young, who declared in his 1988 decision to recommend marijuana’s legalization that: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substance known to mankind” (Barton 64). In this respect, Gieringer, Rosenthal and Carter (2008) further underscored that in animal experiments, the lethal dose of cannabis would be approximately 20,000 to 40,000 times than that of the normal dose and would require the intake of 40-80 pounds of marijuana (1). They referred to the current statistics that, so far, no fatality has ever been recorded out of cannabis overdose.
The second point often cited by those in favor of legalizing marijuana is that this issue has become akin to the situation during the Prohibition era when the ban of alcohol has resulted to crime and corruption. The idea is that by legalizing cannabis, a source of funds would be denied on the criminal organizations that currently profit enormously from the underground trade. In addition, says Gomberg (1989), the government would save money because legitimizing the cannabis trade would mean less tax devoted to the prohibition and law enforcement entailed with the current drug policy (188).
Other arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana are, in one way, connected to the above fundamental variables. It is in the above parameters wherein I would present the counterarguments of those who maintain that the current circumstance of criminalizing the possession and use of cannabis as the best approach for the society.
Those vehemently against the free use or the permission of the cannabis trade, have several valid points up their sleeves as well. They assailed the claim about the safety of the substance. Their stand is that, while marijuana may be safe for the biological health of people, as what is claimed by some medical experts, they raise the issue about its behavioral effects on its users. There are actually studies that reveal how marijuana could induce “amotivational syndrome” among other behavioral effect especially in instances of chronic use. This has been documented by the research undertaken by Burks in 1997 (156). There are also cases of memory and learning problems, losing work, strain in relationships, and so forth. In addition to this, there are also those who fear the proliferation of cannabis addiction, which could lead to severe health damage as well as adverse social ramifications. For example, if an individual is addicted, he would have an uncontrollable urge to possess and use the drug to the point that he could no longer stop even if he wishes it. Kovach (2008) stressed that millions of people are afflicted with this addiction every year.
Finally, in regards to decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana use and possession so that it would ease the burden on the government because it will positively affect the law enforcement climate, many people are not convinced. They think that this solution to crime is too simplistic. The position is that when millions are getting addicted to the substance, criminality would still be affected because this huge number of people would do anything in order to procure the drug to the point of resorting to crime such as thievery, violence and even murder. I think that people cannot be faulted from being concerned in this regard. It must be underscored that everyone is in agreement that cannabis affects physical, psychological and intellectual functioning and, hence, would qualify as a drug. Then, the fact that it could induce addiction makes it dangerous. From this point of view, there are obvious health and social ramifications and they command a strong consideration from among us.
In the very lively and controversial debate on whether to legalize marijuana use and possession, both sides have valid arguments. I think that the point about the similarity to the Prohibition period wherein alcohol enriched criminals may be true in this case as well. As to what extent or degree, researchers have yet to publish their findings. But until sufficient evidence to that effect is provided, I am inclined to agree with people who think that legalizing marijuana in order to solve criminality is way too simplistic. This is my position. The harmless claims of medical experts as well as the lack of research and studies done that found direct relationship between marijuana use and violence or aggression must also be taken seriously. This may be a legitimate and persuasive point. However, in this aspect, there is also the incidence of addiction. When this variable is factored in, along with its health and social effects, then we should think really hard. Do we want to legalize marijuana just to prove a point? That millions use it anyway? That studies find it cannot damage our health? It is difficult to make a choice but I would say I like the current policy environment wherein the substance is illegal, at least for now.
Barton, Lee. Illegal drugs and governmental policies. New York: Nova Publishers, 2007.
Burks, Thomas. Drug abuse in the decade of the brain. Houston: IOS Press, 1997.
Kovach, Chris. The Hydroponic Bible Color Edition. Lulu.com, 2008
Gieringer, David, Rosenthal, Ed and Carter, Gregory. Marijuana Medical Handbook: Practical Guide to Therapeutic Uses of Marijuana. Oakland: Quick American, 2008.
Gomberg, Lisa. Current issues in alcohol/drug studies. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Vito, Gennaro, Maahs, Jeffrey and Holmes, Ronald. Criminology: theory, research, and policy. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007.