Topic
Marijuana Legislation
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Ph.D.
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19
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9284
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4.7
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Should Marijuana Be Legalized? Essay

This research study analyses the controversial debate over the decriminalization of marijuana. Public attitudes toward the decriminalization of marijuana have vacillated over the years. In more recent times the debate has gained new momentum as some states have taken the initiative to legalize marijuana on a limited basis for personal medicinal purposes. In the meantime the Federal government has taken a particularly firm stance against any form of marijuana decriminalisation.

Marijuana use is an important social, economic and health issue in the United States as it is arguably subject to abuse and has been linked to crime and deviance. This research paper is therefore important for identifying whether or not alternative responses to the social, economic and health issues linked to marijuana may be more appropriate. This research paper therefore proposes to identify the social, economic and health issues linked to the abuse of marijuana and whether or not the cost of decriminalizing marijuana is proportionate to these issues.

I chose this topic because I have personally observed friends who use marijuana regularly. Some of these friends function no differently than friends who do not use marijuana. Some of these friends however appear to be lackadaisical and unmotivated and do not function productively. I found the disparity in my friends’ functioning interesting and wondered if the different reactions to marijuana use influence the controversy over whether or not marijuana use should be controlled by legislation.

This research is conducted by a review of the literature on the pros and cons of legalising marijuana and the literature on the social, economic and health consequences of marijuana use. This research also includes a qualitative case study in which I conducted semi-structured interviews of marijuana users with a view to determining their expenditures, their functioning and whether or not they would purchase marijuana if they had to pay taxes on it. The results of the qualitative case study and its implications for the issue of legalizing marijuana are discussed.

Chapter One

Introduction to the Study

Introduction

An increase in marijuana use during the 1990s has given way to an intensification of the debate on the legalization of marijuana (Strang, Wilton, & Hall, 2000). Proponents in favor of legalizing marijuana argue that marijuana is harmless when used as a recreational drug and has therapeutic/medicinal value. Opponents of legalizing marijuana argue however, that marijuana should remain a banned substance since its use is harmful to personal health and to public safety (Strang, et. al., 2000).

In more recent times the debate over the legalization of marijuana gained increasing currency with the medical community’s involvement. Within the medical community there was sufficient recognition of the medicinal value of marijuana to persuade some states to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Medicinal marijuana is said to be an effective therapy for pain, nausea and vomiting linked to chemotherapy, excessive weight loss in AIDS patients and can help patients tolerate the side effects of some conventional treatments. Convinced of its medical value, between 1996 and 2000, seven states enacted legislation making marijuana a legal alternative medicinal treatment therapy (Clark, 2000).

Today, one third of the 50 states have legislation legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Three states (Colorado, Washington and Oregon) are proposing to take the legalization of marijuana beyond medicinal purposes. On November 6, 2012, voters in the three states will have an opportunity to vote in a public referendum for proposals to make marijuana legal for recreational use (Welch, 2012).

While the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes and the movement to legalize marijuana for recreational use appears to be a victory for proponents of legalizing marijuana, there is still a major stumbling block. Under Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act (1970), marijuana is listed as a controlled substance. Schedule 1 substances are defined as drugs that have “a high potential for abuse”; does not have a “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States”, and there is “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision” (Controlled Substances Act, 1970, Schedule 1). Moreover, it is also illegal to write prescriptions for Schedule 1 substances (Controlled Substances Act, 1970, Schedule 1).

In 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled that pursuant to the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, Congress was at liberty to control and ban the production and use of marijuana regardless of the fact that states may have legalized it for medicinal purposes (Gonzalez v Raich 545 US 1[2005]). The US Supreme Court also ruled that state legislation legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes did not protect users from the Federal ban against such use. Therefore, any patient with state authorized possession of marijuana could be prosecuted under Federal law (Gonzalez v Raich 545 US 1[2005]).

Shortly after the Gonzalez decision by the US Supreme Court, there was reason to believe that the debate over legalizing marijuana had come to an end once and for all. However, not only are pre-existing pro-marijuana laws still in effect, more states added legislation permitting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. When the US published its decision in Gonzalez in 2005, there were ten states legalizing marijuana for medicinal use (Mikos, 2009). After the Gonzalez decision, seven more states were added (Welch, 2012). The reality is, despite the supremacy of federal law, state laws remain protected by virtue of “anti-commandeering rule” which essentially states that Congress may not pre-empt state authority (Mikos, 2009, p. 162).

The legal status of medicinal marijuana is therefore in conflict between federal law and individual state laws. This tension is just as profound among policy and academic debates over the propriety of legalizing marijuana. Proponents of legalizing marijuana argue for the personal possession of the drug arguing that marijuana is a harmless drug and criminal sanctions and the cost of enforcement are not justified. It is further argued by proponents for legalising marijuana that the crime associated with marijuana use is associated with its decriminalization because it drives users and providers “underground” (Joffe & Yancy, 2004, p. 632).

On the other side of the argument, opponents of legalising marijuana argue that marijuana is not a harmless drug. In support of this position it is typically argued that “new psychopharmacologic information” demonstrates that marijuana is quite similar to other unlawful drugs (Joffe & Yancy, 2004, p. 632). Opponents of legalizing marijuana in any form also express concern that the legalising of marijuana would only lead to a significant increase in marijuana use with corresponding increases in costs at the social, economic, and health levels (Joffe & Yancy, 2004).

The controversy over the legalization of marijuana is demonstrative of the fact that marijuana use is an important social, economic and health issue in the United States as it is arguably subject to abuse and has been linked to crime and deviance. This research paper is therefore important for identifying whether or not alternative responses to the social, economic and health issues linked to marijuana may be more appropriate. This research paper therefore proposes to identify the social, economic and health issues linked to the abuse of marijuana and whether or not the cost of decriminalizing marijuana is proportionate to these issues.

Research Questions

This research study is guided by a primary research question and a number of secondary research questions.

Primary Research Question

The primary research question is:

Is the legalization of marijuana an appropriate resolution to the social, economic, legal and health issues surrounding the use of marijuana?

Secondary Research Questions

The secondary research questions are:

What are the social, economic, legal and health issues relating to the use of marijuana?

In what way does the criminalisation of marijuana contribute to the social, economic, legal and health issues relating to the use of marijuana?

In what way does the decriminalization of marijuana contribute to the social, economic, legal and health issues relating to the use of marijuana?

In what way does the criminalisation of marijuana resolve the social, economic, legal and health issues relating to the use of marijuana?

In what way does the decriminalisation of marijuana resolve the social, economic, legal and health issues relating to the use of marijuana?

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of this research study are to:

Identify the health, economic, legal and social issues related to marijuana use.

Identify the health, economic, legal and social issues related to the decriminalization of marijuana use.

Identify the health, economic, legal and social issues related to the criminalization of marijuana.

Determine if criminalization or decriminalization is the most appropriate method for resolving the health, economic, legal and social issues related to marijuana use.

Statement of the Problem

The use of marijuana is decidedly commonplace. The fact is, marijuana is the most frequently used illegal drug which suggests that either users are convinced that it is harmless or do not care about its potential harm. Moreover, with respect to young people, marijuana is usually involved in their arrests, admission into emergency treatment and in post-mortem reports (Dennis & White, 1999). At the same time the current debate over the decriminalization of marijuana compromises accurate assessments of whether or not marijuana use is harmless, harmful, acceptable or unacceptable either recreationally or medicinally (Alexander, 2003). The conflict between some state laws and federal law prominently reflects the confusing position over the medical risks and the medical benefits of marijuana use.

Significance of the Study

This research study is important for identifying the social, economic, legal and health issues associated with the legalization of marijuana and the continued criminalization of marijuana. The on-going debate is primarily constructed around confusing policies manifested by the conflicts between state and federal laws. Moreover, the prevalent use of marijuana, the crime associated with marijuana and the known health risks, commands a closer examination of whether or not an alternative approach to regulating marijuana might be appropriate. This study is therefore important for its contribution to the current and on-going debate over whether or not marijuana should be decriminalised or should it continue to be regulated by Federal law as a Schedule 1 drug under Federal statute.

Research Methodology

This is a qualitative case study consisting of primary and secondary data. The primary data will be collected from semi-structured interviews of marijuana users with a view to determining their expenditures, their functioning and whether or not they would purchase marijuana if they had to pay taxes on it. The interviews are also intended to determine if the subjects have experienced or suffer from any health issues that might be a common theme among marijuana users. The sample population is comprised of 20 persons known personally to the researcher to be marijuana users.

Primary data will also be collected from a questionnaire that will be distributed among 20 individuals known personally to me to not use marijuana or to use any other illicit drugs. The questionnaire will be confined to questions about functioning, health, socialising and employment. This group is the control group and results of the questionnaire will be compared to the results of the semi-structured interviews for the purpose of triangulating the data. For example if certain experiences are common among marijuana users and are also common among the control group, those experiences can be ruled out as marijuana induced phenomenon. Likewise, if certain experiences are only common among marijuana users, then those experiences can most likely be attributed to marijuana use.

The results of the semi-structured interviews and the questionnaires will be compared and analysed by reference to secondary data. The secondary data consist of reports of studies and theories in the literature manifesting the health, social, legal and economic costs of marijuana use, criminalisation and decriminalisation. Commonalities and divergences between the primary data and the literature will be analysed and presented.

Organization of the Study

This research study is organized and presented as follows:

Chapter One: This chapter introduces the topic and presents an introduction to the major issues guiding this research study. Research questions are presented, the aims and objectives of the study, a statement of the problem, the significance of the study, research methodology and the organization of the study are also presented.

Chapter Two: A review of the literature. This chapter provides a review of the literature relative to studies and theories supporting the arguments for and against the legalisation of marijuana.

Chapter Three: Research Methodology. This chapter describes the research methodology.

Chapter Four: Results and Analysis: This chapter presents the results of the empirical study described in Chapter Three.

Chapter Five: Conclusion. The researcher’s conclusions are provided and the strengths and weaknesses of the research are also presented.

Chapter Two

A Review of the Literature

Introduction

Both law and medicine are in conflict over the legality and health consequences of marijuana use. From the legal perspective, several states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes while federal law continues to ban marijuana use in the US. From the medical perspective, some medical professionals have argued that marijuana does serve a useful therapeutic purpose while others argue that its health risk far outweigh any medical benefit it provides (Morgan, 2011). The literature review examines the pros and cons relative to the criminalization and the decriminalisation of marijuana with a view to identifying the legal, economic, health and social issues that justify one side or the other.

Public Opinion

Muaro (1990) argues that for the most part the American public has been largely opposed to permitting liberal access to dangerous drugs such as opium and cocaine. Americans for the most part have always been of the opinion that the social, economic and health costs associated with opium and cocaine demands that its use be controlled by legislators. However, Americans initially influenced by government publications extolling the health consequences of marijuana use were also largely in favor of also controlling the use of marijuana. However, by the 1960s and the 1970s there was a softening of the American public’s attitude toward the so-called dangers of marijuana use.

During the 1960s in particular, the large gathering at Woodstock was believed to have been unpredictably peaceful as a result of the widespread use of marijuana and would have likely been entirely disruptive if alcohol had been used as widely instead. This new attitude toward marijuana resulted in an increase in demands for marijuana and a growing tolerance among the American public with respect to marijuana use. In fact, the Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse suggested that marijuana be decriminalized and that possession of marijuana for “personal use” be legal (Muaro, 1990).

Muaro (1990) informs however, that during the 1980s and thereafter the American public have vacillated in their opinions of the legal use of marijuana. Support continues to go up and down. Thus much depends on the impact that marijuana is having on habitual users and the consequences for the wider public. It would therefore appear that social, health and economic cost to the public will dictate the degree to which they are tolerant of marijuana.

Beginning in the 1960s, Gallup has conducted regular polls asking Americans whether or not they support the legalization of marijuana. Up to 2005, a majority of Americans have always supported the continued criminalization of marijuana. However, each subsequent poll demonstrates a slight increase of participants supporting the legalization of marijuana. For instance, in 1969 only 12% of Americans supported the decriminalisation of marijuana. However, in 1977, one out of every four Americans supported legalising marijuana and by 2000, that number improved to 31% (Gallup, Gallup, & Jewport, 2007). A Gallup Poll in October 2011 reflected that 50% of Americans now support legalizing marijuana (Dobuzinskis, 2012).

It is not clear whether or not legislative shifts toward legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes influenced public opinion or whether or not public opinion influenced state legislators to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. The results of a Pew survey is perhaps more insightful. The Pew Research Center (2010) conducted a survey among 1500 adults via telephone. The survey indicated that in 2010, 41% of participants favoured legalization of marijuana while 52% did not. In 2008 however, only 35% supported legalizing marijuana and 57% were against legalization. In 2010, 73% favoured legalizing marijuana and 23% opposed legalizing marijuana (see Appendix 1 below) (Pew,2010). It can therefore be concluded that the influx of state legislation legalizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes influenced public opinion since the survey was conducted at a time when legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes pre-dated the survey. As Mikos (2009) observed, with state law permitting medical doctors to dispense marijuana as a medical drug, the public forms the opinion that marijuana is a safe drug.

Appendix 1

Summary of Results of A Pew Survey

Taken from Pew Research Center. “Boad Support for Legalizing Medical Marijuana: Modest Rise in Percentage Favoring General Legalization.” April 1, 2010. http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1548/broad-public-support-for-legalizing-medical-marijuana (Retrieved 27 October, 2012).

Legal Issues

Mikos (2009) examines the debate over whether to legalize marijuana from the perspective of the federal system in the US. Mikos (2009) argues that although Congress has criminalized marijuana use within the US and has taken a zero-tolerance approach to any partial or state initiative to legalize marijuana, states have demonstrated that the federal government is powerless to stop individual states legalizing limited marijuana use for medicinal purposes. One of the main reasons the Federal government has not been able to prevent individual states legalizing marijuana for limited medicinal purposes is the fact that the federal government does not invest the funds necessary for enforcing anti-marijuana laws. This burden is primarily assumed on a state to state basis.

Mikos (2009) draws attention to the economic burdens imposed on the government in the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws. It is therefore worthwhile considering whether or not from an economic perspective whether the absolute ban on marijuana and the cost of enforcing an absolute ban is proportionate to the harms associated with marijuana use.

Mikos (2009) also raises an interesting point in stating that when states legalize limited marijuana use for medicinal purposes, they influence the positive attitudes toward marijuana use. By allowing doctors to dispense marijuana use to qualified patients, states are in effect confirming beliefs that marijuana is a safe drug and contradicting beliefs that marijuana is a dangerous drug. Thus the states have the power to influence attitudes toward the propriety of legalizing marijuana use and with the Federal government powerless to enforce its own anti-marijuana laws and policies, the public is more likely to be influenced by the state exercise of its own authority.

California passed the first medical marijuana law in the US in 1996. The Federal response however was harsh. The Federal government threatened doctors in California that should they prescribe marijuana to any of their patients they would be investigated and possible lose their authority to write prescriptions pursuant to Drug Enforcement Administration regulations (Annas, 1997). Although the Federal government have not yet made good on these threats, Federal prosecutors have actively shut down medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California (Onishi, 2012).

The Federal government takes the position that the various methods by which marijuana is grown and processed poses a danger to human health since chemicals used to grow marijuana are not monitored nor previously approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Moreover, there has been insufficient research revealing how the different chemical compositions affect human health (McGuire, 1997). Arguably, the Federal government has the authority to fund and approve research and to monitor the cultivation and dispensing of marijuana. However, as long as marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance, it remains out of the reach of FDA regulation and monitoring. It therefore follows that since the Federal government has not demonstrated a willingness to prosecute patients and doctors for medicinal marijuana possession and distribution, it should at the very least remove marijuana from Schedule 1 and place it within Schedule II.

Economic Issues

Gettman (2007) argues that policy-makers often argue that both the social and economic the cost of legalizing banned substances such as marijuana justifies it continued criminalization. Policy makers typically argue that if marijuana was decriminalized is would result in unacceptably widespread use and would exponentially increase the social and economic costs associated with drug abuse. This would be particularly problematic should teens and those with mental health issues were to have marijuana easily accessible to them.

Gettman (2007) argues however, that despite the current anti-marijuana laws and law enforcement and prosecutorial approaches, marijuana remains readily and easily accessible by anyone who wishes to use it. Moreover, the US government has spent millions of dollars and decades on research seeking to identify the harmful health effects of marijuana and have yet to produce evidence that marijuana is more harmful to the individual’s health than legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol.

Gettman (2007) produces statistics demonstrating that the government’s anti-marijuana campaigns claiming that marijuana is a “gateway” drug to more dangerous drugs demonstrating that marijuana users rarely move on to more dangerous drugs. Gettman (2007) also produces evidence of the government’s expenditure on law enforcement and other anti-marijuana measures and ponders whether or not these costs are justified. Gettman (2007) also suggest that the government is missing out on a unique opportunity to obtain tax revenues for marijuana cultivators since it appears that despite its best efforts the supply and demand for marijuana continues to flourish. Gettman however, fails to take account of the crime rates associated with marijuana use and does not take into consideration how widespread the use of marijuana would be had it not been for the criminalization of marijuana.

A study conducted by Caulkins and Pacula (2006) is instructive in terms of estimating the money spent on marijuana in the US each year. The study was conducted because, in general evidence of demand and use of illicit drugs is discernible while evidence of markets and supply statistics is more difficult to come by. This is because surveys of populations can be conducted or accessed while market and supply data is typically unavailable.

Relying on the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, Caulkins and Pacula (2006) found that 87 % of the participants revealed that they usually get marijuana form either a relative or a friend. Moreover, 58% of the respondents obtaining marijuana from friends and relatives reported that they obtained the marijuana free of charge. Caulkins and Pacula (2006) therefore came to the conclusion that the “distribution” of marijuana is therefore “embedded in social networks” as opposed to “professional sellers” (p. 173). The survey also revealed that purchasers of marijuana were accorded discounts for purchasing quantity. It was also discovered that on average users purchased small amounts of marijuana (6 or 7 joints). As a result, Caulkins and Pacula (2006) concluded that approximately 400 million retail marijuana purchases are made in the US annually.

This study therefore reveals that marijuana is easily accessible and is a social drug. In other words, those purchasing marijuana are generous with sharing the drug either freely or for a fee with other relatives or friends. The number of purchases made by Americans annually also indicates that Americans are determined to gain access to marijuana and do so despite anti-marijuana laws and policies.

Beckett and Herbert (2007) conducted a study in which 15 individuals had been arrested for possession of marijuana. The purpose of the interview was to assess the individual economic and social costs associated with the arrests. Ten of the respondents paid an average of US$4,250 for private legal counsel and the remaining five relied on the services of public defenders. In this regard, individual costs were incurred in respect of the private attorneys while a public cost was incurred with respect to public defenders (Beckett & Herbert, 2007).

In addition, the respondents incurred other fees including bail, fines and court related costs. The fees ranged from US$200 to US$4,200 and the average cost of “arrest-related, non-attorney fees was US$1, 675” (Beckett & Herbert, 2007, p. 33). In addition, the respondents suffered the loss of income as they had to miss work to attend court with the losses ranging between US$200 to US$3000 (Beckett & Herbert, 2007). Moreover, fiver of the respondents reported losing their jobs as a result of the criminal charges and in one case, the prosecution eventually withdrew the case (Beckett & Herbert, 2007). Three of the respondents obtained criminal convictions which severely reduced their job prospects for the future (Beckett & Herbert, 2007).

Another economic costs uncovered by Beckett and Herbert (2007) was the costs associated with authorized seizures of property for possession of dangerous substances. By virtue of this authority, law enforcement may seize the assets of persons whom they reasonably suspect are in possession of dangerous drugs. These assets may include savings, homes and vehicles. Five of the respondents reported losses of this nature. Two lawful medical marijuana patients lost equipment used for cultivating marijuana and thereby incurred losses of US$1,500 and US$8,000 respectively. Other respondents reported losing computers, guns, cameras and cash valuing between US$300 and US$6,000. Three defendants lost their cars and one respondent suffered the loss of US$90,000 in respect of a home equity (Beckett & Herbert, 2007).

Arguably, the actual and potential individual costs associated with marijuana enforcement laws should deter the cultivation and use of marijuana. However, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2011) marijuana remains the most frequently used unlawful drug in the US. As a result, the public costs of enforcing marijuana laws are therefore exponential and arguably disproportionate to the social costs of marijuana use. As Beckett and Herbert (2007) reported, enforcing anti-marijuana laws “consumes significant fiscal and organizational resources, beginning with law enforcement” (p. 27). The Federal government’s budget for drug enforcement rose from US$4.6 billion in 1991 to US$9.5 billion by 2002. Since a vast majority of the drug-related arrest during the period from 1991-2002 were marijuana offences, it is reasonable to conclude that most of the Federal government’s drug enforcement budget was devoted to the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws (Beckett & Herbert, 2007).

When one considers the relatively lower social costs of marijuana use, the utility of burdening the public and individuals with the expense of enforcing anti-marijuana laws is suspect. Moreover, just as the government makes money in tax revenues from alcohol and tobacco, the government can make money in tax revenues from marijuana use. Moreover, taxation might deter the use of marijuana or at the very least, influence some users to abstain. Yamada, Kendix and Yamada (1996) rationalized that just as taxes on drugs and alcohol impacted consumer demands, negatively, it could have the same impact on the demand for marijuana should it be legalized and subjected to taxation.

Yamada et. al. (1996) conducted a study which makes a compelling case for legalising marijuana. The study was aimed at identifying the impact of alcohol and marijuana consumption on high school graduation and the consequences of taxation on alcohols for alcohol consumption by high school students. Yamada et.al. (1996) rationalize that if taxation on alcohol influences high school students’ purchase and consumption of alcohol, it should have the same effect on high school students’ purchase and consumption of marijuana if marijuana was subject to taxes. The only way that marijuana could be subjected to taxes would be if it was decriminalized.

Yamada et.al. (1996) conducted their study by virtue of data collected from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The data was used to estimate the links between high school graduation and the consumption of marijuana and alcohol among high school students. The results of the study demonstrated that marijuana and alcohol use had a negative impact on high school graduation rates. The study also found that taxes on alcohol, the minimum drinking age and unlawful marijuana significantly impacted demands.

The study found that when alcohol taxes are increased by 10% it reduced consumption by high school students which increased the likelihood of graduation by approximately 3.7%. Moreover, when alcohol prices are increased by 10% high school graduation is increased from 6.6% to 8.2%. When the minimum age for drinking is increased, alcohol consumption decreases and high school graduation is more likely (Yamada, et. al., 1996). It therefore follows that if marijuana was legalized the government would have the ability to control its use more effectively and would actually make money in the process rather than spend money.

Social and Health Costs

Wodak, Reinarman and Cohen (2002) argue that the social costs of marijuana is excessive when one considers its potential and actual harm to users and society. The mere fact of arrest for possession of marijuana often stigmatizes the offender and negatively impacts their “lives, education and careers” (Wodak, et. al., 2002, p. 105). In addition, the families of the detainee often lose out on income and suffer “emotional stress” (Wodak, et. al., 2002, p. 105). For the most part, marijuana users are typically “disadvantaged” and incurring the sanctions associated with marijuana laws only exacerbates matters as relationships, employment and accommodations are often disrupted (Wodak, et. al., 2002).

The criminalization of marijuana also serves to fracture a number of important relationships: parent/child, teacher/student, police/communities. Moreover, individuals using marijuana are denied the opportunity to obtain “reliable information about the concentration of psychoactive ingredients” or the contents of the marijuana that they use, or “or even about less harmful ways of using the drug” (Wodak, et. al., 2002, p. 105). Thus as Wodak, et. al. (2002) argue, “…current cannabis policies are inimical to desirable public health outcomes” (p. 105).

The fact that demand for marijuana is so high despite the anti-marijuana legal climate, indicates that marijuana is necessarily available from unlawful factions. The result is an “unregulated black market” which “brings consumers” of marijuana “into direct contact with sellers of other illicit drugs” (Wodak, et. al., 2002, p. 106). Moreover, another significant social cost is incurred by the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws. In this regard, resources committed to the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws are resources that could be more beneficially committed to the enforcement of other laws protecting the public from far more serious harm (Wodak, et. al., 2002).

The individual and collective social and health cost associated with marijuana use has been tested in the literature with mixed results. For example, a national longitudinal study conducted by Resnick, et. al. (1997) demonstrated that young adults and students using marijuana regularly reported experiencing “emotional distress” with respect to completing a minimum of a 20 hour work week (p. 823). In another study conducted by Pope and Yurgelun-Todd (1996) it was found that “heavy marijuana use was associated with “significantly greater impairment than light users on attentional/executive functions” especially in relation to “card sorting and reducing learning of word lists” (Pope & Yurgelun-Todd, 1996, p. 521). The results of this study however are limited in that they do not compare the cognitive functioning of heavy and light marijuana users with those of non-users. Moreover, the subjects were not tested with respect to the possible combined effects of alcohol, tobacco and/or other drugs.

A study conducted by Carlin and Trupin (1977) involved 10 individuals who consumed marijuana on a daily basis for at least five years and did not use other drugs. A control group of 10 non-users were also involved in the study. The study conducted neuropsychological tests and results indicated that there were “minimal differences” between the experimental and control groups. Thus, Carlin and Trupin (1977) concluded that the “long-term” use of marijuana “does not cause a generalized decrement in adaptive abilities” (p. 617).

Block and Ghoneim (1993) conducted a study on the cognitive effects of marijuana use among chronic and moderate marijuana users. In this regard, a chronic user was one who consumed marijuana at least 7 times a week and a moderate user consumed marijuana at least four times a week. In order to conduct the test 144 users were studied in an experimental group divided into chronic and moderate users and 72 non-users were studied in a control group. The academic functioning of all respondents was measured by reference to a 4th grade standardized test which demonstrated no significant differences in academic functioning among the sample. It was assumed that neither of the subjects were using marijuana at the time of taking the 4th grade test. The respondents were required to take a 12th grade standardized test to determine whether or not there was any variation in intellectual functioning after the experimental group began using marijuana (Block & Ghoneim, 1993).

The results of the study indicated that chronic users manifested intellectual “deficits” in math performance and “verbal expressions with “selective impairments in memory retrieval processes” as evidenced by a memory test ((Block & Ghoneim, 1993, p. 219). The results of the study also indicated that moderate users demonstrated no intellectual deficits and in fact, one moderate user’s results were superior to all other subjects including the non-users (Block & Ghoneim, 1993).

Brook, Balka and Whiteman (1999) conducted a study testing the link between frequent use of marijuana beginning in adolescence with deviant behavior later on. The study involved 627 African Americans and 555 Puerto Ricans who filled out questionnaires and were interviewed. A logistic regression analysis was used to assess risky behavior linked to an increased consumption of marijuana. The results of the study indicated that the early use of marijuana was linked to a heightened risk that the individual would not complete high school, would be delinquent, would have “multiple sexual partners”, engage in unprotected sex, see drugs as harmless, also use alcohol and cigarettes and marijuana and have friends with deviant tendencies (Brook, et. al., 1999). Considering the sample of Puerto Rican and African American respondents it is unclear the extent to which ethnic, cultural and socio-economic factors may have influenced the results of this study.

Conclusion

The evidence reported in the literature does not clearly establish that the social, economic, health and legal costs associated with marijuana are proportionate to either continued criminalization or decriminalization. For instance there is no general consensus in the literature relative to the health risks and/or benefits of marijuana. Likewise, there is no general consensus in the literature with respect to the social benefits or risks associated with marijuana. The most that can be deduced from the literature is that despite the continued criminalization of marijuana and the individual and collective costs incurred in its use and curtailment, marijuana use continues to lead all illicit drugs in the US.

Chapter Three

Research Methodology

This research study is a qualitative case study which involves the exploration of a “case” by the collection of “detailed, in-depth data” involving various sources of information (Creswell, 2009, p. 43). This qualitative case study will be comprised of primary and secondary data. The primary data will be collected from semi-structured interviews with individuals personally known to the researcher as marijuana users. 20 individuals will be selected for participating in the semi-structured interviews with a view to identifying their common experiences with marijuana use, the common factors that influence their marijuana use and common factors that might influence abstaining.

The interview is semi-structured so as to allow the researcher to go off-script in the event information not previously contemplated arises in the course of an interview or in the course of researching secondary data sources. Therefore a preliminary list of interview questions will be prepared. The proposed interview questions are designed to determine how often the respondent uses marijuana, why the respondent uses marijuana, how much marijuana is used, how much is spent on marijuana, how marijuana impacts functioning and socializing, the difficulties involved in obtaining marijuana, and whether or not the user would be amenable to paying taxes on marijuana (See Appendix 2).

Primary data will also be collected from a questionnaire that will be distributed among 20 individuals known personally to me to not use marijuana or to use any other illicit drugs. The questionnaire will be confined to questions about functioning, health, socialising and employment. This group is the control group and results of the questionnaire will be compared to the results of the semi-structured interviews for the purpose of triangulating the data. For example if certain experiences are common among marijuana users and are also common among the control group, those experiences can be ruled out as marijuana induced phenomenon. Likewise, if certain experiences are only common among marijuana users, then those experiences can most likely be attributed to marijuana use.

The questionnaire is categorically scaled from 1-5 indicating the extent to which the respondent agrees with the statement. For example 1-Agree, 2-Completely Agree, 3-Disagree, 4- Completely Disagree, 5-Neutral (See Appendix 3).

The results of the semi-structured interviews and the questionnaires will be compared and analysed by reference to secondary data. The secondary data consist of reports of studies and theories in the literature manifesting the health, social, legal and economic costs of marijuana use, criminalisation and decriminalisation. Commonalities and divergences between the primary data and the literature will be analysed and presented.

Potential respondents will be identified and approached personally in order to obtain their consent to participate in this research study. Respondents will be informed of the purpose of the interview: the collection of primary data for use in an academic research project with a view to contributing to the controversy over whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized.

Each of the respondents will be over the age of 18 and thus, ethical considerations relative to obtaining the consent of a minor will not be an issue. All respondents will be determined to be competent adults thus ruling out the possibility of competency to give consent as an ethical issue. Competency will be determined by virtue of preliminary questions assessing the respondent’s demographic profile.

Confidentiality will not be an ethical issue as the respondents’ names will not be used in the study. Instead, coding procedures and research reports will identify the respondents by codes that cannot be linked to the identity of the respondents. The respondents will be informed of the anonymous nature of the interview and the documentation of information obtained by virtue of the interviews and will be informed that they are free to withdraw from the interviews any time after consenting to participate. Consent will be obtained by having the respondents sign a consent form which will be subsequently destroyed by shredding after the research project is completed.

Secondary data sources will consist of empirical research studies reported in the literature indicating the extent to which marijuana use is a health and social issue. In other words, longitudinal studies and government reports documenting the prevalence of marijuana use and its impact on users, family members, friends, institutions and society in general will be analysed and used as a premise for formulating the interview questions. Secondary data sources will therefore consist of articles/journals, textbooks, official government reports, news reports and official records of marijuana use and its economic, criminal, social and health implications. The information obtained by virtue of secondary data can be used to triangulate the primary data and vice versa. Triangulation may also be necessitated by follow-up interviews with respondents in the event information arises from the secondary data that was not previously addressed in the initial interviews.

Chapter Four

Results and Analysis

Results

Semi-Structured Interviews

20 individuals participated in the semi-structured interviews and ranged between the ages of 22 and 30. 5 of the respondents were females and 15 were male. 13 of the respondents were white, 5 black and 2 were Hispanic. 13 of the respondents were employed, 2 were full-time post-secondary students and five were unemployed. None of the respondents reported physical or mental disabilities although 6 reported wearing glasses. All but one of the respondents had completed high school, four had college degrees and two were currently studying in college.

17 of the respondents reported using marijuana for at least 5 years, starting in high school. One of the respondents (a current college student) reported using marijuana over the past year. Four of the respondents (one black and three white) reported smoking marijuana daily and habitually for more than five years. The remaining respondents reported only using marijuana socially and never alone. The four habitual marijuana users reported that they purchased marijuana themselves and that they had no difficulty obtaining it and that they purchased from the same source each time. One of the four habitual marijuana users explained:

I usually purchase what I need for the week or two if I can afford it. I don’t want to be seen making frequent trips to a man who might be under police surveillance. That’s why I make bulk purchases.

The four habitual smokers spent between US$100 and US$200 dollars a week on marijuana. Two users reported that the more you pay, the better the quality and the higher the potency. Out of the 16 remaining respondents only three purchased marijuana and reported spending approximately US$50 monthly. The remaining 13 respondents smoked marijuana in social settings and only when offered for free. These 13 respondents have never personally had possession of marijuana themselves.

None of the respondents reported any difficulty with sleeping as a result of marijuana. One of the social smokers reported that marijuana actually helped them to sleep. Interestingly, only the social smokers admitted to behavioral changes as a result of smoking marijuana. Those behavioral changes included, increased appetite and a propensity to laugh at things that they would not normally find amusing. Habitual smokers reported that their behavior did not change and that their functioning was only different under the influence in that they felt they were unable to function more effectively unless they were under the influence.

Questionnaires

The 20 individuals participating in the questionnaires were comprised of individuals between the ages of 20 and 25. Five were black, 8 were white and 7 were Hispanic. 14 were females and 6 were males. None of the respondents reported having any physical or mental disabilities. One of the respondents did not complete school. 6 are college students, 3 have college degrees, 10 are employed and three are currently unemployed.

A majority (15) of the respondents admitted to having problems completing a 40 hour work-week. This might be a result of boredom, or might be a result of job difficulty or the lack of interest in working. It is certainly unrelated to marijuana use or physical or mental disabilities. Four of the respondents (college students) reported having difficulties sleeping. This might be related to course work, socialization or the consumption of caffeinated beverages and/or food or a combination of all of these factors.

Only one of the respondents reported having difficulty socializing (school drop-out). This might have been the reason for the respondent’s decision to drop out of school. The respondent arguably had difficulties socializing and mixing with other students and may have felt isolated and did not have a sense of belonging in school. What we do know, is that marijuana did not have anything to do with this student’s decision to drop out of high school. Interestingly, this respondent also reported having had difficulties with the law. One of the Hispanic respondents, two of the white respondents and one of the black respondents also reported having had problems with the law. Only one female was included in this group.

A majority of the respondents reported having no problem starting projects (19) with only one white male college student reporting having difficulties. 14 of the respondents (not including the sole school drop-out) reported having difficulties completing projects. This is not to say however, that the respondents could not complete projects. It merely suggests that completing projects require commitment and hard work for these individuals. As expected only those respondents who were unemployed and two college students reported having difficulties obtaining work. All the male respondents felt that they coped with stress well and three female respondents did not. Only the high school dropout reported having difficulties with personal relationships. Not surprisingly, habitual users reported that they might be compelled to reduce the use of marijuana if taxed, but they would not quit it altogether. Recreational users did not think that taxes would impact their habits as they did not smoke enough or buy enough to worry about a tax burden.

Analysis

The results of this study demonstrate that there is very little if any differences in the functioning and performance of social/recreational users of marijuana. The members of the experimental group who admitted to only smoking socially and occasionally were similar in terms of socialization and working. While the habitual smokers did not report performance and functioning deficits, their responses are suspect since they were predisposed to deny that marijuana impacted their behaviour in any way. In fact, they stated that marijuana helped to improve their performance. This might indicate the onset of physical dependence or merely a cover or justification for the continued use of marijuana. The social users were more honest in admitting that they felt their behaviour changed in that they ate more and laughed more. One recreational user also admitted that marijuana helped him to sleep.

The results therefore confirm, at least partially and quite possibly wholly (if the habitual users are believed) the assertions made by Strang, et. al. (2000). It will be recalled that Strang, et. al., (2000) asserted that marijuana when used recreationally is harmless and can have therapeutic/medicinal value. As seen with the sample interviewed in my study, the recreational users did not appear to or admit to suffering any form of harm as a result of the use of marijuana. Likewise, the habitual users did not report any harm resulting from the use of marijuana and appeared to believe that marijuana had a therapeutic value as it helped them to function better in their work.

The economic consequences of marijuana use appears to be only detrimental to heavy users. As seen in this study, the habitual users spend a great deal of money weekly on marijuana use while recreational users either do not purchase marijuana, and those that do spend substantially less than those that are habitual users. These findings confirm Caulkins and Pacula’s (2006) contention that a majority of users typically get marijuana from a friend or a relative. My research findings indicate that recreational users do not usually purchase marijuana and so it can be assumed that they get marijuana from friends or relatives.

The results of my study also indicate that should marijuana be legalized and taxed, habitual users might reduce their consumption habits, although recreational users might continue to use marijuana recreationally since they do not invest that much in marijuana in the first place. Therefore the results of this study confirm findings in the literature that just as tax burdens reduce the purchase and use of alcohol and tobacco a similar result can be expected should marijuana be taxed (Yamada, Kendix, & Yamada, 1996).

Given the relatively small sample size of this study, I was unable to confirm findings in the literature that marijuana use within an anti-marijuana legal climate adversely effected the income and jobs of the user (Wodak, Reinarman, & Cohen; Beckett & Herbert, 2007). The results of this study indicate that both users, habitual users and non-users had the same level or similar levels of economic comforts and thus no significant differences were observed.

My research findings also indicate that there is no significant difference among the users and non-users with respect to completing work obligations or projects. This research study therefore cannot confirm the results of Resnick, et.al.’s (1997) study that marijuana users have difficulty or suffer emotional distress completing a 20 hour work week. This research study is also unable to confirm Pope and Yurgelun-Todd’s (1996) study indicating that chronic marijuana users typically have a greater level of attention impairment than less moderate users. In fact the results of my study confirm the study conducted by Carlin and Trupin (1977) who found that there was little or no difference in neuropsychological functioning among users and non-users. Moreover, as Carlin and Trupin (1977) found, there is no “generalized decrement in adaptive abilities” as a result of long-term use of marijuana. The sample used in my student also found that marijuana users of at least 5 years functioned no differently from non-users and those who used marijuana occasionally or just began using marijuana more recently.

My study did not conduct an intellectual or memory test. However, the results of my study can be reconciled with the findings reported by Block and Ghoneim, (1993) who reported that moderate users reported no differences in intellectual functioning than non-users. In fact, going by general impressions in interview observations and information reported by the interview subjects, I would venture to say that there were no observable differences in the intellectual functioning of the chronic users, moderate users and the non-users.

The results of my study cannot confirm Brook et. al.’s (1999) findings that the use of marijuana in early adolescence can lead to deviant behavior later on in adolescence. In fact, non-users participating in my study admitted to having problems with the law. Moreover, the only high-school drop-out in my sample came from the control group consisting of non-users. It can therefore be concluded that marijuana is not proven to be specifically related to deviant behavior. Deviance can and does exist independent of marijuana.

Conclusion

Research findings indicate that marijuana, like tobacco and alcohol may have detrimental consequences to the economic, legal, health and social functions individually and or collectively. There is only one caveat: only if marijuana is used habitually or chronically as with tobacco or alcohol or if combined with other dangerous substances. However, the study conducted by me does not infinitively confirm that health, legal, social or economic consequences automatically flow from the chronic use of marijuana. My research study only confirms that recreational use of marijuana does not produce appreciable differences in its social, economic, legal or health outcomes both collectively and individually compared to non-users.

It can therefore be concluded that since there is no evidence that recreational use of marijuana is harmful to the user and to his or her relationships and affiliates, there is no sound reason for the continued criminalization of marijuana. In fact the criminalization of marijuana poses the greatest risk of harm to recreational users as they do not have the benefit of FDA protection and inspection of the marijuana freely distributed and available on the market. Moreover, should marijuana be legalized and taxed, chronic users might become recreational users and thus reduce the risk of health, economic, legal and social harm associated with the chronic use of marijuana.

Strengths of the Research

The strengths of this research are related to the fact that this study involved marijuana users themselves and thus allowed for the collection of data from those with actual experience with the purchase and use of marijuana. This research also provided direct evidence of how those experiences impacted the functioning of those who used marijuana frequently and occasionally and how those experiences compared to those who did not use marijuana at all.

Weaknesses of the Research

This research used a small sample size and as such the results could not fully represent the full breadth of marijuana use and its consequences. Moreover, self-reporting from marijuana users is a sensitive issue as marijuana is illegal and there are limits to what one might expect a marijuana user to admit with respect to marijuana use, effects, sales prices and availability.

Areas for Future Research

Based on the results of this study, it would be informative to learn the consequences of marijuana use compared to other illicit substances including alcohol. By examining the experiences and functioning of alcohol users and marijuana users, its propensity for abuse and the results on functioning might provide better insight into how and why alcohol is not a controlled substance and marijuana is. Comparisons with other illicit drugs might provide some insight into why marijuana is listed together with other illicit drugs as a controlled substance under Federal law.

Appendix 2

Appendix

Semi-Structured Interview Questions

Preliminary Information:

Age:

Gender:

Race:

Employment:

Mental or Physical Disabilities:

Level of Education:

Questions

How long have you been using marijuana?

Do you use any other illegal drugs?

What other drugs do you use?

How often do you use marijuana?

How much money do you spend on marijuana?

Do you use marijuana alone?

Is it difficult to purchase marijuana?

Would you pay taxes on marijuana?

Does marijuana impact your ability to sleep?

Does marijuana impact your ability to socialize?

Does marijuana impact your ability to work?

Does marijuana impact your ability to start projects?

Does marijuana impact your ability to complete projects?

Does your behaviour change when you are under the influence of marijuana? In what way?

Appendix 3

Questionnaire

Preliminary Information:

Age:

Gender:

Race:

Employment:

Mental or Physical Disabilities:

Level of Education:

I have no problem working a full 40 hour week.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problem sleeping.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problem socializing.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problems with the law.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problems with my personal relationships.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problems with my working relationships.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I generally cope with stress very well.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problem finding a job.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problem completing projects.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

I have no problem starting projects.

1-Agree. 2. Completely Agree. 3. Disagree. 4. Completely Disagree. 5. Neutral.

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Should Marijuana Be Legalized?. (March 12, 2021).
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