Marijuana is being touted as one of the most controversial substances in society. Medical science claims that it can have favorable medicinal properties, but they also admit that it has unfavorable qualities which can be uncontrolled and consequently be harmful to the users. Nevertheless, its use in the medical community is being supported because apparently its benefits to patients would far outweigh its risks. Its use in Canada is considered a crime and harsh penalties are imposed among violators. Suggestions for its decriminalization are currently being discussed. This paper shall now discuss whether or not the decriminalization of marijuana would have a net positive or negative impact on Canadian society. It shall also discuss who would benefit and who would lose from its decriminalization. This paper is being undertaken in order to establish a clear and comprehensive understanding of marijuana, its implications for use, and its overall impact on society.
Under the 1923 Opium and Drug Act, marijuana was classified as an illegal drug and those violating the provisions of the act were liable to face criminal penalties (Khoo). In 1997, marijuana was covered by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and this law is the main legislation which some interest groups are seeking to amend. They cite how the Ontario Court of Appeal was able to decide in favor of the possession of 30 grams of marijuana – mostly for medicinal purposes (Khoo). The court argued that banning marijuana would be tantamount to violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada is considered the first nation to apply the regulated medicinal use of marijuana; however, the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations did not adequately consider the issue of recreational use (Khoo). In 2003, a new ruling by the Ontario court decided that the possession of small amounts of marijuana was not anymore valid; the courts noted how hundreds of thousands of young Canadians were engaged in recreational marijuana use and that no firm legal provisions on the use of the drug have been set forth by the legislators (Khoo). The Ontario Court of Appeals then passed new rulings in order to make it easier for patients to avail of the drug for medicinal purposes. To this day, this issue has yet to be settled in Canada (Khoo). And this issue involves relevant players including the patients who need marijuana for medicinal purposes, the recreational drug users, the doctors who prescribe the substance for their patients, the legislators who have the burden of deciding on passing (or not passing) the law to decriminalize marijuana, police officers and law enforcement authorities who are enforcing the law, and the international community.
These individuals and social groups are all stakeholders in the resolution of the issue on the decriminalization of marijuana. For those who use the drug for medicinal purposes, they believe that decriminalizing marijuana use would largely be beneficial to them because they would be able to benefit from the medical benefits of the substance – effects which they would not be able to experience from any drug or any other intervention. Decriminalizing marijuana use can be beneficial for the following purposes: to stimulate appetite of HIV/AIDS patients and to relieve cachexia of cancer patients; to relieve and reduce nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy among cancer patients; to reduce the intraocular pressure for glaucoma patients; to provide analgesic effect for cancer patients; and to relieve the spasticity and nocturnal spasms caused by neurologic and movement disorders (Yambura, pp. 2-4). For these reasons, patients positively impacted by marijuana use would stand to gain from the decriminalization of marijuana.
The main issue being taken with the decriminalization of marijuana largely focuses on the risk of its use among recreational drug users wanting to take advantage of its hallucinogenic and psychedelic properties or just wanting to get ‘high.’ Based on a 2007 UN report, Canada is the leading industrialized nation in marijuana use. Based on the report, about 16.8% of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64 smoked or ingested marijuana in the year 2006 (CBC News). This is more than the world average and is more than the demographic for other countries, except Ghana, Zambia, and Papua New Guinea. The report further established that 30% of students as early as those in grades 7 to 11 were using this drug; this trend was seen in the 1990s and has not waned in the years that followed (CBC News). These numbers represent those who use the drug not for medicinal purposes but for recreational purposes. In effect, the risk involved in decriminalizing marijuana is the element of drug abuse. With frequent use of this substance as a recreational drug, risks of lung damage and respiratory tract malignancy were seen to be common after effects (Tashkin, p. 637). The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) also discussed that marijuana can be addicting and that people who have been using it for some time often have a hard time quitting. Those trying to stop their regular use of the drug often experience severe withdrawal symptoms including sleep disturbance, anxiety, nervousness, upset stomach, and loss of appetite; and these symptoms often persist for more than a few days (CAMH). Smoked marijuana is dangerous because of its cancer-causing properties. Deep inhalation of the substance can also increase one’s risk of getting cancer from its use; it can irritate the lungs and cause chronic cough (CAMH). It can also make it harder for a person to gain concentration and to remember things. Larger doses can cause toxic psychoses, making the user hallucinate, paranoid, and deluded (CAMH). For some users, it can also affect their coordination, compromising their concentration and slowing their reaction time. For which reason, these users may sometimes be dangerous behind the wheel (CAMH).
For police and law enforcement officers, they are highly concerned about the number of crimes associated with marijuana use. Law enforcement officers argue that medical research is still insufficient in relation to the long-term use of marijuana and the current use of the substance, which is sourced out from the cannabis plant is much stronger today. In other words, the THC levels associated with marijuana are higher today than 20 years ago – in effect, making the psychedelic effects of the substance much higher (Vincent). These law enforcement officers point out that the users today need even less of the drug to get ‘high.’ Even a small amount can actually make them ‘high’. They also cite that the primary drug they often find among impaired drivers is marijuana (Vincent). And for that reason alone, these law enforcers do not support the decriminalization of the drug. They also emphasize that the marijuana users which they arrest more often than not, lose a sense of responsibility for their actions. They are often oblivious to pain and sensation which allows them to drive without a care in the world or to carry out activities without a sense of responsibility. These moments of oblivion and irresponsibility for these users create windows of opportunity for harm to seep through. These law enforcers point out that it is often unfortunate that during these times, other people may also be put at risk for the users’ actions (Vincent). It is for the innocent victims of uninhibited marijuana users that law enforcement officers mostly oppose the decriminalization of the drug. They have firsthand accounts of the negative impact of the substance and their experience on the use of the substance cannot be deemed favorable to the decriminalization of the drug. They do however acknowledge the fact that with the strict implementation of the laws, it may be possible to still decriminalize the use of marijuana while also allowing patients to benefit from it. However, the law enforcement officers point out that these strict remedies on the marijuana use have yet to be implemented (CBC News). Until such point is reached, they would not support the decriminalization of the substance.
Doctors are ambiguous about this issue. Some of them involved in the care of cancer patients recognize the benefits that this substance can bring to their patients. For purposes of assisting in the relief of their patients’ suffering and symptoms, they are supportive of the decriminalization of marijuana (Venters and Kisely). They are frequently exposed to the unrelieved symptoms of their cancer patients and they know that marijuana can deliver relief which they are not liable to receive from other drugs or other preparations. They do however recognize the addictive properties of the substance as well (Venters and Kisely). All too well, they have encountered patients who have become addicted to the substance or who have been victimized by users. Some of these doctors emphasized the need for a strict implementation of policies on marijuana use – allowing those who need the substance for medicinal purposes to use the drug under medical supervision (Venters and Kisely).
The conflict theorists would be liable to look at this proposed decriminalization of marijuana use as something which arises because of the infighting between different classes or groups. They would likely see the decriminalization of marijuana as a means for the affluent marijuana users in society to get away with their criminal acts and with their marijuana abuse. Conflict theorists associate the issues in society and the change which would likely arise from such issues as a means for one social class to emerge over the other (McMorrow-Hernandez, p. 1). This may not always be the case and this may not necessarily be the case for marijuana decriminalization because both the poorer and the more affluent people in society would stand to benefit from the decriminalization of marijuana.
Functionalists would also likely see the decriminalization issue as a means to implement technological advancements and population growth changes in society. These functionalists recognize the fact that there are inevitable changes in society and these changes are a natural part of change. Such changes would also likely expand the awareness and understanding of society about the environment (McMorrow-Hernandez, p. 1). These functionalists would view the decriminalization of marijuana as an inevitable technological advancement which must be embraced. They would likely support marijuana use because they recognize the fact that medical advancements now support the therapeutic benefits of the substance. These functionalists would focus more on the benefits and the functions which this change can bring to society and to the general population.
This issue has undergone various changes over time. As was previously illustrated at the beginning of this discussion, Canada’s legislative and judicial bodies have changed their decisions and their positions about this issue time and time again. At a certain point in its medicinal use, marijuana has been supported by the judiciary; however, when statistics revealed that the recreational drug use has increased and unfavorable incidents related to its use have been seen, marijuana use was condemned by the judicial and the legislative body (Khoo). The medical and research community have produced more scientific support for the medicinal use of this substance and for which reason, moves to decriminalize its use have again resurfaced (Khoo). Nevertheless, the negative effects of the drug have yet to be sufficiently addressed by the government authorities. Until such point is addressed, this issue will remain unsettled.
Other cultures and other states have also gone through the same conflicts which Canada is currently going through in relation to the decriminalization of marijuana. Some states in the US, several European nations, and even Australia have in fact legalized the use of marijuana or have reduced the penalty for its use. Germany is one of those nations which have remained restrictive about its policies on marijuana use. They are of the opinion that to consider marijuana like alcohol or tobacco is a mistake because it would open up the doors to unmitigated criminal offenses (Raaflaub). In other nations, marijuana use is still largely considered a criminal offense. Some countries have relaxed their penalties of its use; however, for the most part they do not want to risk allowing the perpetration of criminal offenses in their society by decriminalizing its use.
After considering the above points and facts, the decriminalization of marijuana would have a net negative impact on Canadian society. In considering this issue, the medicinal use and the recreational drug use of this substance has to be pitted against each other. The medicinal use of this drug would likely benefit only those who can use this substance for therapeutic purposes; however, the recreational use of this drug would likely bring about many risks to users and to innocent individuals. These risks are imposed on a greater number of people. Weighing these facts against each other is sufficient to reveal a negative impact on Canadian society. Granting that the appropriate criminal penalties would be imposed to those who would abuse this drug, the enforcement of appropriate legal measures against these abusers is still insufficient. The society in general would stand to benefit in keeping marijuana a crime because their lives would not be placed in peril by reckless marijuana users. Moreover, marijuana users would also be prompted to either voluntarily cease their abuse of the substance or to undergo rehabilitation for their addiction. Those who could have used the substance for medicinal purposes would likely continue to suffer because they would be made to endure the debilitating symptoms of their disease. However, finding relief for their symptoms is not the sole function of marijuana; other medical options are still available to them. These options must therefore be explored.
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