Leadership ethics of legalizing marijuana
Marijuana, also known as "weed", "grass", "bud", or "pot", is the second most commonly used "recreational" drug in America, behind only alcohol, a legal substance. The drug comes from the leaves of the hemp plant, "cannabis sativa". It has a high concentration of the drug's active ingredient, Tetrahydrocannabinols, also known as THC. While many users smoke the leaves of the plant to get "high" (psychologically impaired), studies show that marijuana has many legitimate medical uses. These uses include alleviating nausea due to chemotherapy, improving the severe weight loss of AIDS patients, and treating pain which may not respond to mainstream opoids such as Morphine.
Marijuana has been used throughout history for both medical and spiritual purposes. It has been used to relieve stress, reduce pain, and cure fatigue, however United States Federal Law classifies marijuana as a schedule I substance in the Controlled Substances Act. This act defines schedule I drugs as having three traits:
"The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision." (Controlled Substances Act 2002)
This act does also define Tetrahydrocannabinols as a schedule I drug, thus making the possession of marijuana illegal under federal law.
However, some state governments have gone against the federal precedent and legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. In 1996, California was the first such state, under Proposition 215. However, even within these states, some counties may choose to not support the legalization. This had led to the arrest of many patients who may have unknowingly travelled into the wrong county.
Outside the United States, the legislation regarding marijuana possession and use is much less restrictive. Parts of Canada and several countries in Europe have legalized the use and possession of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes. The figure below shows several legalization levels for nations around the world. As one can see on the map, a majority of European nations as well as most of South America have decriminalized marijuana use whereas most of the United States are red, meaning marijuana is confirmed illegal.
There are three possible options for legalization, each with its own benefits, drawbacks, and ethical issues for our leaders. The three options are complete prohibition (US Federal Law), legalization of medicinal marijuana (California Law), and the complete legalization.
This paper seeks to not only analyze the three options for legalization (or prohibition), but more so to evaluate the issue's implications for the ethical decisions of leaders. The issue of marijuana becomes an ethical issue when you consider the fact that prohibition of the drug also prevents patients from getting the aid they need. Leaders of the United States and any other government dealing with this issue need to consider the ethical implications of their decisions.
As discussed in Defining Moments, these decisions can be considered "right vs. right" decisions or decisions where both options seem to be "right". In the case of marijuana legalization, leaders and lawmakers are considering the ethical weight of allowing patients the medicine they need or completely preventing the abuse of an "illicit" drug. Both decisions seem "right" in their own ways but the options exclusive of each other. This forces leaders to evaluate their own morality and utilize their ethical decision making capabilities to make a decision that, based on all ethical factors, they can consider "right".
Through the examination of ethical, legal, and economic factors, this paper will reveal that the legalization of marijuana is the most "forward thinking" and ethical option for dealing with marijuana. However, in order to enact this change, transformational leaders who recognize the benefits and drawbacks of all options must be a part of the decision making process. The paper strives to reveal significant insight to the following question. Why do leaders choose to support or oppose the legalization of marijuana? Considering pertinent evidence, what option for the legalization of marijuana is most ethical? And, what type of leadership is necessary to do the right thing?
Leadership in Theory
Leadership ethics and the moral decisions they are forced to make have long been a topic of philosophers' discussions. The way that leaders reveal themselves through their ethical decisions affects how their followers view them. Additionally, the morals which a leader portrays will be mimicked among much of the population. In this way, leaders have the power to mold the morals and views of those they lead. This power can be either beneficial or destructive to the leader's power depending on how it's utilized. Adolf Hitler used this power, for horrific purposes, to create a sense of extreme pride and nationalism which caused them to follow him somewhat blindly.
Plato, a Greek philosopher, argues that leaders must make ethical decisions based on the greater good of the people affected by the decision. That is, rule not with self interest, but the interest of your followers. This frames the analysis of the legalization decisions because, if leaders believe that the use of marijuana can benefit their citizens then, according to Plato, legalization is the morally "right" option. In The Ethics of Leadershipip, Joanne Ciulla provides a passage from Plato which states, "because our bodies are deficient rather than self sufficient, the craft of medicine has now been discovered. The craft of medicine was developed to provide what s advantageous for a body." (Ciulla, 19) Therefore, if marijuana were proven to be a medicine it would then be considered by Plato advantageous to the citizens. Therefore, providing the ability for the suffering to get this medicine would be "good" leadership.
Ayn Rand would disagree with Plato, however. Rand argues that leaders must rule with their own self interest as their primary motivator. She says, "Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness...is the proof of your moral integrity." (Ciulla, 51) She believes that the pursuit of one's self interests is indicative of their dedication to their morals and values and that, Rand argues, is the proof of your morality. This frames the analysis of the ethical implications of marijuana legalization, because, as Rand would argue, unless the leaders and lawmakers were somehow benefitting from legalization they should not choose to enact such laws, regardless of what others want and/or need.
However, there is one theory that seems to be key to enacting any sort of change in marijuana laws. The necessity for transformational leadership is vital to the cause of bringing about change. Transformational leadership is a type of leadership where leaders use their power to enact "valuable and positive" change in the people they lead. (Bass) This consideration is important for two reasons. First, in order to reform marijuana laws, transformational leaders will be needed to enact the changes. Secondly, these transformational leaders will be compelled to enact this change if they can see it as "valuable and positive". So, if you consider this theory with Plato's thoughts, the medicinal purpose of marijuana would be advantageous and, thus, the legalization of it would be a "valuable and positive" change because it would allow people to get the things their bodies need. So, for the sake of this evaluation, I will examine the presence (or absence) of transformational leaders.
Therefore, the framework for this paper will be the three theories of leadership that I have outlined in this section. For each "option" of legalization, I will discuss the ethical issues that leaders face when dealing with the question of legalizing the use of marijuana. I will also add discussion on each option with respect to each theory; Plato, Rand, and the idea of transformational leadership.
What this paper serves to prove is that, under the theoretical framework outlined in this section, the legalization of marijuana appeals to all three of the theories discussed above. So, under this framework, legalizing and taxing marijuana is the most feasible and potentially successful option. However, during this discussion, I will answer the questions of how each option of legalization discussed in this pertains to the three theories of Plato, Rand, and transformational leadership.
Option 1: Complete Prohibition
The first option I will discuss is the complete prohibition of the possession and use of marijuana for any purpose. This is how a large portion of the United States operates. Marijuana is considered "taboo" to mainstream culture, so its use outlawed. However, cannabis is still the second most used recreational drug in America. (Joy 1999)
Now, this does accomplish some important goals. First of all, it serves as a mode to limit the abuse of the drug. By criminalizing the possession and use of marijuana, law makers will deter some citizens from using the drug.
Many people do view this deterrence as a good improvement and they cite the harmful effects of smoke inhalation as their justification. One of the most popular argument is the effects that smoking marijuana has on the lungs.
As with inhaling any type of smoke, carcinogens in marijuana smoke can cause damage to the lungs and respiratory system. Tan argues, "Participants who had smoked at least 50 marijuana cigarettes but had no history of tobacco smoking were not at significantly greater risk for either outcome." (The "outcomes" were respiratory symptoms and COPD) This statement suggests that smoking marijuana has similar effects on the respiratory system as smoking tobacco. Further, he says, "Those who had smoked both tobacco and marijuana had a significantly greater risk of COPD and respiratory symptoms." (Tan, 2009) Tan is proving is that, while solely smoking marijuana is no more dangerous that smoking cigarettes, combining the two significantly increases the risk of respiratory issues. Therefore, the prohibitionists justify criminalization by claiming that the use and abuse of marijuana has degenerative effects on the lungs.
Another claim cannabis prohibitionists make to justify their stance is that marijuana use has addictive properties, similar to nicotine. They claim that marijuana addiction is a critical issue in the legalization discussion. Their main focus is the addictive effects on youth. In a study by Iain McGregor on the effects of THC injections on the brains and behaviors of adolescent and adult male rats, McGregor found that "adolescent brains are still maturing, and say they seem to be more vulnerable to THC" ("Youngsters", 2007). The article cites that after the injections of THC, the adult rats avoided the injection area, however, the adolescent rats "showed no such aversion" ("Youngsters", 2007). This observation, McGregor says, shows that the adult rats, contrary from the adolescent subjects, found the THC "unpleasant". Since the test was set up to mimic human conditions under heavy cannabis usage, this would suggests that youths are more susceptible to becoming addicted to cannabis since they show no disdain for the effects of the drug. This conclusion is underscored by the fact that, according to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, adolescent cannabis use is rising. This means that more youth are trying marijuana and, based on McGregor's results, becoming addicted to the effects of THC.
However, the complete prohibition of marijuana, along with the arguments that prohibition supporters use to justify it, has flaws. One of the largest such drawbacks of prohibition is the matter of getting medicinal marijuana to patients. Additionally, marijuana has been shown to have preventative medicinal purposes. An experiment by Prof. Raphael Mechoulam showed that the use of marijuana can significantly slow the effects of Alzheimer's Disease. In this experiment, Mechoulam's team found that cannabinoids not only prevented cognitive decline, but also reduced the inflammation associated with the disease. Inflammation is normal says Gary Wenk of Ohio State University, however, "in some cases, this inflammation gets out of hand and causes serious damage" ("Pot May Help", 2006). "There is a solid link between chronic inflammation in the brain and the progression of Alzheimer's" Wenk says, but mentions that the anti-inflammatory properties of marijuana can help to prevent this. However, all of this is null if the drug is criminalized. Those with family histories of Alzheimer's are forced to accept the onset of the disease because lawmakers deemed the drug "illicit".
The justification, discussed above, of the prohibition of marijuana is also flawed. For example, the argument regarding the respiratory damage from marijuana is hypocritical. The study discussed above demonstrated that marijuana smoke is equally as destructive as tobacco smoke. Tobacco, however, is legal. So, how can the prevention of respiratory damage be a viable justification if you are not going to prevent the damage from an equally as dangerous substance?
These benefits and drawbacks of prohibition are part of the ethical struggle that leaders have to face. On one hand, prohibition does what iss morally right by protecting citizens from a harmful drug. However, the proof of the harmfulness of marijuana is light and many studies show it to be no more dangerous than other, legalized, substances. In 1988, then DEA Judge Francis L. Young said, "Marijuana is the safest therapeutically active substance known to man... safer than many foods we commonly consume" (Armento, 2009). So, if it is in fact safer than most foods and, at the very least, it has therapeutic benefits, why is there a need for it to be prohibited?
Additionally, the attempt to stop the use is failing. Youth usage levels are rising and the use of marijuana is not isolated to those states that have since legalized medical marijuana. In fact, marijuana usage is no regionally exclusive in this country. The map below shows the states with highest reported marijuana usage in the United States. The graph shows a rather even distribution across the countries, with high usage rates in the Northeast, West, and Midwest. This is a demonstration that the prohibition of marijuana is not successful.
In regards to leadership, the leaders supporting the prohibition of marijuana are "playing it safe" and staying with the "status quo." No signs of transformational leadership are being demonstrated by lawmakers who aren't striving for change, but instead leading to remain in power. This is despite the fact that data such as the figure above show that the citizens see marijuana as a positive and are yearning for change to the current laws. Transformational leaders would recognize this and work to enact this positive change in government. This means going against the status quo and transforming the legislation into something the people support.
The other side of the ethical debate over prohibition is that it limits the ability for patients to receive the medicine they need. I explained earlier how marijuana can be used as a preventative medicine to prevent Alzheimer's and in later sections I will discuss, in further detail, the beneficial effects of medicinal marijuana. However, prohibition offers no permissions to patients to obtain the drug. Nor does it allow any judicial allowances to those arrested for the possession or use of marijuana, even if they are using it for medical reasons. Ethically, this is the weakest part of the argument in favor of prohibition.
Let's analyze this piece using sleep test ethics. In his book, Defining Moments, Joseph L Badaracco discusses sleep test ethics as a means of evaluating ethical decisions. Badaracco explains sleep-test ethics as "a person who has made the right choice can sleep soundly afterward; someone who has made the wrong choice cannot." (Badaracco, 1997) If we apply this to the idea of prohibition, we can see the ethical issue involved in prohibition. If you had to deny a dying patient the medicine to ease their suffering in order to continue a feeble attempt to control the recreational use of the medicine, would you be able to sleep soundly at night?
These are the issues that prohibitionist lawmakers face when dealing with marijuana in their districts. It seems to be a policy vs. people debate, but at the heart is the a moral and ethical battle between right and right. Badaracco explains these "right vs. right" situations as "defining moments" which are used to not only reveal but shape a leader's character. How our lawmakers handle the issues of marijuana prohibition will affect how others view their morality.
Option 2: Legalization of Medicinal Marijuana
The second option for marijuana legalization is to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana only. Currently, there are 13 states that have disregarded the federal prohibition laws and have legalized the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. These states, with the year in which they legalized medicinal marijuana are shown in the table below.
Marijuana has been used as medicine since ancient times. It has pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties when smoked. This is because the heat of burning the cannabis activates the THC in the plant which then enters one's body with the smoke. Through most of the 80's and 90's, the United States federal government prohibited the testing of marijuana smoke for medicinal purposes. However, in 2002, the Drug Enforcement Administration granted approvals to scientists for the "limited use [of marijuana] in scientific experiments." (Hilts, 2002) In his article, Hilts said, that scientists at the University of California will begin testing the effects of smoking marijuana on the limb pain experiences due to Multiple Sclerosis and AIDS.
Scientists have found evidence that links marijuana, specifically THC, with medical benefits, both curative and preventative. As I have explained above, THC has shown to have preventative effects against Alzheimer's disease in older people. Additionally, it is a drug of interest because it is one of the few prescribed for neurological decay that doesn't just focus on the symptoms, but instead, the root cause, the inflammation due to age.
However, marijuana also has very significant curative benefits as well for patients. In his review of the "Dying to Get High", Ellis cites a story from 1992 where a woman was using marijuana "with success...instead of pharmaceutical drugs to control her seizures." (Ellis, n.d.) The seizures, Ellis said were caused by a car accident 20 years ago and the woman, Valerie Corral, had successfully controlled them for those 20 years with marijuana. Ellis elaborates on some of the other proven medical uses of marijuana. He says, "In practice, this includes nausea and appetite loss in Cancer and AIDS treatments, chronic pain, glaucoma, and seizures related to multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and epilepsy." (Ellis, n.d.) Studies have shown that intra-ocular pressure can be reduced by 45% through the use of marijuana (Hanrahan, 2006) This reduction is particularly important to the treatment of Glaucoma. The studies also show that cannabis also has "antimicrobial action and antibacterial effects" such as being able to "destroy and inhibit the growth of streptococci and staphylococci bacteria." (Hanrahan, 2006) These bacteria are responsible for staph infections more common and in severe cases MRSA. The results suggest that cannabis, or specifically THC, can be used to eliminate and prevent staph infections.
Additionally, by legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana, it is allowing more studies to be done, which may lead to more discoveries and cures. But most importantly, your helping the lives of patients with AIDS, Cancer, MS, and other to be made a little less strenuous and easing the suffering from their disease.
Legalization of medicinal marijuana is a somewhat "meet in the middle" option, meaning that it tries to appease as many people as possible. This option allows for the government to still attempt preventing the recreational use of the drug without denying patients the treatments they need. Therefore, the cons of this option are limited and weakly supported.
By legalizing cannabis for medicinal use, you are recognizing that the drug has beneficial uses for the prevention of many serious diseases, such as Alzheimer's, yet you are still deeming it "unsafe" for recreational use. However, if the drug is being used for preventative measures, then recreational use would actually be beneficial to the population. Granted, abuse may become an issue over time, but so is the case for alcohol, yet that is not currently prohibited. Also, it may be harmful to the lungs and respiratory system, but no more so than tobacco smoke, which is also legal.
Ethically however, it appears to be the moral thing to do. While there are some initial signs of transformational leadership, the changes are not significantly affecting all citizens. Leaders, while changing the laws in their state, are not pushing for the change in the federal law, which legally overrules the state laws. Therefore, in reality, the leaders are acting in their own self-interest, as Rand would suggest they do. They are maximizing their "votes" without taking a firm stand on either side of the argument. This is a way to keep them in office and ensure their own interests. However, they are showing no dedication to their own morals and values, which Badaracco says is how one reveals their ethics, by remaining dedicated to their set of values.
Option 3: Complete Legalization
Complete legalization is the more sparsely used option of the three. Only certain areas of Canada, such as Montreal, and few nations in Europe, such as Netherlands, have completely legalized the use of marijuana for any purpose, medicinal or recreational. This option shows the highest potential for economic benefit by allowing for the taxation while freeing up funding from the War on Drugs.
Throughout this analysis I have made several comparisons of marijuana to alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana is no more addictive or harmful physically than these two legal substances. So, marijuana could yield similar financial benefits through taxation as cigarettes and tobacco. Currently, tobacco is taxed by federal, state, and local governments which generate revenue for all organizations. Some places, where medical marijuana is legal, have begun taxing medical marijuana to benefit from its legalization. Oakland, CA was the first such city to do so, with support of 80% of the population. Once President Obama promised that the federal government would not interfere with a state's regulation of the drug, transformational leaders, such as Tom Ammiano of California, introduced a bill to "legalize the cultivation of marijuana and its distribution and sale to people over 21." ("Puff, Puff, Pay", 2009)
It seems that in our current economic crisis, any additional revenue would be viewed as a valuable and significant opportunity and some leaders are realizing that marijuana can be one of those opportunities. The California Board of Equalization estimates that, if Assemblyman Ammiano's bill succeeds, the state of California could generate $1.4 billion in revenue. ("Puff, Puff, Pay", 2009) The legalization of marijuana would also help to spur a boost in cannabis related tourism. For a state such as California, struggling through the economic turmoil our country has been in, these financial benefits are very appealing. And, if the policy were enacted nationwide, the revenue generated would simply multiply.
There are some noticeable drawbacks of the legalization of marijuana, but none nearly as significant as the financial gain from the legalization, sale, and taxation of cannabis. One such concern is that of addiction of people to cannabis. A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study has shown that the number of cannabis addicts has risen from 12% to 16% since 1997 ("Puff, Puff, Pay", 2009). While this is not a particularly significant increase, this is a valid consideration when discussing the concept of legalizing marijuana use. This number would most likely increase more if marijuana were legal, however, the significance of this increase cannot be estimated.
This option for legalization requires the highest level of transformational leadership. The lawmakers need to realize that the legalization can be a valuable and positive change if executed properly. This positive change could not only allow the medical use of marijuana to cure and ease the suffering of significant diseases but also help their economy.
Alcohol and tobacco are currently some of the most profitable industries for the United States government. Marijuana could generate revenue equal to, if not greater than tobacco and alcohol. This concept plays directly into Rand's advice for leaders. Creating revenue for their state would secure their place in office as well as possibly affording our leaders some financial gains, such as pay raises and tax breaks due to increased revenue. Therefore, the legalization of marijuana to secure financial gain would be ruling in one's own self-interest, a concept that Rand is very adamant about.
Additionally, Plato's theories regarding ruling for the greater good come into play in this option as well. By legalizing marijuana completely, you are giving people the right to choose if they want to use marijuana and what they would like to use it for. Giving people more rights can be considered to be for the greater good. Also, it boosts the economy and creates jobs as retail, manufacturing, and shipping organizations will need to be developed to support the legalization.
This paper analyzed the three options of legalizing (or prohibiting) the use of marijuana for both medical and recreational reasons. It has presented the benefits and drawbacks of both marijuana and it's legalization/prohibition. It has framed the analysis within the writings of Plato and Ayn Rand as well as against the ideas of transformational leadership.
But what option is "best" or "more right"? In order to answer this question we must think of our criteria, or the framework of the analysis. We must judge each option based on this framework. A table below shows each option and how it pertains to the pieces of our framework.
From this table we see that, each theory helps to support the case for complete legalization. Both philosophers' views are present in the effects and consequences of this option. Allowing people the right to choose and the right to select their medicine is Plato's view of ruling for the greater good. The tax benefits that leaders will undoubtedly see (though may never be "officially" attributed to the legalization of marijuana) is Rand's view of ruling with self-interest. And the fact that they are transforming the values, morals, and ideas of what is "acceptable" of a society for "valuable and positive change" demonstrates their understanding of and dedication to the theories of transformational leadership.
Under these criteria, the prohibition of marijuana completely does not support any of the theories by which we are evaluating.
Therefore, in conclusion, the legalization of marijuana seems to be the best option for dealing with this issue. The legalization would allow the people who need treatment to get it and it could help with the economic crisis which is currently ravaging the world. Additionally, since marijuana has proven to actually have benefits, unlike tobacco and alcohol, it is a positive change in the culture of society. While laws pertaining to marijuana will need to be developed (similar to tobacco and alcohol), the regulation of marijuana use by the government will, in the end, prove to be a very profitable decision.
I think it is the best decision ethically as well. The people, who want to use it, are. The people, who don't want to use it, aren't. I don't feel as though this will change significantly by legalizing the drug. Therefore, the consequences of such a decision are minimal, as its almost a case of realizing the current situation and making legislation to benefit from it.
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