Legalization of Marijuana Debate

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11th Jul 2017 Sociology Reference this

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What if one of America’s most illegal plants was also one of the world’s most beneficial plants? Marijuana has a wide variety of different applications in society, but remains illegal by federal law. Some states have decriminalized cannabis, but federal law does not recognize state law. Suppose that by federal law, cannabis were a decriminalized or legal substance. An entire new world of research could arise and each of its uses would become definitive. Perceptions concerning the use of marijuana would likely be altered. The decriminalization or legalization of marijuana would presumably cause many economical, industrial, and medical adaptations focused towards the benefit of the United States of America. Being an activist plays a key role in the decriminalization of marijuana.

Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change. Activists for the legalization of marijuana have made great strides in 20 states to date based upon the supporters of its medical uses. Although Congress classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance (a category of drugs not considered legitimate for medical use) in 1970, instantly making it the most widely used drug in the U.S. Many disagree with this and the fight (in the media, courts, and on the streets) raises ethical issues, such as whether or not the government should be allowed to govern what people do in their own homes. In fact, up until the government started imposing restrictions in 1930, physicians still widely prescribed marijuana to their patients for a variety of reasons that are similar to the reasons people use it today (Bostwick, 2012).

Marijuana, as most people commonly know it, is actually a plant called hemp, or “cannabis sativa.” Hemp is any durable plant used since prehistory for many purposes, such as rope, paper, and clothing. The cannabis plant also produces three very important products that other plants do not (in usable form): seed, pulp, and medicine. The cannabis sativa plant grows as weed and cultivated plant all over the world in a variety of climates and soils (Legalizing Hemp 2). Marijuana has been used throughout history; in 6000 B.C. cannabis seeds were used as food in China; in 4000 B.C. the Chinese used textiles made of hemp; the first recorded use of cannabis as medicine in China was in 2727 B.C.; and in 1500 B.C. the Chinese cultivated Cannabis for food and fiber (Legalizing Hemp 2).

MEDICAL USES

Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Foundation, stated at the beginning of this year that scientists are investigating cannabinoids’ ability to moderate the pain associated with disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as the cannabinoids’ role in the treatment of several neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease (par. 3). The cannabinoids contained in marijuana have the potential to provide therapeutic relief for a multitude of diseases. The potential therapeutic uses of medical marijuana include relief from clinical conditions like gliomas, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, ALS, fibromyalgia, tourette’s syndrome, dystonia, HIV, hepatitis c, hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, gastrointestinal disorders, pruritis, incontinence, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis (Armentano, par. 8). Armentano also stated in his report in the Recent Research on Medical Marijuana: Investigators are currently studying the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids. A growing body of preclinical and clinical data concludes that cannabinoids can reduce the spread of specific cancer cells via apoptosis (programmed cell death) and by the inhibition of angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels). Arguably, these latter trends represent far broader and more significant applications for cannabinoid therapeutics than researchers could have imagined some thirty or even twenty years ago (par. 4) If cannabis were to be decriminalized, an entirely new domain of medicinal research could possibly be unlocked. The medicinal properties of marijuana including the transient as well as therapeutic relief to a broad list of clinical conditions could be further researched and bestowed upon society. Allen F. St. Pierre states in his article About Marijuana:

Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief – particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) – nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that marijuana’s medicinal properties may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors and are neuroprotective. (par. 10)

Newer and healthier methods of the application of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) could be researched in order to prevent any negative effects that inhaling the combusted material of cannabis may have on your respiratory system. New branches of research dedicated to showing the positive aspects of marijuana could be possible decriminalization were set in motion. Canada has already benefited tremendously from their nation-wide legalization of marijuana. Andrew D. Hathaway and Kate Rossiter state in their article on Canada’s society involving medical marijuana that “In 2001, Canada announced it would be the first country to legalize cannabis for therapeutic purposes and earmarked funding for clinical trials. By June, 2007, legal access had been granted to about 1,800 patients with terminal illnesses and serious medical conditions” (1). Not only does cannabis have the potential to provide the United States with an extremely broad range of medical application, but this plant also has the potential to provide various industrial applications.

INDUSTRIAL USES

Hemp’s uses include but are certainly not limited to: fuel; food (hemp seeds provide an incredible source of protein-not only for people but for birds who seek out hemp seeds which have been mixed with other seeds); paper; textiles, (i.e. canvas, paper, cloth, rope); paint; detergent; varnish; oil; medicine; and building materials. Almost any product that can be made from wood, cotton, or petroleum (including plastics) can be made from hemp.

Every year the United States government spends billions of dollars to fund the war on drugs, which is conducted mainly by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). More specifically, the extremely well funded Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCESP) is the portion of the DEA that specifically deals with the enforcement of cannabis laws. In the last 25 years, the enforcement of cannabis prohibition has grown stricter. Despite this, marijuana production in the U.S. has increased ten-fold since 1982 (Crop Report 17). Along with this increased production and DEA enforcement, the cost of the war on marijuana has increased greatly in the last few decades.

For example, in 2002 roughly 730,000 people were arrested for state marijuana charges meaning they did not possess enough to get charged federally. The total criminal justice cost of these marijuana arrests was about $7.6 billion, which equates to roughly $10,400 per arrest (NORML 131). The legalization of marijuana would eliminate the need for all these arrests which would result in an economic boost, not to mention save the money required to incarcerate someone for said offense.

In addition to reducing the amount of money spent keeping marijuana illegal, the legalization of marijuana would free up much needed space in our already overcrowded jails. U.S. citizens account for about 5% of the world’s population, yet U.S. prison inmates account for 25% of the world’s prisoners (Eitzen 368). By eliminating the need for marijuana related arrests, a great burden would be lifted off of our police force. Our police would be able to focus their energy on the real criminals in our nation as opposed to wasting money charging citizens with minor marijuana offenses. Most importantly, the legalization of marijuana would eliminate all of the crime involved with marijuana such as sale, possession, paraphernalia, and cultivation. 

The Author of Social Problems, Stanley Eitzen explains the concept behind why the legalization of marijuana would do so: “organized crime, which now acquires most of its income from providing illegal goods and services, would no longer be able to hide its investments and profits. Thus, laws against victimless crimes are indirectly responsible for maintaining organized crime” (Social Problems 352). 

By making marijuana legal, it makes it impossible for criminals to conduct crimes involving marijuana. However, the prohibitive laws regarding marijuana provide organized criminals with one of their most lucrative source of income: the sale of illegal marijuana. Legislation against marijuana does not eliminate the demand for it amongst society either. Due to marijuana being illegal, the price of marijuana is much higher than what it would be if legal. This unintended result of the prohibitive laws against marijuana has caused a slight increase in crime revolved around the purchase of the herb. New crimes are being committed to produce money so that users can afford the high prices; though not as severe as a crime directly related to the sale and cultivation of marijuana, any crime eliminated because of legalization helps. The eradication of crime associated with marijuana and the corresponding money earned as a result will only become possible through the regulation and production of marijuana by the U.S. government. These would not be the only benefits legalization would have to offer either; the government could generate substantial contributions to the economy through the taxation and sale of marijuana within our borders. Ultimately, the war on marijuana has failed. Marijuana use and production continue to increase from year to year despite the increased efforts against marijuana. New regulatory policies need to be researched and tried if the government ever wants to have control over one of the biggest issues in the war on drugs.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

Today marijuana is the number one cash crop in America, generating over $35 billion in dirty money each year (Crop Report 14). That is $18 billion more than second most generated crop corn. Although the prices of marijuana would decline if legalized, the government could still make enormous amounts of money through the taxation, production and sale of marijuana. Marijuana is the fourth most widely used psychoactive drug in the U.S., following caffeine, nicotine and alcohol (Eitzen 385). Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, are all legal, regulated by the government and all contribute greatly to our economy. Why not do so with cannabis? Tobacco addiction resulting from cigarette smoking kills more Americans than alcohol, cocaine, crack, heroin, homicide, suicide, fires, car accidents, and AIDS combined (Eitzen 389). Yet the government encourages and regulates the sale of cigarettes, this is because the tobacco industry is a major contributor to the U.S. economy. Roughly $158 billion are generated each year by the tobacco industry (Eitzen 389). Aside from the sale of cigarettes, tobacco companies spent $21.2 million professional lobbying firms in 2003, which amounts to more than $127,000 for every day Congress was in session (Eitzen 390). Government intervention in the theoretical cannabis industry could produce monetary gains similar to that of the tobacco industry through essentially the same means. Alcohol, the third most used drug in America, is another example of how government regulation of a drug can be successful. Each year, the government makes billions off of the regulation and sale of alcohol. In addition to the revenues that could be generated through the sale of marijuana, the government could institute a marijuana tax, which would only increase revenues.

POLITICAL ASPECT

In California On November 2, 2010, Proposition 19 failed at the polls. If it passed, marijuana would have been decriminalized, and the government would have been allowed to regulate and penalize marijuana use and distribution to generate additional revenue (Viswanthan 1). Small groups have risen throughout the United States, primarily in California, advocating for marijuana legalization. One of the most well known groups and California’s largest medical group, the California Medical Association, has also endorsed the legalization of marijuana. But if a similar proposition is proposed, President Barack Obama will not support it. In a press conference in Colombia, Obama said he would engage in a debate regarding legalizing drugs, but elaborated that his administration will not support any bill to legalize them (2). With elections approaching, his stance from 4 years ago has shifted greatly.

Presidential GOP candidate Mitt Romney has explicitly expressed his dissension around medicinal marijuana in his campaign. After hearing from an individual with muscular dystrophy about his need for medicinal marijuana to survive, Romney repeated fervently that he was not in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana. The young man with the degenerative illness expressed his worries to the candidate and showed genuine concern for his survival. Five different doctors had recommended the use of medicinal marijuana for this patient, yet the federal government continues to impose fear by prosecuting those who use and prescribe such treatment. Romney continued to ignore his pleas and ended the conversation by walking away from the wheelchair-bound man (CNN).

Potential third party candidates such as Ron Paul and Gary Johnson have voiced their support concerning the legalization of marijuana, and have clearly made it known that if they are elected, they will take measures to legalize the drug nationwide (Viswanthan 2). During his 30 years in the House of Representatives, Paul has authored and co-authored multiple marijuana-friendly bills. He’s proposed laws to decriminalize marijuana, permit industrial hemp farming, and constitutionally delegate to states how to enforce extant medical marijuana (Camia 1). 

For those who favor the legalization of marijuana, the ideology revolving around the subject is conveyed perfectly by Thomas Szasz, a libertarian, 

“I favor free trade in drugs for the same reason the Founding Fathers favored free trade in ideas. In an open society, it is none of the government’s business what idea a man puts into his mind; likewise, it should be none of the government’s business what drug he puts into his body” (74).

Though the federal government did not adopt this ideology, there are other valid reasons that the legalization and regulation of marijuana in the U.S. would provide our nation with significant benefits. The taxation and sale of marijuana alone would provide immense economic contributions. The ending of the war against marijuana would save billions of dollars spent each year hunting down and incarcerating marijuana offenders. The potential that marijuana has to offer as a medicine are all possible results of the legalization of marijuana in the United States.

OPPOSING VIEWS

Scientific studies may have conflicting results, but overall they link smoking marijuana to heart and lung disease, throat cancer, and a decreased memory capacity. Making marijuana legal would increase the number of people being affected by these diseases. Others point to the staggering amount of drugs that have been seized coming into the United States. They point to how drug use is strongly linked to criminal activity, and predict that legalizing marijuana would lead to an increase in violence and crime (Two Sides of the Conflict Anti-Marijuana).

The federal government, which overall is working to keep marijuana illegal, agrees that there is no real benefit to legalizing marijuana. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy wrote “As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem. We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”(Gane-McCalla)

SOLUTIONS

One of the main reasons that cannabis has not been legalized in the U.S. is the perceived danger that smoking it presents to its user; the perception that getting high is harmful. Yes, smoking cannabis is bad for you, but smoking anything is bad for you. Most of the negative health effects that cannabis users experience are a result of the act of inhaling smoke into their lungs, not the actual THC present. Cannabis can be consumed in ways that do not involve combustion, such as edibles or the use of a vaporizer. Through healthier consumption, marijuana can be used medically to relieve certain patients of pain and other ailments as well as serve as a basis for newer, more effective cannabinoid drug development. The legalization of marijuana would help capitalize on the medicinal benefits that THC and other cannabinoids present in marijuana have to offer. Though large amounts of THC have been found to disrupt short-term memory and impair motor skills, THC has also been proven to help relieve symptoms of many common health problems (Joy 51).

In particular, medical marijuana has had the most significant effect on patients suffering from symptoms such as chronic pain, nausea, appetite loss, muscle spasms, insomnia, and glaucoma (Joy 51). There are plenty of legally prescribed drugs that are often used to treat symptoms like those mentioned above; however many of them can be expensive, cause undesirable side effects, and in several cases can become addictive.

For example, Xanax and Vicitin are two of the most widely distributed prescription painkillers on the market today despite their high cost and high risk of dependence. In addition, they are most frequently prescribed to patients experiencing symptoms that THC has been found to alleviate. Not to say that medical marijuana, or THC, will always be better than Xanax or Vicitin or any other prescription drug because there are extreme cases where medical marijuana would not suffice. However, medical marijuana would offer a cheap alternative to expensive prescription drugs without the negative side effects or risk of addiction. Despite popular belief, marijuana has not been proven to be physically addictive. Studies indicate that day-to-day marijuana users will develop a minor physiological addiction to the drug, but no evidence was present of a physical addiction one might face with cocaine, heroin or even caffeine abuse (Joy 92). This trait of THC is but another reason that the development of more advanced cannabinoid based drugs should be looked into if marijuana were legalized. The idea of synthetic THC or a pill form of THC is not a new one.

Scientists developed Marinol, the only cannabinoid approved for marketing in the U.S., was introduced in 1985. Although Marinol was not a huge success and is rarely used today, it did lead to the discovery of the neuroprotective qualities cannabinoids possess. Janet Joy, author of Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, explains neuroprotection: “One of the most prominent new applications of cannabinoids is for ‘neuroprotection,’ the rescue of neurons from cell death associated with trauma, ischemia, and neurological diseases” (202). This quality of cannabinoids could prove to be valuable in the development of medicines designed to slow the deterioration of the brain, such as certain types of brain damage and other illnesses causing brain damage. If the use of medical marijuana were legal, people would be provided with a cheaper, and if consumed properly, sometimes healthier alternative to certain ailments they may be experiencing. Along with the numerous medical uses marijuana already has to offer, the legalization of marijuana would enable scientists to develop state of the art medicines involving cannabinoids. Investigators are currently studying the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids. A growing body of preclinical and clinical data concludes that cannabinoids can reduce the spread of specific cancer cells via apoptosis (programmed cell death) and by the inhibition of angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels). Arguably, these latter trends represent far broader and more significant applications for cannabinoid therapeutics than researchers could have imagined some thirty or even twenty years ago (par. 4) . If cannabis were to be decriminalized, an entirely new domain of medicinal research could possibly be unlocked. The medicinal properties of marijuana including the transient as well as therapeutic relief to a broad list of clinical conditions could be further researched and bestowed upon society. Allen F. St. Pierre states in his article About Marijuana: Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief – particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) – nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that marijuana’s medicinal properties may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors and are neuroprotective. (par. 10)

DISCUSSION

There are laws in place making it illegal for anyone under the age of eighteen (in most states) to purchase Nicotine products, and twenty one to purchase alcohol products. Thoughts are that at eighteen/twenty one, one is old enough to have been properly educated and understand what it is they are doing when they purchase these products. Why can’t we do this with the legalization of marijuana?

  Maybe we should look to European countries for the answer to marijuana legality. Many have made their laws less strict or repealed them entirely, which were fashioned after laws made here in the United States, in favor of the legalization of marijuana. Commander Brain Paddock in a neighborhood of London called Brixton ran a small experiment. Over a six month period, he instructed his officers to warn those caught with small amounts of marijuana rather than arrest them. At the end of those six months, Scotland Yard issued a report that stated more than 2500 hours of manpower was saved by giving warnings (Katz). Not making arrests meant not spending valuable time transporting prisoners and filling out paper work, not to mention court time and costs saved prosecuting those arrested. That time could then be spent on investigating and enforcing other more serious criminal activities.

Marijuana use is legal or otherwise overlooked, in many European areas such as Holland. In an article called Europe Loosens It’s Pot Laws, written for Rolling Stone Magazine, Gregory Katz wrote that Senior Drug Policy Advisor to the Dutch Minister of Health, Bob Krizer, has said marijuana consumption in Holland has been consistently lower over the past twenty-five years than it has in the United States. During those same twenty-five years, the United States had been waging the “War on Drugs,” while Holland had been embracing a more liberal policy. Mr. Krizer also states that their rate of harder drug addicts is largely lower than many other countries that have stricter drug policies (Katz). If true, this goes a long way towards proving education is a much better way to get a message across than making laws and arresting people.

CONCLUSION

Marijuana has the potential to be one of the most useful substances in the world. Even though cannabis prevails as possibly one of the most useful plants on the face of the Earth, it still remains illegal in the United States. With countless uses, whether they be industrial, medical, or economical, it is hard to believe that marijuana still remains a regulated and prohibited substance. It seems as if this harmless flower is considered illegal for no other reason than to be considered illegal. Cannabis is a possible nationwide head start towards the economy’s stability and withholds the potential to assist in the addressing of some of the United States’ most pressing issues. The decriminalization of cannabis has the potential to become one of the greatest economical advances in the history of the United States of America. If people took action and the government legalized it today, we will immediately see benefits from this decision. People suffering from illnesses ranging from manic depression to Multiple Sclerosis would be able to experience relief. The government could make billions of dollars off of the taxes it could impose on its sale, and its implementation into the industrial world would create thousands of new jobs for the economy. Also, because of its role in paper making, the rain forests of South America can be saved from their current fate of extinction. No recorded deaths have ever occurred as a result of marijuana use, it is not physically addictive like alcohol or tobacco, and most doctors will agree it is safer to use than those substances. A quote by Abraham Lincoln describes the situation perfectly. “Prohibition…goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.” Marijuana being illegal has no validity at all. Due to all the positive aspects of marijuana it should be legalized in the United States. 

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