A Case for the Legalization of Marijuana as a Recreational Drug for Adults
Virginia Commonwealth University
The thought of the word marijuana conjures up images of dirty hippies living in communes, or of crazed maniacal people. However these are all the products of hollywood imagination. Most recreational marijuana users are regular people that sometimes even hold high office like 44th president Barack Obama. Marijuana has been greatly misrepresented in the media and in the society. The criminalization of marijuana has led millions of young people to jail, has led to the deaths of thousands of Mexican citizens from the war on drugs. One of the most decisive issues of today’s political arena is the war on drugs. Over the course of the last ten years the legalization of marijuana has increasing become a possibility in the United States. Currently only two states, Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use and twenty-one states have legalized it for medicinal use. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized the possession of marijuana for personal use. Twenty-one states permit the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Public opinion on the issue is shifting rapidly as well. Currently three-quarters of Americans support decriminalization for personal use of marijuana; another 58 percent favor legalization (Denning 2015). It seems like the tides of the change are washing over the marijuana debate. The United States appears to be close to a tipping point in the debate over legalization of marijuana. As great as all this sounds it has not been without controversy. There are several law makers that continue to emphasize the supposed dangers of marijuana use as reasons to not legalize the drug nationwide. There are also tobacco companies that seek to lose an enormous amount of money once marijuana is legalized. The opposition has gone as far states like Nebraska and Oklahoma filing law suits and asking the Supreme Court to intervene and stop the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. One must ask why there is so much opposition to the legalization of marijuana, despite an increasing body of evidence that proves that it is not harmful.
The history of Marijuana in the United States goes as far back as the earliest colonization of James town by English settlers. Since then, there has been as constant battle between proponents for the use of marijuana and staunch opposition to its use and legalization. The opposition against marijuana started in the 1930s. One of the most instrumental people in the war against marijuana was Henry J. Anslinger. Anslinger became the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (Denning 2013). He essentially set the precedent for the fight against marijuana with terrifying public service announcements, and wild exaggerations about the dangers of marijuana use.
In 1970 the U. S. congress passed the Controlled Substances Act abbreviated as CSA. This law classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug. This meant that the production, sale, and possession of marijuana was a crime punishable by fines and possible jail time. Since then they has been a declared war on drugs especially marijuana because of its pervasive use. After over thirty years of the war on marijuana, millions of lives were ruined by increased sentences for petty offenses like possession of an ounce of marijuana. However, with more states willing to consider legalization, the tides are truly beginning to change. In 2013 the Department of Justice put out a memorandum that promised to permit state legalization experiments to continue as long states “policed themselves and minimized spillover effects in other states (Denning 2015).
Marijuana should be legalized for recreational adult use because evidence has proven time and again that it is not harmful to humans. Several studies have disputed the commonly cited fact that marijuana is more harmful than tobacco or alcohol. Statistics show that tobacco and alcohol together cause more than 560,000 American deaths annually (Barcroft 2015). Contrary to that there has not been a single death in the U.S. directly caused by or related to the use of marijuana. Unlike alcohol, marijuana isn’t a neurotoxin, and unlike cigarettes, it has an uncertain connection to lung cancer. Unlike heroin, marijuana does not present the risk of sudden death (Barcroft 2015). The effects of marijuana use are generally less severe than those of alcohol and tobacco. Although there has been a connection of marijuana smoke inhalation and lung cancer, this fact has never been proven there fore it is another baseless accusation to further demonize its use. There has been extensive research on the benefits of marijuana use in the last ten years. One of the most promising uses of marijuana is in alleviating the effects of chronic pain and other debilitating neurological illnesses.
Marijuana contains substances called cannabinoids. They have been shown to interact with the specific neuroreceptors in brain cells and immune cells that work in pain management (Barcroft 2015). It has also been shown that the human body produces its own cannabinoids similar to those in marijuana and they also work in pain management (Barcroft 2015). Another compound found in marijuana is Tetrahyrdocannabinol also known as THC. This is the main psychoactive ingredient that produces the supposed hallucinogenic effects associated with marijuana. However THC in combination with cannabidiol has been shown as an effective treatment for neuropathic pain, disturbed sleep and spasticity. Cannabidiol is another compound found in marijuana. Of all the compounds found in marijuana it has been proven to be the most beneficial. In animal studies and in studies of children who suffer from the debilitating epilepsy, it has been shown to decrease and in some cases stop seizures entirely (Barccroft 2015). Scientists are now hailing it as an antiepileptic agent because of its proven success with epilepsy patients. There are currently many clinical studies investigating the benefits of marijuana for neurological illnesses. However the inherent fear that people have of the drug and the decades of prohibition and misinformation has continued to shed a negative light on the drug that have continued to thwart research efforts.
There has also been an extensive amount of research aimed at disproving the commonly held beliefs that marijuana causes aggression, hallucinations and maniacal behavior. A study was conducted in 2013 by Philip H. Smith and colleagues of the State University of New York . It was conducted to find a correlation between marijuana withdrawal and aggressive behavior. The results of the study showed that “marijuana withdrawal symptoms were not significantly associated with either general aggression or relationship aggression after adjusting for marijuana use Q×F, age, gender, education, household income, antisocial symptoms (other than aggression), alcohol use disorders, and drug use disorders (other than marijuana (Smith 2013)”. The study only found aggressive behavior among users who previously had a history of aggression prior to marijuana use. Smith and colleagues stated “withdrawal symptoms were not associated with relationship aggression among those with no history of aggression (Smith 2013)”. This further proves that marijuana use is not the cause of aggression in users.
Sabotage from tobacco companies fearful of marijuana taking over cigarettes as a preferred drug has also been instrumental in its continued criminalization. When marijuana was deemed illegal in the 1970s it was primed to be a top revenue generator and tobacco companies knew they would suffer irrecoverable losses if marijuana use became mainstream. Tobacco company executives were well aware of the fact that the use of tobacco would falls drastically immediately following marijuana legalization, as people would be more keen experiment with the drug. Tobacco companies then began frantically lobbying congress to criminalize marijuana. Some even went as far as saying communists and left wing liberals were trying to push marijuana to bring communism to America. A tobacco company executive was quoted in a private recording saying “they’re trying to destroy us (Barcroft 2015), referring to communists and left wing liberals. Top tobacco producers like Philip Morris USA paid for advertisements that worked by instilling fear in the public. It financed Hollywood movies like Reefer Madness which depicted marijuana smokers as crazed, murderous, maniacal individuals. Again there has been no evidence found proving that smoking marijuana induces this type of behavior. On contrary as tobacco companies fought a public war with marijuana, they were secretly trying to find a way to add it to cigarettes to increase their profits. Documents reveal that since at “least 1970, despite fervent denials, three multinational tobacco companies, Philip Morris (PM), British American Tobacco (BAT, including its US subsidiary Brown &Williamson [B&W]), and RJ Reynolds (RJR), all have considered manufacturing cigarettes containing cannabis (Barry 2012).” This again further provers tobacco companies were instrumental in the criminalization of marijuana all in the name of profits
Another reason why marijuana remains illegal is because the government has not spent as much effort in finding out the facts about marijuana as it has done for other drugs like cocaine and heroin. Over the course of the last forty years since it criminalization, the strategy of scaring people has proven to be more favorable than research pursuits. Under the federal law, “all marijuana use is considered ‘drug abuse,’” its Schedule I classification “reflecting] the view that marijuana is dangerous and lacks any redeeming qualities. “There are a number of ancillary laws, too, criminalizing various activities associated with marijuana production or transfer (Barry 2012).”This has led to the increase negative connotation associated with marijuana use. However with the new promise of scientific research showing that benefits of the compounds found in marijuana, there is renewed hope of nationwide legalization.
With all the evidence showing that marijuana is harmless there are still those who continue to claim the drug is harmful to humans. There is research showing that the drug can cause enormous damage to the developing human brain in users under the age of twenty one. Although the drug seems relatively harmless in adult humans, it can cause issues like memory loss, chronic procrastination and fatigue in those under the age twenty one whose brains are still developing. According to Jodi Gilman, a Harvard Medical School researcher who has been studying the brains of human marijuana users, “it has a whole host of effects on learning and cognition that other drugs don’t have,” (Barcroft 2015). Initiation of use at a younger has also been shown to lead to more severe psychoses, including schizophrenia, for that part of the population with a genetic predisposition to certain mental illnesses (Barcroft 2012). This is precisely why proponents of legalization continue to demand an age limit on individuals who are allowed to use. If marijuana is legalized the age limit for its use should be twenty-one just like alcohol. This probably safer than the current legal age for tobacco use, which has shown its many adverse effects. As shown with alcohol and many other drugs, any use of a substance that disrupts brain development at an early age can and will cause damage, and marijuana is no different.
Addiction is another often cited concern to the legalization of marijuana. Studies have shown approximately 9% of those who experiment with marijuana become dependent, and a proportion of that increases to 1 in 6 if and when users start and an early age, especially during the teenage years (Barcroft 2015). This again further proves that the only harm seen in marijuana use is in the young brain, and this is the same for alcohol and tobacco which are currently legal.
A recent study was conducted by Anne Day at Brown University. The study was aimed at determining marijuana-related problems in chronic users. The results showed that the median number of problems in users was 3, with a range between 1 and 13 problems (Day 2013). The most commonly reported marijuana related problem was procrastination. Participants most frequently reported that marijuana caused them “to procrastinate” (53% of the sample) and “to have a lower energy level” (42.6%) (Day 2013). One can argue that procrastination is a common occurrence in everyone. Even the most highly organized individuals from business executives to the average college student are all guilty of procrastination. Furthermore procrastination has never been shown as a direct cause of death anywhere in the world, whereas impaired motor skills caused by the use of alcohol has led to thousands of deaths around world. Also marijuana has not led to terminal illnesses like lung cancer and emphysema as seen with tobacco, yet both these substances continue to remain legal while marijuana is illegal. The argument that marijuana causes procrastination is essentially irrelevant when looked at in comparison to the effects produced by alcohol and tobacco. Overall the evidence against the use of marijuana is not strong enough to warrant its continued criminalization and punishment of users and manufacturers.
Although states like Colorado and Washington have set the precedent for legalization of marijuana, the path toward widespread legalization is still not a clear one. The tenacious and discriminatory attitude of the federal government toward state powered legalization continues to aggravate the situation. The continued criminalization of marijuana is a social travesty that has left its mark on those most vulnerable in society. Marijuana convictions account for the highest non-violent offenses among people in jail and federal prison. There is no reason why a person’s entire life should be ruined by having an ounce of something that has been proven time again to be completely harmless. Most people arrested for marijuana possession are adults on the fringes of society. They are an already vulnerable population that become even more vulnerable when they are unable to get a job or doing anything because of a petty marijuana possession conviction. America was built on the premise of liberty and justice for all and there is no reason why someone’s liberty should be taken away because of something that does not harm them or anyone else. Marijuana should be legalized in all fifty states because there is a ton of evidence that proves that it is not harmful to adults as shown in the preceding paragraphs. Legalization does not mean access to everyone especially, not to those under the age of twenty one. There should be strict regulations on sale, use and transport between states. One remains hopefully that congress and the Supreme Court will consider the plethora of emerging evidence in support of the benefits of marijuana and make the right decision.
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