Legislating Morals: Legalizing Marijuana
As I participated in the Boy Scouts of America program throughout my years as a youth, I recited the oath several times. I remember that it says, "I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the scout law. To help other people at all times. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." I am not the only person that grew up saying this oath. Millions of boy scouts also grew up saying it and even more continue to say it on a weekly basis. We are indoctrinated at an early age that morals matter, that there is a right and a wrong. As a society morals are very important to us; however, through the years issues on morals have seemed to become less black and white, and more gray. What does it mean to be morally straight? While many fundamental Christian concepts have been transformed into legislature in United States, should moral issues such as drugs use be legislated or left to individual discretion? While I feel the use of marijuana for any other reason than medical is morally wrong, it should not be illegal in the United States of America.
This country was founded on morals and Christian principles, and while Christianity is not the only value system in America today, it does influence a majority of her citizens. For example, it is illegal to kill and to steal, and there are different degrees of punishment to regulate the varying severity of each. Murder in the first and second degrees, manslaughter, and negligent homicide are all different degrees of killing and merit different consequences. Grand larceny, and petty theft are both violations of the commandment not to steal, but vary in severity depending on the worth of the item stolen. Laws generally are based upon morals, but where do we draw the line?
The Body is a Temple: A Christian Belief
One Christian principle that is not as closely monitored as killing or stealing is the belief that our bodies are temples. The bible states, in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter six, verse 19, "Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" If the principle that the human body is a temple of God is true then tattoos and piercings should be viewed as morally wrong. Many people believe that such acts are heinous and offensive, yet tattoos and piercings are not illegal and are actually gaining acceptability and even glamorized in American society. They are often viewed as an expression of one's self and even compared to art. American, and arguably humans in general, do all sorts of things to their bodies that would be seen as unacceptable if done to a temple of God; yet, perhaps the most flagrant violation of these bodies that are on loan to us is the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
The use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs is preached against by almost every denomination of Christian church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a special health code of conduct called the Word of Wisdom. In order to be a member in good standing with the church one must follow this health code that states, "Coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, and other harmful drugs are not to be consumed." Breaking this code of conduct in any fashion can be grounds for ecclesiastical punishment or the inability to participate in all of the religious rites and ceremonies. While most other denominations have a less strict interpretation of the "body is a temple" concept, they do teach that alcohol and other drugs are bad.
The United Methodist church teaches, "We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God's liberating and redeeming love for persons. We support abstinence from the use of any illegal drugs. Since the use of illegal drugs, as well as illegal and problematic use of alcohol, is a major factor in crime, disease, death, and family dysfunction, we support educational programs as well as other prevention strategies encouraging abstinence from illegal drug use and, with regard to those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint, with Scripture as a guide" (Alcohol). The Reverend Billy Graham of the Southern Baptist Convention states, "Alcoholism is a destroyer of health, self esteem, work, relationships, everything. The Bible says, ‘In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper' (Proverbs 23:32)." But, if the majority of Christianity feels that Alcohol is immoral, why is there no law to ban it? Laws have been created to tell us what age we can drink, how much we can drink, where we can drink, from whom we can buy our drinks, and other restrictions in like manner, but not an out right ban. We have learned from sad experience that just because something is immoral, it is not always in our country's best interest to make it illegal.
Prohibition: Failed Legislature
In 1920 the United States passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the production, sale, or consumption of alcoholic beverages. This age, commonly known as "prohibition," lasted 13 years and had many social, political, and economic impacts that were negative to the United States. Powerful gangs corrupted law enforcement agencies, which caused a profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol. Stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle ("Prohibition"). The cost to enforce prohibition was high and there a lack of taxes from alcohol revenue affected the nation as a whole. Many of the powerful and influencial families in politics and social life in the Untied States today attained their fortunes from bootlegging alcohol during this era. Eventually the relization that the sale and consumption of alcohol was actually benefitial to the United States, despite christian values, caused an end to the "dry" period. People were going to drink, even if it was deemed immoral, therefore, the lack of legality of the issue was economically harmful. The lesser of two evils dictated that our country could actually do more good, by legalizing the harmful and immoral product.
Today we live in a time that is much the same as prohibition, only alcohol is not the product, marijuana is. Each year billions of dollars are spent trying to stop the use of marijuana and other illicit drugs, while many important programs suffer because there is not enough funding to keep them running. I understand that the use of marijuana is not the healthiest practice, but is it really worth all of the time, energy, and money used to stop it? Understanding the effects of marijuana on an individual can help determine whether marijuana really poses enough danger to society to merit such an effort to keep it an illegal substance.
"Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction."
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says, "Marijuana is an addictive drug with significant health consequences to its users and others. The short-term effects of marijuana include: memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate, and anxiety" (Marijuana 12). In my opinion, the effects of marijuana are not any worse than those of alcohol. There would be little difference in the results of a Field Sobriety Test if a person was intoxicated by either alcohol or marijuana and yet one is legal while the other is not.
Richard Lowry, editor of the "National Review," a conservative journal of opinion, says, "There has, of course, been a barrage of government-sponsored anti-marijuana propaganda over the last two decades, but the essential facts are clear: Marijuana is widely used, and for the vast majority of its users is nearly harmless and represents a temporary experiment or enthusiasm" and that marijuana is "a relatively innocuous drug, no more harmful than alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine" (Marijuana 16). Mr. Lowry says that there are many studies that contradict the DEA's statement that marijuana is addictive in nature and that it has any lasting effects. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is not chemically addictive, but mildly psychologically addictive. This means that a person gets "addicted" because they like the way it feels, not because their body needs it to function. "We don't see marijuana addicts shaking and sweating or vomiting and hallucinating from withdrawal. We've never had to rush anyone to the emergency room in a coma from a pot overdose or witnessed anyone crashed in bed for forty-eight hours after bingeing uncontrollably on marijuana alone" (Cermak 43).
Marijuana is not a huge contributor to deaths in the United States because it just does not have the lasting health effects that our now legal substances, alcohol and tobacco, do. While some claim that extended marijuana use can result in lung cancer and other lung diseases, the facts and evidence do not support it. Tobacco is responsible for 430,000 deaths a year-more than all other drugs combined, and yet it is a profitable and legal industry. Alcohol contributes to 100,000 deaths annually which dwarfs the 9,484 deaths attributed to all other drugs (with 37 percent of the 9,484 having alcohol involved) in 1996, and the numbers only climb. Alcohol and tobacco make the country money from taxes collected in every stage of the process including production, sale, and purchase, and yet they contribute to a large percent of the deaths to our nations population. Clearly, marijuana is not as dangerous nor does it have the same harmful effects as these two legal substances.
It is a fact that marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance in America. Timmen L. Cermak, author of the book Marijuana: What's a Parent to Believe, says, "Marijuana is the most frequently used illegal drug in the United States, not only by adolescents but by adults as well." Cermak tells us that the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 76 million U.S. adults (approximately one third of the adult population in the United States) reported having used marijuana at least once in their lives" (10). This raises the question, if so many people have used marijuana in their lives, where do they get it? The answer to this question is obvious: from illegal dealers, which only constitute a small portion of the drug industry and are at the bottom of the drug pyramid.
The Drug Pyramid: Lower Levels
"Drug sales can be seen as a pyramid, with teenaged and adult users who sell or sometimes give drugs away to turn on their friends. The next levels up are small-time street dealers, called pushers, who sell to support their own drug habits and then small- and medium-time dealers who do not use drugs themselves but are in business strictly to make money" (Washburne 55). In high school I remember several people that could be considered small-time dealers. These "small-time dealers" always seemed to have plenty of money and plenty of supply. In many lower-income areas it is a glamorous position to be one of these local drug dealers and definitely has its benefits. For example, because the merchandise sold is illegal, there is no record of any transaction and therefore all revenue made in the retail of marijuana is tax-free. There are, however, many dangers also in this line of work. Because the product is illegal, it is often associated with other illegal activities, such as gang violence and drug trafficking.
The middle levels of the drug pyramid are drug importers who both smuggle the drugs into the United States and distribute them to lower level dealers. This middle level is usually controlled by organized crime and has ties to gangs and violence. "It is not uncommon for gang members to be armed with assault rifles and automatic weapons... and use their youngest members-those too young to be punished seriously if they are caught-as runners to make drug pickups and deliveries" (Washburne 56). This middle level contributes to many gang related deaths. The fact that gangs use younger members to do their dirty work contributes to juvenile deliquesce which puts youth on a path of criminal activity. While these problems seem big all on there own, this middle level of the drug pyramid exists only to support the highest level.
The Drug Pyramid: Life at the Top
"At the top of the pyramid of drug sales and distribution around the world are powerful international drug-trafficking organizations, often called cartels. It is estimated that these drug lords can earn $50 to $60 billion in profits every year" (Washburne 56). Drug trafficking involves the cultivating, refining, transporting, and selling illegal drugs and while it's mostly hidden it has a huge impact on the economy of the United States. Drug trafficking in the United States is a big problem. It is usually associated with money laundering which has ties to terrorism. Legalizing marijuana would help to break down the drug pyramid.
Legalizing marijuana would attack the drug pyramid first at the very base by attacking the local drug dealer. It would put local drug dealers out of business because it would make their product available over-the-counter with no worry of legal consequences. Because the supply of marijuana could then be produced in the United States it would create jobs for Americans and tariffs could be placed on importing marijuana. This would slow the production of marijuana in other countries and help to put the drug lords out of business, which would actually help the United States in her war against terrorism, because some of the terrorists' funds would be cut off.
Even though marijuana is morally wrong it should not be illegal because it not any worse than the current legal substances of alcohol and tobacco and it could benefit our country in several different ways. Legalizing marijuana would provide the nation with taxes on every step of the sales process. The production, distribution, sales and consumption of marijuana legally would create jobs for Americans. Taxes and tariffs on importing marijuana would reduce the profit to the drug pyramid and also terrorist organizations and put local drug dealers out of a job thus lowering the crime rate. Money would be saved and money would be earned if marijuana were legalized. What does it mean to be morally straight in a world where morals and values are different for different people? It means that we do what we think is right and not try to force our beliefs on anyone else. Legalizing the use of marijuana may seem wrong, but in the long run the social consequences couldn't possibly outweigh the economic benefits.
"Alcohol and Other Drugs." The United Methodist Church. 05 Feb 2004. United Methodist Chruch. 11 Dec 2006 http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1755.
Cermak , Timmen L.. Marijuana: What's a Parent to Believe?. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2003.
Drug Enforcement Administration, "Marijuana is Harmful." Marijuana. Ed. Mary E. Williams. Farmington Hills: Thompson Gale, 2003
Graham , Billy. "My Answer." Billy Graham Evangelistic Assotiation. 10 Dec 2006. 15 Nov 2006 http://www.billygraham.org/MyAnswer_Article.asp?ArticleID=3075.
Lowry, Richard. "Marijuana is Relatively Harmless." Marijuana. Ed. Mary E. Williams. Farmington Hills: Thompson Gale, 2003.
"Prohibition in the United States." Wikipedia. 29 Oct 2006 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States.
Washburne, Carolyn Kott. Drug Abuse. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1996.