The Federal Government of the United States of America along with state and local agencies has waged a war on drugs for decades. In 1875 San Francisco passed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to operate or frequent opium dens. Aimed specifically at Chinese immigrants, the ordinance was the first in a battle that can be seen as not only a moral dilemma, but a masked form of racism. Several sources note the first drug laws were aimed at specific groups. Cannabis was thought initially to be a Mexican issue (marijuana was a Mexican slang term for cannabis), and in the south some say cocaine laws were aimed at black men.
Whatever the reasons, since the early 1900's America has fought an ever escalating war on drugs. In 1937 the Marihuana tax act was passed in an attempt to tax away the use of Cannabis. While there was no evidence of any danger posed by marijuana, it was argued it was a gateway drug to heroin. In 1951 the Boggs act was passed giving mandatory minimum federal sentences for possession of marijuana, cocaine and opiates. In 1954 Eisenhower created the Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics thus creating the war on drugs. In 1970 the comprehensive drug control act was passed paving way for the creation of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) in 1973. In 2010 the DEA's budget was 2,270 million dollars.
Listed in the federal budget as protection there was a total of 36.5 billion dollars put towards federal courts, law enforcement and corrections in 2010. Much of this money is affected by the war on drugs. Aside from the DEA you can include aspects of the ATF, (alcohol tobacco and firearms) and the FBI bent towards narcotics and crimes involving narcotics as well. Once people are in the system even more money is spent on incarceration and rehabilitation.
The toll is more than monetary, in 2010 the FBI estimates there were 1,638,846 arrests for drug abuse violations. According to UCR reporting 52% of these arrests were related to marijuana and 22% related to heroin or cocaine and other derivatives. In 2011 48% of federal incarcerations were for drug related offenses, almost half of all federal incarcerations.
Cannabis, heretofore called marijuana is a hotbed of discussion among advocates and proponents alike. There is a huge movement towards legalization and some have already taken steps towards or have legalized marijuana. In California medical marijuana is legal even though both the Bush and Obama administrations still go after growers and users with federal laws. In 2012 Colorado voters passed the legalization of marijuana and the state began steps to regulate it.
I am not an advocate for marijuana or any other drug, I barely taste alcohol and never use drugs. That being said lets look at some facts and stats on marijuana. A report from the FDA from 1997 to 2005 says a total of 279 deaths could be linked with marijuana with 187 said to be directly linked to marijuana. As far as I can tell there has never been an overdose from marijuana although it has been linked to a form of stroke in people who binged on it. Following is a list of some known or suspected chronic effects of marijuana according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).
- Short term memory impairment and slowness of learning
- impaired lung function similar to that found in cigarette smokers. Indications are that more serious effects, such as cancer and other lung disease, follow extended use
- decreased sperm count and sperm motility.
- interference with ovulation and pre-natal development
- impaired immune response.
- possible adverse effects on heart function
There's no argument that marijuana is good for you but when compared to other legalized substances such as tobacco and alcohol the comparison shows a different story. According to the CDC alcohol contributes to approximately 80,000 deaths each year with around 50,000 reports of alcohol poisoning leading to hospitalization or death. The CDC also estimates that 443,000 people die each year from cigarettes. While the smoking numbers can be questioned, not sure anyone believes 49,000 people die from second hand smoke, there is no doubt of the ill effects of smoking tobacco.
Some people will argue if marijuana was legal it could be taxed and regulated creating monetary incentive for legalization. Problem is, marijuana accounts for the largest portion of arrests and seizures. While the numbers are not readily available it would stand to reason if you combine local, state and federal gain from fines, property seizures and penalties the government cannot afford to legalize marijuana.
The United States attempted to criminalize alcohol in the 1930's in the same manner it did with drugs. The public outcry and creation of huge groups of organized criminals was one reason prohibition was stopped. So what is different about drugs. Right now people are dying in the US and abroad because of the war on drugs. Cartels in Mexico have become so powerful they can kill people on both sides of the border. Fueled by the drug trade and Americas insatiable appetite for illegal drugs an estimated 125,000 people have died in Mexico since 2006. According to the CDC over 38,000 people died from overdoses in 2010 and the numbers are increasing. There is no way to quantify deaths from shootings and fighting between drug dealers, couriers and users in the US however this is a daily occurrence and is fueled by the back market for drugs.
So what do we do, what does this all mean. It is not an advocacy for decriminalization of hard drugs, merely a look into the war and it's motivations. While there is a moral component the greatest motivators are money and politics. Billions of dollars are spent to fight the war, and billions are collected because of the war. There are also millions of jobs at stake. The DEA currently employees close to 10,000 people, half of that agents. State and local governments also have ties to each other and the feds through co-ops and interdiction teams. Just the decriminalization of marijuana would put a huge dent in the apparatus causing a cascade of problems for congress and the administration in office due to job loss and loss of revenue.
Cannabis, The Good, The Bad and The ugly
A deeper look at the cause and effect of marijuana usage. As mentioned in the first section of this hub marijuana causes health issues similar to those experienced by tobacco users such as respiratory problems and fertility issues. There is also the "dumb" stigma given to marijuana. A deeper look into new studies also links marijuana to strokes in younger people who have no other risk factors. Marijuana is known to change blood pressure and heart rate in ways that are associated with increased stroke risks. Marijuana can also cause a heart palpitation, called atrial palpitation, which is strongly associated with strokes. This information comes from a study out of New Zealand, here is the link: http://newsroom.heart.org/news/smoking-marijuana-associated-with-higher-stroke-risk-in-young-adults?preview=63a9
In the report mentioned in the first section of this hub where the FDA associates marijuana with deaths there is no mention of how. I believe they associate the same types of deaths attributed to tobacco smoking such as lung cancer. Also marijuana causes an appreciable impairment just like alcohol which can cause deaths similar to those of alcohol such as impaired driving accidents.
Marijuana has some positive effects as well when used for medicinal purposes, It is used to relieve nausea and vomiting, for sleep deprivation, for increased appetite in chemo patients, and was recently tied to type 2 diabetes. It is thought to help with insulin deficiency based on the fact that marijuana users tend to have less wight gain even when consuming more calories. This may be tied to marijuana's affect on the metabolism.
In all the studies I read the results are preliminary with no direct scientific evidence either way. IT is clear that many believe marijuana is a good thing and helps people and just as clear others believe the exact opposite. Whether it's legal or illegal there will be proponents and opponents.