War on Marijuana
by Amber Maccione
Fourteen million people use marijuana in the United States. In 2009, 88% of all marijuana arrests were for possession (Collica & Furst 2012 p. 105). With problems of overcrowding within the jails and prisons and certain states legalizing it for medical purposes, there seems to be a controversial line between whether marijuana should just be legalized all together or if the war should still rage on against the use of marijuana. Some say that marijuana causes crime and health problems and therefore should stay illegal and the government should continue its crack down on the drug. Others state that the plant has medical benefits and helps with economic growth by opening doors for jobs and produces state revenue. The question that needs to be answered in order to solve this problem is which side of the spectrum has more pros than cons and what would be a workable solution for everybody in the war on marijuana?
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a plant, an Indian hemp plant called the Cannabis sativa (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2012). It contains over 400 different chemicals with THC being the main chemical that it is known for (Foundation for a Drug-Free World 2013). The amount of THC within each plant can vary depending on the weather when it was grown, the soil used, as well as some other factors (Foundation for a Drug-Free World 2013). THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocanna-binol acts upon specific molecular targets on brain cells called cannabinoid receptors. The THC over activates these receptors causing a high in the individual that impairs coordination, creates difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupts learning and memory skills (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2012). Unfortunately, scientific evidence is not sufficient enough for the FDA to approve the drug completely because there have not been enough clinical trials showing that the benefits outweigh the health risks and legitimate medicine must have well-defined and measurable ingredients that are consistent, which has not happened yet (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2012).
Have you ever used marijuana?
Have you ever...
Despite the health concerns that the Foundation for a Drug-Free World and the National Institute on Drug Abuse has pointed out, a 2008 National survey reported 15.2 million users – 75.6% of illicit drug users use marijuana and 53.3% of those illicit users only use marijuana (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2012). Although the drug is considered addictive, only 9% of users actually become addicted. And it has been reported that long time users who try to quit have withdraw symptoms (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2012).
Over the years (1981-2006), the production of marijuana has increased from 2.2 million pounds a year to 22 million pounds a year (Foundation for a Drug-Free World). Marijuana is harvested by cutting off the branches and drying out the flowers, seeds, and leaves to be sold. People smoke the harvested material, brew it into a tea, or mix it up in food (Foundation for a Drug-Free World).
Short & Long Term Health Concerns
The Foundation for a Drug-Free World fights against marijuana. Although they do recognize the drug as a natural plant (Indian hemp plant), they point out that it is a hallucinogen due to the 400 plus chemicals within the plant, mainly the THC chemical that produces sensations within a person’s body after they smoke it, eat it, or drink it (Foundation for a Drug-Free World 2013). They claim that the drug causes both short term and long term effects on an individual. Short term effects include things like loss of coordination; distortions with senses of time, sight, and hearing; anxiety; sleepiness; reddening of eyes; increased appetite; relaxed muscles; and increased heart rate (Foundation for a Drug-Free World 2013). Long term effects include things like psychotic symptoms, reduces sterility, memory loss, causes hereditary defects, damage to the lungs and heart, coughing and wheezing, and the reduced ability to fight off infections and illness (Foundation for a Drug-Free World 2013).
On the other hand though, medical marijuana does have some great health benefits as it relieves pain, combats nausea, and stimulates appetite (Cox 2012). So far, companies have developed pharmaceuticals to help with cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and epilepsy (Cox 2012). Although the FDA has only approved of some of the synthetic medical products, 15 states do allow individuals to use marijuana even though federal law prohibits it (Cox 2012). A doctor for the FDA states that the reason the FDA cannot approve the botanical plant is because it is difficult to test for efficacy and safety since the chemicals within the plant can range greatly from plant to plant (Cox 2012). Because of farming techniques, the percentage of THC has jumped from 1% in 1974 to 9.6% in 2008 (Foundation for a Drug-Free World 2013). But the FDA would be willing to consider the plants effectiveness with scientifically based research that proves its benefits for medical purposes (Cox 2012).
What do experts think about legalization?
Another aspect to this war on marijuana that sometimes is over looked is that the government has legalized other recreational substances that are known to cause more harm than marijuana. These substances are alcohol and tobacco (Nathan 2013). David Nathan is a clinical associate professor who was recently elected into the American Psychiatric Association. He lists marijuana alongside alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and refined sugar as habit-forming substances. Although he doesn’t promote marijuana usage, he does believe that it should be made legal for persons over 21 to cut down on the irrational arrests and convictions that plague our nation because of marijuana use (Nathan 2013). He points out that the only reason it was made illegal in the first place was because the Federal Bureau of Narcotics banned it in 1937 based on bad science and fabricated stories of violence (Nathan 2013). He believes with the government stepping in and regulating it as they do with alcohol and tobacco, the war on marijuana and all the political and ridiculous imprisonments that cause overcrowding in our jails and prisons would end (Nathan 2013).
Unfortunately, our federal government does not share Mr. Nathan’s beliefs. The White House put out an article refuting the common beliefs that people have when it comes to legalizing marijuana. The federal government believes that harmful effects of marijuana outweigh the medical benefits. They agree with such organizations as the Foundation for a Drug-Free World and the National Institute on Drug Abuse that marijuana causes dependency, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, impaired cognitive and immune system functioning, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, schizophrenia, distorted perceptions, difficulty thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory (Office of National Drug Central Policy). Not only that but marijuana has been said to have 50%-70% more carcinogens than tobacco and therefore can cause great harm to the lungs (Office of National Drug Central Policy & Foundation for a Drug-Free World 2013).
Who is right when it comes to economics?
Marijuana Economic Benefits
As for the economic growth and lowering problems within the criminal justice system, the White House also states that legalizing marijuana would not help with this just as legalizing alcohol and tobacco has also not helped in this area. If legalized, the price of the product would go down but usage would increase just as it did with alcohol and tobacco. Research as shown that keeping it illegal has helped with lower usage because prices are high because of shortage (Office of National Drug Central Policy). And the White House also points out that legalizing it would only put more of a burden on the criminal justice system and the cost to society. When you look at alcohol and tobacco, the cost to society (health care, crime, and low productivity in the workplace) is greater than the revenue it brings it. They state that marijuana would only result in the same way (Office of National Drug Central Policy).
Although the White House produces some facts that legalizing marijuana would be a bad thing across the board, a professor of economics along with over 500 economists from a study in 2005 done by Jeffrey Miron would disagree. They base their numbers on supply and demand, the basic concepts of economics. Supply refers to production and demand refers to consumption. When the supply goes up because more people are growing it (this actually allows for more jobs to be created), the government can regulate this by imposing a production tax. Therefore, the growers would have to raise the cost of the product to account for the tax they must pay to the government. Because marijuana is legal, it becomes readily available causing the demand to also rise. The whole aspect of this supply and demand would generate tax revenues creating public savings because their would be a decline in cost to law enforcement, judicial and legal systems, and corrections (jails & prisons). Calculations estimate $8.9 billion in tax revenue to $11.1 billion in public savings giving a grand total of $20 billion per year to the federal and state governments in the United States (Grammy 2012).
History of Marijuana
Marijuana or the Indian hemp plant has set its roots back to 2700 B.C. where the Chinese used the product for medical drugs and the Greeks and Egyptians used the plant to help with ailments to the body (Cox 2012). Between that time and the late 1800’s, the production of hemp has been used for rope, sails, and clothing (PBS 2013). During the late 1800’s, marijuana became a popular ingredient in medical products and was sold openly in pharmacies. By 1906, the Pure Food & Drug Act required that all over the counter drugs containing cannabis be labeled as such. It was also during this time that the United States had a flood of Mexican immigrants that introduced the drug in its recreational state causing a fear amongst people because of anti-drug campaigners declaring that usage of the drug caused crime (PBS 2013). By the time of the Great Depression, people became to blame the Mexican immigrants for the unemployment rate. And since the immigrants were the ones to introduce the recreational use of marijuana, people began to claim that this was the reason for high crime rates. Therefore, in 1931, 29 states outlawed its use (PBS 2013). With that came the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. By 1932, states were encouraged to accept responsibility for how marijuana was used with the Uniform State Narcotic Act (PBS 2013). In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was created, which criminalized marijuana. Marijuana possession became restricted unless you had paid a tax for authorized medical and industrial use (PBS 2013). Even though hemp plant growing was encouraged during World War I & II, by 1952, the Boggs Act and by 1956, the Narcotics Control Act placed great restrictions on marijuana leading to mandatory sentences (PBS 2013). Eventually, there was a cry for a war on marijuana.
Should Marijuana be legalized?
The Answer to the War on Marijuana
In a video on the war on drugs, Ex-President Bill Clinton admits that using police forces to solve the problem, a lot of people end up dying in the process. Richard Branson (Founder of the Virgin Group) states that research shows that the war on drugs isn’t and hasn’t been working. In fact, things have gotten worse. Therefore, governments need to look into other ways to solve the problem (Branson 2012).
In California alone, there are 15,000 felony arrests per year, which cost the state an estimated $100 million (Gieringer 1993). State eradication programs destroy $300 million in marijuana per year, which causes revenue to be lost to the local economy and diverted to foreign suppliers (Gieringer 1993). Californians consume around $5 billion in marijuana. This adds up to the state losing an estimated $500 million in sales tax if it was legalized (Gieringer 1993). Basically, the war on marijuana is hurting the economy of a valuable crop that could help with job shortages and medical solutions (Gieringer 1993).
It is quite obvious that marijuana has its bed qualities as well as its good qualities. The question that needs to be answered is what to do with what we know? Society dealt with alcoholism with prohibition before and that did not work, hence society legalized it with state and federal regulations attached. The National Academy of Sciences, the Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, and the State Research Advisory Panel in California all recommend legalizing marijuana for personal and cultivation purposes (Gieringer 1993). In 1996, California decided to take the first step in showing the benefits of passing a law to allow marijuana. They passed Proposition 215 so that marijuana could be used as a possible solution to medical problems such as AIDS and cancer (PBS 2013).
Since the war on marijuana seems to not be working and society seems to be pushing for it to be legalized, marijuana should be legalized just as alcohol and tobacco (despite their health risks and some crime association). Laws should be written up to regulate the supply and demand such as imposing a tax, which would help state budgets with the revenue it would bring in. There should also be laws written up that designate certain areas where marijuana is allowed to be used, sold, and grown. For example, Amsterdam has a Red Zone where certain activities are permitted and in the United States we allow the Indian Reservations to have casinos. Because of the effects that THC has on the brain, the government should also regulate the age at which one can legal use and have possession of marijuana. The legal age for tobacco is 18 and 21 for alcohol. The brain finishes developing for males at the age of 26 (earlier for girls). Taking those things into account, each state could set a law for the age at which they would allow an individual to legal use marijuana. As far as medical use goes, the government should use the revenue made on the taxes of marijuana to help fund research so the FDA could approve more medicinal purposes and products to help individuals that are suffering health wise.
Our government states that one of the reasons they cannot legalize marijuana is because of all the health risks behind it. Yet alcohol and tobacco, which research has shown has just as many risks, are both legal in the United States. And in resent years, society has come to see how certain preservatives in foods can cause cancer and how risky prescription drugs are even when taken as prescribed (birth control, depression medications, and heavy pain relievers). Everything has risks. Making things illegal because of those risks is a waste of time. Instead of spending time and money on a war that will continue to rage because of the high demand, the government should spend money in laws to regulate it and programs that will educate people on the risks and how to properly use marijuana. It seems that the benefits for legalizing it are far more important than the risks behind why it should remain illegal.
Branson, R. (2012). “War on Drugs a Trillion-Dollar Failure.” CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/06/opinion/branson-end-war-on-drugs
Collica, K. & Furst, G. (2012). Crime & society. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Cox, L. (2012). “Medical Marijuana: Benefits vs. Risks.” LiveScience. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/24554-medical-marijuana.html
Foundation for a Drug-Free World. (2013). “The Truth about Drugs: Marijuana.” Retrieved from http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/drugs/marijuana.html
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Foundation for a Drug-Free World. (2013). “The Truth about Marijuana: Short and Long Term Effects.” Retrieved from http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/marijuana/short-and-long-term-effects.html
PBS (2013). “Marijuana Timeline.” Frontline. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/etc/cron.html
Giernger, D. (1993). “Marijuana Enforcement in California: A Costly and Wasteful War.” Marijuana Business News.com. Retrieved from http://www.druglibrary.org/think/~jnr/mjecon.htm
Grammy, A. (2012). “Economic Benefits of Marijuana Legalization.” Premier Thought: The CSUB Business Blog. Retrieved from http://www.csub.edu/kej/documents/economic_rsch/2012-03-26.pdf
Nathan, D. (2013). “Why Marijuana Should be Legal for Adults.” CNN Opinion. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/09/opinion/nathan-legal-marijuana
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012). “Drug Facts: Marijuana.” Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012). “Marijuana Abuse.” Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-abuse/what-scope-marijuana-use-in-united-states
Office of National Drug Central Policy. (n.d.). “Marijuana Legalization.” The White House. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/marijuana-legalization
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