will America legalize marijuana
In the world of medicine, there is yet to be an argument as heated as the argument over the legalization of marijuana. Most countries around the world have legalized the use of this drug for medical and personal uses. However, in America it is still illegal to use, possess, grow, or sell it (Goodwin 40). Many have questioned the authority of the American government to impose these laws on the people of a supposedly free nation. These pro-legalization individuals have offered one main reason that marijuana should be legalized. Their chief argument is the advantage that marijuana may offer to the medical world. They argue that marijuana may offer many contributions to the medical field. Their arguments are based largely on the fact that in the 1960’s as the use of marijuana increased, stories began circulating about how marijuana users were gaining relief from certain medical conditions. Three of the most commonly reported conditions were glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and the nausea associated with chemotherapy (Connolly 26,27). The anti-legalization crowd argues that there are drugs--legal drugs--that are just as effective, if not more effective (Goodwin 77). When analyzing the arguments over the legalization of marijuana, one must be familiar with what marijuana is, if it is harmful or addictive, if it leads to harder drugs, and whether or not it has any medical value.
The Latin name for marijuana is “Cannabis Sativa.” In its more concentrated form it is called “hashish.” There are many more slang or street names fro marijuana such as: “tea,” “jay,” “pot,” “weed,” “reefer,” “joint,” or “bowl” (Wilkinson 22). The marijuana plant, having spiky green leaves, can grow up to sixteen feet tall (Wilkinson 24). This plant is the most widely used illegal drug in America. Every year about seventy million Americans smoke marijuana at least one time. This awful statistic is a result of marijuana’s widespread production. Next to corn, it is America’s largest cash crop (Wilkinson 22).
There are written references to the use of marijuana as a medicine that date back as far as five thousand years (NORML.org). The Indians of South and Central America have used it for centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Mexican and Caribbean laborers in the Southern United States introduced the practice of smoking marijuana. This practice soon spread throughout most of America (Hermes 50). Until about 1900, marijuana was used widely to stimulate the appetite, relax the muscles, and comfort some types of pain. After that point in time, however, it’s use as a medicine declined as other drugs became widely available (Connolly 26). Between 1914 and 1931, twenty-nine states passed laws that made it illegal to use marijuana. In 1937 despite objections by the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry that marijuana was seemingly safe and useful medicinally, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act (Hermes 51). This act outlawed marijuana use in the America.
The drug itself, in its smoking form, is derived from the dried leaves, flowers, and stems of the plant. At this point it looks very similar to oregano (Wilkinson 24). This substance is then placed in a roll of paper. The roll of paper is to be rolled tightly and lit. The user is to then inhale the smoke through the “joint.” After a few breaths the user begins experiencing a feeling of “high.” This “high’ can last up to eight hours. During this time, the user has trouble with his motor skills (walking, talking, and coordination), remembering, and thinking (Harris 49). The “high” is caused by a chemical found in marijuana called THC (Tetrohydrocannaboid). THC is also the reason that marijuana is classified as a psychotropic drug. In other words, the drug has the power to change the way one experiences the world around him. It changes the users perception. THC also causes damage to the lungs (Stanley 6). THC is the chemical that causes a drug test to come back positive. This occurs because it stays in one’s system long after the “high” has worn off.
An important aspect in the marijuana issue to be taken into consideration is the debate as to whether or not it is a harmful or addictive drug. Marijuana is the drug that is most likely to be described by its users as safe (Stanley 9). Doctors and studies disagree sharply as to the dangers and addictive power of marijuana. Those who seek to legalize marijuana will be the first argue the statistic that no one has ever died of an overdose of marijuana (Connolly 23). This is true because it would literally take dozens of pounds of marijuana to kill a person. There does seem to be an addictive power, however, found in marijuana. Laboratory tests have shown that an individual who is given 179 mg of THC per day for eleven to twenty-one days will go through withdrawals if the smoking is abruptly stopped (Yoslow 74). However there are some studies that find no significant evidence that a habitual marijuana user becomes truly addicted to the substance. It will be debated for years whether or not marijuana is addictive. Both sides will conduct studies that seem to come to a predetermined conclusion.
Regardless of whether or not marijuana is addictive, it is a known fact that smoking marijuana is harmful to the body. Marijuana smoke contains roughly thirty times as many carcinogens as cigarette smoke (Connolly 98). Marijuana smoke also contains carbon monoxide, which impairs the oxygen-carrying ability of the blood (Harris 49). Studies also show that marijuana smoke contains the lung irritants that are connected with lung disease (Goodwin 35). The most dangerous aspect of marijuana is what it will allow one to do. It removes all inhibitions. While under the influence of this drug, the user does not have his usual perception of reality. His world around him has changed into a world with different boundaries and limits. Thus he will do things while under the influence that he would never do in reality. In this new world of counterfeit peace and happiness, he forgets the laws and limitations of his old life. This is one of the main reasons that every year thousands of people die in marijuana related traffic accidents. This tragic fact is due to the influence the drug has over the user. He does not realize the consequences of the actions he is performing, until after the “high” has worn off.
Studies also conclude that marijuana may be harmful to the brain. The drug is a psychotropic drug that makes one’s brain feel as if it is in a different world. This affect on the brain can be detrimental to the short-term memory of an individual. However, some argue that any impairment to the short-term memory disappears once the user is no longer under the influence of the drug (Connolly 23). The brain is far too important for any one to take the chance of damaging it.
In 1989 after two years of court hearings intended to establish the value of marijuana as medical drug, Francis Young, Chief Judge of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, concluded that marijuana was one of the safest, therapeutically active substances known to man (Hermes 51-52). There are many studies that would agree with Young’s conclusion. One must decide which studies and reports he will believe states the truth about marijuana’s possible danger. Each side has offered its arguments. Both would have to agree, however, that marijuana is harmful. A 1991 Harvard study found that forty-four percent of oncologists had previously advised marijuana therapy to their patients (NORML.org). These doctors, by their own testimony, have believed that the drug is safe enough to use. In April of 2001, in response to being asked whether they thought doctors should be able to prescribe patients with marijuana, thirty-six percent of physicians said yes, while thirty-eight percent said no. That left twenty-six percent of doctors undecided (Goodwin 85). The doctors have not made it easy to decide if it is safe enough to legalize it. Where there is usually doubt, there is usually a reason to stay away from something, especially if there is doubt about a drug being safe.
Marijuana is still the most popular drug in America, but there are many other drugs that are more dangerous and more addictive to the body. Many people, who oppose the legalization of marijuana, believe that marijuana is a “gateway” drug. In other words, they believe that the use of marijuana will lead an individual to experimenting with other, more deadly, drugs. However, there are some studies that report marijuana shows no evidence of being a “gateway” drug. One poll reported that of the seventy million who use marijuana in America, only three million go on to experiment with harder substances. This poll would make it seem that marijuana is not a drug that leads to harder drugs. The problem with that poll is that it was put out by NORML (the National Organization for the Reforming of Marijuana Laws), who will only print the polls that argue their point. Also, the poll relied solely on the honesty of the voters. If these individuals used marijuana and want it to be legalized, then they will say anything, including a lie, to get their favorite drug legalized.
The most controversial aspect of the legalization issue is the medical debate. Many doctors and physicians disagree on whether or not marijuana has enough medical value to legalize it. NORML claims that virtually all of the government-appointed commissions to investigate marijuana’s medical value have issued favorable findings (NORML.org). NORML also argue that more than sixty American and international health organizations—including the American Public Health Association, Health Canada, and the Federation of American Scientists—support granting patients immediate legal access to marijuana under the supervision of a physician. There are countless polls and studies to support each side of the argument. There are four main cases that are debatable in the argument over the medical value of marijuana—glaucoma, HIV (a retrovirus that attacks the body’s T-cells), multiple sclerosis, and the nausea associated with chemotherapy.
In the case of glaucoma, it is reported that glaucoma patients who smoked marijuana saw improvement in the pain and aggravation of the eye. This pain is associated with the swelling of the eye, which is due to extra fluid rushing to the eye. Some physicians claim that marijuana drains the fluid better than any other drug available. Minorities of patients claim that nothing relieves the pain as well as marijuana. However, it is not necessary that the drug be smoked.
The case that is most commonly associates with the gay community is that of the HIV patient. When diagnosed with HIV, many patients begin to find a difficulty in the area of their appetite. Marijuana is known to be a powerful appetite stimulant. In fact, it is common for marijuana users to experience a sensation known as the “munchies,” which leaves the user craving a quick food fix (Connolly 28). Therefore, most physicians would argue that marijuana is useful to the HIV patient. However, the HIV slowly kills the patient, and the smoke and carcinogens from the marijuana only make his condition worse.
Multiple Sclerosis is another case that many doctors claim verifies the legalization of marijuana. Multiple sclerosis causes the muscles in a person’s body to tighten up, even to the point of causing the patient to become an invalid. Marijuana is an effective muscle relaxant. Therefore, when the patient uses marijuana his muscles loosen, and he can move about more freely. This argument, however, also has its fallacies. There are countless drugs available that relax the muscles just as well as marijuana. These drugs are both legal and safe.
Chemotherapy is one of the most widely used treatments for cancer. While on chemotherapy many patients experience extreme nausea. Marijuana has been used very effectively to suppress this nausea. The argument is whether or not the marijuana has to be smoked to see the full benefits. There is a capsule version of marijuana’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which has been passed through the regulatory process for use in these circumstances (Gerdes 95). Most importantly the last thing that a chemotherapy patient should take is marijuana, because it would weaken his immune system even more (Connolly 17). Barry McCaffrey, the Commander-in-chief of the Clinton administration’s War on Drugs, was quoted as saying, “There is not a shred of evidence that smoked marijuana is useful or needed” (Connolly 94). Connolly also says in his book, “In other words, the true aim of medicinal marijuana advocates is not to put drugs in the hands of doctors and pharmacists. Rather, the goal is to make marijuana and other drugs widely and legally available. To them, the medicinal-use argument is simply a contrived means to an end, using terminally ill patients as pawns in a cynical political game” (98).
All of these issues must be taken into consideration when contemplating the legalization of marijuana. One must consider the weight of the possibility that lies before him. This drug could be a breakthrough. It may just be a lie. To find out, the United States of America should allow the doctors and associations to research farther into this area, and find out how many of these supposed uses for medical marijuana are valid. One must be aware that there are many statistics that will lean either way on the debate for the legalization of marijuana. All the issues stated above carry weight in the argument for legalizing or not legalizing marijuana. One must decide which aspect is the most important, or if they all are important in the legalization debate.
The best resolution in a situation where there is no clear-cut answer is to keep researching both sides of the argument. Personally I believe that more tests and studies should be done. There may be some truth to the medical argument for the legalization of marijuana. It is never right to take away a medicine that can save someone’s life, especially if the only reason is because others abuse that drug. One must research and find out if the studies and statistics he has heard are true. The first study or report that one reads is not always the most accurate either. In the world today, truth is often very hard to find, especially when dealing with tender subjects. The truth that I believe I have found is that there is a serious need for a fair, legal study on the medical value of marijuana. There must be a study as to whether or not it is truly as harmful as it has been reported. There also needs to be a study to determine whether or not it is possible to cure these ailments mentioned here, with drugs that are legal and proven safe. Lastly, there must be proof that marijuana is not an addictive, “gateway” drug. If these studies find that the drug is safe, and it is the only way to cure certain ailments, there would be no reason not to vote in favor of legalizing physician-regulated marijuana. However, if it is proven to be addictive and dangerous, there is no place for it in our country. These issues will be determined by a vote eventually. One must know the facts, and be ready to vote for what he believes. There will be a day that America is forced to decide whether or not to legalize it. One must be ready to cast his vote.
Connolly, Sean. Marijuana. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2003.
Gerdes, Louise. Marijuana. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002.
Goodwin, William. Marijuana. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2002.
Harris, Jacqueline. Drugs and Disease. New York: 21st Century Books, 1993.
Hermes, William. Substance Abuse. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1993.
17 Feb. 2004 http://www.NORML.org/
Stanley, Debbie. Marijuana and Your Lungs. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2000.
Wilkinson, Beth. Drugs and Depression. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1994.