Legalizing Marijuana

Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

Legalizing any drug evokes strong emotions from people on both sides. This article is not meant to be an opinion piece, but rather an attempt to take a look at some of the broad issues, facts, and monetary concerns regarding the potential legalization of marijuana.

In the United States, marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic. This  category indicates no drug use and a high potential for abuse. There have been attempts over the last 2 decades to change it into a different category, but to no avail. There is clearly a lack of consensus on whether it has medicinal properties, as 15 states in 2011 had legalized its use for a variety of medical conditions.

Should marijuana be legalised?

Does it make sense for the US to continue to classify marijuana as such when other addictive and cancerous substances like nicotine are permitted? That is a hot button topic. The link between tobacco and various cancers is clear, but it is big business and generates tax dollars. There is a clear label on this product, but more than 20% of the American public smokes.

A 2002 Time magazine poll showed that 80% of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana. In the early 20th century, artists and intellectuals often used marijuana for the purpose of enhancing creativity. By the mid-1920s, the American media had embraced the idea that there was a connection between marijuana and crime, both violent and sexual. It’s pretty clear at this point that that’s not true at all, but even without any research to back up the fallacy, all states had laws in the 1930s regulating marijuana use.

The then Narcotics Commissioner, Harry Anslinger, fought marijuana in front of congress, medical institutions and the media warning of its dangers to society. As a result, in 1937, a congressional hearing took place with the result becoming the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This did not make marijuana illegal, but created a hefty tax structure in every part of the cannabis cycle (cultivation, distribution, sale). The severe nature of the Act pushes the use of marijuana to a negligible status.

Finally in the 1940s research began to come out showing cannabis is relatively harmless compared to hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. The association with violence became negated and understood as most likely from the alcohol consumed along with marijuana. However, with the legal structure in place around marijuana, the general public sees it as harmful despite a growing body of research showing that it is relatively (not completely) harmless.

During the 1950s and ’60s cannabis use increased, but research focused mostly on LSD and other hard drugs. In 1970, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that 20 million Americans had used marijuana at least once. In 1970, a Gallup poll showed that 42% of college students had smoked marijuana.

As more and more research shows that marijuana does not contribute to violent behavior, it seems natural that people feel they have been lied to by the government agency tasked with interpreting the issue. Marijuana must be obtained illegally for medicinal use in 35 states to this day, and patients have to live in fear of federal prosecution. Should cannabis laws and policies be reconsidered? Should it only be reconsidered for medicinal use or for overall use and sold alongside cigarettes, cigars and alcohol?

In the 1970s, there was a push to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. For those who support decriminalization, the common view is that laws against marijuana are more dangerous than the drug itself. President Jimmy Carter in 1977 called for the decriminalization of small numbers, as did the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association. It didn’t happen.

The 1980s saw the reverse of these efforts, and with President Reagan the War on Drugs ensued with tougher policies and penalties on almost all drugs. Cannabis use fell during the decade while alcohol, cocaine and crack skyrocketed. The 1990s saw a reversal of usage trends. Between 1992 and 1994, marijuana use doubled in adolescents.

Marijuana is not dangerous.

The cannabis plant has more than 400 chemicals in it, and many we don’t know about. But should it be illegal? Should it still be a Narcotics Category 1? This is a huge crop and regulating it can generate significant tax money along with eliminating the need to provide resources for so many prosecutions. Many medical and scientific professionals have produced evidence of the medicinal benefits of marijuana, and 15 states have authorized its use for debilitating conditions.

A recent study suggests marijuana can have long-lasting effects on the adolescent brain, and can affect coordination and mental capacity while under the influence. So this needs to be weighed in the pros vs cons debate. The label “illegal” promotes a significant negative aura in people’s minds, and heated debate shows no evidence of stopping.