Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

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By JeffreyThurber

Legalizing any drug evokes strong emotions from people on both sides. This article is not intended to be an opinion piece, but rather an effort us look at some 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. That category indicates it has no medicinal use and a high abuse potential. There have been attempts over the past 2 decades to shift it into a different category, but unsuccessful. It is obvious there is lack of a consensus as to whether it has medicinal properties, as 15 states as of 2011 have legalized its usage for multiple medical conditions.

Is it reasonable for the US to continue classifying marijuana as such when other addictive and cancerous substances like nicotine are allowed? That is a hot button topic. The link between tobacco and various cancers is clear, yet it is big business and it does produce tax monies. There are clear labels on these products, yet over 20% of the American public smokes.

A 2002 Time magazine poll showed an amazing 80% of Americans supported legalizing medical marijuana. In the early 20th Century, artists and intellectuals were frequent users of marijuana for the purpose of enhancing creativity. By the mid 1920’s, the American media had latched on to the idea that there was a connection between marijuana and crime, both violent and sexual. It is pretty clear at this point that is not true at all, but then even without any research to back up that fallacy all states had laws by the 1930’s regulating marijuana usage.

The Commissioner of Narcotics at the time, Harry Anslinger, crusaded against marijuana in front of congress, the medical establishment, and the media warning against its dangers to society. As a result, in 1937, congressional hearings ensued with the result being the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This did not make marijuana illegal, but created a hefty tax structure around every part of the marijuana cycle (cultivation, distribution, sale). The onerous nature of the Act pushed marijuana usage to a negligible status.

Finally in the 1940’s research began coming out showing marijuana to be relatively harmless compared to hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. The association with violence became negated and understood to be most likely from the alcohol being consumed in conjunction with marijuana. However, with the legal structure placed around marijuana the general public saw it as dangerous despite an increasing body of research showing it to be relatively (not completely) harmless.

During the 1950’s and 60’s marijuana use increased, but research mostly focused on LSD and other hard drugs. By 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 only natural that people would feel they’ve been lied to by the government agencies who are in charge of interpreting these issues. Marijuana has to be obtained illegally for medicinal usage in 35 states to this day, and patients have to live in fear of federal prosecution. Should marijuana law and policy be re-considered? Should it simply be re-considered for medicinal usage or for overall usage and be sold next to cigarettes, cigars, and alcohol?

In the 1970’s, there was a push to de-criminalize small amounts of marijuana. For those supporting decriminalization, the general view was that the laws against marijuana were more harmful than the drug itself. President Jimmy Carter in 1977 called for the decriminalization of small amounts, so did the American Medical Association and American Bar Association. It didn’t happen.

The 1980’s saw a reverse of these efforts, and with President Reagan the War on Drugs ensued with tougher policies and penalties on pretty much every drug. Marijuana usage went down during this decade while alcohol, cocaine, and crack skyrocketed. The 1990’s saw a reversal of usage trends. Between 1992 and 1994, marijuana usage doubled in adolescents.

Marijuana is not harmless. The cannabis plant has over 400 chemicals in it, and there’s a lot we don’t know about it. Should it be illegal though? Should it still be a Schedule 1 Narcotic? It is a big cash crop and regulating it could bring in significant tax monies along with eliminating the need to provide resources for so much prosecution. Many medical and scientific professionals have produced evidence about marijuana’s medicinal benefits, and 15 states have allowed for its usage for debilitating conditions.

A recent study showed marijuana can have long lasting effects on adolescent brains, and it can affect coordination and mental capacity while under its effects. So this needs to be weighed in the pros vs cons debate. The “illegal” label promotes a significant negative aura in people’s minds, and the robust debating has shown no evidence of letting up.

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