"Hey, Dude! Wanna get high?" How many times has a person heard this question asked around the United States by those who participate in high risk behavior like drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, or using other drugs, either abusing prescription medications or illegal narcotics? Decades of studies have not successfully proven any harm comes from the casual or medicinal use of marijuana, yet the United States government, and most of the "civilized" world following suit, has determined it is a harmful drug. Legalizing marijuana would afford the government control of recreational and medicinal marijuana the same as it regulates the already legal substances of alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription medications.
Marijuana has not always been illegal. In the early 1900's, it was legal for individuals to partake of many substances. This included marijuana, cocaine (which was naturally found in the original Coca Cola), and heroin, to name a few. Marijuana was primarily used in the southwest by Mexicans, African-Americans, and lower income Caucasians. In 1937, enthusiastically supported by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act. This law specifies that those in possession of marijuana for sale without filing the proper forms and paying federal taxes on the substance were in violation of state and federal law (Marijuana Users in the Courts, 1930-1965). Although this act was not the law that made marijuana illegal, there were recently existing laws that made it such. This meant the purchase of a tax stamp to affix to marijuana would cause an individual to incriminate oneself. The Bill of Rights' 5th Amendment dictates: "nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself" (United States Constitution, 1784). Advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana claim that the act of making marijuana illegal was based on racism and unsupported claims of it being a gateway drug that would lead to other drug use and violent criminal acts (Anslinger, 1937). The Federal Bureau of Narcotics testified that the American Medical Association was fully aware of the organization's position. They also said that the AMA supported the ruling, but this was not true. (Brecher, 1972). As a matter of fact, the American Medical Association even went so far as to oppose the statements being presented in their name during hearings (Whitebread, 1995). Those who composed and voted for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 stated that the law against marijuana use was an infringement on personal rights, and was clearly unconstitutional (Whitebread, 1995). They did not believe that it was within the government's authority to dictate what individuals did to their own bodies. Yet, they passed the law.
Legalizing marijuana would give state and federal tax agencies the ability to collect the taxes already required against the substance. This would help decrease the federal deficit. The taxation of marijuana for distribution is already a law in 20 states, as well as the federal government because of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (www.norml.com). If these states were actually capable of collecting monies from the sale of marijuana, they could improve the financial health of their states. Distributors of marijuana would be held more responsible for paying taxes by the purchase of tax stamps, affixing them to the product the same as those on cigarettes. The money collected from marijuana is deposited into the general fund of each state imposing the tax (Warfield, Wilkes, Crumbley, 2006). If states were more capable of collecting this money, pressure to be dependent on the federal government would decrease. States could use this increase in revenue to improve roads, subsidize farmers, educate children, and provide for the less fortunate, in addition to other services. In turn, states using tax money collected for marijuana distribution would be providing relief for the federal government, allowing it concentrate on federal financial responsibilities like paying the military, disaster recovery, and national security.
Court cases are constantly being heard, from the local court systems in states all the way to the Federal Supreme Court, debating the subject of legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana. In the case of Gonzales v. Raich, case no. 03-1454, (Mears, 2005); the Supreme Court ruled that currently using marijuana in a medicinal capacity is illegal by federal statute. In addition, if someone either receives it for free from someone, or is growing it themselves for their own personal use, the law enforcement agents in the ten states where it is legal are not to prosecute, or even arrest, however, if a federal agent wishes, they can confiscate any growing marijuana, or any acquired substance. There is an underwriting in the law that says that if someone receives marijuana for free, or is growing it themselves, it is harming the economy. This thinking is the backbone to how the federal government can continue to control the taxation and control of any marijuana use. The Supreme Court ruled that the only way that the laws can be changed is by a congressional vote allowing it (Mears, 2005). Because the Supreme Court is not a law-making body, but a group who's function is to determine the constitutionality of existing laws, (The Courts and the Judiciary, 2006) the judges should re-address the law, and rule it as unconstitutional. In this way, the law could be rescinded.
If using marijuana were decriminalized, overcrowding in prisons and jails would not be as prevalent, and thus the financial deficit incurred from expenses paid to house and feed prisoners would be dramatically reduced and improved. In 1999, California state prisons
incarcerated 1,903 people for various marijuana misdemeanors, at a cost of $21,000 per prisoner (Curtis, 1999). This is a total cost of nearly 40 million dollars for California state prisons. The money used to fund local jails and federal institutions is not included in this report. Rehabilitating the same number of marijuana users is a fraction of that amount, approximately three thousand dollars per individual (Drug Policy Alliance, 2004). For the same 1,903 people, the annual price would be $5,709,000 at a savings of about $34 million each year. In 2004, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley tried to change the laws concerning small amounts of marijuana, the possession of less than 30 grams. He said those in custody of this small amount should not be arrested as criminals. He suggested a ticket and a fine be imposed on those who were found with amounts used personally. Mayor Daley determined that there was an incredible waste of taxpayer money and police officer time in enforcing the laws that incarcerated those who were small quantity recreational users. Court records show that of the annual 15,000 Chicago inhabitants who are arrested for marijuana use, most of the cases against them were dismissed (St. Pierre, 2004). The suggestion was never followed through.
In response to the accusations that marijuana is a deadly disease, the Journal of the American Medical Association, (2005), published the following facts. In the year 2000, 435,000 people in the United States died from tobacco. "Cigarettes kill more Americans each year than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides, illegal drugs and fires combined" (Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000). Poor diet and lack of exercise contributed to 365,000 deaths. Suicide took the lives of 30,622 individuals. Deaths blamed on marijuana for the same year were non-existent (Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000). No one has ever died as a direct result of smoking marijuana in recorded history.
Secondhand smoke has killed several thousand people annually, as well. Approximately 3000 lung cancer deaths, every year, are attributed to second hand smoke, and annually, between 35,000 and 62,000 heart disease deaths are also the result of second hand smoke (Secondhand Smoke Fact Sheet, 2006). Dr's Hall and Solowij, in their published report Adverse Effects of Cannabis, both concluded the following: "The acute toxicity of cannabinoids is very low. There are no confirmed published cases worldwide of human deaths from cannabis poisoning, and the dose of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) required to produce 50% mortality in rodents is extremely high compared with other commonly used drugs" (pg 2, 1998). The amount of marijuana the rodents who died were subjected to measured more than a human who smokes marijuana daily would ingest. Over the past century, numerous reports from independent government-sponsored commissions have documented the drug's relative harmlessness and recommended the elimination of criminal sanctions for consumption-related offenses (Morgan, Zimmer, 1997). In addition, there have been studies done by G.B. Chesher in Australia on the effects of marijuana use and vehicle accidents. After much study, he determined that there was less chance of having an accident after smoking marijuana than they had expected. The impairment level of those who had smoked marijuana was minimal, and wore off quickly. In addition, those who had been drinking alcohol and then drove were consistently impaired beyond the ability to drive without creating a road crash (Cannabis and Road Safety, 1991).
Another danger of cigarettes that is not a danger with marijuana cigarettes is the potential for a fire. Cigarettes irresponsibly thrown from a window of a moving car in arid terrain can become a grass or forest fire because the tobacco continues to burn inside the paper for several minutes before extinguishing itself. Cigarettes will burn until all the tobacco is gone. Marijuana, on the other hand, does not continue to burn after inhalation has stopped. Therefore, marijuana is less dangerous to the environment or forestry. In Oregon, between 1994 and 2004, 789 forest fires were caused by carelessness of smokers (Smoking is Bad for People, and Just as Bad for Forests, 2004).
Health risks associated with marijuana use are also not as pronounced as those of other, already legal, substances. A new scientific study has determined there is no proof that THC causes lung cancer, as was previously believed. This finding, that marijuana is not carcinogenic, surprised even the scientists who were conducting the study (Beasley, 2006). They had expected a more negative outcome of their investigations.
A study conducted in July of 2003, reviewed by Dr. Michael Smith, concluded that marijuana use does not cause permanent brain damage. This was found to be true in long-term users, and even in daily marijuana smokers. This case study further substantiates the claims that using it as an effective treatment for diseases is not just acceptable, but recommendable. This particular study also investigated impairment levels and memory loss from those who were involved. The study ranged in time from people who had been using marijuana for as little as 3 month to those who had been smoking marijuana cigarettes, daily, for up to thirteen years. They found no measurable difference in memory between those who used marijuana and the control group that did not. The impairment for marijuana use was less than what is found in alcohol use, or other drugs, and did not last as long. They made sure to note the test subjects were all adults, and that the effects on a minor could be different (Heavy Marijuana Use Doesn't Damage Brain, 2003).
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I narcotic. The Controlled Substances Act defines a Schedule I drug as being one which has a high potential for abuse and does not prove to have any medical purpose. This is a definition applies to the United States' interpretation (National Drug Intelligence Center, 2003). Independent studies have shown that there are not only legitimate purposes for medicinal marijuana, but there is also no harm being done by the recreational use of marijuana.
The medicinal uses of marijuana are well known. Some reported that glaucoma pressure was relieved by marijuana use, but there is no substantial evidence to support this theory. There are, however, doctors and scientists who will advocate the use of the drug to help relieve the nausea and discomfort that is inherent in those who suffer from HIV/AIDS and chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Many physicians also prescribe marijuana, or THC based pills for those who suffer severe migraine headaches. The side effects of THC is less dangerous than some of the more traditional medications used in treating migraines. Ten states in the union have determined value in this treatment for patients. Each of these states voted to allow the medicinal use of marijuana within their states. People who have AIDS remark that marijuana is an excellent therapy, as it removes the nausea and loss of appetite that are associated with the wasting syndrome associated with the disease. There are modified versions of the marijuana cigarette and a pill containing THC being prescribed by doctors. In New Mexico, from 1978 to 1986, about 250 patients were prescribed either the THC pill or marijuana cigarettes. The marijuana derivatives were used to curb nausea and vomiting, the result of the prescribed treatment options available for the diseases. Although both were effective, the patients reported that they had better results from the cigarettes than from the pill (Grinspoon, Bakalar, 1997). Doctors have prescribed a synthetic agent which is derived from THC, but patients have been reporting adverse reactions to the synthetic drug that are not occurring with the natural marijuana substance (The FDA and Tile Medical Use of Marijuana, 1994).
Side effects of marijuana are a sense of well being, increased appetite, and sedation. In the treatment of the diseases of cancer, and HIV, these are desired side effects because they provide the patient with a better feeling. In some cases there are those who will experience negative side effects, like paranoia, and drowsiness but this can be true of prescription drugs as well.
All parts of the marijuana plant can be used. It can be processed to be a fiber to make clothing, like cotton. It can be woven to be used as very strong rope. Hemp, another name for marijuana, has been used in the manufacture of handbags, wallets, thermo-insulation materials, and plastic composites for automobiles (Small, Marcus, 2002). In WWII, hemp was grown with the government's blessing. The product was being used to manufacture cords to replace those destroyed in the war effort. With all the usefulness of the stalk of the marijuana plant, along with the medicinal attributes which relieve nausea, vomiting, and increase appetite in weakening patients suffering from certain forms of cancer, AIDS, and even migraine headaches, this could be one of the purest and most natural herbs available today.
Marijuana has been studied, and classified by science and by politicians. The legality of marijuana use has been deterred by the Supreme Court, and passed back to federal and state law-making bodies. Even though the most recent studies have proven that there are fewer risks to using marijuana than there are in drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or even not enough exercise, a blind eye is being turned to legalizing the substance. To convince the government agencies that they do not have the right, or Americans' permission, to dictate every action that a citizen does would take more than an act of Congress (Mears, 2005).
A very large issue involving the legalization of marijuana is the control and enforcement of use. As with alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana should become an adult use product. Children under legal age should not be allowed possession of the drug. However, enforcement of this law would be just as difficult as it is in keeping under aged individuals from acquiring it. The federal laws dictating the enforcement of smoking laws prohibits the use of tobacco products in federal government buildings, in use around child development centers, such as Head Start schools, and in any airplane (Tracking Tobacco Laws, 2005). Because of programs like D.A.R.E. children are being educated in the adverse effects of many drugs, including cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. With the advancement of education like this program, there is a smaller likelihood that a child or teenager will consider starting a habit of any of those vices. Part of enforcement is education. As long as funding is continued in giving children realistic and important information, then there will not be a new onslaught of young people who start using this to look cool or fit in. Cigarette manufacturers like Phillip Morris are spending billions of dollars on education of the youth of America. If marijuana cigarettes were legalized, then the manufacturers of it would also have to provide the same kinds of funding to continue educating children. Financially, this would help the police departments, and other organizations that are trying to protect the youth for tomorrow.
Who decides the United States government should have all knowing power over the decisions and personal choices of the American people? Why would Congress believe with arrogance that Americans are incapable of rational thought processes and intelligent choices? If overeating is not good for someone and can lead to death, or if tobacco kills more people in a year than any other substance, why is it that marijuana is illegal, and those other activities are not. Considering studies and scientific findings have all shown marijuana to be less harmful than either of those habits how can government not see? Should police start arresting the obese for their own good and putting them away in "fat camp?" Maybe the next time a smoker coughs, they should be hauled away to rehabilitation for emphysema. The government needs to acknowledge the citizens of the United States are intelligent, rational, thinking individuals. All people have the innate ability to control their consumption of any substance.
When the United States Congress acknowledges that Americans can make their own decisions then Americans will have more confidence in the government. This would then improve relations between government and the people. Adults do not want to have someone tell them what is good for them. They do not want to be told what they can and cannot do. Logically, there are laws that are necessary, like child abuse, murder, burglary and such, but smoking marijuana does not harm anyone. It has been proven by government funded studies, and independent scientists. Just the fact that the government is not interfering in the lives of the people of the United States will help to heal the country's impression of itself.
The presumption that legalizing marijuana would cause more people to use and abuse it, is unfounded. Governments cannot base the presumptions on educated fact because there are no facts to substantiate their claims. Many people do not drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes, even though it is within the law to do so. Many current marijuana smokers do not accelerate to stronger narcotics, nor do most commit violent crimes as a result. Marijuana is not as dangerous as argued by the government or scientists, and it should be given a chance to become a legal, but still controlled, substance. The medicinal benefits outweigh the harm presumed by Congress. Taxation of marijuana would help to resolve many state and federal financial problems. Legalizing marijuana would solve many problems that are abundant in the United States today. When it becomes legal, which will likely be when the next generation is in power in the House and Congress, the United States will be on the road to a healthier nation, financially, personally and politically.