Legalization Of Marijuana Essay

Length: 2948 words

Thesis Marijuana is a substance that has become very much a part of American culture. Nearly 65 million Americans have either used it occasionally or regularly. The use of marijuana hit mainstream America about thirty years ago and it has been accepted by a large segment of society ever since (Rosenthal 16). The debate on whether this substance should be legalized or not remains a very hot topic today. Despite government efforts to isolate and eliminate its use, it is clear that the use of marijuana is still very popular. There is an obvious problem concerning marijuana today. Governments on all three levels: local, state, and federal are trying desperately to find an appropriate policy involving marijuana. National polls show that more than 70% of the American people, from both ends of the political spectrum, support controlled access to marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Despite fierce opposition from the federal government, voters in California and Arizona passed ballot initiatives in the fall of 1996 favoring the legalization of medicinal marijuana (Randall 33). If support for marijuana at least as a medicinal remedy is so high, then why have only a few states taken steps to change their policy? There

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are several reasons why marijuana remains illegal. Mainly, it is a political issue kicked around by certain special interest groups. Some of these groups perceive marijuana as a threat to the home, tearing families apart and causing them to abandon traditional values. However these groups usually are not legitimate areas of legislation. The more powerful groups have other, more practical reasons for keeping marijuana illegal. Among the most powerful of these groups are the combined law enforcement-judiciary-penal systems. This group sees the elimination of marijuana laws as a threat to their jobs.

Add to this group defense lawyers, who stand to make millions of dollars defending marijuana offenders. Consciously or not, they support anti-marijuana laws (Rosenthal 2). Another interest group includes the scientists whose marijuana research is funded by the government. If marijuana were legalized, they would lose millions of dollars in research grants intended to prove the detrimental effects of the substance. Two other unrelated and very influential groups are the liquor lobby and pharmaceutical companies. Their spending is usually very secretive and not publicized very much. Legalization of a competing product that can be produced with relative ease by anyone with access to a plot of land would cut deeply into their profits. And the drug companies want control, rather than just a ban, for they know the medicinal benefits of marijuana (Rosenthal 9).

Therefore the major reason marijuana still remains illegal is that special interest groups are blocking legislation by extensive lobbying. Clearly it is seen that many people support its use, at least for medical reasons. It is obvious that the current policy for marijuana is not working very efficiently. The government spends billions of dollars every year to stop its use. This leads to the opening of a very extensive black market for marijuana, because the drug is still in high demand. With the black market comes all the crime and violent acts that create a new problem of overcrowding prison populations. In effect, the government does not really solve the marijuana problem; instead it just creates a new one in its place. Present Policy The present policy on marijuana is that it is classified as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act.

This law established criteria for determining which substances should be controlled, mechanisms for reducing the availability of controlled drugs, and a structure of penalties for illegal distribution and possession of controlled drugs (Roffman 4). The criteria for Schedule I substances are: The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse, the drug or other substance is not currently accepted for use in medical treatment in the United States, and the drug or other substance has not been proven safe for use under medical supervision. Along with marijuana, hashish, and THC, drugs listed in Schedule I are heroin, LSD, mescaline, peyote, and many other hallucinogens. This makes it illegal for anyone to buy, sell, grow, or possess any amount of marijuana anywhere in the United States.

State laws vary in terms of penalties issued. Under New York State Law, a first possession of up to twenty-five grams of marijuana in private results in a $100 fine. If there is a second possession of the same amount, the fine is increased to $200. The cultivation of marijuana results in a $1000 fine and up to one-year imprisonment. The same applies to the sale of marijuana. There are harsher penalties issued if the offender is convicted of possession, cultivation, or sale of marijuana in public. Possession of marijuana in public results in a $500 fine and up to three months imprisonment. Cultivation results in up to one-year imprisonment and a $1000 fine. Sale of marijuana in public can result in a four-year imprisonment. Penalties become harsher depending upon the amount of marijuana in possession, cultivation, or sale.

The apex is reached at a fifteen-year imprisonment with the possession, cultivation, or sale of over ten pounds of marijuana or more (Roffman 43). Source and Ingredients Marijuana is defined as the mixture of leaves, stems, and flowering tops of the hemp plant, in the genus Cannabis. There are three species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The hemp plant now grows wild throughout most of the world and can be cultivated in any area with a hot season. Some 421 chemicals in 18 different chemical classes have been detected in the hemp plant. It synthesizes at least 61 distinct substances called cannabinoids that are not found in any other genus of plants (Randall 47). The most significant of these substances is 1-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, an oily, water-insoluble liquid. In popular writing it is often called simply THC. The THC content of marijuana generally varies from 0.5% to 6%. Patterns of Use There are many different cannabis preparations that are widely used to obtain effects.

Cannabis may be either smoked or taken by mouth. However the same dose of THC is about three times as effective when smoked as when ingested (Randall 48). In the United States marijuana is usually smoked in the form of a hand-rolled cigarette (“joint” or “reefer”), but it is also smoked in a variety of pipes. Until the 1960’s the pattern in the United States was one of intermittent use of marijuana on social occasions by a relatively small number of young adults, together with regular use by some jazz musicians, urban minority groups, and Mexican Americans in the Southwest (Roffman 51). In the following years, however, marijuana use increased sharply. By 1979, 68% of young adults 18 to 25 had tried marijuana at least once, 35% had used it in the month just before the survey, and about 2/3 of current users reported using it five or more times per month. About 9% of users reported use on a daily basis.

The use of marijuana also increased sharply in other countries throughout the world. Psychological and Physiological Effects THC produces its actions primarily on the nervous system and on the heart and blood vessels. The effects depend on the dose, the route of administration, and on the degree of tolerance that has developed. Because individuals vary in the way they inhale the smoke and because marijuana varies in THC content, the amount of active THC that reaches the bloodstream during smoking varies greatly (Potter 110). Generally, smoking a marijuana cigarette with a 2% THC content (equivalent to about 20 mg taken orally) produces changes in mood, mental abilities, coordination, blood pressure, and pulse. The most common result is the state commonly referred to as a “high”, including an increased sense of well-being (euphoria), relaxation, and sleepiness.

Short-term memory is impaired, and the capacity to carry out goal-directed problems requiring multiple and mental steps is reduced. Users may experience feelings of strangeness and unreality (Potter 112). Sights and sounds may take on new qualities. The sense of time is often altered to that minutes may seem like hours. Balance and stability are impaired even with low doses, as are complex behaviors (perception, information processing) involved in driving (Potter 113). Low doses also produce increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and a reddening of the eyes due to dilation of conjunctival vessels. Higher doses can produce hallucinations, delusions, and unrealistic suspiciousness and feeling of persecution. Anxiety increases, and a state of panic may occur. Thinking becomes confused and disorganized. Because the onset of the drug effect is rapid when marijuana is smoked, most users learn to avoid overdose by taking only as many inhalations as are required to produce the desired “high” (Potter 113).

Smoking high doses of marijuana or hashish over long periods of time produces severe bronchitis, and the “tar” produced when marijuana is smoked is more potent than the “tar” from tobacco in causing cancer in animals. Medical Uses The pharmacological effects of the hemp plant have been known since ancient times. A Chinese pharmacopoeia compiled nearly 2,000 years ago recommended it for treating a number of disorders, and it was used in India before the 10th century AD (Cohen 86). There are no currently approved uses for marijuana in the United States, except for two states California and Arizona, which have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Clinical research has shown that THC is effective in reducing the nausea that cancer patients experience when they are treated with chemotherapy.

Marijuana is also believed to stimulate appetite. In asthma patients, several studies have shown that THC acts as a bronchodilator and reserves bronchial constriction (Rosenthal 68). In treating epilepsy, marijuana is used to prevent both grande mal and other epileptic seizures in some patients. Marijuana also limits the muscle pain and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis and it relieves tremor and unsteady gait. Lastly, marijuana has been clinically shown to be effective in relieving muscle spasm and spasticity (Rosenthal 69). History of Marijuana Laws The hemp plant was once a widely cultivated plant in the New World by settlers. It has been known for centuries that the fiber from the hemp plant is very useful in making ropes. Therefore the cultivation of the hemp plant was encouraged and much needed.

The first law concerning the hemp plant was passed in 1619 by the Virginia Assembly, urging farmers to grow the crop for its fiber. There was virtually no significant legislation passed concerning the hemp plant until the 1900’s. It was at this time when American attitudes towards Mexicans became hostile. Marijuana obtained a foul reputation when Mexican peasants crossed the border into Texas. It was widely used by Mexican peasants as an intoxicant. The Texas police claimed that marijuana caused these Mexican settlers to commit violent crimes. Therefore in 1914, the first ban on possession of marijuana was passed in El Paso, Texas (Potter 97). Many other states followed Texas, and in 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. This law made the possession of marijuana illegal anywhere in the United States. During the McCarthy era, the Boggs Acts were passed to define mandatory minimums for the possession of marijuana.

Congress moved to an even stronger position in 1956 by lengthening these mandatory minimum sentences. Anti-marijuana feelings continued to grow, and state laws often imposed stricter penalties than the federal penalties (Potter 98). In the 1960’s, however, a strange phenomenon began to occur. For the first time in history, marijuana use began to rise amongst the white middle class. Many mandatory sentences were called to be repealed. This was seen in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Most of the states followed the federal government, and the possession of marijuana was decriminalized. However in the 1980’s the government once again changed its mind, with the passage of the Anti-Abuse Act of 1986, which once again imposed mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of drug offenses (Potter 101).

The last major piece of legislation passed by the federal government (not state governments) was in 1996, which stated that any American convicted of a marijuana felony may no longer receive federal welfare or food stamps (Potter 101). How a Bill Becomes a Law The ultimate goal for a special interest group would be to have a law passed by the federal government either legalizing marijuana, or keeping marijuana illegal. A bill or proposal for a law can originate in either the Senate or the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. Both houses must pass the law in its exact form, and then the president must sign it. If a group wants marijuana to be legalized on the federal level, it must contact a specific committee within the House or Senate. The proposal would go to a highly specialized sub-committee within the committee itself for hearings, revisions, and approval. Next the bill would again go back to the original committee for any further revisions.

If the whole committee approves the bill, then it goes before the Rules committee. This is the committee that is responsible for setting actions for a debate. After the debate, if the bill is approved, then it is submitted to the Senate. In the Senate, similar proceedings would occur and leadership would schedule action and the bill would be debated. If the Senate approves it, any differences are worked out by conference with the House. The final version of the bill would finally go back to both the Senate and the House for approval. Then it will go to the President who may either opt to sign the bill or veto it. If the bill is signed, it becomes a law, and it is enforced throughout the nation. If the President vetoes the bill, Congress may override the veto with a two-thirds majority in each house. This would then turn the bill into a law.

Advocates for Legalization (Interview with Charles Garner) A major advocate for the legalization of marijuana is the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF). It is an independent, non-profit organization with over 23,000 supporters that publicizes alternatives to current drug strategies. The current annual budget for DPF is just over $3 million. DPF believes that the current policy on drugs is not working: It erodes individual rights, is extremely expensive, creates a new class of criminals, subsidizes a violent black market, does not control drug use trends, and ignores the health aspect of drug use. The major objectives of DPF are: ? Harm reduction: policies that help drug users to help themselves, such as needle exchange programs, which can lower the risk of spreading deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Decriminalization: selectively enforcing the laws on the books to focus on major drug offenders, as in Holland. Medicalization: allowing doctors to prescribe otherwise illegal drugs to patients under certain conditions, as is the case now in Arizona and California, and also allowing doctors to maintain an addict as in Great Britain and Switzerland. Legalization: making drugs available to adults in a regulated market, similar to U.S. alcohol laws. DPF tries to propose its solutions by means of: ? Public education: promoting alternatives to the drug war in its publications and by providing information to the public, the media, and government officials. Conferences: DPF hosts an annual conference for the public, policy-makers, public health workers, and medical and legal professionals.

This ranges from media seminars to special interest group training sessions. Public Policy: Through its Public Policy Office, DPF seeks to change America’s drug laws by monitoring and analyzing Congressional legislation, informing the public and DPF membership about legislation through Action Alerts and the monthly newsletter on legislation. Grants: to fund a variety of programs and projects in the field of drug policy. Examples include needle exchange programs, pioneering drug treatment services, as well as some research and advocacy projects. Advocates Against Legalization (Interview with Jeffery Kluger) Drug Watch International (DWI) is a volunteer, non-profit information network and advocacy organization, which promotes the creation of healthy drug-free cultures in the world, and it opposes the legalization of drugs.

It has about 13,000 members in 15 countries worldwide with a budget of $1.3 million annually. The organization upholds a comprehensive approach to drug issues involving prevention, education, intervention/treatment, and law enforcement/interdiction. In its mission statement, DWI writes: The illegal or harmful use of psychoactive or addictive drugs is a major threat to all world communities and future generations. The mission of DWI is to provide accurate information on both illicit and harmful psychoactive substances, promoting sound drug policies based on scientific research, and opposing efforts to legalize or decriminalize drugs. The major methods used by DWI are: ? Support clear messages and standards of no illegal use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and no abuse of legal drugs or substances for adults or youth.

Support comprehensive and coordinated approaches that include prevention, education, law enforcement, and treatment in addressing issues regarding alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Support strong laws and meaningful legal penalties that hold users and dealers accountable for their actions. Support international treaties and agreements, including international sanctions and penalties against drug trafficking, and oppose attempts to weaken international drug policies and laws. Support adherence to scientific research standards and ethics that are prescribed by the world scientific community and professional associations in conducting studies and review on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Support efforts to prevent availability and use of drugs, and oppose policies and programs that accept drug use based erroneously on reduction or minimization of harm.


Abel, I. L. Marihuana : The First Twelve Thousand Years. New York : McGraw Hill, 1982. Garner, Charles. Personal Interview. May 21, 1998. Kluger, Jeffery. Personal Interview. May 16, 1998. Nahas, Gabriel G. Marihuana, Biological Effects. Illionois : Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1986. Potter, Beverly. The Healing Magic of Cannabis. California : Ronin Publishings, Inc., 1998. Randall, Robert C. The Patients Fight for Medicinal Pot. New York : Thunders Mouth Press, 1998. Roffman, Roger A. Marijuana as Medicine. Washington : Madrona Publishers, Inc., 1982. Rosenthal, Ed. Why Marijuana Should Be Legal. New York : Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1996.

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