American Drug Policy Research Paper

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Drug Policy

American Drug Policy: Marijuana

Marijuana is one of the most vilified drugs in history and it very difficult to see just why this is so. The United States used to have a thriving agricultural concern that consisted of hemp (marijuana) famers producing plants for their fibers and seeds. The fibers were used in products such as rope and paper and the seeds were used to make oil which served as a lubricant and a food additive. Unfortunately, people became aware of its psychotropic properties and growing marijuana for any reason was banned. This ban also coincided with the introduction of products that were superior to those made of hemp. The drug usage properties of marijuana had been known for centuries and it had been used in religious ceremonies and as an additive to medicines, but it could also be used in quantities that made the user completely incapacitated for periods of time. Young people began getting the message from school and community organizations that this drug was especially bad, and that began to permeate the society. The sixties counter culture which was fueled, in large part by marijuana, did not help its case.

Because the wrong ideas were spread about the drug such as that it was addictive, made people into crazed maniacs and completely ate away people's brains, it began to be more of a crime than many others which normally would have been considered worse. Because of this, a war on drugs was instituted and the United States began spending billions of dollars to stop those that grew it in the United States and keep other from importing it. This "war" has cost the United States in many ways, but it has caused the U.S. To become the most penalized nation on Earth. The cost of this could be mitigated if marijuana was legalized and taxed as alcohol and tobacco are. The purpose of this paper is to show through the history of marijuana use and the subsequent unsuccessful war on drugs that the costs of the drug remaining illegal are not worth the benefits many believe its remaining illegal bring.

Hemp History

Hemp has been a cash crop for reasons other than the obvious reasons for many years. "For centuries, the plant species Cannabis sativa has been a source of fiber and oilseed used worldwide to produce a variety of industrial and consumer products" (Rawson). The primary product made from hemp is rope, or a rope-like substance, the used to be used on board ships, but is now used for everything from clothing to, again, rope. Though it was a product that was grown in large quantities in the United States at one time, its utility was limited when petroleum-based substances such as nylon were introduced. But, it is still grown in more than 30 nations worldwide, and "About 14 of those sell part of their production on the world market" (Rawson).

The plant was grown in the United States in great quantities from the time of the colonial period up through the end of the nineteenth century (Rawson). Unfortunately people discovered the psychotropic effects of the flowers and seeds, and 33 states had banned the production of the plant by 1933 (Rawson). Although the laws banned citizens from growing the plant people still were able to buy products such as "carpeting, home furnishings, construction materials, auto parts, textiles, and paper. Hemp seed, an oilseed, likewise has many uses, including industrial oils, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food" (Rawson), until 1937 when Congress passed the first law that banned the production of hemp as a recreational drug.

Farmers were still allowed to grow the plant for its industrial uses during World War II because of the need for rope and other products made from the fiber and the seeds, but soon after, due to "competition from synthetic fibers, the Marihuana Tax Act, and increasing public anti-drug sentiment" (Rawson), the last fields planted for industrial uses were harvested in 1958.

Recently there has been a renewed interest among the public in natural fibers that have the strength and utility of hemp and are naturally grown rather than concocted in a lab. Rawson reports that farmers who have not previously had the luxury of a compatible rotation partner for crops such as wheat and tobacco have shown interest in hemp as a possibility. However, hemp production in the United States is still controlled by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and though some states have passed laws which allow everything from small studies to be conducted to actual use for medical purposes, the Drug Enforcement Agency still has power over these state entities and does not allow the substances use except in very controlled and regulated environments. It is possible to produce and buy hemp articles such as clothing, but these are also highly regulated.

Drug Comparison

Marijuana is most often compared to alcohol and tobacco because these are legal substances people are able to grow, manufacture, distribute and purchase in the United States. Although there are restrictions on both products and they are taxed exceedingly with, so-called, sin taxes, they are still widely available to the public. The reason that these three substances are widely compared is because they all offer a mild "high" that can be easily compared medically.

Because of the somewhat similar impairment of alcohol and tetrahydroncannabinol THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), studies have been conducted using one of the most common actions that people perform that is affected greatly by alcohol and THC impairment -- driving. In a 2009 study, Sewell, Poling and Sofuoglu examined the effects of the two drugs to determine the exact nature of the impairment and if one was worse than the other. The findings suggest that the two have opposite effects and are most dangerous when paired. The researchers stated that impairments from cannabis "are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions than with more complex tasks that require conscious control, whereas with alcohol produces an opposite pattern of impairment" (Sewell, Poling & Sofuoglu). The reason for this difference seems to be in the way that the drug is absorbed, but it is also evident when observing individuals under the effects of either. People who are impaired by marijuana move slower and are unable to concentrate in simple tasks, but when something requires deep concentration they are able to accomplish it. Alcohol takes away an individual's ability to concentrate and use fine motor skills, but they are able to use gross motor functions at a slower pace. However, the study did find that though alcohol consumption has definitively been linked to traffic accidents, cannabis consumption has not. The real danger the researchers say is in the dosage of the marijuana; something that is much better controlled, presently, in retail alcohol (Sewell, Poling & Sofuoglu).

When tobacco use and marijuana are compared it is the evidence produced from the dangers due to smoking the two substances. The act of smoking in and of itself is harmful because it damages the lungs just because it is a dense foreign substance. However, tobacco has proven to be much more deadly than any other legal drug due to the number of known deaths attributed to it each year, as many as 400,000 (Fish 90). The reason people say that marijuana in this instance is that, in its current form, it produces up to three times the amount of tar and chemicals as tobacco cigarettes (Husak 69). However, this is not the refined form that the product would take if it was legalized and controlled. Tobacco actually has more of these substances before it is processed for sale.

It is known that tobacco use kills 400,000 people per year, but there has been no evidence that THC has the same addictive properties as nicotine. Alcohol withdrawal is acknowledged as the worst form of withdrawal because the removal of the substance can cause death because it has become so intertwined with the systems of the body. This is not true of marijuana. Comparing the three yields that marijuana, if controlled, would likely be the least dangerous of the three.

War on Drugs

It is a fact that the supposed war on drugs has not had the effect that the government envisioned that it would have. It is interesting to note also that this was not an issue before the 1970's (Lynch 23). Of course, there were state and federal laws prohibiting the use of certain drugs, but there was not the concerted effort to wage a type of war on the people who use drugs (Husak 44). Many believe that it has been a failed experiment or method because it has done little to eliminate illicit drugs of any kind, it has cost the taxpayers a great deal of money, and it sometimes seems to have been a concerted effort to denigrate certain races.

It seems that the war on drugs has been somewhat successful because the media reports how police have seized large…[continue]

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