Recent ballot initiatives in states like California and Oregon asking for the decriminalization of marijuana use reveals a growing public acceptance of marijuana. The perception that marijuana is not dangerous has made drug enforcement even more difficult. Indeed, the debate over marijuana goes beyond health concerns, and touches issues such as crime and privacy as well.
This paper examines the debate to legalize marijuana. The first part of the paper examines the arguments of the pro-marijuana side, focusing on those who argue that the drug can have medicinal purposes. The next part then examines the potential dangers of legalized marijuana use, both to the individual and to public health in general. In the conclusion, the paper argues that marijuana use is not a "victimless" crime. The potential dangers that marijuana present to individual and public health are best upheld by keeping marijuana illegal.
Prohibitions against the legalized use of marijuana are thus seen as a state's infringement on a person's privacy. For many people, there is little distinction between marijuana use and smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol. However, even though marijuana use is a "victimless" crime, citizens who choose to exercise their individual civil rights to smoke marijuana are harassed, arrested and jailed. These drug policies, charge critics, are overly punitive. Arresting individual users who smoke marijuana in the privacy of their homes are ultimately ineffective in the government's "war against drugs."
For marijuana activists, the government's "war against drugs" is nothing more than a targeting of middle-class citizens who are an otherwise law-abiding segment of the population. Unlike drug cartels and big-time drug dealers, individual marijuana users do not profit from distributing drugs. The marijuana laws thus only serve to ruin the lives and careers of ordinary Americans, without addressing the production side of the drug business (Stroup 57).
Second, in place of punitive arrest policies, marijuana activists propose a system recognizing the legal, responsible use of marijuana. This involves several important components. For example, marijuana consumption should be allowed only for adults. As in alcohol, people under the influence of marijuana should not be allowed to drive. Users should be trusted to know their limits and not consume marijuana to the point of addiction. They should also always remember to respect the rights of others, especially while under the drug's influence (Stroup 59-60).
Supporters of this "responsible use" policy believe that this system addresses many of the issues raised against legalization without trampling on the civil rights and privacy of competent, law-abiding adults who choose to consume marijuana.
The final and most powerful argument for legalization concerns the potential of marijuana as a medicinal drug. As with other pharmacological agent, marijuana can alter body chemistry. Those who argue for legalization maintain that marijuana's pharmacological properties make it a valid form of treatment for a host of illnesses. People suffering from glaucoma, for example, state that smoking marijuana alleviates the pressure in the eyeball that leads to damages in the optic nerve. Because of this potential, ophthalmologists were legally allowed to prescribe marijuana for glaucoma until 1991, when new glaucoma drugs were introduced. However, because many of these new drugs have side effects, some ophthalmologists believe that marijuana should be allowed, at least to augment other glaucoma treatment methods ("Marijuana as a Medicine").
For cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, marijuana also proves valuable in reducing nausea. Cancer sufferers also report that marijuana indirectly aids in their recovery, by lifting the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that many feel in the face of an overwhelming disease ("Marijuana as a Medicine")..
These arguments for marijuana legalization, however, ignore several important facts. First, marijuana is a drug. Advocates have tried to paint marijuana as a benign drug, especially when compared to methamphetamines or cocaine. However, as with any pharmacological agent, marijuana has the potential to cause adverse physiological effects on the body. For example, the effects of marijuana on the brain are similar to the effects of drugs like nicotine and heroin. Marijuana triggers the release of dopamine, pleasure-inducing chemicals, in the brain. Over time, sustained marijuana use leads a person to become dependent on the drug (Wickelgren 28).
In addition, people who try to stop using marijuana often go through a strong withdrawal stage. Neuropharmacologists have observed that addicted people who try to stop using marijuana experience a surge in their corticotrophin-release factor (CRF) levels, leading to stress and anxiety (Wickelgren 26). This indicates an altered body chemistry,…