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Decriminalization of Marijuana
Ever since marijuana was declared an illegal drug in the U.S.A. By the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 under dubious circumstances, there has been a realization among various groups of people that it was a mistake. However, almost 70 years on, and despite a watertight case in support of its decriminalization, marijuana -- a drug which is arguably less harmful than tobacco and alcohol -- continues to be illegal in the U.S. Of A. In this essay I shall argue why marijuana should be decriminalized without further delay by demonstrating that it is a relatively harmless drug and explaining the benefits of legalizing the drug.
Before I proceed to present arguments in support of decriminalization of marijuana let us ponder over two important questions: a) whether marijuana is a sufficiently dangerous, harmful or addictive drug to justify its prohibition? b) Has the prohibition of marijuana resulted in discouraging its use?
Starting with the second question first. The answer to the question has to be a resounding NO! In 1937, when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, very few Americans had even heard about the drug. This lack of knowledge about marijuana is reflected in an editorial in New York Times in 1919 that stated "No one here in New York uses this drug marijuana .We had better prohibit its use before it gets here." Today, about 100 million Americans admit to having tried marijuana at least once.
Moreover, the availability of marijuana has in no way diminished due to the prohibition and has been easily available to all sections of the U.S. population including high school students despite decades of the official "War on Drugs." Why then was the drug prohibited? One of the reasons was the hostility felt at Mexican immigrants who were the main users of marijuana at the time towards. A supporter for Texas' first marijuana law stated this rather crudely on the Senate floor by declaring, "All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy." Period. Who can argue with such sterling logic?
Least Addictive Drug
Now let us see whether marijuana is a sufficiently dangerous, harmful or addictive drug to justify its prohibition. Most credible reports about marijuana have consistently revealed over the years that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and nicotine. Even a World Health Organization (WHO) Study, which was scheduled to be published in December 1997 but was suppressed by its top management due to political pressure, had reported that Cannabis "fared better in five out of seven comparisons of long-term damage to health." ("High Anxieties," 1998) As for its "addictiveness," In a 1994 study, Dr. Jack E. Henningfield of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Dr. Neal L. Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco ranked six psychoactive substances on five criteria covering addictiveness such as Withdrawal, Reinforcement, Tolerance, Dependence, Intoxication. In most of the criteria marijuana was found to be less addictive than alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. (Quoted in "Study Compares ..., " 1994)
Relatively Harmless Substance
As for the myth about marijuana being a dangerous drug: nothing can be further from the truth. For example, there has not been a single case of anyone ever having died of a marijuana overdose. On the other hand, a legal intoxicant like alcohol results in the death of about 5,000 persons every year due to overdose. The reason for this is that the ratio of cannabinoids (the chemicals in marijuana that causes intoxication) necessary for intoxication is 40,000:1 while that for alcohol is generally between 4:1 and 10:1. ("Answers To ..., " Para on Health Risk Myths) As such marijuana is one of the least toxic substances and would have to be consumed in physically impossible quantities to prove fatal.
It has often been erroneously reported that marijuana causes brain damage. This too is a myth that is not supported by any solid evidence. There is no doubt that marijuana is psychoactive because it stimulates certain brain receptors, but unlike alcohol, it does not produce toxins that kill brain cells or these receptors. An analysis of 15 previous studies carried out in 2003 found no evidence of permanent brain damage due to long-term and even daily marijuana use.
Furthermore, unlike tobacco smoking that leads to cardiovascular problems, an impaired immune system and birth defects; marijuana use is free of such negative side-effects.
The only area health areas in which marijuana smoking has been known to have negative effect are respiratory problems and possible development of cancer. However, it is a well-established fact that regular marijuana users normally smoke far less (just 3-4 joints in a day) than tobacco users who smoke up to 20 cigarettes a day.
This reason and the proven bronchial-dilatory properties of THC
(which facilitates the in the quick clearance of smoke from the lungs) means that even these injurious effects of marijuana are far less than that of tobacco-smoking. Such harmful bodily effects can be further reduced (even eliminated) if cannabis / marijuana is smoked through a water-filled bong that cools the smoke and filters some of the carcinogens in marijuana smoke; or if marijuana is eaten, used in a drink or inhaled as an aerosol. It would be possible to introduce / market marijuana in such less harmful forms as marijuana foods, drinks, and pills only if marijuana is legalized.
Other Myths about Marijuana
Other long-standing but mostly false myths about marijuana include the oft-repeated charge that it acts as a 'gateway' drug: a precursor to the use of harder drugs; or that contributes to crime and is responsible for increased driving accidents. These presumed effects have often been cited as sufficient reason for keeping the ban on marijuana intact. Research has shown that most of these 'charges' against marijuana were either based on prejudiced and unreliable studies or have been unduly exaggerated. For example, the 'gateway' theory is disproved by statistics which show that after the legalizing of marijuana in Holland in the 70's, heroin and cocaine use declined substantially, despite a slight increase in marijuana use. If the 'gateway' theory were true, the use of hard drugs should have gone up rather than down. Similarly, the linkage between marijuana and crime is absolutely false -- if anything marijuana actually lessens aggressiveness in the user. Only "driving under the influence of marijuana" could be hazardous but it is still not as problematic as drunken driving
Medicinal Use of Marijuana
The earliest use of marijuana as a medicine has been traced to China in 2737 BC, and several other world cultures have recognized its therapeutic use at various stages of their history.
More recently, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences carried out a review and analysis of health-related effects of marijuana in 1980. It recognized marijuana's therapeutic potential in treating glaucoma, controlling the severe nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, as an anticonvulsant, and as an effective muscle relaxant among other uses. The IOM highly recommended further research to determine the full therapeutic potential of this drug. (Mathre, para on "The therapeutic value of marijuana")
The continued illogical criminalization of Marijuana in the U.S. is preventing the exploitation of its medicinal potential. However, several other countries, most notably the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada, have recognized the medicinal uses of the drug and even authorized its availability as a prescription drug in pharmacies. Other European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, France and Germany as well as Australia and New Zealand are considering allowing the medical use and/or relaxing the punishment for cannabis use. (Bandow).
The Cost of Enforcing the Marijuana Ban
Perhaps the most telling argument against the continuing criminalization of marijuana lies in the economic cost of enforcing the ban. The monetary cost of the war on marijuana to the tax payers has been estimated by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) Foundation as nearly $12 billion annually. The cost of this mad-cap war on marijuana is horrendous not only in terms of the wastage of the tax-payers' money but also in diverting the law enforcing agencies efforts and energies that would be better served in fighting the spiraling crime rates in the country's cities. There have been nearly 6.5 million marijuana arrests in the United States since 1993
. This number far exceeds the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
It seems that drug policy makers and enforcers have failed to learn the lessons of Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. There are such clear-cut downsides to following the policy of prohibition that it boggles the mind why the U.S. government stubbornly refuses to see the light. Apart from the 'direct' estimated cost of $12 billion that would be saved by legalizing marijuana, the government would also be able to collect a considerable amount by way of taxes. It is almost certain that the present street price of marijuana, which largely consists of risk premium, would fall…[continue]
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