Marijuana is one of the most popular recreational drugs in the United States, exceeded in popularity by only alcohol and tobacco. Recent research reveals that "more than 70 million Americans have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives, and that 18-20 million have smoked during the last year (NORML, 1999)."
According to R. Keith Stroup, Esq., the executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML, 1999), "Like most Americans, the vast majority of these millions of marijuana smokers are otherwise law-abiding citizens who work hard, raise families and contribute to their communities..." A national survey revealed that 32% of voting adults in the U.S. have acknowledged having smoked marijuana at some point in their lives.
The legalization of marijuana has been a topic of controversy for several years. Many proponents of the drug argue that marijuana should be legalized for both medical and recreational use. Others say that it should at least be decriminalized, meaning that the penalty for growing or possession of marijuana would be a simple fine, rather than jail time.
This paper aims to examine the controversial aspects of legalizing marijuana, in an effort to present a strong argument in favor of legalizing the drug. The paper will present six valid reasons for legalizing the drug, as well as background statements to support these arguments.
Reasons for Legalizing Marijuana
There are many reasons that can be listed in support of legalizing marijuana. It is a common belief that marijuana is not a dangerous drug and many people use it responsibly. Responsible use of marijuana, according to the NORML Board of Directors (NORML, 1999), means that: only adults use it; users do not drive under the influence; users resist abuse; and that the rights of others are respected. Still, despite these factors, many citizens have been arrested and penalized for possession of marijuana.
According to William F. Buckley, "In 1967, all drug arrests came to 121,000. Of these, hit marijuana arrests were one-half, 61,000. In 1991, all drug arrests were 1 million, marijuana 285,000 (Turnpike.net, 1999)" Although marijuana is more dangerous of a drug than tobacco, it is also used much less than tobacco (University of Michigan-Dearbourne, 1999). The average tobacco smoker smokes about one pack of cigarettes per day, which is about twenty cigarettes, while the average marijuana smoker smokes about two joints a day. Greg Norris, the author of the essay "The Issues at Hand: Legalization of Marijuana," says (University of Michigan-Dearbourne, 1999):
Thus, marijuana contains more of the dangerous cancer causing chemicals than tobacco does. Although this would constitute marijuana as being more "dangerous," but in the society we live in today and the amount of tobacco that tobacco-users consume, this belief is on the contrary. Due to the smaller frequency use of product by marijuana-users, tobacco has definitely been proven the "killer" in today's society." (www.umd.umich.edu)
In comparison to alcohol, marijuana is the lesser detriment." (University of Michigan-Dearbourne, 1999) When viewing the situation in this light, marijuana is no more a dangerous drug than either tobacco or alcohol, and should be legalized for this reason.
In addition, marijuana provides a variety of medical benefits to people suffering from illness, injury or disease. Legalizing marijuana to treat terminally ill patients is simply the right thing to do. The drug helps AIDS victims by stimulating their appetites so they can fight off deadly emaciation. In addition, glaucoma sufferers who have used marijuana have stated that the drug has prevented them from going blind, and cancer patients say that it alleviates the severe nausea that often results from chemotherapy.
From the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic, opponents of medicinal use of marijuana have argued that it is harmful to people with AIDS due to the adverse effects on the immune system. This stemmed from unconfirmed reports in the early 1970's that marijuana weakened the body's response to disease. Several researchers have since been unable to uncover supporting evidence that cannabinoids harm or reduce the number of T-cells in the body. Still, despite these arguments, in 1992, the Food and Drug Administration officially approved the use of synthetic THC (Marinol), marijuana's primary active ingredient, in the treatment of AIDS wasting syndrome. This demonstrates that the benefits of marijuana are greater than drawbacks, particularly for medical purposes, so it should be legalized.
If marijuana were legalized, people who use it for medicinal reasons would be less burdened by the potential consequences of getting caught by the authorities in possession of the drug. For instance, Cheryl Miller, a 51-year-old woman, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1971 and relied on standard prescription drugs for her condition for years (MPP, 1998). Due to several harmful side effects, she was forced to stop taking some of these prescription drugs. In 1992, Cheryl's neurologist prescribed Marinol. She found that the pill helped but discovered that eating marijuana was better. Because Cheryl is unable to move her arms, her husband Jim fed her the marijuana in her doctor's office. Jim was subsequently arrested for helping Cheryl.
Cases like this show that marijuana should be legalized. Patients like Cheryl enjoy many benefits from marijuana and have every right to be relieved of their suffering (MPP, 1998). Cheryl eats marijuana to avoid the harm that marijuana smoke may cause in the respiratory system. Unlike the THC pill, marijuana contains 60 other active chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, several of which have been shown to be effective at treating pain and spasticity. However, the punitive laws make Cheryl, and other medicinal marijuana users, afraid to use it.
During the 1960's, Humbolt County, was in a state of recession (Rosenthal and Kubby, 2003). The county's main form of industry, which was logging, was diminishing, and the county faced depression. However, in just twenty years, Humbolt's economy flourished, as the result of a rise in marijuana growing.
After the government began cracking down on drug enforcement in the area, the county reentered its state of depression (Rosenthal and Kubby, 2003). This case shows that while the legalization of marijuana may have some adverse affects on the economy, the benefits of legalization far outweigh the cons.
The legalization of marijuana could help the U.S. economy by opening up new jobs. While the government would make a lot of money in taxes, sales and distribution costs, legalization would also cause the price of the drug to decrease, which means more people could afford it. According to estimations, if marijuana were legalized, and prices were cut in half, marijuana sales could gross anywhere from $50-$53 billion dollars (Rosenthal and Kubby, 2003). This money would no doubt stimulate the U.S. economy and create new jobs. These jobs would lower unemployment rates in the country, and open up more opportunities for employment in hemp and glassware industries.
The final reason for legalizing marijuana supports the end of organized crime. Currently, the war on drugs distorts market forces such that a cheap and easily grown weed is literally worth its weight in gold (Sharpe, 2003). Rather than continuing to subsidize organized crime and put neighborhoods at risk of crime, U.S. policymakers should legalize the drug. According to Canadian Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, "Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue."
Separating the hard and soft drug markets is important. As long as marijuana distribution remains in the hands of organized crime, consumers will continue to come into contact with addictive drugs, such as cocaine and crack. For this reason, marijuana should be legalized.
In conclusion, the above six reasons provide a solid argument in favor of the legalization of marijuana. One final reason why the government should legalize marijuana is because the bad effects of…