According to a 2001 survey published in the Economist, America's Illegal-Drugs policy is a dismal re-run of it's attempt to prohibit the sale of alcohol. One of the government's most controversial targets is marijuana. Although marijuana is generally disapproved of for causing lethargy and memory loss and shares tobacco's propensity for causing lung cancer, it is widely and safely used by a significant percentage of America's population. In several recent state initiatives, Marijuana decriminalization efforts were voted down. However, in some states such as Ohio, possession of small amounts of marijuana results in little more than a 100 dollar fine, while in California, marijuana cigarettes may be prescribed by doctors.
Attempts to stop marijuana use in the United States were initiated in the 1930's - the same decade that the federal government guaranteed a state's right to sterilize negros for being unfit to breed. The first "drug czar" in the United States, Harry Anslinger, was appointed by Andrew Mellon, his wife's uncle. Mellon, the Treasury Secretary, was financing DuPont, the country's largest producer of textiles. Sales of hemp threatened that firm's efforts to build a market for synthetic fibers. Enlisting the help of news moguls such as William Randolph Hearst, a slur campaign was successful in passing a marijuana stamp act into law. Like the machine gun stamp law, it was said that one must purchase a stamp in order to buy or sell marijuana although no stamps were issued. This notion of pretending to tax the sale of marijuana was not abandoned until the Dangerous Substances Act of 1969. The current method of codification, known as narcotics scheduling, was introduced the following year. Marijuana was considered a schedule one narcotic. Schedule one narcotics, which include heroin and cocaine, share these characteristics:
A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision. (21 USC, Sec 812)
The amount of money the United States spends "fighting" drug use every year is in the range of 35-40 billion dollars, equal to the annual budget of Russia. This herculean effort has met with little success; the Economist article reports that almost a third of Americans over 12 years of age admit to having tried drugs at some point, while over 26 million admit to having used drugs within the past year. Three fourths of all drug users in the United States are marijuana smokers.
Review of Relevant Literature
What of the dangers of smoking marijuana? According to the American Heart Association, smoking marijuana significantly increases the risk of heart attack. According to a study published by Doctor Murray Mittleman, director of cardiovascular epidemiology at Boston's Beth Israel-Deconess Medical Center in March of 2000, "It increases the heart rate by about 40 beats per minute" (JAMA, 2000) and causes wide fluctuations in blood pressure. This makes a marijuana smoker's risk of having a heart attack an hour after smoking 4.8 times greater than when not using the drug. These studies have been confirmed by the American Medical Association. Researchers noted that the risk is specific to marijuana smokers that are middle aged or older, as these groups are categorically more likely to suffer from heart disease. People who smoked marijuana in their 20's and 30's, like tobacco smokers, were also found to be more at risk for heart disease. It is still to be answered whether these dangers are the result of the marijuana itself or from the carbon monoxide in the smoke.
According to The Lancet, a British Medical Journal,
The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. Yet this widely used substance is illegal just about everywhere. There have been numerous calls over the years for the legalisation, or at least decriminalisation, of soft drugs, among which cannabis remains the most popular with all social groups. (The Lancet, 1995)
This study was published in 1995, predating the AMA finding by about 5 years. A subsequent study by the American Medical Association published by Dr. Robert Blendon and John Young revealed why Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of Marijuana legalization:
most Americans rely on the mass media for information about the scope of the drug abuse problem; Americans do not think that the Wars on Drugs have succeeded, but they do not want to quit on these efforts; weak support exists for increasing funding for drug treatment; support for preventive education has increased during the 1990s; criminal justice responses remain very popular; for many, illicit drug use is a moral rather than a public health issue; the public supports allowing physicians to prescribe marijuana for severe illness, but opposes the general legalization of marijuana and other illicit drugs; and needle exchange programs are supported by a bare majority, but only when they are told that the American Medical Association supports these programs. (JAMA, 1998)
Such attitudes reflect why many are quick to dismiss arguments for marijuana. Robert Peterson published a report entitled The Marijuana as Medicine Scam, for the Michigan Office of Drug Control, in which he contended that The marijuana as medicine issue is a carefully orchestrated campaign... By aging hippies, lawyers and marijuana users who are imposing a cruel hoax on sick and dying people. (Peterson, 1999) Mark Kleiman, a Drug Law expert at U.C.L.A., was quoted in the November 30th New York Times as saying "It's the 60's being replayed again and again and again - the S.D.S.(Students for a Democratic Society) versus the football team."
Rationale and Hypothesis
My hypothesis is that recreational marijuana use is no more dangerous than smoking cigarettes in quantities that constitute normal use among Americans. A finding is important in that most Americans have been conditioned to believe marijuana smoking is dangerous, but they have no effective means of evaluating these dangers. Smoking marijuana, like any activity, carries with it a finite number of tangible medical risks, but opinions as to whether these risks present grounds for prohibition remain largely factional. For someone without a medical background to rationally evaluate the risks (either as a consumer, a voter or a legislator) a comparative basis for evaluation has to established. This is in response to an unsubstantiated 'factoid' that claims marijuana smoke to be 50% more dangerous than cigarette smoke. Unfortunately, such propaganda techniques are the principle method by which the voting public gains information about a subject of which they are rationally ignorant. The 35 billion-plus budget of the crusade against drugs owes much of its existence to anti-marijuana scare tactics that pollute our children's schools with propaganda even as they are forbidden from purchasing pornography. I believe that it can be demonstrated that marijuana smokers smoke less marijuana daily than tobacco smokers smoke tobacco.
This study will look at both American and Dutch populations in order to adjust for implicit errors resulting from the effects legal barriers have on casual marijuana use. For instance, it can be argued that Marijuana smokers generally quit after their late 20's due to cultural and civic pressures, a reluctance to seek out new marijuana vendors and distributors, and an increased sensitivity to perceived legal risk. One would need to address the dangers posed by marijuana use vis-a-vis tobacco use in a culture where marijuana use is either legal or generally permitted. The study would calculate the difference in average use between a Dutch population of marijuana smokers and an American population by determining the percentage of each population that uses tobacco and then applying that ratio to the marijuana smoking Dutch population to determine the prospective amount of marijuana use. We would then find a sample that reflects "projected use" in the American population that uses marijuana exclusively.
It should be noted that in the Dutch population, many might see marijuana as a substitution for tobacco, and the study would need to determine the extent to which this phenomenon contributed to the margin of error. For instance, if it were determined that 25% of Americans smoke an average of a pack a day, whereas 25% of Dutch smoke half a pack a day and a joint a day, the projected median would be that 25% of Americans would smoke 2 joints a day; we would then monitor the health effects of Americans that smoked 2 joints a day exclusively to determine a social impact. The curtailing effect of Dutch marijuana smoking on tobacco smoking would be calculated as a margin of error.
It should be understood, however, that such an error would over-report levels of prospective marijuana use. We would seek sample populations that were otherwise statistically and demographically simmilar.
We would assess the projected levels of marijuana use that would result from legalization, and then find a sample of individuals that matched these usage patterns. We would then go on to test their general health. Specific tests included would be for…