Vice, Drugs and the Law: Is It Time to Completely Legalize Marijuana  Research Paper

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This paper looks at the concept of legalizing marijuana nationwide. It examines what the current literature has to say on marijuana research, medicinal benefits, and legal history of the substance. It also includes a look at the economic benefits of marijuana legalization in states like Colorado. An analysis section follows the review of literature, and in the conclusion recommendations are made for further action.


Though the banning of marijuana began in the U.S. prior to Prohibition and continued on up through the 1930s across the majority of states, it was not until the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that it became illegal to possess or transfer cannabis under federal law (unless one was using it for medical or industrial purposes). And it was not until the 1970 Controlled Substances Act that marijuana was made illegal at the federal level even for medical use (Dragone, Prarolo, Vanin & Zanella, 2019). However, in recent years there has been a push among several states to reverse marijuana laws either for medical purposes or for recreational use. Colorado for example has made the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes legal. The problem is that under federal law marijuana is still a schedule 1 narcotic—i.e., it is classified under the same dangerous category as heroin and cocaine (DEA, 2018). The criminalization of marijuana has led to more than half of all drug arrests in 2010 coming from marijuana possession or sales (ACLU, 2018). As the American Civil Liberties Union has noted, “of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana” and African Americans were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites (ACLU, 2018). In other words, there is a direct link between the incarceration problem in the U.S. and marijuana criminalization. As there is still tension between the federal and state authorities over the issue of marijuana, there is a clear need to understand the ramifications of keeping marijuana illegal or of decriminalizing it totally. This review is thus important because it will shed light on the history of marijuana criminalization in America and show what researchers and experts have found with respect to marijuana as a helpful or harmful substance. This paper will provide findings from research on whether decriminalization of marijuana would be in the best interests of America.

Literature Review

Marijuana was a staple crop of American colonialists at the founding of the country, just as it had been grown all over the world for thousands of years (Deitch, 2003). The Founding Fathers grew marijuana and used it both recreationally and medicinally (Deitch, 2003). It was a popular crop throughout the early decades of American history because of its health qualities and for its industrial use. Hemp was used for textiles, rope, and other purposes. It was good for the soil and the CBD was viewed as effective in remedying a number of ailments. It was not until the pharmaceutical and plastics industries began to grow that marijuana was viewed as a threat and as a public danger (Deitch, 2003). Because marijuana had both medicinal and industrial uses, Big Pharma and Big Oil viewed it as the competition—and they urged legislators to have it banned and used propaganda films like Reefer Madness to move legislators to take action against marijuana. However, for thousands of years, though the potential for marijuana to produce a high was well known, the plant was never considered dangerous to society or to human life (Deitch, 2003). Thus, the criminalization of marijuana had more to do with business and industry than it did with any potential threat that it represented. The plant was basically banned because the pharmaceutical industry wanted to sell its own chemical substances (that have since proven to be far more dangerous and fatal for Americans than marijuana) and the oil industry wanted to make plastic the new main resource in textiles and other equipment (Deitch, 2003). For these reasons, a campaign to ban marijuana got underway in the early 20th century.

Though marijuana has been criminalized since the 1930s by the federal government, the classification of marijuana as a harmful substance like that of other hard drugs has not always been accepted. Beginning in the 1970s, the schedule 1 narcotic classification was challenged and in 1988 the DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young found marijuana to be “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” (Eddy, 2010). In Eddy’s (2010) review for the Congressional Research Service, he noted what Young had reported more than two decades prior as DEA—namely that the evidence “clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for [the] DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record” (p. 9). Nonetheless, Young’s recommendation was blocked the following year and the DEA continued to keep marijuana scheduled as a highly dangerous substance.

As Fiala (2019) notes, the problem with the medical community asserting one thing—i.e., that marijuana can help with pain especially with arthritis patients—and the law enforcement community continuing to view it as an illegal substance is that it leads to very tense and unnecessary confrontations between members of society and law enforcement officers. One recent example of this, Fiala (2019) shows is the arrest of a 69 year old grandmother at Disney World for having CBD oil prescribed to her by her doctor in her purse for arthritis pain. The grandmother was arrested by a local sheriff and kept incarcerated for 12 hours before being allowed to post bail. Though her case was later dropped by the local prosecutor, the arrest showed that not even grandmothers who are prescribed cannabis by their doctors are safe—and the most confusing aspect of it all, as the grandmother’s…

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…not be classified as a schedule 1 narcotic when it is nowhere near as dangerous as heroin or cocaine or the other drugs classified under that label. This was even recommended by the DEA in the 1980s, though the organization never actually acted upon the recommendation. The reason then was the same as it ever had been: marijuana is, was and will be a threat to the oil and pharmaceutical industries. It is naturally occurring, has great durability, and can ease pain without fear of debilitating or fatal side effects—unlike what can be said for drugs like fentanyl or for fossil fuels like petroleum. Hemp is industrial grade fiber that can be used in construction and manufacturing and yet it is not allowed to be grown in most states.

When it comes to vice, drugs and the law, a good long and hard look needs to be taken at marijuana. It is a naturally occurring plant that has grown all over the world and has been known to mankind since history was recorded. In this very country it was a staple crop for the Founding Fathers, many of whom used it themselves. I was never deemed dangerous or damaging until the 20th century when the new captains of industry intertwined themselves with legislators and worked the culture industry to create the perception that marijuana was harmful. Today, many people are recognizing the truth of the matter, which is that marijuana can help people—and does not need to be classified as something that hurts.


The research shows that marijuana is a substance with a great deal of good to it. Still, some attention should be paid to research that examines the negative effects of too much marijuana on the minds of young people. Because young people are still developing and their brains may be chemically altered by marijuana usage, which could impact them for the rest of their lives, there is a need also to understand the risks of marijuana legalization in terms of what threats it might pose for young people who have access to it.

For that reason, it may do well to consider legalizing marijuana but regulating it in the same manner in which alcohol and tobacco are regulated in the U.S. While both are legal to sell and consume, there are laws that regulate both: for example, it is illegal to sell either to a minor. For marijuana, similar laws could be enacted so as to safeguard and protect young minds that are still developing. Just because marijuana has medicinal effects does not mean it should be consumed by adolescents whenever they feel like getting high. This in itself can create issues with motivation that can negatively impact a community as well.

Thus, future evaluations should be conducted that examine the benefits and risks of marijuana legalization and compare them one to the other so that a fuller understanding of how to legalize and regulate the substance can be conducted. This study…

Sources Used in Document:


ACLU. (2018). Marijuana arrests by the numbers. Retrieved from

Anderson, P. (1981). High In America: The True Story Behind NORML And The Politics Of Marijuana. NY: Viking Press. 

Bazelon, D. L. (1975). The morality of the criminal law. Southern California Law Review, 49, 385-405.

Collins, S. (2014). How pharmacists can counsel patients on medical marijuana.  Pharmacy Today, 20(4), 6-7.

DEA. Drug scheduling. DEA, 2018.

Deitch, R. (2003). Hemp: American History Revisited: The Plant with a Divided History. New York, NY: Algora Publishing.

Dragone, D., Prarolo, G., Vanin, P., & Zanella, G. (2019). Crime and the legalization of recreational marijuana. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 159, 488-501.

Fiala, E. (2019). Great-Grandmother Arrested at Disney World for Having CBD Oil in Her Purse. Retrieved from

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