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Legalization On Marijuana Essay, Research Paper

Marijuana has been a very controversial issue. Many speculate that changes in the laws concerning the possession of marijuana (see Appendix A) are long overdue and our society can no longer postpone this decision. Three possible changes to the law (legalization for medical purposes, decriminalization for medical or general reasons, and full legalization) are being considered. According to an Angus Reid survey in October, public support for legalization is swelling in Canada. A slim majority of Canadians, 51%, now believe that smoking marijuana should not be a criminal offence, up from 39% in 1987. 83% agree that it should not be a criminal offence if used for medicinal purposes only. Nonetheless, marijuana remains illegal while other more dangerous drugs, both addictive and harmful, remain legal. Statistics Canada reports that 74.4% of Canadians over 15 drink alcohol, about 70% drink coffee, and some 25% smoke tobacco. Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco are highly addictive and to some extent mind-altering, hence if these three are legal it only stands to reason that marijuana should likewise be legalized.

The medicinal uses of marijuana are being seen as a legitimate claim for the legalization of marijuana.

Judge Patrick Sheppard, the Ontario judge who presided over the Terry Parker epileptic case of 1997, ruled that marijuana was therapeutically beneficial, that Parker be exempt from further charges concerning marijuana, and that Parker’s seized marijuana plants were to be returned to him. Specifically, Judge Sheppard concluded that the smoking of marijuana had a therapeutic effect in the treatment of: nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat cancer and AIDS patients ; intraocular pressure from glaucoma; muscle spasticity from spinal cord injuries or multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy; migraine headaches; epileptic seizures; and chronic pain. Smoking marijuana has also been proven to have a therapeutic effect in combating weight loss in AIDS patients. It relaxes the patient, eliminating pain, and brings upon hunger and thirst, obviously leading to the patients eating and drinking more, which builds up the patient’s immune system. One AIDS patient using marijuana had blood tests taken last fall which show that he has a higher T-cell count, and also carries the antibodies to Hepatitis A, B, and C.

This evidence also brings the anti-marijuana claims of marijuana destroying the user’s immune system into question. The most prominent anti-marijuana group is the US government. Their marijuana propaganda is quite similar to the propaganda used in W.W.II. Marijuana smokers are said to lack any ambition, make fools out of themselves, do poorly in athletics and academics, and have a high risk of catching AIDS. They also claim that marijuana causes an abundance of problems, primarily lung cancer. However, the US government has not produced a single case where pneumonia or lung cancer was contracted from smoking marijuana. After reviewing the evidence, DEA administrative law Judge Francis Young declared that, “marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” despite the governments accusations.

An increasing number of influential organizations, such as the Lymphoma Foundation and the Physicians Association for AIDS Care, have been fighting the marijuana laws because its use does not cross a “sufficient threshold of harm” and they believe the state should not prohibit private behaviour that causes little harm to the user or society, and that the law interferes with legitimate medical uses of cannabis. Sheppard, after listening to expert advice for and against the medical use of marijuana, concluded: ‘the consumption of marijuana is relatively harmless compared to the “hard” drugs, tobacco and alcohol; no hard evidence existed demonstrating irreversible organic or mental damage from the consumption of marijuana or it induces psychoses and is addictive; marijuana is not “criminogenic” and does not make users more aggressive or violent; the health-related costs of cannabis use are negligible when compared to the costs attributable to tobacco and alcohol; and regular moderate use of marijuana causes no physical or psychological harm to the vast majority of users’. He also accepted the fact that marijuana smoke is much more efficient than the legal pill form of marijuana (see Appendix B) and prohibition denies Parker his right to an effective medicine and Parker stands a daily risk of being deprived of his right to life, liberty, and security. Sheppard stressed several times in his address to the court that any person granted “medically approved use” of marijuana by a doctor would be exempt from laws that prohibit the possession or cultivation of marijuana. The judgement is not a resolution of the issue, but it is clearly a first step. It provides legitimacy to the claim of the medical necessity of marijuana consumption and can be used as precedence in court. Thus, the court has shown compassion where the government has been entirely unwilling to.

Economically, legalization would result in saving the money currently spent on enforcing the law and also generate money from taxing marijuana. Realistically speaking, prohibition has been an incredibly expensive and inevitable failure. Also, marijuana does not seem to be harmful enough to justify the laws, causing little harm to the user or society, being a victimless crime. Moreover, Prohibition criminalizes otherwise law abiding citizens. Furthermore, suppression fosters far more socially destructive criminal activity. Finally, many people believe legalization will result in a safer product, a cheaper product, and fewer resources spent on law enforcement.

The legalization of marijuana in Canada would have huge economic effects. Criminology Professor Neil Boyd, of Simon Fraser University, estimates the cost of catching, prosecuting, and punishing marijuana users at anywhere from $200 million to $2 billion annually. Professor Eric Single, of the University of Toronto’s department of preventive medicine and biostatistics, testified cannabis accounts for only part of the $1.37 billion price tag for illicit substance abuse in Canada, compared to $7.5 billion for alcohol and $9.6 billion for tobacco. Early in July, a freedom of information request by researcher Ken Rubin unearthed a series of Health Canada internal memoranda, which revealed that departmental bureaucrats are already looking ways to control marijuana’s strength and tax its sale after legalization. Also, a November 1996 Health Canada memo revealed that senior bureaucrats are considering the possibility of taxing marijuana growers should the drug become legal. These two memos show that the possibility of taxing marijuana is already being considered. If you took the $200 million to $2 billion that the government spends against marijuana users annually and added the revenue collected from marijuana taxes, in the event of legalization, the government would have a substantial surplus of money.

There are also many people who believe the prohibition of marijuana has been an inevitable failure. The evidence suggests prohibition campaigns have met with mixed results, at best. The evidence is that there is a continuing upward trend in drug use despite the harsher penalties and the increased threats. It is hard to imagine a better test of this model than the US, which has had tremendous increases in resources devoted to enforcement, and very tough sentencing. In 1988-89 they got even tougher and yet they have an enormous amount of recreational, casual, experimental drug use as well as a large number of addicts. One of the main reasons prohibition does not work is because people quickly realized that if they were careful they probably would not get caught.

Since people use it willingly and in secret there is no complainant, making it very hard for the police to detect a crime. So you have a prohibition that is difficult if not impossible to enforce. However, some people believe that if the police are given greater powers then prohibition will succeed. Hence we have all the enormous infringements on personal liberties and rights in the country around the drug laws. A policeman can legally detain and search anyone if they have reasonable suspicion, a right that can be severely abused. The greatest danger to marijuana users comes not from the drug itself, but from the law enforcement officials who hunt them down like dogs. Prohibition criminalizes people who are otherwise functioning and maybe occasional drug users, by pulling them out of their productive role and putting them in prison at great public expense. Professor Neil Boyd noted that there have been more than 600,000 people who have received criminal records for possession since cannabis has been prohibited. There were 29,562 marijuana arrests in 1996 alone, taking up police time and court time.

Prohibition seems to negatively effect only two groups, drug users and taxpayers. Drug users suffer under a regime that imposes unjustly harsh penalties on them and taxpayers have to pay for the incredibly expensive war on drugs that is very ineffective and counterproductive. It also generates innumerable infringements on human and civil rights that are not justifiable for our society. The consequences marijuana presents does not seem to rationalize the lengths that the government has gone to keep it illegal.

Moreover, lawmakers cannot pass laws that are arbitrary and capricious. Parliament has no scientific or legal basis or any documented proof that marijuana is harmful enough to merit prohibition. Parliament does not have the constitutional authority to criminalize conduct that is relatively harmless. In fact, Cannabis made it onto the schedule in the mid 20s mainly because the famous first female Canadian judge, Emily Murphy, wrote about marijuana as “a bad, evil new substance that had these incredibly evil, bad effects on people, leading to men going crazy and raping innocent young females”. We now know that this testimony relating marijuana to psychotic behaviour is entirely untrue as Dr. Diane Riley, an assistant behavioural science professor at the University of Toronto and a policy analyst at the university’s Canadian Foundation of Drug Policy points out. “Marijuana mostly relaxes its users, making them friendly and often sleepy. The drug does not make its users more aggressive or violent.” Furthermore, the theory of marijuana being a “gateway drug” (leading to other “hard-core” drugs such as heroin or cocaine) is false. “Current research indicates that about 67% of marijuana users never even try any type of “hard” drug. In fact, marijuana is one of the safest psychoactive substances and is clearly safer than licit drugs such as alcohol and tobacco” says Dr. Riley, who also testified that marijuana is not harmful enough to warrant prohibition. There is no chemical addiction like that of nicotine, heroin, and even alcohol. An addict of any one of these substances shows serious withdrawal symptoms, while marijuana users seem to be able to walk away from the drug without serious consequences. Addiction Research Foundation (ARF) senior scientist Patricia Erickson who also disputed claims that cannabis is a “gateway drug”, challenged the deterrent effect of the ban on cannabis possession, and argued that decriminalization was unlikely to lead to a significant increase in use.

There are strong signs that the dream of legalization may become reality. In May 1995, federal drug prosecutor Lindsay Smith sent a letter to Vancouver police, stating that minor marijuana possession charges would no longer be prosecuted because court and police resources were overtaxed. However, after the police and Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen protested, Justice Department officials backpedalled, claiming the memo had been misinterpreted. Also, in May 1996, the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee studying Bill C-8, recommended decriminalization of marijuana and hashish possession. Again, a public outcry ensued and the Senate backed down, retaining criminal sanctions for personal drug use. They are not alone however, the Addiction Research Foundation, Canadian Bar Association, and Canadian Police Association also want to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana.

In addition, marijuana ought to be legalized because suppression fosters far more socially destructive criminal activity. The prohibition of alcohol in the United States led to organized crime prospering and produced deplorable gangsters, such as Al Capone, who made enormous profits by selling alcohol illegally and were a reign of terror on society for the duration of prohibition. The prohibition of marijuana has also produced such gangsters, called drug cartel barons, who escape punishment almost unceasingly and collect the profits from the sale of marijuana. Ironically, it is the small time dealers and growers who are punished. Some believe that decriminalization and medical legalization is not enough because the black market would still control the market, making millions for organized crime.

The World Health Organization recently released a report on the global effects of marijuana. It found that the use of marijuana worldwide had insignificant negative effects on health and social welfare, especially when compared with the use of nicotine and alcohol. Anyone who has experimented with marijuana will generally say that although there may be better ways to spend your time and money, it is quite harmless. Abuse and overuse of any substance can be detrimental to your health. Eat too much and you get fat. Drink too much alcohol and problems ensue. The state should not prohibit private behaviour that causes little harm, to the user or society. Rather it should let responsible adults make their own decisions about the use of recreational drugs.

In conclusion, marijuana should be legalized because too much money is being spent on an ineffective Prohibition, it is a victimless “crime”, and it is medically and economically beneficial.

Citation count : 42

Word count : 2190


Basham, P. (1997). A public airing of respectable opinions on drug policy is overdue. Financial Post. v.10(50) p. 57

Bannon, P. Medical Use of Pot is Legal: Court Upholds Patients Challenge of Drug Laws. (1997, December 11). Ottawa Citizen [Online] Available:


Cunningham, D. (1997, December). Strictly medicinal? If Ottawa permits controlled marijuana use it could lead to full legalization. British Columbia Report. v.9(15) p. 18

Fitz-James, M. (1998, October/November). Marijuana as a medicine. Judges, not legislators, decriminalizing pot-smoking. Law Times. p. 1,4

Gray, C. (1998, February). Legalize use of marijuana for medical purposes, MDs and patients plead. Canadian Medical Assn. Journal. v.158(3) p. 373-375

Greenspan, E.L. & Rosenberg, M. (1999). Martin’s – Annual Criminal Code – 1999 -. Aurora: Canada Law Book Inc.

HIGH TIMES – Marinol: The Little Synthetic that Couldn’t. (1997) [Online] Available:


Ideas: the drug war: who’s winning (Part 13 of 20 in a series on the public good). (1997, September). CBC. Radio Transcripts. Ideas.

Magner, M. (1997, July/August). Cannabis Trial Ends [Chris Clay case]. Journal (Addiction Research Foundation). v.26(4) p. 3.

Marijuana. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. [Online] Available:

http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?Do levance&config=config&firsthit=off

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Murray, J. M. (1998, May). Draconian marijuana laws infringe on rights. University Wire.

Sheremata, D. (1997, August). Peace looms in the war on pot: the 74-year-old prohibition against marijuana could die this week in an Ontario courtroom [Chris Clay case]. Alberta Report. p. 28-32


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