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Legalization Of Marijuana Essay, Research Paper

Marijuana is a plant, cannabis sativa, that contains a protein tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC which is the most activating ingredient of the four hundred chemicals in marijuana causing the intoxicating effect. Marijuana is a drug that is usually smoked as a cigarette, which is commonly called a joint or nail, and can also be smoked in a pipe or bong. More recently the drug is smoked in cigars called blunts. Marijuana has over two hundred street names, most commonly called pot, herb, bud, week, Mary Jane, and chronic (ONDCP Project Know, teens). Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the United States with eighty million Americans trying it (Terkel 17). A survey in 1995 showed that one out of every three high school seniors use pot, one in every four sophomores and one in every six eighth graders smoke marijuana. It is important to know and understand the history, the laws and the effects that this drug is responsible for.

Marijuana has been an illegal drug since 1937 in all fifty states (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration p. 23). When prohibition began, its purpose was to stop Americans form using marijuana, but much like the prohibition of alcohol it has not been successful. Without the success of this prohibition the government continues to create anti-drug laws and try to find other alternatives to control marijuana. The most recent stand in marijuana control is to legalize the drug for all purposes.

There are several side effects of using marijuana. Short term effects of smoking marijuana are sleepiness, increased hunger,


difficulty keeping track of time, impaired or reduced short-term memory,

reduced abilities to perform tasks requiring concentration and coordination like driving a car. Marijuana also increases heart rates, potential cardiac dangers for people with heart disease, blood shot eyes, decreased social inhibitions along with risks of paranoia, hallucinations and intense anxiety. There are also long term effects of using marijuana. Some of these include increased risk of pulmonary disorders like cancer, decreased testosterone levels in men, increased testosterone levels in women, lowered sperm count in men and increased infertility in women. Marijuana also diminishes some sexual pleasure and may cause psychological dependence requiring more of the drug to get the same effect. If marijuana is smoked during a pregnancy the babies have been found to be shorter, weigh less, have smaller heads, and are more likely to develop health problems and problems with the nervous system. A lot of marijuana usage can create a loss of energy and interest in how you look, social activities and school work (ONCP Project Know).

Although there are several side effects and harmful agents to smoking marijuana these effects are no more worse than other legal drugs such as alcohol or tobacco. Alcohol causes cirrhoses of the liver while cigarettes cause problems ranging from lung cancer to coronary heart disease. Also both drugs are carcinogens that speed up all cancers. Tobacco will cause an early death of five million people smoking today, four-hundred thousand people will die because of smoking this year and


many more will suffer form lung cancer and other associated diseases. Alcohol is related to one third of all deaths and injuries form car accidents, is associated with ninety percent of all rapes occurring on college campuses and causes fetal alcohol syndrome during pregnancy (Terkel 22). Alcohol is a factor in half of all arrests, half of all homicides, and a forth of all suicides (National 15). Unlike alcohol and tobacco marijuana is not addictive (Hall, Room, Bondy WHO project 1995). All drugs do have a social impact and all drugs are capable of disrupting home life, affecting the way a person works, and causing a withdraw from society. All drugs equally share the power to confuse a person, ruin different aspects of their personal and social life, in other wors all drugs are equally bad

The first American hemp or marijuana plant was grown in 1611 (Ginspoon 11). Ever since the colonial periods, hemp was used in various ways. It was used to make paper, rope, cloth, and treated some medical conditions making hemp a major crop to the United States. In 1898, the United States gained a narcotic problem that came with the gaining of the Philippine Islands (Terkel 25). During the period it was a time of drug tolerance.

The first drug law was created in 1906. This law was called The Pure and Drug Act. This law regulated the use of drugs in food by making it mandatory to note all active ingredients including cocaine, opium and all other additive drugs on the product label (Terkel 25). In


1909 United States businessmen wanted to trade with China. In China where there where ninety million citizens who were opium addicts which caused an International Drug Conference held in Shanghai, China. In 1910, Mexican immigrants introduced marijuana to the United States for recreational purposes where they used it to achieve euphoria. The conference was held again in 1911, and this time a treaty was formed. The treaty was the Hague Convention of 1912 which teamed thirty-four nations together that agreed to control narcotics. This treaty made opium legal for medical uses only and every nation had a quota of imports and exports that limited narcotic trade to medical purposes (Terkel 25-26). This was only the beginning to anti-drug laws.

The next law, The Harrison Act was enacted on December 17, 1914. This law allowed small quantities of opium and cocaine to be sold over the counter and doctors or dentists were allowed to prescribe large amounts of these drugs for patients with illnesses. They had to record transactions and anyone manufacturing or distributing drugs were regulated. This law started the “dope doctors” who prescribed the drugs to any person that wanted them. A black market began and the difficulty of securing the legal supply forced drug prices to rise and many addicts to resort to crimes to get the drugs they needed. The Harrison Act originally began regulating drugs, but presently bans narcotics except for medical use (Terkel 27).

At the end of World War One, the fear of another war caused


Narcotic Prohibition for two reasons. One is because of the fear that drug use would harm the ability to defend a nation. A new popularity also declared all drug use, including alcohol, to be a sign of moral weakness and considered as sin. The Temperance Movement pushed the eighteenth amendment and in 1919 caused the prohibition of all sales or consumption of alcohol and the amendment was passed (Terkel 28).

Laws continued to change as years passed and as on 1925 addiction was declared a medical not a criminal matter by the courts. Although it was no longer a crime to be a drug addict it was still illegal for any person to use any illicit drugs. This began Americans opinions about marijuana. Soon, United States citizens viewed marijuana use as a criminal act. This view also came along with beliefs that users should have long prison sentences and high fines. The new view on marijuana led the government to put out a report stating that marijuana leads to “general instability, mental weakness, and finally insanity…and is turning Americans into monsters…A malicious madman is being created” (Terkel 28). The same year the government created a movie that dramatized or in some people’s view, over-dramatized the effects to using marijuana. The biggest issue over drugs in 1937 was the Marijuana Tax Act. This placed a one-hundred dollar per once tax on any marijuana not being used for industrializing reasons. With this tax, the law brought a stiff prison sentence for any persons evading the new tax. During the next several years drug use declined (Terkel 28).


Even with the anti-drug laws under way and going pretty well during the 1960’s drug use had a dramatic rise. During the Vietnam War over half the soldiers serving used drugs. The most common drugs used were marijuana and heroin. When the soldiers returned, one out of five soldiers were chemically dependent. Even though most of the Vietnam veterans ridded themselves of the addiction, the problem concerned all the armed forces. In 1971, the United States military began drug testing (Terkel 28). In 1971, President Nixon responded to a recent static by declaring a war on drugs. The static showed that in 1969 twenty-four million Americans tried illegal drugs including marijuana.

President Nixon began the Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. This commission was to research and find new ways of controlling drug abuse. After two years of research the commission suggested to decriminalize marijuana. If Nixon would have agreed this would have ment small amounts of marijuana possession would no longer result in a prison sentence but rather a fine (US Department of Justice).

The next two presidential administrations headed by President Ford and President Carter started more drug policies. President Carter agreed with the commission and suggested decriminalizing marijuana. Beginning in 1973, states began doing just the and by 1979, eleven states decriminalized the drug. However years later in 1990, the state of Alaska, reversed its decision making marijuana a criminal act again (http://www.hightimes.com/reference).


During the 1980’s, the deaths of famous stars, including Len Bias

a basketball star and the comedian William Bennett, due to drugs caused a huge concern throughout the entire nation about drug abuse. Another issue adding to the concern of drug abuse was the new drug, crack cocaine and the new situation of kingpins residing in Latin America. The spread of HIV infection among drug abusers also added to the public’s concern (Terkel 29).

In 1989, President George Bush responded to the alarm by a commitment to “zero-tolerance”. President Bush also started the Office of National Drug Control Policy appointing William Bennett as the heard declaring another war on drugs. Bennett reported to Congress claiming the United States could win the war against drugs if the government stepped up its efforts and spending. Bennett also predicted that within the next decade, drug uses could be cut in half (FBI, Uniform Crime Reports).

When President Bill Clinton took office, he appointed Lee Brown as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Lee Brown coordinated several government agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, United States Customs, the Coast Guard and several other agencies to work together against the war on drugs. Brown took a new view of defeating the war on drugs. Brown says, “You can not succeed in this effort by declaring a war on our citizens” (Terkel 31). Although Brown had a new idea to end drug abuse, during President Clinton’s first term in office marijuana abuse among teenagers


dramatically rose. Along with the rise of marijuana use the use of heroin, LSD and other drugs also rose. Drug crime violence went down but was still a major concern for cities while foreign nations were the place that kingpins still resided. Although it seems Clinton may have ignored the drug issuers due to the statistics shown his administration spend more money enforcing drug laws than ever before. Three times as many people were arrested due to drug charges adding up to 1.5 million people. The nation’s prisons had a record number of nonviolent crime offender prisoners. In some cased sentences concerning marijuana, cocaine and amphetamine possession were lengthier sentences than those people disobeying rape, burglar and child abuse laws (U.S. Department of Justice, Prisoners in 1996).

Many people question weather drug laws are too harsh. For example, a person caught and convinced of growing pot can serve more time than a person who is convicted of rape. In Michigan, a strict drug law state, if a person is caught possessing or selling six-hundred fifty grams of cocaine or heroin they can receive a life sentence in prison with no parole (Terkel 38). Several states also have the three strikes and you’re out law. This law is obtained by more than thirty states because criminologists have researched and learned that seventy percent of violent crimes committed in the United States is committed by the same people who have committed previous crimes. With this law if a person is convicted of committing a third felony that person will be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. A felony includes


a violent crime or a serious drug crime. Growing one thousand marijuana plants is consented a serious drug crime (Terkel 43).

Mandatory sentencing is another law some people consider too strict. Mandatory sentencing means giving uniformity to drug crime penalties with no exceptions and no mercy in minimum sentencing. This law creates overcrowding in jails and subjects nonviolent criminals to the exposure of hardened criminals (Terkel 43).

Another law some think is too harsh is the sentence cliff laws. This law undermines the basic principles in the Constitution and Bill of Rights does not protect citizens from unreasonable punishment. An example of this law is a person caught with the possession of 4.99 grams of crack gets a sentence of one year in jail. If a person is caught with the possession of 5.01 grams, which is only .02 grams more, the person is sentenced to five years in prison. This law is concurred unfair to many because the strictness of the law inclines so quickly (Terkel 43).

Drug laws are determined by how much danger the drug is considered to have. The government classifies drugs into different groups or schedules. There are five of the schedules and they are as follows:

Schedule I is the most restrictive. Drug’s in this category, such as LSD, heroin, and marijuana, are judged highly addictive, dangerous, and without any accepted medical use. They are allowed only strictly supervised medical experimentation. Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine and morphine, are also highly restricted and require a doctor’s


prescription. Schedule III drugs (Tylenol with codeine and some barbiturates. Schedule IV drugs (Valium and other tranquilizers), and Schedule V drugs (over the counter cough medicines), are all monitored and regulated. Some are sold over the counter; others require the patient’s signature and records are kept of the sale(Terkel 35).

Drugs are subject to change schedules as new information is proved to make a drug more powerful or less dangerous.

There are four ways to determine which schedule a drug belongs in. The first way the government examines drugs is by medical use. If a drug can be used as a form of treatment then the drug will not have a high schedule if the rest of the three components agree. The second factor relating to scheduling is potential for abuse. This factor has to do with how people tend to use a particular drug. Safety is the third component the government examines when scheduling drugs. If a drug leads to bizarre or unpredictable behavior that may threaten the users or others around, them the government adds restrictions. Another component adding to government regulatory means is dependence liability. If users will suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they quit using drug, the government also puts special schedules on the drug(Terkel 33-34).

With many citizens questioning if drug laws are too harsh and also asking if current anti-drug laws are successful, people are looking for alternatives. There are several alternatives people are suggesting and

pushing for. Many people believe a change in dealing with drug problems is in the need because the prisons are overcrowding with 1.6 million


more than any other industrial nation in the world. The United States is also spending thirty billion dollars enforcing drug laws. Despite these number millions of Americans use drugs (Cornell Smithers Report). Almost eight million United States citizens, that is one out of five adults have violated drug laws by smoking marijuana (Terkel 45).

There are several possibilities to changing the current drug laws that have been suggested since drug prohibition began. One of these was reviewed earlier because beginning in 1973 and ending in 1979 eleven states used this tactic. It is drug decriminalization. Out of the eleven states ten of them still have marijuana decriminalized. The law changed possession of small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The difference between legallization and decriminalization of marijuana is large. In New Hampshire, a decriminalized state, possession of marijuana is a one thousand dollar fine compared to Michigan, a criminalized state, faces one year in prison and a one-thousand dollar fine (Tequila 32).

Another alternative is defacto legislation. This would not allow certain laws to be enforced. This means without some laws people can’t be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The law would have society treat addiction and drug misuse by not allowing offenders to go to jail (Terkel 32).

The next option that could be used to change current drug laws would be government regulation. This approach to drug laws would be a slight reform. This reform would involve making some drugs, such as


marijuana, legally available in some type of government run clinic. In these clinics, drugs would be treated as medications instead of as criminal substances. This would mean that people addicted to drugs would either get a supply of the drug or buy the drug from the government rather than buying or stealing from dealers who are connected and organized with gangs and crime (Terkel 31).

With legalization all or most drug laws would be repealed or changed. With this type of law the United States would go back to pre-Harrison Act drug policy or close to it. A suggestion for just repealing some laws would be to repeal the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. If this law was repealed, then “hard drugs” would still be illegal, but marijuana would be legal. Legalization of marijuana is of popular belief and many people believe it should be the new law because of the wasted money the government spends on enforcing anti-drug laws unsuccessfully. America spends thirty billion dollars enforcing the laws even though millions of Americans are using drugs without getting caught. Legalizing marijuana would save the American government and citizens money. Keeping one person in jail for life costs the citizens at least twenty thousand dollars a year. By the end of the tenth year that person is in prison the money could have paid for five collage students education’s, thousands of school lunches, and a countless amount of vaccinations (Cornell Smithers Report). Not only is legalization a popular belief it would save government money.

Another reason marijuana should be legal is because if a society supports personal freedom, as the United States does, then the law can be appropriate for enforcing certain types of morality and support the right to be different. We outlawed drugs to help the society and its what the moral view was. Now that the outlaw is unsuccessful and the moral view is changing we should legislate morality (Miller 126).

Self-control is inconsistent with capitalism. Self Control is needed to control the temptations of drugs through society: with the American capitalist system self control should not be needed. Drugs fit in well with this system as an expensive technological quick fix for psychic troubles. “Anti drug laws run against a basic national trait as they try to protect American citizens from temptation” (Miller 126).

Legalization is a good idea because the reason illicit drugs are considered immoral is not because they are harmful. They are considered


immoral because users feel better than usual and they experience pleasure. Many other substances that are harmful are legal such as alcohol and tobacco. Although many people consider marijuana immoral there are plenty of citizens that indulge in the activity making the drug criminalizing it in a free society is questionable or even undemocratic (Miller 126).

Some advocates for legalizing marijuana claim that one major reason why the government is not legalizing marijuana is because they would have to admit fault. This would be hard for major government officials who have been brutalizing drug users for so long. Most people believe the government should just admit to the error and hinder their pride because we are all sinners and even though guilty there is no shame unless error persists after it has been recognized (Miller 127).

Another important aspect to consider in drug legalization is the social turmoil that is caused when a behavior. like using marijuana, is approved by much of society is a criminalized behavior. When the government gets tougher with laws the trouble gets worse. The answer, many say, is to let it go. They do not mean give into drugs they mean to recognize anti-drug laws are inappropriate because of the increased problems they cause (Miller 127-128).

Another argument to marijuana legalization is that the widespread violation of law changes its purpose. Due to the millions of law violations in this area the law is no more directed against the problem

Shaw 15

it is enforced to assert the power of the state. The punishment associated with the violation of law is now associated with rebels instead of drug addicts or even drug users. Wide spread violation of laws indicate that the law indicate that the law violates social contract (Miller 128).

Some argue marijuana should not be legal because the drug can not only harm themselves but also others. The argument against this that advocates for legalizing have is that life in general can be harmful. Everyday actions risk harm on others. Risk is inherent to life and citizens can not be held accountable for being alive. Risks are something needed in a free society without them it would not be free. In a free society, people also have the right to ruin their lives, if they so choose to do so they should have the ability and freedom to do so legally. Without these abilities citizens are not free (Miller 127-128).

There is a long history of using drugs legally and also years of watching the freedom to use drugs slip into what some of society believes to be immoral therefore, drugs became illegal. The government has made several anti-drug laws, has spent trillions of dollars and came up with several ways to try and stop drug use. Although the government has come up with these ideas to break society of abusing drugs but statistics to show these tactics have been unsuccessful. Marijuana is the most widely and accepted illicit drug with eighty million Americans


trying it. With the rising numbers in both drug use and the amount of money spent on enforcing drug laws the government needs a approach. The most popular idea is legalization. If legalization occurs government spending would go down and drug crime would also decrease with it. “Any drug can be used successfully, no matter how accepted it is. There are no good or bad drugs: there are only god and bad relationships with drugs” (Inciardi 24). If the government teaches good relationships with drugs through drug education, I believe, legalization is the key to successful drug laws.


Bureau of Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1996, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (1997), pgs. 4, 502

Federal Bureau Of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports 1996. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (1997), p. 62 Table 1

Hall, W., Room, R. & Bondy, S., WHO project on Health Implications of Cannabis Use: A comparative Appraisal of the Health and Psychological Consequences of Alcohol, Cannabis, Nicotine and

Inciardi, James A. and Arnold S. Trebach. Legalize It?. Washington, D.C.: The American University Press, 1993.

Marihuana Tax Act of 1937; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (1997).

Miller, Richard Lawrence. The Case For Legalizing Drugs. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991.

ONDCP Project Know- Know it all about Marijuana. http://www.projectknow.com

Scholosser, Eric. “Reefer Madness.” Atlantic Monthly Aug. 1994: 40-49.

Terkel, Susan Neiburg. The Drug Laws: A time for a change?. New York: Franklin Watts, 1997.

United States. The National Drug Control Strategy, 1998. Washington, D.C., 1998.

U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Washington: GPO, 1991.

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