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Legalizing Marijuana Essay, Research Paper

To the AIDS or cancer patient, it is the plant that fights nausea and appetite loss. To the nutritionist, its seed is

second only to the soybean in nutritional value, and is a source of cooking oil and vitamins. To the paper or cloth

manufacturer, it is the plant that provided much of our paper and clothing for hundreds of years and produces four

times more fiber per acre than trees. To the environmentalist, it is the plant that could greatly slow deforestation,

restore robbed nutrients by other crops, and help prevent erosion. And according to Lonnelle Aikman, “Preliminary

findings show the drug may prove effective against glaucoma and asthma, and control such side nausea in cancer

treatment” (158). Unfortunately, to most people in this country, it is a useless plant when it comes to economic or

medical value. Marijuana should be legalized in the United States. In technical terms, hemp, cannabis, or for the

average American, marijuana, it is used only for recre!

ational purposes. I think marijuana is a plant that could save the world. In this paper I hope to reverse prejudices,

relieve ignorance, and inform people of the known and potential therapeutic uses of this remarkable plant.

As of today the nation stands behind three basic ideas of what to do with marijuana; legalize marijuana, make it

legal only as a prescription drug, or keep it as it is, illegal. People who are pro-marijuana, argue that marijuana is

considerably less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, the most frequently used legal drugs. Furthermore marijuana

has never directly caused anyone’s death. People who side with the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes

believe that the ends justify the means. But the people who want to keep it illegal think that the medical uses do not

outweigh the harmful side effects.

Before deciding whether marijuana should be legal or illegal, one needs to know some basic facts. Lester Grinspoon,

M.D. and James B. Bakalar note “most botanists agree that there are three species of marijuana; Cannabis sativa, the

most widespread of the three, is tall, gangly, and loosely branched, growing as high as twenty feet; Cannabis indica

is shorter, about three or four feet in height, pyramidal in shape and densely branched; Cannabis ruderalis is about

two feet high with few or no branches” (1). They also say that “Cannabis has become one of the most widespread

and diversified of plants. It grows as weed and cultivated plant all over the world in a variety of climates and soils”

(1). Marijuana was first cultivated in China around 4000 B.C. It was mainly used as a sedative and analgesic, but

today it is commonly used for the “high” or the euphoric feeling it causes. The most active ingredient in marijuana is

delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinal commonly referred to a!

s THC, which wasn’t discovered until the 1960s.

Marijuana is illegal today because of the Marijuana Stamp Tax Act passed in 1937. This act prohibited the use, sale,

and growing of marijuana. It was made illegal because no one understood why smoking marijuana made people feel

the way they did, and because it was associated with Indians and other so called “immoral people.” Today marijuana

is illegal because research has shown some intoxicating effects. Such as hallucination, anxiety, depression, extreme

variability of mood, paranoia and schizophrenia lasting up to six hours. Raphael Mechoulam says, “Although

cannabis causes initial restlessness, excitement, and sometimes boisterous, impulsive behavior, pacing and dancing,

the main picture is of reduced physical activity apart from speech” (316). Physical effects include reddening of the

eyes, dryness of the mouth and throat, a moderate increase in heart rate, tightness in the chest, drowsiness,

unsteadiness, and uncoordinated muscular contractions. Marijuana buffers !

the central nervous system, but is not known to produce a considerable amount of tar in the lungs. Although

marijuana has not been proven to be physically addictive, its use can be psychologically addictive. These are the

negative effects of marijuana, and the primary reasons why domestic people, doctors, and politicians want to keep

marijuana illegal.

Supporters of legalizing marijuana state that some legal drugs are just as bad. For example, alcohol has many of the

same side effects of marijuana. Alcohol buffers the central nervous system and is known to kill brain cells. A joint

of marijuana is known to produce more tar than a cigarette, but on the average marijuana users do not consume

enough marijuana to surpass the tar build up of a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. June Crown and

W.D.M. Paton state that “Further, one should realize that different cannabis smokers select different levels of

intoxication” (18). In addition, both alcohol and cigarettes have been proven to be chemically addictive and yet they

are legal.

As of late 1990, there were about twelve people who had permission to smoke marijuana for its medical value. Are

these the only people who can benefit from marijuana? Not according to Harvard researchers who surveyed 2,430

oncologists; of the 1,035 who responded nearly 50% said that they had suggested smoking marijuana to at least one

of their patients, despite the fact that it is illegal, and that they would prescribe marijuana if it were legalized.

When Kenny and Barbara Jenks, of Panama City, Florida, developed AIDS, the only thing that made them hungry

and decreased their nausea were several hits of marijuana each day. Neither of them had ever been marijuana

smokers before, but everything their doctor prescribed for them failed. In March of 1990, twelve police officers put

a battering ram through the door of their mobile home, took their two 10-inch marijuana plants, and arrested the

couple. The Jenks retaliated, and nine months later became two of a handful of legal marijuana smokers in the

United States.

For the last ten years the government has sparingly dispensed marijuana to a minute portion of the population to

receive it legally on an experimental basis for the treatment of glaucoma and nausea related to cancer chemotherapy.

At the peak of the Drug Wars in the late 1980s the Department of Health and Human Services began receiving

dozens of applications from AIDS patients, for whom marijuana’s hunger inducing effects was the only thing that

separated them from life and death. As they lost weight and strength, they found it more and more difficult to sustain

the will to live. Instead of seeing the demand, Health and Human Services quickly shut down the program this past

year, only allowing the select group already benefiting from marijuana to continue. Helping people in need wasn’t

worth endangering the reputation of the War on Drugs. They thought that the use of marijuana, even as a medicine

would send the wrong message to people.

Although there is much talk about the legalization of drugs among the state government there is very little talk about

it on the national level. Instead of legalizing it the government has tried to come up with alternatives to marijuana

use. They now offer a drug called Marinol, a spherical brown pill containing an artificial version of one of

marijuana’s working ingredients. Marinol is produced solely by Unimed Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. The pill sells

for about five dollars a tablet, and was sanctioned in 1985 to battle the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy.

In the book, Marijuana, the Forbidden Medicine, it states that ” retching (dry heaves) may last for hours or even days

after each treatment, followed by days and even weeks of nausea. Patients may break bones or rupture the esophagus

while vomiting. Furthermore, many patients eat almost nothing because they cannot stand the sight or smell of food”

(25). In the past year the FDA approved it as a h!

unger stimulant for AIDS patients suffering from the enormous weight loss of this “wasting away syndrome.” Some

patients lose up to thirty pounds in a single month.

Marinol works because it duplicates delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that gives

people a “high.” But, due to the fact that a person is taking the dosage of the THC in one concentrated amount, and

not at intervals like smoking marijuana, it hits a person like a brick. Besides, it may not even contain the medicine

that suffering people need and want. Since there was a sudden need for a marijuana substitute, THC was the most

researched, so synthetic THC is what was approved by the FDA. In contrast, patients do not want to get high

necessarily, they just want relief.

When people hear the phrase, “legalization of marijuana,” they only think of the people smoking it for a “high,” not

for using it as a medicine. People should not smoke marijuana for recreational purposes, rather for the medical

value. It should be used by those people whose last alternative for relief is marijuana. These people who are ill

should not be punished by suffering. Prescription drugs are not to be taken unless prescribed by a doctor. So in fact,

we are not legalizing a drug, only introducing a new weapon for fighting illnesses.

I hope to have alleviated some of the hostilities towards marijuana. Its uses go far beyond just getting “high.” It can

be used to make paper, therefore saving many trees, clothes, and most importantly for medicine. Although I do not

condone smoking marijuana as a recreational drug, I feel that its positive aspects would greatly assist us in the

present as well as the future.

Aikman, Lonnelle. Nature’s Healing Arts: From Folk Medicine to Modern Drugs. National Geographic Society,


Bakalar, James B. and Lester Grinspoon, M.D. Marijuana, the Forbidden Medicine. Yale University Press: New

Haven and London, 1993.

Crown, June and W.D.M. Paton. Cannabis and Its Derivatives. Oxford University Press: London, 1972.

Mechoulam, Raphael. Marijuana. American Press: New York and London, 1973.

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