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Legalizing Marijuana Essay, Research Paper


Currently drugs remain high on the agenda s of politicians, and drugs are considered one of the major problems affecting our country. I believe that the negative effects associated with drugs would be reduced greatly if the United States adopted a policy towards the total legalization of marijuana. By this I mean completely legalizing marijuana for recreational, medical, and other uses. The current drug policy of our government is obviously failing. Drugs are quiet present in our society, and the United States drug policy has not stopped drug trafficking to the point where it is beneficial. Drug laws have created corruption, violence, increased street crime, and disrespect for the justice system. Besides that the American people should be allowed to enjoy what they like to do while law enforcement focus their attention on other more serious crimes. Therefore I plan to cite a brief history of marijuana s early uses before and after its prohibition in 1937, myths about marijuana, and why it should be legalized.

Marijuana comes from the hemp plant, which can be grown on fields across the nation and was cultivated heavily in the colonial period. After 130 years of being able to grow and consume marijuana, the potential problems of marijuana were brought into the public eye in 1932. Harry J Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, wrote the book Marijuana: Assassin of Youth (Goldman). In the book Anslinger portrayed images of criminals and young men who became killers under the influence of marijuana. Anslinger s book put public pressure on President Franklin Roosevelt to sign the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This law made the use and sale of marijuana federal offenses.

Marijuana didn t reappear in the public eye again until the mid-1960 s when the Hippy emerged. Still widespread objection to the use of marijuana remained. Marijuana then became part of the culture of college students and middle class youths. During the next ten years marijuana use escalated to the point that it was literally everywhere. Marijuana use was becoming a more accepted practice across the nation.

In 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act reduced the classification of simple possession and non-profit distribution of marijuana from felonies to misdemeanors(Himmelstein). However, Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1973 and over the next twenty years each succeeding president continued to escalate the drug war. This particular drug war is not only against marijuana but also harder drugs that are more dangerous. This policy has obviously done nothing to stop the recreational use of marijuana in this country. Rather it is causing great harm.

When some people imagine the legalization of marijuana, they fear a marijuana free for all with everybody constantly getting high and the government being burdened by the legalization. In fact, the process of legalization would include a law passed by Congress allowing the government to regulate the content, quality, and distribution of marijuana. The laws would be similar to the current laws regulating alcohol and tobacco, including laws governing age, limits for driving, and distribution (McGrath). Also a thorough investigation of the costs and benefits of legalization must be examined before any policy is implemented.

As mentioned earlier, there are several myths associated with the use of marijuana, which anti-legalization supporters repeatedly cite. One of these is that marijuana uses causes brain damage. People who oppose legalization base their claim on a study done by Dr. Robert Heath on monkeys in the late 1970 s. Heath s work was criticized for its in suffiencient sample size of only four monkeys, its failure to control experimental bias, and the misidentification of normal monkey brain structure as damaged (Haggar). In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association conducted two studies in 1977 and they showed no evidence of brain damage in heavy users of marijuana. Later that same year the Journal of the American Medical Association came out in favor of legalization of marijuana (Haggar). If marijuana did cause brain damage would they be in favor of legalizing it?

In the same way, marijuana has been connected with damages to the reproductive system. This is based on the work of Dr. Gabriel Nahas, who experimented with tissue cells isolated in petri dishes. The cells were dosed with near lethal levels of THC. The scientific community rejected Nahas s connections between the petri dishes and the human beings because the data was invalid. Studies of actual human populations have failed to demonstrate that marijuana adversely affects the reproductive system (Haggar).

A persistent myth about marijuana is that it is a gateway drug, which is a softer drug that leads to the use of harder drugs. The Dutch partially legalized marijuana in the 1970 s and since then the use of heroin and cocaine has sharply decreased (Janssen). The opposite of this gateway is also present in the United States. In 1993, a study by the Rand Company compared drug use in the states that have lessened the penalty for marijuana and was made more available, hard drug abuse decreased. What science and real experiences tell us is that marijuana tends to substitute for much harder drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin (Haggar).

One more common misconception is that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol. Yes, extremely high doses of THC cause death. Scientists have concluded that the ratio of THC needed to get a person stoned to the amount necessary to kill someone is 1 to 40,000. This means that to overdose from marijuana a person would have to consume 40,000 times more than a person normally would to get stoned. The ratio of normal alcohol consumption is versus overdose varies between 1 in 4 and 1 in 10. Over 5000 people die of alcohol overdose each year, yet no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose (Haggar). Many would argue that this fact is because marijuana is illegal, but consider the fact that marijuana is approximately a 46 billion-dollar industry (NORML).

Nevertheless, there are also a few disadvantages that anti-legalization supporters use. One of the definite proven disadvantages is the fact that it is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. Two marijuana cigarettes create more air impairment than an entire pack of cigarettes (Miner). One joint contains three times more tar than cigarettes do and marijuana is considered four times more dangerous (Courtwright). Many politicians and some medical professional s project that lung cases will increase if marijuana is legalized (Miner). These are all valid arguments, but cigarette smoking is legal and the end result for many years of use is the same as marijuana; lung cancer. If the government allows people to get lung cancer from smoking cigarettes why not marijuana?

The American Civil Liberties Union advocates the full legalization of use, possession, manufacture, and distribution of drugs (Rosenfield). They believe that marijuana being illegal is unconstitutional. The enforcement of drug laws on marijuana allows a black market to thrive. If the marijuana black market did not exist there would not be any reason for illegal activity to be associated with marijuana. Allen St. Pierre, Assistant National Director of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws says, Legalization will wipe out the already 60 billion-dollar black market by placing marijuana in the open market (NORML). The war on drugs is wasting the money and lives of American people.

Similarly, the drug laws imprison a multitude of otherwise law-abiding people for non-violent acts that are directed at on no one but themselves (Lasagna). Most small time drug offenders were possessing marijuana for personal consumption. They were not driving intoxicated or posing a threat to anyone. Instead of eliminating drugs, the prohibition of marijuana promotes an illegal industry able to inflate prices. This is similar to the alcohol prohibition of the 1920 s when gangsters ran black market alcohol. The black market is obviously the only place where drugs in general can be sold and because of this fact violence is created, along with deaths due to no quality regulation, and diseases spread from sharing illegal drug paraphernalia (Rosenfield).

The supporters of legalization believe that it will benefit society in three ways, including revenue enhancement, medical benefits, and hemp production. The largest and most appealing argument for marijuana legalization is revenue enhancement for the United States government. Much of the money normally spent on the law enforcement, court time, and the cost of incarcerating prisoners would be saved and used towards something more beneficial (Schmoek). The United States spent roughly one billion dollars on marijuana enforcement last year and the DEA has proposed a 400% increase in the anti-marijuana campaign within the next ten years, yet domestic marijuana production has only decreased by 10%. Furthermore, in 1989, 314,552 arrests were made for simple possession. That is 314,552 people that taxpayers paid to hold in jail, for just having marijuana or paraphernalia in their possession. America s annual marijuana harvest was worth 50.7 billion dollars in 1989. In comparison to corn, a 31.4 billion-dollar harvest, marijuana grosses 28 billion dollars more and has a potential to become the leading agricultural product in the United States. With trade regulations, industry regulations, and consumption taxes on marijuana the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws has estimated that legalization would produce over 40 billion dollars in taxable revenue (NORML). Legalization offers Congress a resolution to the national debt because marijuana sales could provide the needed funds to help our economy and reduce our national debt.

Correspondingly, marijuana could also help medical patients. Advocates of legalization constantly cite the medical benefits of marijuana. For cancer patients, marijuana reduces nausea and increases appetite (Stroup). Marijuana also reduces epileptic seizures and reduces nerve disorders in multiple sclerosis patients (NORML). I believe that if marijuana relieves pain from patient s illnesses then I support their need to legalize. Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, as California did in 1996 with Proposition 15, could possibly provide cures for diseases, or at least help their pain, then allow marijuana prohibition to end.

Still one area that does not gain too much publicity in the legalization issue is hemp production. Marijuana comes from the top leaves and flowers of the female hemp plant. The fiber from the top is used to make paper, rope, clothing, and methanol fuel. Methanol is a liquid that burns much like gasoline. It is widely used in the manufacture of windshield washer fluid, gasoline fuel additives, formaldehyde, and methanol has promise as a transportation fuel (Natural Resources Canada). Hemp is also a versatile plant because it grows in poor soil thus not taking up any valuable agricultural land (NORML). Seventy five to ninety percent of all paper used before 1883 was hemp paper, including the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence (Young). Hemp is also safer for the environment. Hemp requires 40% fewer chemicals to produce than paper and over a twenty year time span one acre of hemp can produce four times as much pulp versus an acre of tree (NORML). Therefore the production of hemp would save trees, therefore promoting cleaner air and creating jobs for harvesting.

To summarize the push for legalization of marijuana is making news across America just as it did in the late 1960 s. Marijuana is the only illegal drug that people can talk about, sing about, make movies about, wear clothes about, and basically tell the world I smoke weed. Everyone knows marijuana s presence and it is totally accepted but if a person is caught growing it, consuming it, or possessing it; it is then illegal. Marijuana use is glorified in movies like Dazed and Confused or Half Baked. Even music groups like Cypress Hill, 311, and Busta Rhymes understand the use of marijuana, if they do not encourage it. Increasing public support and media attention will slowly force the legalization issue into the front of the political arena. Weighing both the costs and benefits, the legalization seems inevitable. Many of the myths about its harmful effects have been proven false. The current war on drugs is failing and it cost too many lives and too much money. There are many benefits to be gained from the cannabis plant including increased tax revenue, safety due to government regulations, a decrease in crime and the use of hard rugs, and the environmental benefits of hemp. I will end with a quote from Thomas Szasz, Although at the present we cannot serve the cause of liberty by repealing the drug laws, we can betray that cause by supporting the fiction that self medication is a disease, prohibiting is a public health measure, and punishing it is a treatment.


Courtwright, David T. NO! American Heritage Feb.- March 1995: 43, 50-56

Goldman, Albert. Grass Roots. New York Harper & Row 1979: 88

Haggar, Paul. Marijuana Myths. ICLU drug task force literature. 8 Feb 2001, http://www.parionoia.com/drugs/marijuanna/facts/marijuana-myths.

Himmelstein, Jerome L. The Stinger Career of Marijuana. Westport, CN: Green Wood Press. 1983.

Lasagna, Louis and Gardner Lindzez. Marijuana Policy and Drug Mythology. Drugs and American Society: The Reference Shelf Ed. Robert Emmet Song. The H.W. Wilson Company. New York, NY 1986.

Janssen, Otto. Normalization of the Drug Problem: An Outline of the Dutch Drugs Policy. 14 Feb. 2001, http://www.paranioa.lycoeum.org/normalization-drugs.html.

McGrath, Matt. Marijuana Should Be Legalized Illegal Drugs: Current Controversies. Ed. Charles P. Cozic. Greenhaven Press Inc. San Diego, CA. 1998.

Miner, Brad. How Sweet is Mary Jane? National Review 1996: 44

National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML). 8 Feb. 2001. http://www.norml.org

Natural Resources Canada. Methanol Fuel. Energy Publication. 14 Feb. 2001.


Rosenfield, Jim. ACLU Drug Policy adopted April 1994: Decriminalization of Drugs.

14 Feb. 2001 http:///www.primenet.com%7Eslackk/wosd/aclu0001.txt

Stroup, Keith. Marijuana Should Be Legalized for Recreational and Medical Purposes. Marijuana: At Issue. Ed. William Dudley. Greehaven Press Inc. San Diego, CA 1999: 9-16

Szasz, Thomas. Making Marijuana A Medical Issue Undercuts the Rationale of Legalization.

Marijuana: At Issue. Ed. William Dudley. Greehaven Press Inc. San Diego, CA 1999: 24-26


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