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Legalize Weed Essay, Research Paper

Cody Britt

Period 5


?People can’t live without the herb man, / If not they’d be drinkin? and drivin? and

swervin? / But thanks to Dr. Greenthumb, weed grow / In the backyard or inside with

hydro,? chants B-Real of Cypress Hill in their hit song, ?Dr. Greenthumb,? which

glorifies the cultivation of marijuana. Cypress Hill, a Los Angeles based rap group, has

long championed the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana, which has

recently become a pressing issue in this day of alternative medicine, civil liberties, and

humane treatment for the terminally ill. As an increasing number of states pass laws

allowing medical marijuana and authoritative studies legitimizing both recreational and

medicinal use of marijuana continue to appear the arguments against it begin to break

down. When one considers the medical benefits, both recently discovered and

traditionally practiced, along with the high costs of prohibition, the legalization of

marijuana shows itself to be a possible solution. Marijuana should be legalized in the

United States for medical and responsible recreational use in order to cut the immense

expenditure spent on its prohibition and allows its medicinal benefits to be available to

those who need them.

Medicinal marijuana is very beneficial to those suffering from terminal illnesses

and those requiring therapeutic measures. Recent research done by the National Institute

of Mental Health has found that compounds in marijuana are strong antioxidants, which

would help to protect the brain cells during a stroke. In fact, the compounds outperformed

vitamins C and E, conventional antioxidants (Armentano). Marijuana has been found to

have a therapeutic effect for victims of multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, epilepsy, and

quadriplegia (Peters Interview, Thompson Interview, Armentano). Through a series of

animal and human studies, researchers have determined that marijuana does have to

ability to suppress convulsions. A recent National Academy of Sciences report,

commissioned by the federal government, found that marijuana is effective in treating

AIDS wasting syndrome and chemotherapy patients whom have been unresponsive to other

medications. Even though it is illegal, many oncologists are prescribing cannabis to these

patients (Armentano). Marijuana may also provide a more reasonable alternative to

euthanasia for terminally ill patients (Thompson Interview). Marijuana may be

successfully substituted for many conventional medicines while remaining less toxic and

significantly cheaper. Georgia quadriplegic, Louis Covar, claims that he smokes

marijuana to provide relief from painful muscle spasms, as the doctor-prescribed

narcotics make him drowsy and make it hard for him to communicate. Covar was

paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a July 4, 1967 driving accident (Hodson). It

is ridiculous to deny the seriously ill the safest, most effective treatment to ease their

suffering (Armentano). The new research done on medical marijuana has helped to

strengthen arguments for the legalization of marijuana for responsible recreational use.

Recreational marijuana, when used prudently, is not as harmful as it is often made

out to be; numerous studies have declared that smoking marijuana is not detrimental to

one?s health. Recently, Kaiser Permanente released a report stating that there is no link

between regular marijuana use and mortality. It recommended that ?medical guidelines

regarding [marijuana?s] prudent use? be established, akin to common senses guidelines

that apply to alcohol? (qtd. in ?Still Crazy??). In 1972, President Richard Nixon

appointed a blue-ribbon panel of experts, headed by former Pennsylvania Governor

Raymond Shafer. The panel concluded that marijuana prohibition was potentially more

harmful to the user than usage alone. Going a step further, an earlier NAS report,

published in 1982, advocated the decriminalization of possession and recommended that

legislators seriously consider a system of controlled distribution (?Still Crazy??).

Marijuana is really not as harmful as it has been made out to be. Oftentimes, brain

damage or other severe harm is caused not by marijuana, but by impure samples

(Thompson Interview). Some drug dealers pass off many other substances as marijuana,

often with adverse consequences. Samples of marijuana have been found containing rat

poison or household cleaners This is often the cause of many emergency room cases and

deaths (Peters Interview). The federal government should not be concerned with

responsible users, for they cause not harm to society and are of no threat to the well being

of the nation (?Still Crazy??). However, mere possession of marijuana is still a serious

federal offense.

Marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution is a felony in the United States,

and the federal government strongly enforces strict laws controlling the substance and

these who use it. Marijuana was defined as ?Schedule I? by the Controlled Substances

Act of 1970. This means, according to the National Organization for the Reform of

Marijuana Laws, NORML, that marijuana is listed as ?having a high potential for abuse,

no currently acceptable medical use in treatment in the United States, and lack of

accepted safety use under medical supervision? (?Background?). Marijuana farmers run

the high risk of losing their house, farm, car, or various other possessions if they are

caught (Stepzinski). Farmers who grow 100 marijuana plants or more are subject to a

prison term of five years as mandated by federal law. Trafficking and cultivation on a

large scale may carry a possible death sentence. All but 8 states punish possession of any

amount with imprisonment or a severe fine (?Still Crazy??). Louis Covar was

imprisoned for seven years for possessing marijuana and violating his probation. Covar

may now receive an additional 10-year prison sentence after a recent indictment on

charges of marijuana possession (Hodson). In January of 1997, Oklahoma medical

marijuana user William Foster was sentenced to a 93-year jail term. He was growing 10

plants and 56 clones in an underground shelter. According to NORML, a clone is defined

as a cutting ?from another plant planted in the soil? (?Still Crazy??). Under federal law,

smoking is currently a worse ?crime? than murder, rape, or robbery. A convicted

marijuana cultivator may not receive federal funds and benefits; however, many other

types of felons may. Even though the cultivation and possession of marijuana are not

associated with violence, those convicted of such crimes often receive longer sentences

than perpetrators of violent crime. If such strict federal and local laws are made to

prevent violent crime, then they should be aimed at such crimes, as opposed to non-

violent marijuana offenders. What appears even more outrageous is the existence of local

and federal property forfeiture laws. A person merely being investigated for drug charges

can have their personal property seized, even if they are not formally charged with a

crime. NORML?s report, ?Still Crazy After All These Years,? points out that any

personal property, ?including cash, cars, boats, land, business equipment, and houses?

may be forfeited. In the extreme case, crooked law enforcement officers target suspected

offenders with the sole intent of seizing property. In 1993, 80 percent the seizures made

by the federal government were not followed up by a formal charge of a narcotics

violation. Marijuana legislation may appear somewhat misguided and in need of reform,

but one may ask how it affects the common person who may or may not smoke


Marijuana prohibition affects every citizen of the United States because of its

immense cost to the government at federal and local levels. On average the federal

government spends $15.7 billion on narcotics control. Another $16 billion per year is

spent by state and local governments to uphold drug laws (?Still Crazy?,? Jameson

Interview). $7.5 billion to $10 billion of this is spent solely on enforcement.

Approximately 600,000 people were arrested per year on marijuana possession charges

between 1995 and 1998. This amounts to one arrest every 45 seconds. (?Still Crazy?,?

FBI:1 214, FBI:2 222, FBI:3 210). Each arrest requires two officers and, assuming that

these were all simple cases involving no extra resources, takes about two hours to

process. As a result, this adds up to approximately 2,400,000 police man-hours per year.

When one factors in investigations and prosecutions the number of dollars increases to

nine figures. On top of this, it costs taxpayers $23,000 annually to incarcerate a marijuana

offender (?Still Crazy??). In the case of Mr. Covar, it will cost $258 a day to house him.

This translates to $660,000 for the entire seven years (Hodson). The public does not care

much about prosecuting harmless marijuana users and is even less enthusiastic about

spending tax dollars to do so. According to Sharon Tracy, a Georgia Southern University

criminal justice professor, ?The public is pretty apathetic about marijuana. As long as it?s

not hurting them, or they don?t think that the grower is selling it to kids, most people are

pretty tolerant of it? (qtd. in Stepzinski). Federal statistics show that marijuana generates

billions of dollars annually and is the fourth largest cash crop in the nation. As of

February 2000, marijuana costs about $2,400 per pound in Georgia. When this is

compared to legal crops, such as tobacco, $1.67 per pound, cotton $.46 per pound,

peanuts, $.26 per pound, and corn, $2.10 per pound, one can see why it is very profitable

for small farmers. The authorities destroyed 32,022 of the marijuana plants found in

Georgia. They were potentially worth $77 million (Stepzinski). Apparently, the federal

government has not shown any interest in attempting to accurately calculate the cost of

prohibition, as it would not be able to justify these costs. Marijuana, though illegal, is a

very valuable commodity; however, prior to its prohibition, it was used for much more

than smoking.

Hemp was once the universal crop in America, as it served to produce paper,

cloth, and medicine, among many other uses. After colonists in Jamestown, Virginia

planted hemp in 1611, England?s King James I ordered wide scale farming of the crop.

The forefathers of this country, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis

and promoted an economy centered around the plant (?Still Crazy??, Moench 108).

Colonists used hemp to make sails, bibles, clothing, and maps (?Still Crazy??). It was

used by the U.S. Navy for sails and rope and the settlers of the American West for

covered wagons. In fact, Levi-Strauss made his first pair of jeans from hemp. Marijuana?s

medicinal benefits have been known for centuries; it was for clearing bronchial passages,

relieving migraines, and treating glaucoma (Moench 108). In 1934, F. Pascal concluded

that ?Indian hemp? could be used for ?psychological, psychoanalytical, and

psychotherapeutic research? (?Statement of Dr. William C. Woodward??). According to

Doug Moench, marijuana?s ?finest use would be the acid-free, non-polluting production

of hemp-fiber paper.? One acre of cannabis hemp could replace four acres of trees and

produce higher quality paper without deforestation or acid rain. In fact, the American

Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper (Moench 108-109). This great

strength, however it is what would bring about the eventual prohibition of the all-purpose


The sole fact that marijuana could be used to produce cheap paper led to a full-

fledged conspiracy to ban any use of it in America. Hemp production was very labor

intensive, so after the Civil War, it was replaced with the cheaper wood pulp sulfide

process. By the mid 1930s, wood?s short reign as the source of paper appeared short lived

however, for a new invention called the decorticate would make hemp production

cheaper than wood. Businessman William Randolph Hearst had enormous shares of pulp

timber and paper mills, and he stood to lose everything if cannabis were allowed to make

a comeback. Hearst decided to use his the many newspapers he owned to mar the image

of hemp He printed such headlines as ?Marihuana Makes Fiends of Boys in 30 Days!?

(Moench 109). It was during this time that marijuana was recognized as an intoxicant,

and was renamed ?marihuana? (?Still Crazy??). Using the press, Hearst was able to

sway the public into thinking marijuana should be banned. Meanwhile, Dupont

Corporation had created rayon and nylon, which were in direct competition with hemp

clothe and rope. Dupont inevitably took Hearst?s side of the argument. U.S Secretary of

Treasury, Andrew Mellon, appointed Harry Ansligner as the Commissioner of the

Federal Bureau of Narcotics, FBN. Mellon was also the chairman of Mellon bank, which

funded Dupont, and his niece was married to Anslinger (Moench 110). Anslinger and the

FBN continued Hearst?s work with newspapers and Hollywood (?Still Crazy??).

Anslinger testified before Congress on marijuana, often reading articles from Heart?s

papers aloud. He claimed that ?Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history

of mankind? (qtd. in Moench 110). Marijuana was said to eliminate all fear in the hearts

of criminals (?Still Crazy??). Hearst backed up Anslinger?s claims with ?If the hideous

monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster marijuana, he would drop dead

of fright? (qtd. in Moench 110). Outrageous by the FBN was abound; one news bulletin

stated that a marijuana user ?becomes a fiend with savage or ?cave man? tendencies. His

sex desires are aroused and some of the most horrible crimes result. He hears sight and

sees sound. To get away from it, he suddenly becomes violent and may kill? (qtd. in

?Still Crazy??). The Marijuana Tax Act was introduced to Congress on April 14, 1937

by Representative Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina (?Still Crazy??). During the

Congressional hearings, Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Counsel for the

American Medical Association, testified against the Act (?Statement of Dr. William C.

Woodward?,? ?Background?). Woodward pointed out that there was no data from the

Bureau of Prisons, the Children?s Bureau, or the Public Health Service?s Division of

Mental Hygiene. He also questioned as to why most of the FBN?s arguments had been

based upon newspaper statements which would not be ?competent primary evidence?

(?Statement of Dr. William C. Woodward?,? ?Still Crazy??) The chairman?s

statement, ?If you want to advise us on legislation, you ought to come here with some

constructive proposals, rather than criticism, rather than trying to throw obstacles in the

way of something that the Federal Government is trying to do. It has not only an

unselfish motive in this, but they have a serious responsibility,? reflects the committee?s

lack of interest in what he had to say as well as the federal government?s predetermined

position on marijuana (qtd. in ?Statement of Dr. William C. Woodward?,? ?Still

Crazy??). The tax act glided through congress with only a 90 second debate in the house

as to whether the AMA supported the bill. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, lying, said that

the AMA gave its full support and the bill was passed without a recorded vote (?Still

Crazy??) Even now, marijuana is illegal, as millions of dollars are spent on prohibition

and the government continues to spew Hearst?s and Anslinger?s propaganda. Chevron,

the manufacturer of Parquat, a defoliant sprayed on marijuana crops by the government,

has urged that the use of Parquat be discontinued. President Reagan replied that,

?Marijuana is an illegal and harmful drug. If you don?t use it, you don?t have to worry?

(qtd. in Moench 111). President George Bush continued Reagan?s anti-drug policy. What

he has not mentioned though, is that from 1977-1979, he was the director of, and his

family holds a controlling interest in, the Eli Lilly Drug Company. The Eli Lilly

Company has been trying to synthesize the active ingredients of marijuana, with no avail.

If marijuana were legalized, it would suffer greatly, as it currently hold a monopoly on

such drugs that partially mimic cannabis (Moench 111). President Jimmy Carter,

however, was looking in the right direction, for August 2, 1977, the 40th anniversary of

prohibition, he declared, ?Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an

individual than use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against

possession of marijuana in private for personal use? (?Still Crazy??). This entire

situation is not true in the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available.

The Netherlands provide a wonderful example of successful legalization. The

Dutch are obviously doing something right, because marijuana use is almost twice as

high in the United States as it is in the Netherlands (Jameson Interview). The national

average of drug use in the Netherlands is 15.6%, compared to 32.9% in the United States,

as of 1997 (?Final Report of Dutch??). Hemp is easily obtainable in Dutch coffee

shops. As a result the prices are not so high, the way they are on the American black

market. Low prices discourage crime, as users are not reduced to crime to get enough

money just to pay for drugs (Potter Interview). In the United States, prohibition allows

dealers to charge greatly inflated prices, thus causing users to turn to crime (Jameson

Interview). Another successful tactic employed in Holland is the separation of markets.

Marijuana is kept away from other, more dangerous drugs, and many coffee shops strictly

serve marijuana (Potter Interview). In a study on Dutch drug use, 910 of 945, or 96%,

said they bough cannabis in coffee shops, while the other 35 refer to other drugs. The

goal in the United States should be to do the same, take marijuana out of the black

market. Instead, the policy is to throw everything illegal together, thus marijuana serves

as the ?gateway? drug. Those looking for marijuana will come into contact with other,

?harder? drugs. This is caused by marijuana prohibition, because by separating markets,

the Dutch have effectively prevented marijuana from being the gateway drug (?Final

Report on Dutch??). Through the Netherlands one can see how the legalization of

marijuana can be more effective at accomplishing the goals of prohibition than

prohibition itself.

The legalization of marijuana would be a positive step for the United States, in

that it would provide medical benefits, decrease government expenditures, reduce crime,

and the fact remains that the entire drug war has been a failure. Prohibition has not been

successful in significantly reducing use since its introduction in 1937 (Jameson

Interview). Marijuana is still consumed in large quantities in the United States, and is

only beaten by alcohol and tobacco (?Still Crazy??). If one looks at the success of

Holland, one can see that if the government?s goals were sincere, then legalization would

be a much better path than prohibition. The thought remains that the government?s goals

are not, in fact, sincere, for they continue to vehemently pursue prohibition. When

marijuana prohibition is compared to the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, drug dealers

take on the same role as the Mafia; marijuana cultivators become ?modern-day

moonshiners (qtd. in Stepzinski). The violent crime associated with the Prohibition was

far more harmful than the alcohol itself. The government obviously decided that

prohibition of alcohol was a mistake and that it should never be done again; however, it

continues with marijuana. The other example is tobacco. Scientists have known of the

adverse effects of smoking tobacco for years, however, cigarettes have yet to be banned.

As of yet, the government has found that education appears to be the best way to prevent

use, not prohibition. One may ask then, why is the same not done for marijuana?

One more thought to leave you with is, that for dealing drugs you can get four

years in a state prison, and for rape you can get as little as one year.

Primary Sources:

All the people I meet on-line that gave me all the research for this project.

Interview: Jameson, Dr. Daniel Ph.D. Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Michigan. E-mail Interview. 20 Mar. 2000.

Interview: Peters, Michael. Recreational marijuana user. New York, New York. E-mail Interview. 19 Mar. 2000.

Potter, Jonathan. Utrecht resident, occasional marijuana user. Utrecht, Netherlands. E-mail Interview. 19 Mar. 2000.

Thompson, Dr. James M.D. Ph.D. Professor of Anatomy, University of Austin. Austin Texas. E-mail Interview. 17 Mar. 2000.

Secondary Sources

Armentano, Paul. ?NORML Statement on the Medical use of Marijuana.? NORML. 12 Mar. 2000. .

Cypress Hill. ?Dr. Greenthumb.? Cypress Hill IV. Track 13. Sony Music. 6 Oct. 1998.

Hodson, Sandy. ?Quadriplegic Faces Additional Charge.? Augusta Chronicle. 23 Feb. 2000.

Moench, Doug. The Big Book of Conspiracies. New York: Paradox Press, 1995.

Stepzinski, Teresa. ?Illegal Crop Can Mean Big Money for Poor Farmers.? Florida Times-Union. 14 Feb. 2000.

?Background.? NORML. 12 Feb. 2000. .

Federal Bureau of Investigation Unifrom Crime Reports, Crime in the United States: 1996. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997. 14 Mar. 2000. .

Federal Bureau of Investigation Unifrom Crime Reports, Crime in the United States: 1997. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998. 14 Mar. 2000. .

Federal Bureau of Investigation Unifrom Crime Reports, Crime in the United States: 1998. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999. 14 Mar. 2000. .

?Final Report of Dutch National Drug Use Will Require New Lies From the Drug Czar.? MarijuanaNews. 28 Feb. 2000. .

?Legalize Marijuana and Reduce Use?? Marijuana News. 28 Feb. 2000. .

?Statement of Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Council, American Medical Association.? Taxation of Marihuana. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means. 4 May 1937. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. 14 Mar. 2000. .

?Still Crazy After All These Years.? NORML. 12 Feb. 2000. .

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