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The Debate Over Marijuana Essay, Research Paper

Case for Legalizing Marijuana

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana, a drug obtained from dried and crumpled parts of

the ubiquitous hemp plant Canabis sativa (or Cannabis indica). Smoked

by rolling in tobacco paper or placing in a pipe. It is also otherwise

consumed worldwide by an estimated 200,000,000 persons for pleasure,

an escape from reality, or relaxation. Marijuana is known by a variety

of names such as kif (Morocco), dagga (South Africa), and bhang

(India). Common in the United States, marijuana is called pot, grass,

weed, Mary Jane, bones, etc. The main active principle of cannabis is

tetrahydrocannabinol. The potency of its various forms ranges from a

weak drink consumed in India to the highly potent hashish. The

following consists of pure cannabis resin. Marijuana is not a narcotic

and is not mentally or physically addicting drug. One can use mild

cannabis preparations such as marijuana in small amounts for years

without physical or mental deterioration. Marijuana serves to diminish

inhibitions and acts as an euphoriant. Only once in a while will it

produce actual hallucinations. More potent preparations of cannabis

such as hashish can induce psychedelic experiences identical to those

observed after ingestion of potent hallucinogens such as LSD. Some who

smoke marijuana feel no effects; others feel relaxed and sociable,

tend to laugh a great deal, and have a profound loss of the sense of

time. Characteristically, those under the influence of marijuana show

incoordination and impaired ability to perform skilled acts. Still

others experience a wide range of emotions including feelings of

perception, fear, insanity, happiness, love and anger. Although

marijuana is not addicting, it may be habituating. The individual may

become psychologically rather than physically dependent on the drug.

Legalization Of Marijuana

Those who urge the legalization of marijuana maintain the drug

is entirely safe. The available data suggested, this is not so,

Marijuana occasionally produces acute panic reactions or even

transient psychoses. Furthermore, a person driving under the influence

of marijuana is a danger to themselves and others. If smoked heavily

and a great deal of consistency, its use has been clearly associated

with mental breakdown. In many persons who smoke chronically, the drug

reinforces passivity and reduces goal-directed, constructive activity.

The chronic use of pure resin (hashish) has been associated both with

mental deterioration and criminality. One of the major complications

of marijuana use is the tendency on the part of some users to progress

to more dangerous drugs. Users in economically deprived areas usually

go on to heroin, whereas more affluent individuals tend to move from

marijuana to more potent hallucinogens such as LSD. There is no

established medical use for marijuana or any other cannabis

preparation. In the United States, its use is a crime and the laws

governing marijuana are similar to those regulating heroin. Many

authorities now urge that the laws be modified to mitigate the

penalties relating to conviction on marijuana possession charges.

The Case For Legalizing Marijuana Use

The United States stands apart from many nations in its deep

respect for the individual. The strong belief in personal freedom

appears early in the nation’s history. The Declaration of Independence

speaks of every citizen’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of

happiness.” The Constitution and Bill of Rights go further, making

specific guarantees. They forbid the government to make unwarranted

entry into dwelling places. They forbid seizure of personal property,

except when very clear reasons are approved by the courts. They allow

every citizen to remain silent in court when accused of a crime. Legal

decisions have extended these rights, so that every citizen may feel

safe, secure, and sheltered from public view in the privacy of his or

her home.

The Right To Privacy

In recent years, Americans have referred to privacy as one of

the basic human rights, something to be claimed by anyone, anywhere.

United States citizens feel strongly about this and often tell other

countries that they must honor their people’s claims to privacy and

personal freedom. Foreign leaders often disagree. They resent what

they deem arrogant meddling by the United States. Leaders of the

Soviet Union, for example, regard individual privacy as trivial when

compared to the needs of the state. If the United States is to be

persuasive in promoting freedom in other parts of the world, it must

respect the privacy of its own citizens. Sometimes it is hard to do

this because what goes on in people’s private lives may seem

offensive. But, according to U.S. traditions, there is a strong case

to be made against legislating the private behavior of adults, so long

as that behavior does not in turn violate the rights of others. Some

people feel that this reasoning should hold also for marijuana. A

person who smokes at home is not doing injury. The marijuana user is

indulging in a minor pleasure over which that government should have

no jurisdiction. It is quite clear from survey data that most people

do not become physically dependent on marijuana. The majority use it

as others use alcohol – to relax occasionally and to indulge a festive

mood. How can a mild intoxicant, taken less than once a day by most

users, be seen as a public threat? Even those who are “hooked”, or

psychologically dependent upon their habit, should not be penalized by

the law. Some people find any compulsive and unproductive behavior

disgusting. But that is not a reason for outlawing it. Consider

eating, many people develop compulsive habits about food. They talk

about it frequently. They spend many of their waking hours

anticipating, planning, obtaining, and consuming food. This may be

unattractive. It certainly is not productive and it can be harmful if

the “food addict” is over weight. But there are no laws to prevent

food addiction. If Congress tried to forbid the eating of ice cream

sundaes or cotton candy, many people would be outraged, others would

simply laugh. The same sort of argument is raised by some people with

respect to marijuana. Even compulsive marijuana smoking by an adult is

not so offensive that it injured neighbors or requires government

intervention. The attempt to use the law to tell people what they may

and may not consume at home is an arrogant invasion of personal

privacy. Protecting the Drug User’s Physical Health Sometimes it is

said that the law must protect the drug user from himself. The

argument takes two forms. One has to do with the damage a drug may do

to a person’s health and the other with the individual’s power of

self-control or freedom. First consider the health effects. By any

reasonable standard, marijuana is a mild drug and as for overdosing,

there is no scientifically valid evidence of anyone dying of an

overdose of marijuana smoke. Of course, it is possible to commit

suicide by consuming large amounts of marijuana. But it is possible to

die by eating too much salt. Salt is not illegal. Aspirin kills by

overdose and that’s legal. Many people die by drinking too much

alcohol, an addictive drug. It too is legal. Why is marijuana

considered more dangerous?

Protecting Society from Marijuana

One argument made against the legalization of marijuana is

that it damages not only the user but innocent bystanders. This

argument, like the one about protecting the user, has two parts. The

first deals with physical injury and the second with spiritual health.

The main physical threat to society is that users under the influence

of a drug with crash a car or airplane, or lose control in some way

and do harm. People who have recently smoked marijuana do show signs

of clumsiness and disorientation. They should not operate machinery in

this condition. One study estimates that alcohol plays a part in 55%

of all fatal highway crashes. Marijuana may present similar risks, but

at present there are no reliable data on its importance in accidents.

According to John Stuart Mill’s writings, the government should try to

control only the aspects of drug use that injure society. In this

vein, it makes sense to have laws against driving under the influence

of marijuana similar to those governing driving under the influence of

alcohol. In other words, driving while on marijuana should be outlawed

by not the use of marijuana itself. Some people believe that marijuana

threatens society in a more insidious way. They argue that it drains

workers’ energy and makes them less productive. This in turn lowers

the vitality of the economy, depressing the overall quality of life.

In addition, drug use- including marijuana smoking- is seen as a

plague on society that must be isolated. This disease theory holds

that legalizing marijuana would make it more widely available and that

this would tend to increase its use as well as the use of all kinds of

drugs. One of the detriments of tolerating drug use, according to this

theory, is that is encourages the use of more and different drugs. The

National Institute on Drug Abuses 1984 report to Congress cited no

evidence to support the idea that drug use is hurting economic

productivity. It said: “The fact is, very little is known about the

complex relationship which undoubtedly exists between drug abuse,

worker performance, and productivity, or the lack thereof…. Simply

put, the number of unanswered questions currently far outnumbers the

available answers.” Nor is there any strong evidence that legalizing

marijuana would increase use of the drug. In fact, there is some

evidence suggesting that drug use under a relaxed legal system might

not increase at all. Many states have removed the penalties for

marijuana possession that were on the books in the 1950s and 1960s.

The change occurred during a reform movement that swept the nation in

the mid 1970s. Yet in spite of the less stringent laws, studies show

that the use of marijuana in the affected states has, after an initial

increase, declined. Although marijuana became easier to use (from a

legal standpoint), it also became less popular.

The Failure of Prohibition

Examining the U.S. policy on marijuana on the basis of

performance, one must judge it a miserable failure. The number of

people who have smoked the drug at least once has grown from an

uncounted few in the 1950s, when some of the strictest antimarijuana

laws were imposed, to nearly 50 million today. During this period the

federal government has made steadily increasing efforts to stop its

production and importation, and seizures of marijuana in the ports has

grown steadily. Elaborate and costly international police campaigns

have been launched, and the number of drug arrests in the United

States has increased. The federal budget for drug enforcement

reflected in several agencies has gone above $1 billion a year. And

yet the illegal trade in marijuana continues. Supplies are so

plentiful that the price has actually come down. The response has been

to redouble police efforts and hope that things will change. The

result is that more money is spent on a failed policy, creating an

ever-growing army of drug enforcers dedicated to keeping the policy

alive. The illegal market for marijuana grows even faster than the

police force, however, because the drug users are willing to pay more

to get what they want than taxpayers are willing to pay to stop it.

The drug police enjoy their work and are not going to quit. And why

should they as long as their salaries are paid? The admission that the

marijuana laws have failed will have to come from someone else- not

from the police. Marijuana is a common weed, easier to produce than

the bathtub gin of the Prohibition years. It is not surprising that

thousands of “dealers” have been drawn into the marijuana business.

Despite the great risks they face, including bullying by other dealers

and the threat of arrest, they are attracted by the profits. The law

cannot change the economics of this market because it operates outside

the law. All the police can do is to make it risky to get into the

marijuana business. This is supposed to drive out the less courageous

dealers, reduce the amount of marijuana available, and inflate prices.

But even by this measure, the police effort has failed. As mentioned

earlier, the price of marijuana is declining. There are several ways

in which the policy on marijuana imposed a burden on society. The

obvious one is the cost of supporting the federal enforcement effort.

Aside from this, there is a hard-to-measure but significant impact on

society because the law creates a huge criminal class. It includes not

just dealers who are out for profit but a much larger group of users.

Consider three major penalties for having such a large criminal class.

Some Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana

By lifting the ban on marijuana use and treating it like other

drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, the nation would gain immediate and

long-term benefits. This change in the law would greatly improve the

quality of life for many people. Victims of glaucoma and those needing

antinausea treatment, for example, would find marijuana easily

available. If the medical advantages that are claimed for marijuana

are real, many more patients would benefit. Research, which has been

slowed in the past by the government’s reluctance to frant exemptions

to the marijuana laws, would be easier to conduct. The cloud of

suspicion would disappear, and doctors could get on with investigating

marijuana’s medical uses with out fear of controversy. It might become

possible to discuss the dangers of marijuana use without getting

caught up in a policy debate. Meanwhile, the black market would

disappear overnight. Some arrangement would be made to license the

production of marijuana cigarettes. Thousands of dealers would be put

out of business, and a secret part of the economy would come into the

open. It is difficult to say whether this change would reduce crime

because criminals would probably continue to sell other drugs. But it

would have an impact on the amount of money flowing through criminal

channels, and this might weaken organized crime. Lastly, the federal

budget would benefit in two ways, Federal revenues would increase,

because marijuana cigarettes would be taxed at the point of sale. The

companies that make the cigarettes would also pay income taxes, adding

to the federal coffers. Second, there would be a reduction in the

amount spent on law enforcement efforts to apprehend and prosecute

users and sellers of marijuana. The drug enforcement authorities might

reduce their budget requests, or, more likely, focus more intensely on

hard drugs and violent crimes. The courts would be relieved of hearing

some drug cases, as well. The most important gain would be in the

quality of government. The sorts of temptations and opportunities that

lead to corruption would be significantly minimized. The illogical

pattern of law enforcement, which now treats marijuana as more

dangerous than alcohol, would end. It would set more achievable goals

for law enforcement, and this would lend strength and credibility to

the government.

Alcohol vs. Marijuana 1: Over 100 thousand deaths annually are

directly linked to acute alcohol poisoning. 2: In 4,000 years of

recorded history, no one has ever died from a pot overdose. 3: Alcohol

causes Server physical and psychology dependence. 4:

Alcohol is reported to cause temporary and permanent damage to all

major organs of the body. 5: Cannabis is a much less

violent provoking substance then alcohol. * With over 60 million

people using cannabis in the U.S. Today our laws and law

makers should view it under the same light. As they do alcohol.

Marijuana Status 1970: 11% of high school seniors said they were using

marijuana every day. 1975: About 27% said they had

used marijuana sometime in the previous month. 1978: The monthly users

grew up to 37% then in 1986 dropped to 23%.

1979: 12 to 17 year olds reported using it within the last month has

dropped from a high point of 17% and in 1987 dropped to



1. Adams, Leon; “Marijuana”. Encyclopedia International. Vol 11.

p365-347. LEXICON PUBLICATIONS. Philippines, 1979

2. Lorimer, Lawrence; “Marijuana” Encyclopedia Year Book 1993.



3. Snyder, Solomon. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs. Series 2.



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