Legalization of Marijuana: Risky or Beneficial?

A random telephone poll conducted by CBS News in October 2011 revealed that 77% of those polled believe that doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana for serious illnesses. This compares to 65% just one year prior (ProCon. org, 2011). Popular opinion that marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes is shifting as the positive aspects of enacting laws allowing its use come to the public’s attention.

Illegal importation of drugs into the United States is a multi-billion dollar industry with all of the profits going to criminal drug dealers. The black market for marijuana would be eliminated if marijuana were legalized as well as the expense of waging war on this drug (legalize. org, 2005). Serious illness related to or stemming from marijuana use is negligible compared to its legal counterparts, alcohol and tobacco. “What would happen if marijuana was legalized?

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Would everybody become a pothead … This legalization would inevitably add a new and powerful industry to our draining economy” (cultureshockkk. com, 2011). Legalization of marijuana can have a positive affect on the economy without negatively impacting acceptable social values and behavior. Today, cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, is widely used as a recreational drug for the purpose of getting high, or becoming intoxicated. The medicinal qualities are widely debated, as is the legislation backing the legalization of its use.

According to MarijuanaToday. com, it is believed that marijuana has been used long before recorded history. It was cultivated in China as long ago as 4000 B. C. Five main uses have been discovered which include use of hempen fibers, use of oil from the seeds, use of seeds for food, and use as a medicine and as a narcotic. The first signs of marijuana in North America date back to the 1600s. In the 1800s, marijuana was legal in most states and crops were grown for the hemp fiber. It was also an ingredient in medicine, sold at most pharmacies.

After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants introduced Americans to the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. The Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 prohibited narcotics not prescribed by a doctor and in 1925 the use of hashish (Indian hemp) was banned. Regulation in all states occurred in the mid 1930s making possession or transfer of cannabis illegal, with the exception of medical and industrial uses in which an excise tax was imposed. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes (ProCon. org, 2011).

Since then, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana (ProCon. org, 2011). However, federal law does not recognize marijuana as a medicine (Anonymous, 2010). That means that the federal government has the authority to prosecute medical marijuana patients even if they are abiding by their own state law. In addition to those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, there are millions of other users.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States” (Newport, 2011, p. 1). Behind tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is the most popular recreational drug in America. A poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post in January 2010 showed that 81 percent of Americans feel that doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana to their patients (Anonymous, 2010). Medical marijuana is used to improve immune function and weight gain in AIDS patients as well as to counteract the effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients.

However, the medicinal uses of marijuana are argued extensively amongst those in the medical community. Former U. S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders argued in favor of legalization, stating there is overwhelming evidence that marijuana can safely relieve pain, nausea and other symptoms caused by cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis and that it is less toxic than other drugs regularly prescribed. Conversely, former U. S. Senator Dr. Bill Frist asserts marijuana is a dangerous drug without sound scientific evidence proving its benefits (ProCon. org, 2009).

Consistent with opinion that marijuana causes respiratory problems and lung cancer, the British Lung Foundation reported that smoking three to four marijuana joints is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes (ProCon. org, 2009). On the contrary, a UCLA study found that there is no correlation between smoking marijuana and lung cancer (ProCon. org, 2009). That study further suggested there may be a protective effect. This coincides with African tribal belief in the 1600s that cannabis could be use to alleviate hay fever and asthma (ProCon. rg, 2009). According to BalancedPolitics. org, there are quite a few alternative uses of the cannabis plant including construction and thermal insulation materials, dynamite, paper, and insect repellant. It is believed that over 25,000 products can be made from it, but legal issues have inhibited the research needed to develop these products (2011). Legalization of marijuana would facilitate research into all uses as well as more formal studies on the long-term effects of regular use.

Despite the research possibilities, there is considerable resistance to the legalization of marijuana. In 2010 National Families in Action (NFIA) launched a campaign against legalization of marijuana with protection of children as their main focus. Bringing together experts they asked the question “Knowing the impact alcohol and tobacco have had on public health, and if you could have written the tobacco control bill 150 years ago or the 1933 law repealing Prohibition, what provisions to protect children would you have included? ” (“NFIA launches campaign”, 2010, p. 5).

Opponents of legalization also argue the “gateway” effect, asserting that the younger one begins using marijuana, the more likely he or she will be to use cocaine or heroin as an adult. However, proponents highlight that in 2006, eight out of 10 states where marijuana is legal saw a decrease in teen use of marijuana over a seven year period. In addition, advocates of legalization have shown that while marijuana was the cause of 279 deaths between 1997 and 2005, there were 11,687 deaths from 17 different prescription medicines (Anonymous, 2010). Beyond these more obvious arguments, legalization would bring new issues to the forefront.

Employers would be faced with revamping drug testing policies and the health insurance agencies would have prescription and treatment ramifications to deal with. Weighing the arguments and implications is a daunting task. Economic and social considerations must also be factored into the argument. Time Magazine reported that the United States spends about $150 billion on the criminal justice system and 47. 5% of all drug arrests are marijuana related. “That is an awful lot of money … that could be spent on better schools … or simply returned to the public” (Klein, 2009, p. 2).

Opponents contend that legalization of marijuana will make it more accessible or appealing, especially to young people. However, “American adolescents use marijuana twice as much as their counterparts in Holland where marijuana is legal” (Goldberg, 1996, p. 21). So, perhaps it would have the opposite affect, taking the allure or glamour of the forbidden out of the equation. Legalization would have a positive effect on the economy, creating jobs in agriculture, packaging and marketing. The taxes generated would most certainly help the floundering economy. California has enjoyed annual revenues close to $14 billion (Klein, 2009).

Legalize. org presents the idea of heavy taxation which could be used in part to expand educational and treatment programs. Additionally, the efforts by police waging the “war on drugs” could be redirected to allow focus on gang activity, organized crime as well as the pursuit and prosecution of violent criminals (2005). Aside from the medicinal benefits of prescribed marijuana, Ethan Nadelmann’s article Reefer Madness (2011) reported on the role medical marijuana plays in local economies. It would stimulate the economy by transforming illegal jobs into legal ones, creating new jobs, and contributing to local tax bases.

Nadelmann goes on to state “Federal crackdowns will not stop the trade in marijuana; they will only put it back underground and hurt those patients least able to navigate illicit markets” (2007, para. 7). Federal regulation of the legalized product would make it safe as well as profitable. The only losers would be those that sell and transport marijuana illegally (Legalize. org, 2005). Marijuana has been in use for centuries. Its medicinal properties were discovered long ago and continued research may prove new uses for treatment of medical conditions.

In addition to medical or recreational uses, the cannabis plant has thousands of alternative industrial and commercial applications. Sixteen states and Washington D. C. have enacted laws to legalize use of marijuana for medical reasons, with six more states pending legislation. Eight of the 10 states that have legalized marijuana saw a decrease in teen use, negating the objection that legalization will make the drug more attractive (ProCon. org, 2011). Legalization of marijuana would allow the drug to be regulated and would in turn provide new laws for its use.

Jobs would be generated in the production, distribution, sale and research of the product; revenue and taxation would stimulate the struggling economy. Many believe that, “Through federal regulation, marijuana use can be made safe and profitable for all involved parties” (Legalize. org, 2005). The controversy and debate over this issue is sure to continue for years to come. However, upon a thorough examination of the facts presented on both sides of the argument, it would appear that legalization of marijuana could provide more good than harm. The black market criminals’ loss would be the American economy’s gain.

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