The case for the legalization of marijuana

By benna in Culture
Thu Aug 04, 2005 at 08:13:03 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

Sixty thousand people are behind bars today for marijuana offenses.  This is costing taxpayers $1.2 billion per year (Thomas).  Is it really worth it?  Marijuana should be legalized in the United States for all to grow, distribute, purchase, and use, because marijuana prohibition causes far more damage than marijuana itself.

Those in favor of prohibition would have you believe that marijuana destroys people’s lives.  They would tell you that innocent little Johnny would have been successful, but then he smoked some weed and his life was ruined.  This is far from the truth. The reality is that people who are not going to succeed are in a position in which they are more likely to smoke marijuana.  There is no causal relationship however, between marijuana and personal success.


Sometimes, marijuana does cause harm indirectly to someone’s life.  If a person is convicted of any marijuana crime, under federal law, he or she is denied federal financial aid for college.  These laws are creating a reason for their own existence, by making it harder for marijuana users to succeed.  This damage is not caused by marijuana but by the laws prohibiting its use.  A murder conviction, it should be noted, does not prevent the murderer from receiving financial aid from the federal government.Marijuana itself is not as dangerous as prohibition advocates suggest.  According to the editors of the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, “The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. … It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat … than alcohol or tobacco” (1241).  A federally commissioned report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine states, “Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications” (125). Cigarettes are legal in this country, so clearly the effects of the smoke are not enough to justify prohibition.

Another argument made by prohibition advocates is that marijuana is s “gateway drug” and that it leads people to try other, more serious drugs.  However, this is just another abuse of logic.  While it is true that most users of heavier drugs such as cocaine or heroin also use marijuana, this is not proof that marijuana causes people to try other drugs.  Correlation is not causality.  Most people who use marijuana do not go on to use other drugs.  The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine found, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs” (5).

Marijuana prohibition takes valuable resources away from law enforcement that could be used much more productively to pursue murderers, rapists, thieves, or any other more serious criminals.  The arrest and prosecution of 734,000 people on marijuana charges, almost 90% of which are for possession alone, costs taxpayers between $7.5 billion and $10 billion annually (NORML Report on Sixty Years of Marijuana Prohibition in the U.S.).  More people are arrested on marijuana charges each year than for all violent crimes combined (Federal Bureau of Investigation table 29).  In California alone, when the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana was decriminalized between 1976 and 1985, nearly $1 billion was saved (Aldrich and Mikuriya 75).  A 2001 report to the governor of New Mexico said that marijuana decriminalization, “will result in greater availability of resources to respond to more serious crimes without any increased risks to public safety” (New Mexico Governor’s Drug Policy Advisory Group).  Clearly murderers and rapists pose more of a danger to society than does a person in possession of a plant.

Money spent on enforcement of marijuana laws is money wasted.  Marijuana prohibition simply does not deter use. There is no relationship between the changing levels of enforcement of prohibition laws and levels of marijuana use (Morgan and Zimmer 46).  In surveys, most people say they quit smoking marijuana for health or family reasons, not because it is illegal (Institute of Medicine).

The most troubling aspect of marijuana prohibition is that it is simply an abuse of government power.  The founding fathers of this nation would be appalled at the drug laws of today.  Nothing is more sacred or private than a person’s own consciousness.  The government does not have the right to interfere with what a person does to his or her own body.  Nor does it have the right to control what kinds of plants a citizen grows in his or her own home.  When the government outlaws something that can grow wild in nature, there is something seriously wrong.  The implied right to privacy in the fourth amendment should protect people against such intrusions by the government into their personal lives.

Marijuana prohibition should be completely abolished.  It only serves to demonize the 76 million Americans who have tried the drug.  One would expect that if marijuana were as damaging as it is made out to be, our society would be crumbling because of those 76 million people.  But is it?

References

Aldrich, M., and T. Mikuriya. “Savings in California marijuana law enforcement costs attributable to the Moscone Act of 1976.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 20 (1988): 75-81.

“Deglamorizing Cannabis.” Editorial. Lancet 346 (1995): 1241.

Federal Bureau of Investigations. Uniform Crime Report: Crime in the United States 2000. Washington: US Department of Justice, 2001.

Morgan, J., and L. Zimmer. Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence. New York: The Lindesmith Center, 1997.

National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. Marijuana and Health. Washington: National Academy Press, 1982.

National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. Washington: National Academy Press, 1999.

New Mexico Governor’s Drug Policy Advisory Group. Report and Recommendations to the Governors Office. Santa Fe: Sate Capitol, 2001.

NORML Report on Sixty Years of Marijuana Prohibition in the U.S. 1997. National

Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 10 Nov. 2004 http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=4428.

Thomas, Chuck. “Marijuana Arrests and Incarceration in the United States.” Drug Policy

Analysis Bulletin 7 (June 1999): Nov. 10 2004 http://www.fas.org/drugs/issue7.htm#3.

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