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Essay/Term paper: Decriminalize marijuana for the good of america

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Alcohol and Drugs

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Decriminalize Marijuana for the Good of America

Currently, drugs remain high on the lists of concerns of Americans and
are considered one of the major problems facing our country today. We see
stories on the news about people being killed on the street every day over drugs.
To many people drugs are only an inner-city problem, but in reality they affect
all of us - users and non-users. I believe that the negative affects we
associate with drugs would be greatly reduced if the United States adopted a
policy towards the total decriminalization of marijuana. The current drug
policy of our government is obviously failing. Drug laws have created
corruption, violence, increased street crime, and disrespect for the criminal
justice system. Current drug legislation has failed to reduce demand. It's
just too hard to monitor illegal substances when a significant portion of the
population is committed to using drugs. (Inciardi and McBride 260)
Marijuana comes from the hemp plant, which can readily be grown on
fields across the nation and was cultivated heavily in colonial period. After
130 years of being legal, the potential problems of marijuana were brought into
the public eye by Harry J. Anslingler, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics and author of Marijuana: Assassin of Youth (Goldman 88). In his book,
Anslinger portrayed images of Mexican and Negro criminals, as well as young boys,
who became killers while under the influence of marijuana. With the added
public pressure, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the
Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This law made the use and dale of marijuana federal
offenses. At this point marijuana was removed from the public eye, and heavy
users included poor Negroes, migrant Mexicans, and Jazz Musicians (Himmelstein
Marijuana reappeared in the mid 1960's with the emergence of the
"Hippie." Widespread objection to the use of marijuana remained because of the
set of valued and lifestyles associated with it, but use appeared in colleges
and among middle-class youths in the suburbs (Himmelstein 103). Marijuana
became a symbol of a counter-culture, and youthful rebellion. As a consequence,
marijuana use rose for the next ten years. Marijuana was becoming more accepted
across the nation. As the users of Marijuana changed, the attitudes about the
danger of Marijuana broke down. In 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse
Prevention and Control Act reduced the classification of simple possession and
non-profit distribution from felonies to misdemeanors (Himmelstein 104). This
was a good start.
However, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1973 and
over the next 20 years, each succeeding president continued to escalate the drug
war. This policy has obviously done nothing to stop the recreational use of
drugs in this country, on the contrary it is causing great harm. It's time to
try something new.
When most people imagine the legalization of marijuana, they fear a
marijuana free-for-all with everybody constantly getting high. Legalization
would be a burdensome task for the U.S. Government. In fact, the legal process
would include a law passed by Congress allowing the government to control the
content, quality, and distribution of marijuana. The laws would be similar to
the current laws regulating alcohol, including laws governing age, limits for
driving, and distribution ("Bring" 13). A thorough investigation of the costs
and benefits of legalization must be examined before any policy is implemented ,
but I believe it will show that the benefits far outweigh the detriments.
The three general areas where people are opposed to legalization of
marijuana center their arguments on: health care, increased crime, and social
aspects. Marijuana is more dangerous than cigarette smoking. Two Marijuana
joints create more airway impairment than do an entire pack of cigarette (Miner
44). One joint contains three times more tar than do cigarettes and is
considered four times more dangerous (Courtwright 54). It dramatically
increases the pulse rate and blood pressure during use. If marijuana is
legalized, many project that lung cancer will increase as the amount of
marijuana use increases (Miner 44). These are all valid arguments, but
cigarette smoking is legal, a booming business, and causes the same exact
There are a number of myths associated with the use of marijuana and its
effects on your body which people who are opposed to its decriminalization
repeatedly cite. One of these in that Marijuana causes brain damage. This
claim is based on a study of the rehus monkey by Dr. Robert Heath in the late
1970's. Heath's work was criticized for its insufficient sample size (only four
monkeys), its failure to control experimental bias, and the misidentification of
normal monkey brain structure as "damaged" (Hager 1). Actual studies of human
populations of marijuana users have shown no evidence of damage to the brain
(Hager 1). In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
conducted two studies in 1977 and they showed no evidence of brain damage in
heavy users of marijuana (Hager 1). Later that same year the AMA came out in
favor of the decriminalizing of marijuana (Hager 1). That seems to me that the
AMA wouldn't do that if it thought marijuana was damaging to the brain.
Another myth is that marijuana damages 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
cannibinoids (the intoxicating part of marijuana). Nahas's generalizations from
the petri dishes to human beings have been rejected by the scientific community
as being invalid. Studies of actual human populations have failed to
demonstrate that marijuana adversely affects the reproductive system. (Hagar 1).
A persistent myth about marijuana is that it is a gateway drug, leading
to the use of harder drugs. The Dutch partially decriminalized marijuana in the
1970's since then the use of heroin and cocaine has sharply decreased. The
opposite of this gateway affect is also present the United States. In 1993 a
study by the Rand corporation compared drug use in states that have
decriminalized marijuana and those that have not. It found that in states where
marijuana was more available, hard drug abuse as measured by emergency room
episodes decreased. What science and real experience tells us is that marijuana
tends to substitute for much harder drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin
(Hagar 1).
Another misconception is that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.
Extremely high doses of cannibinoids cause death. Extremely high doses is the
key word here. Scientists have concluded that the ratio of cannibinoids needed
to get a person intoxicated (stoned) relative to the amount necessary to kill
him is 1 to 40,000. That means that to overdose on marijuana you would need to
consume 40,000 times as much as you would to get stoned. The ratio of alcohol
varies between 1 in 4 and 1 in 10. Over 5000 people die of alcohol overdoses
each year, and no one has ever died from overdosing on pot (Hagar 2).
These are just a few of the myths used various groups in order to keep
marijuana illegal. Along with these myths come the false belief that crime will
increase if marijuana is legalized. Allen St. Pierre, Assistant National
Director of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws
(NORML), says that legalization will wipe out the already 60-billion dollar
black market by placing marijuana in the open market (NORML information pack 3).

It is the enforcement of the laws criminalizing the possession, use,
manufacture, and distribution of marijuana that are causing the violent crime.
This war on drugs is wasting the money, as well as the lives of American people.
The widely recognized opinion maker William F. Buckley, Jr. writes:
...The time devoted to tracking down, arresting and then trying
marijuana users and then trying marijuana users is perhaps the greatest
exercise in lost time in contemporary activity. In the last two years,
approximately 750,000 arrests were made in our mad, quixotic effort to
stamp out marijuana. What this adds up to is millions of police hours
spent on bootless missions, millions of hours of court time wasted, and
millions of months in jail, using up space sorely needed to contain
people who can't wait to get out in order to resume mugging and murdering
(Buckley 39A).
The drug laws imprison a multitude of otherwise law abiding people, a
disproportionate number of them who are poor or minorities, for non violent acts
that are directed at no one but themselves (ACLU 1). Instead of eliminating
drugs, the prohibition of them just fosters an illegal industry able to inflate
prices. This is hauntingly familiar to the prohibition era of gangsters present
when alcohol was illegal in the 1920's. Because drugs are sold on the black
market, they cause violence, deaths due to no quality regulation, and diseases
from sharing illegal drug paraphernalia (ACLU 1).
The American Civil Liberties advocates the full decriminalization of the
use, possession, manufacture, and distribution of drugs (ACLU 1). It does this
for constitutional reasons. The following is an excerpt from their policy on
drugs which was adopted in 1994:
Criminalizing the use, possession, manufacture, and distribution
of drugs violates the principle that the criminal law may not be used to
protect individuals from the consequences of their own autonomous choices or
to impose upon those individuals a majoritarian conception of morality and
responsibility.....Enforcement of laws criminalizing possession, use,
manufacture of distribution of drugs engender violations of civil liberties.
Because drug enforcement is aimed at behavior which is inherently difficult
to detect and does not involve a complaining "victim," it necessarily relies
on law enforcement techniques -- such as use of undercover operations,
arbitrary or invasive testing procedures, random or dragnet seizures, and
similar measures -- that raise serious civil liberties concerns. These
enforcement techniques lead in practice to widespread violations of civil
liberties guarantees, including those secured by the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth
Amendments (ACLU 1).
The supporters of legalization believe that it will benefit society in
three ways, including revenue enhancement, medical benefits, and hemp production.
The ingest argument for marijuana legalization is revenue enhancement for the
U.S. Government. Much of the money will be saved due to less law enforcement,
court time, and the cost of incarcerating prisoners who's only crime is
possession. (Schmoek 3). The U.S. spent roughly one billion dollars on
marijuana enforcement last year and the DEA has proposed a 400% increase in
anti-pot spending, yet domestic marijuana production has been reduced by only
10%. Further in 1989, 314,552 arrests were made for simple possession (NORML 2).

Considering America's annual marijuana harvest was worth 50.7 billion in
1989 and 41.4 billion in 1988, $28 billion greater than corn at 31.4 billion,
marijuana could become the leading agricultural product in the United States
(NORML 2). With trade regulations, industry regulations and consumption taxes
on he product NORML has estimated that legalization would produce over $40
billion in taxable revenue (NORML 3). As Congress debates the national debt,
legalization would provide the needed funds to help our economy.
Legalization advocates constantly tout marijuana's medicinal benefits.
For cancer patients, marijuana reduces nausea and increases the appetite
(Cauchon 4A). Marijuana also reduces epileptic seizures and reduces nerve
disorders in multiple sclerosis patients (NORML 3). If it helps patients get
extra quality time out of their lives, then attempts to decriminalize it should
be supported. Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, as California
recently did, could provide answers about diseases and allow research to be
conducted for future purposes.
An area that does not gather 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 can be used to make clothing,
paper, rope, and methanol fuel. Hemp is a plant that can be grown in poor soil,
thus not taking up any valuable agricultural land (NORML 4). Hemp now grows in
the U.S. because of its heavy production in the 18th and 19th centuries.
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 25).
Hemp is safer for the environment. Hemp requires 40% fewer chemicals to produce
paper, and, over twenty years, one acre of hemp can produce four times as much
pulp as can an acre of trees (NORML 4). The production of hemp would save trees
and clean up the air.
The push for legalization of Cannibis is making news across America
just as it did in the 60's. Shirts are being worn with slogans like "Keep
America Green." Marijuana use is glorified in movies like Dazed in Confused and
by music groups like Cypress Hill and the Black Crowes. Increasing public
support and media attention will slowly force the legalization issue into the
forefront of the political arena. If the widespread acceptance continues among
the powerful new voting block -- college students, the policy towards marijuana
could change in the near future. Weighing both the costs and the benefits the
decriminalization/legalization of marijuana seems inevitable. Many of the
purported myths about its harmful effects have been proven false. The current
war on drugs is clearly failing, and costing too many lives and too much money.
There are many benefits to be gained from the Cannibis plant: increased tax
revenue, safety due to governmental regulation, decreased crime and use of hard
drugs, and the environmental benefits of hemp to name a few. With all these
reasons taken into consideration the decriminalization/legalization of marijuana
seems like a very good idea.

Works Cited

"Bring drugs within the law." The Economist 15 May 1995: 13. Buckley, William
F., Jr. "Crime is the Big Issue, But it Doesn't Separate Parties." Dallas
Morning News 9 December 1994. Cauchon, Dennis. "Marijuana: Medical Enigma."
USA Today 1 Oct. 1996, national ed.: 4A. Courtwright David T. "NO!"
American Heritage Feb. - March 1995: 43, 50-56. Goldman, Albert. Grass Roots.
New York: Harper & Row 1979. Hager, Paul. "Marijuana Myths." ICLU drug task
force literature. Available:
http://www.parinoia.com/drugs/mariijuana/facts/marijuana-myths. Himmelstein,
Jerome L. The Strange Career of Marijuana [sic]. Westport Connecticut:
Greenwood Pres, 1983. Incardi and McBride. "Legalization: A high risk
Alternative" American Behavioral Scientist 32 (1989): 233-243. Miner,
Brad. "How Sweet is Mary Jane?" National Review 25 June 1996: 44. National
Association for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Marijuana:
Facts and Figures." Information Pack. Washington, DC: NORML,
n.d. Rosenfield, Jim. ACLU Drug Policy, adopted Arpil 1994:
"Decriminalization of Drugs."
[Board Minutes, April 8-9, 1994] A available:
http://www.primenet.com/%7Eslackk/wosd/aclu0001.txt. Schmoek, Kurt L. Back to
the Future: The public health system's lead role in fighting drugs.
Available: http://epfl2.epflbalto.org/mayor/web_
page/drug.html#Decriminalization. Young, Jim. "It's Time to Reconsider Hemp."
Pulp and Paper Y5 (1994): 25.


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