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Essay/Term paper: Marijuana, necessary or not?

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Miscellaneous

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Its shocking to some, but not to others! Marijuana is a substance that has

become very much a part of American culture, nearly 65 million Americans have

either used it occasionally or regularly. The use of marijuana hit mainstream

America about thirty years ago and it has been accepted by a large segment of

society ever since. The debate on whether this substance should be legalized

or not remains a very hot topic today. Despite government efforts to isolate

and eliminate its use, it is clear that the use of marijuana is still very


There is an obvious problem concerning marijuana today. Governments on all

three levels: local, state, and federal are trying desperately to find an

appropriate policy involving marijuana. National polls show that more than

70% of the American people, from both ends of the political spectrum, support

controlled access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite fierce

opposition from the federal government, voters in California and Arizona

passed ballot initiatives in the fall of 1996 favoring the legalization of

medicinal marijuana. If support for marijuana at least as a medicinal remedy

is so high, then why have only a few states taken steps to change their

policy? There are several reasons why marijuana remains illegal. Mainly, it

is a political issue kicked around by certain special interest groups. Some

of these groups perceive marijuana as a threat to the home, tearing families

apart and causing them to abandon traditional values. However these groups

usually are not legitimate areas of legislation. The more powerful groups

have other, more practical reasons for keeping marijuana illegal. Among the

most powerful of these groups are the combined law

enforcement-judiciary-penal systems. This group sees the elimination of

marijuana laws as a threat to their jobs. Add to this group defense lawyers,

who stand to make millions of dollars defending marijuana offenders.

Consciously or not, they support anti-marijuana laws. Another interest group

includes the scientists whose marijuana research is funded by the government.

If marijuana were legalized, they would lose millions of dollars in research

grants intended to prove the detrimental effects of the substance. Two other

unrelated but very influential groups are the liquor lobby and pharmaceutical

companies. Their spending is usually very secretive and not publicized very

much. Legalization of a competing product that can be produced with relative

ease by anyone with access to a plot of land would cut deeply into their

profits. And the drug companies want control, rather than just a ban, for

they know the medicinal benefits of marijuana . Therefore the major reason

marijuana continues to remain illegal, is that special interest groups are

blocking legislation by extensive lobbying. Clearly it is seen that many

people support its use, at least for medical reasons.

It is obvious that the current policy for marijuana is not working very

efficiently. The government spends billions of dollars every year to stop its

use. This leads to the opening of a very extensive black market for

marijuana, because the drug is still in high demand. With the black market

comes all the crime and violent acts that create a new problem of

overcrowding prison populations. In effect, the government does not really

solve the marijuana problem; instead it just creates a new one in its place.

The present policy on marijuana is that it is classified as a Schedule I drug

in the Controlled Substances Act. This law established criteria for

determining which substances should be controlled, mechanisms for reducing

the availability of controlled drugs, and a structure of penalties for

illegal distribution and possession of controlled drugs. The criteria for

Schedule I substances are: The drug or other substance has a high potential

for abuse, is not currently accepted for use in medical treatment in the

United States, has not been proven safe for use under medical supervision.

Along with marijuana, hashish, and THC, drugs listed in Schedule 1 are

heroin, LSD, mescaline, peyote, and many other hallucinogens. This makes it

illegal for anyone to buy, sell, grow, or possess any amount of marijuana

anywhere in the United States. State laws vary in terms of penalties issued.

Under New York State Law, a first possession of up to twenty-five grams of

marijuana in private results in a $100 fine. If there is a second possession

of the same amount, the fine is increased to $200. The cultivation of

marijuana results in a $1000 fine and up to one-year imprisonment. The same

applies to the sale of marijuana. There are harsher penalties issued if the

offender is convicted of possession, cultivation, or sale of marijuana in

public. Possession of marijuana in public results in a $500 fine and up to

three months imprisonment. Cultivation results in up to one-year imprisonment

and a $1000 fine. Sale of marijuana in public can result in a four-year

imprisonment. Penalties become harsher depending upon the amount of marijuana

in possession, cultivation, or sale. The apex is reached at a fifteen-year

imprisonment with the possession, cultivation, or sale of over ten pounds of

marijuana or more.

Source and Ingredients

Marijuana is defined as the mixture of leaves, stems, and flowering tops of

the hemp plant, in the genus Cannabis. There are three species: Cannabis

sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The hemp plant now grows

wild throughout most of the world and can be cultivated in any area with a

hot season. Some 421 chemicals in 18 different chemical classes have been

detected in the hemp plant. It synthesizes at least 61 distinct substances

called cannabinoids that are not found in any other genus of plants. The most

significant of these substances is 1-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, an oily,

water-insoluble liquid. In popular writing it is often called simply THC. The

THC content of marijuana generally varies from 0.5% to 6%. Patterns of Use

There are many different cannabis preparations that are widely used to obtain

effects. Cannabis may be either smoked or taken by mouth. However the same

dose of THC is about three times as effective when smoked as when ingested.

In the United States marijuana is usually smoked in the form of a hand-rolled

cigarette ("joint" or "reefer"), but it is also smoked in a variety of pipes.

Until the 1960's the pattern in the United States was one of intermittent use

of marijuana on social occasions by a relatively small number of young

adults, together with regular use by some jazz musicians, urban minority

groups, and Mexican Americans in the Southwest. In the following years,

however, marijuana use increased sharply. By 1979, 68% of young adults 18 to

25 had tried marijuana at least once, 35% had used it in the month just

before the survey, and about 2/3 of current users reported using it five or

more times per month. About 9% of users reported use on a daily basis. The

use of marijuana also increased sharply in other countries throughout the


Psychological and Physiological Effects

THC produces its actions primarily on the nervous system and on the heart

and blood vessels. The effects depend on the dose, the route of

administration, and on the degree of tolerance that has developed. Because

individuals vary in the way they inhale the smoke and because marijuana

varies in THC content, the amount of active THC that reaches the bloodstream

during smoking varies greatly . Generally, smoking a marijuana cigarette with

a 2% THC content (equivalent to about 20 mg taken orally) produces changes in

mood, mental abilities, coordination, blood pressure, and pulse. The most

common result is the state commonly referred to as a "high", including an

increased sense of well being (euphoria), relaxation, and sleepiness.

Short-term memory is impaired, and the capacity to carry out goal-directed

problems requiring multiple and mental steps is reduced. Users may experience

feelings of strangeness and unreality. Sights and sounds may take on new

qualities. The sense of time is often altered to that minutes may seem like

hours. Balance and stability are impaired even with low doses, as are complex

behaviors (perception, information processing) involved in driving. Low

doses also produce increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and a

reddening of the eyes due to dilation of conjunctival vessels. Higher doses

can produce hallucinations, delusions, and unrealistic suspiciousness and

feeling of persecution. Anxiety increases, and a state of panic may occur.

Thinking becomes confused and disorganized. Because the onset of the drug

effect is rapid when marijuana is smoked, most users learn to avoid overdose

by taking only as many inhalations as are required to produce the desired

"high". Smoking high doses of marijuana or hashish over long periods of time

produces severe bronchitis, and the "tar" produced when marijuana is smoked

is more potent than the "tar" from tobacco in causing cancer in animals.

Medical Uses The pharmacological effects of the hemp plant have been known

since ancient times. A Chinese pharmacopoeia compiled nearly 2,000 years ago

recommended it for treating a number of disorders, and it was used in India

before the 10th century AD. There are no currently approved uses for

marijuana in the United States, except for two states California and Arizona,

which have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Clinical research has

shown that THC is effective in reducing the nausea that cancer patients

experience when they are treated with chemotherapy. Marijuana is also

believed to stimulate appetite. In asthma patients, several studies have

shown that THC acts as a bronchodilator and reserves bronchial constriction.

In treating epilepsy, marijuana is used to prevent both grande mal and other

epileptic seizures in some patients. Marijuana also limits the muscle pain

and spastically caused by multiple sclerosis and it relieves tremor and

unsteady gait. Lastly, marijuana has been clinically shown to be effective in

relieving muscle spasm and spasticity.

History of Marijuana Laws

The hemp plant was once a widely cultivated plant in the New World by

settlers. It has been known for centuries that the fiber from the hemp plant

is very useful in making ropes. Therefore the cultivation of the hemp plant

was encouraged and much needed. The Virginia Assembly, urging farmers to grow

the crop for its fiber passed the first law concerning the hemp plant in

1619. There was virtually no significant legislation passed concerning the

hemp plant until the 1900's. It was at this time when American attitudes

towards Mexicans became hostile. Marijuana obtained a foul reputation when

Mexican peasants crossed the border into Texas. It was widely used by Mexican

peasants as an intoxicant. The Texas police claimed that marijuana caused

these Mexican settlers to commit violent crimes. Therefore in 1914, the first

ban on possession of marijuana was passed in El Paso, Texas. Many other

states followed Texas, and in 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act.

This law made the possession of marijuana illegal anywhere in the United

States. During the McCarthy era, the Boggs Acts were passed to define

mandatory minimums for the possession of marijuana. Congress moved to an even

stronger position in 1956 by lengthening these mandatory minimum sentences.

Anti-marijuana feelings continued to grow, and state laws often imposed

stricter penalties than the federal penalties. In the 1960's, however, a

strange phenomenon began to occur. For the first time in history, marijuana

use began to rise amongst the white middle class. Many mandatory sentences

were repealed. This was seen in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and

Control Act of 1970. Most of the states followed the federal government, and

the possession of marijuana was decriminalized. However in the 1980's the

government once again changed its mind, with the passage of the Anti-Abuse

Act of 1986, which once again imposed mandatory minimum sentences for a wide

range of drug offenses. The last major piece of legislation passed by the

federal government (not state governments) was in 1996, which stated that any

American convicted of a marijuana felony may no longer receive federal

welfare or food stamps.

1988 Words


Cohen, Susan and Daniel. What You Can Believe About Drugs. New York: M Evans

and Company, 1987.

Hawley, Richard A. Drugs and Society. New York: walker and Company, 1992.

Kusinitz, Marc. Drug Use Around the World. New York: Chelsea House

Publishers, 1988.

Meehan, Bob. Beyond The Yellow Brick Road: Our Children and drugs. Colorado:

Meek Publishing Company, 1996.

Ryan, Elizabeth A. Straight Talk About Drugs and alcohol. New York: Fact's

on File, Inc, 1995.

Schleichert, Elizabeth. Marijuana. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 1996.

Zeller, Paula Klevan. Focus on Marijuana. Maryland: Twenty-First Century

Books, 1990.


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