A generation in the United States that has already had a big enough influence to impact legalization of gay marriage and universal healthcare is well on its way to achieving the next goal: Federal legalization of marijuana in the United States. Having recently been legalized in Colorado and Washington state, the legalization of marijuana has to become a hot topic as of late, so I figured it is time to officially weigh in on the matter.
Like alcohol, marijuana was banned throughout the country beginning in the early 1900s. Unlike alcohol, laws banning the possession, sale, transport, and cultivation of marijuana have not been repealed since. Several reasons have been given for the federal ban on marijuana, some being valid and others being outdated. Let’s break down each one to determine if it is rational or not.
Probably one of the oldest and least informed arguments is that marijuana is a gateway drug. This argument makes the assumption that smoking marijuana will lead users to try more dangerous drugs that can be very dangerous to your health. Many researchers have since found that there is no causal factor between the smoking of marijuana and the use of more dangerous drugs. Out of over 100 million Americans who have tried marijuana, only one-third of them have tried cocaine and just four percent tried heroin. There is strong evidence to suggest that even the minority who did go on to use hard drugs most likely did so not because of marijuana, but because of mental health or stress related problems. The Institute of Medicine stated that “Marijuana does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse.” In fact, tobacco and alcohol are much more likely to be used as gateway drugs.
The most common argument for the prohibition of marijuana is its negative health impacts. First off, there is the concern about potential addiction to the substance. It is possible to become addicted to marijuana, but the chances are very low. Marijuana does not cause biological addiction from which your body becomes depedent on the substance. It becomes a psychological dependence for some people. Furthermore, a 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine showed that 32% of tobacco users develop a dependence, 23% of heroin users, 17% of cocaine users, 15% of alcohol users, but just 9% for marijuana users. To look at those statistics in another way, you are more than three times more likely to become addicted from legal cigarettes than illegal marijuana. The study concluded that few marijuana users develop a dependence, and the depedence for those who do is far less severe than other drugs.
The second health concern is the possibility of developing cancer as a result of smoking marijuana. In fact, there is no clear causal connection between the smoking of marijuana and lung cancer. Granted, part of the reason for this is the lack of data available due to marijuana’s illegal status. What is known is that marijuana contains a fraction of the carcinogens found in cigarettes, which are directly related to lung cancer. A study conducted in 2012 found the heaviest smokers of marijuana could develop bronchitis, but that moderate smoking had little to no risk. Marijuana can increase heart rate and blood flow, but experts say this would not pose a health problem to people who are old or don’t have heart problems to begin with. Furthermore, unlike alcohol and tobacco, there is no clear connection between marijuana and any sort of deadly disease, and it is not possible to overdose on marijuana.
In 2010, an independent scientific committee compared the harmfulness of 20 drugs based on the damage they caused to individual users and to society as a whole through crime, family breakdown, absenteeism, and other social ills. The results showed that the most harmful drug was alcohol, and marijuana ranked eighth on the list with approximately a fourth of the harmfulness of alcohol. The government’s response to the seemingly much less harmful marijuana was that the damage would increase a lot more if the substance was legal because there would be more use. However, the World Health Organization refuted this by saying that even if marijuana use rose to the same levels as alcohol and tobacco, the public health costs would still be far less than the two legal substances.
Many of the dangers of marijuana come from the fact that there many different strains that could be laced with anything, and users don’t always know exactly what they are smoking. Regulating a legal marijuana industry would greatly reduce this problem. In addition, it has been proven that there are ways to ingest marijuana that are even less harmful than smoking, such as using a vaporizer or ingesting it through edibles. Also overlooked is the myriad of benefits that medical marijuana has provided, ranging from assisting with simple to body pain to being able to help with depression, seizures, and even HIV. Early reports out of Colorado have indicated a 10% decrease in crime rate since the legalization of marijuana, and an infusion of millions upon millions of dollars into the economy, two critical societal benefits.
One legitimate concern from the legalization of marijuana would be the increase in underage use. The brain undergoes active development until about age 21, and heavy use of marijuana (like any other drug) could impact the development of the brain. Like any other threat in society, education and strictly enforced minimum age laws would need to be enacted to try to keep those who are underage from using.
In my opinion, it will only be a matter of time before marijuana becomes recognized by the federal government as a legal drug throughout the United States. It is not a completely harmless substance, but it is one of, if not the least, harmful drug out there and has untapped potential for benefiting society. If nothing else, it times for the laws to at least become consistent. A War on Drugs in which two of the most harmful substances out there are legal, and one of the least harmful isn’t, sends a contradicting message on exactly what the whole point of the War on Drugs is.
That being said, a bill has been introduced in Congress, and you can see the summary in the link below.
Sources: New York Times: “What Science Says About Marijuana” By PHILIP M. BOFFEY
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