Legalization of Marijuana


Marijuana is a drug obtained from dried and crumpled parts
of the ubiquitous hemp plant Canabis sativa (or Cannabis
indica). It is smoked by rolling it in tobacco paper or
placing into a pipe. It is also otherwise consumed
worldwide by an estimated 200,000,000 persons for pleasure,
an escape from reality, or relaxation. Marijuana is known
by a variety of names such as kif (Morocco), dagga (South
Africa), and bhang (India). Common in the United States,
marijuana is called pot, grass, weed, Mary Jane, bones,
etc. The main active principle of cannabis is
tetrahydrocannabinol. The potency of its various forms
ranges from a weak drink consumed in India to the highly
potent hashish. The following consists of pure cannabis

Marijuana is not a narcotic and is not mentally or
physically an addictive drug. One can use mild cannabis
preparations such as marijuana in small amounts for years
without physical or mental deterioration. Marijuana serves
to diminish inhibitions and acts as an euphoriant. Only
once in a while will it produce actual hallucinations. More
potent preparations of cannabis such as hashish can induce
psychedelic experiences identical to those observed after
ingestion of potent hallucinogens such as LSD. Some who
smoke marijuana feel no effects; others feel relaxed and
sociable, tend to laugh a great deal, and have a profound
loss of the sense of time. Characteristically, those under
the influence of marijuana show incoordination and impaired
ability to perform skilled acts. Still others experience a
wide range of emotions including feelings of perception,
fear, insanity, happiness, love and anger. 

Although marijuana is not addicting, it may be habituating.
The individual may become psychologically rather than
physically dependent on the drug. Those who urge the
legalization of marijuana maintain the drug is entirely
safe. Most data on marijuana does not support this point of
view but rather indicates that Marijuana occasionally
produces acute panic reactions or even transient psychoses.
Furthermore, a person driving under the influence of
marijuana is a danger to themselves and others. If smoked
heavily and with great consistency, its use has been
clearly associated with mental breakdown. In many persons
who smoke chronically, the drug reinforces passivity and
reduces goal-directed, constructive activity. The chronic
use of pure resin (hashish) has been associated both with
mental deterioration and criminality. One of the major
complications of marijuana use is the tendency on the part
of some users to progress to more dangerous drugs. Users in
economically deprived areas usually go on to heroin,
whereas more affluent individuals tend to move from
marijuana to more potent hallucinogens such as LSD. There
is no established medical use for marijuana or any other
cannabis preparation. In the United States, its use is a
crime and the laws governing marijuana are similar to those
regulating heroin. Many authorities now urge that the laws
be modified to mitigate the penalties relating to
conviction on marijuana possession charges. 

The Case For Legalizing Marijuana Use in the United States
stems froms the nation's deep respect for the individual.
The strong belief in personal freedom appears early in the
nation's history. The Declaration of Independence speaks of
every citizen's right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness." The Constitution and Bill of Rights go further,
making specific guarantees. They forbid the government to
make unwarranted entry into dwelling places. They forbid
seizure of personal property, except when very clear
reasons are approved by the courts. They allow every
citizen to remain silent in court when accused of a crime.
Legal decisions have extended these rights, so that every
citizen may feel safe, secure, and sheltered from public
view in the privacy of his or her home. Americans have
referred to privacy as one of the basic human rights.
According to U.S. traditions, there is a strong case to be
made against legislating the private behavior of adults, so
long as that behavior does not in turn violate the rights
of others. Some people feel that this reasoning should hold
also for marijuana. A person who smokes at home is not
doing injury. The marijuana user is indulging in a minor
pleasure over which the government should have no
It is quite clear from survey data that most people do not
become physically dependent on marijuana. The majority use
it as others use alcohol - to relax occasionally and to
indulge a festive mood. How can a mild intoxicant, taken
less than once a day by most users, be seen as a public
threat? Even those who are "hooked", or psychologically
dependent upon their habit, should not be penalized by the
law. Some people find any compulsive and unproductive
behavior disgusting. But that is not a reason for outlawing
it. Consider eating, many people develop compulsive habits
about food. They talk about it frequently. They spend many
of their waking hours anticipating, planning, obtaining,
and consuming food. This may be unattractive. It certainly
is not productive and it can be harmful if the "food
addict" is overweight. But there are no laws to prevent
food addiction. If Congress tried to forbid the eating of
ice cream sundaes or cotton candy, many people would be
outraged, others would simply laugh. The same sort of
argument is raised by some people with respect to
marijuana. Even compulsive marijuana smoking by an adult is
not so offensive that it injures neighbors or requires
government intervention. 

The attempt to use the law to tell people what they may and
may not consume at home is an arrogant invasion of personal
privacy. Protecting the Drug User's Physical Health
Sometimes it is said that the law must protect the drug
user from himself. The argument takes two forms. One has to
do with the damage a drug may do to a person's health and
the other with the individual's power of self-control or
freedom. First consider the health effects. By any
reasonable standard, marijuana is a mild drug and as for
overdosing, there is no scientifically valid evidence of
anyone dying of an overdose of marijuana smoke. Of course,
it is possible to commit suicide by consuming large amounts
of marijuana. But it is possible to die by eating too much
salt. Salt is not illegal. Aspirin kills by overdose and
that's legal. Many people die by drinking too much alcohol,
an addictive drug. It too is legal. Why is marijuana
considered more dangerous? 

One argument made against the legalization of marijuana is
that it damages not only the user but innocent bystanders.
This argument, like the one about protecting the user, has
two parts. The first deals with physical injury and the
second with spiritual health. The main physical threat to
society is that users under the influence of a drug with
crash a car or airplane, or lose control in some way and do
harm. People who have recently smoked marijuana do show
signs of clumsiness and disorientation. They should not
operate machinery in this condition. One study estimates
that alcohol plays a part in 55% of all fatal highway
crashes. Marijuana may present similar risks, but at
present there are no reliable data on its importance in
accidents. According to John Stuart Mill's writings, the
government should try to control only the aspects of drug
use that injure society. In this vein, it makes sense to
have laws against driving under the influence of marijuana
similar to those governing driving under the influence of
alcohol. In other words, driving while on marijuana should
be outlawed but not the use of marijuana itself. Some
people believe that marijuana threatens society in a more
insidious way. They argue that it drains workers' energy
and makes them less productive. This in turn lowers the
vitality of the economy, depressing the overall quality of
life. In addition, drug use- including marijuana smoking-
is seen as a plague on society that must be isolated. This
disease theory holds that legalizing marijuana would make
it more widely available and that this would tend to
increase its use as well as the use of all kinds of drugs.
One of the detriments of tolerating drug use, according to
this theory, is that is encourages the use of more and
different drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse;s
1984 report to Congress cited no evidence to support the
idea that drug use is hurting economic productivity. It
said: "The fact is, very little is known about the complex
relationship which undoubtedly exists between drug abuse,
worker performance, and productivity, or the lack
thereof.... Simply put, the number of unanswered questions
currently far outnumbers the available answers." Nor is
there any strong evidence that legalizing marijuana would
increase use of the drug. In fact, there is some evidence
suggesting that drug use under a relaxed legal system might
not increase at all. 

Many states have removed the penalties for marijuana
possession that were on the books in the 1950s and 1960s.
The change occurred during a reform movement that swept the
nation in the mid 1970s. Yet in spite of the less stringent
laws, studies show that the use of marijuana in the
affected states has, after an initial increase, declined.
Although marijuana became easier to use (from a legal
standpoint), it also became less popular. 

Examining the U.S. policy on marijuana on the basis of
performance, one must judge it a miserable failure. The
number of people who have smoked the drug at least once has
grown from an uncounted few in the 1950s, when some of the
strictest antimarijuana laws were imposed, to nearly 50
million today. During this period the federal government
has made steadily increasing efforts to stop its production
and importation, and seizures of marijuana in the ports has
grown steadily. Elaborate and costly international police
campaigns have been launched, and the number of drug
arrests in the United States has increased. The federal
budget for drug enforcement reflected in several agencies
has gone above $1 billion a year. And yet the illegal trade
in marijuana continues. Supplies are so plentiful that the
price has actually come down. The response has been to
redouble police efforts and hope that things will change.
The result is that more money is spent on a failed policy,
creating an ever-growing army of drug enforcers dedicated
to keeping the policy alive. The illegal market for
marijuana grows even faster than the police force, however,
because the drug users are willing to pay more to get what
they want than taxpayers are willing to pay to stop it. The
drug police enjoy their work and are not going to quit. And
why should they as long as their salaries are paid? 

The admission that the marijuana laws have failed will have
to come from someone else- not from the police. Marijuana
is a common weed, easier to produce than the bathtub gin of
the Prohibition years. It is not surprising that thousands
of "dealers" have been drawn into the marijuana business.
Despite the great risks they face, including bullying by
other dealers and the threat of arrest, they are attracted
by the profits. The law cannot change the economics of this
market because it operates outside the law. All the police
can do is to make it risky to get into the marijuana
business. This is supposed to drive out the less courageous
dealers, reduce the amount of marijuana available, and
inflate prices. But even by this measure, the police effort
has failed. As mentioned earlier, the price of marijuana is
declining. There are several ways in which the policy on
marijuana imposed a burden on society. The obvious one is
the cost of supporting the federal enforcement effort.
Aside from this, there is a hard-to-measure but significant
impact on society because the law creates a huge criminal
class. It includes not just dealers who are out for profit
but a much larger group of users. Consider three major
penalties for having such a large criminal class. 

By lifting the ban on marijuana use and treating it like
other drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, the nation would
gain immediate and long-term benefits. This change in the
law would greatly improve the quality of life for many
people. Victims of glaucoma and those needing antinausea
treatment, for example, would find marijuana easily
available. If the medical advantages that are claimed for
marijuana are real, many more patients would benefit.
Research, which has been slowed in the past by the
government's reluctance to frant exemptions to the
marijuana laws, would be easier to conduct. The cloud of
suspicion would disappear, and doctors could get on with
investigating marijuana's medical uses without fear of
controversy. It might become possible to discuss the
dangers of marijuana use without getting caught up in a
policy debate. Meanwhile, the black market would disappear
overnight. Some arrangement would be made to license the
production of marijuana cigarettes. Thousands of dealers
would be put out of business, and a secret part of the
economy would come into the open. 

It is difficult to say whether this change would reduce
crime because criminals would probably continue to sell
other drugs. But it would have an impact on the amount of
money flowing through criminal channels, and this might
weaken organized crime. 

The federal budget would benefit in two ways, Federal
revenues would increase, because marijuana cigarettes would
be taxed at the point of sale. The companies that make the
cigarettes would also pay income taxes, adding to the
federal coffers. Seconds, there would be a reduction in the
amount spent on law enforcement efforts to apprehend and
prosecute users and sellers of marijuana. The drug
enforcement authorities might reduce their budget requests,
or, more likely, focus more intensely on hard drugs and
violent crimes. The courts would be relieved of hearing
some drug cases, as well. The most important gain would be
in the quality of government. The sorts of temptations and
opportunities that lead to corruption would be
significantly minimized. The illogical pattern of law
enforcement, which now considers marijuana as being more
dangerous than alcohol, would end. It would set more
achievable goals for law enforcement, and this would lend
strength and credibility to the government.
The following are statistics on Alcohol vs. Marijuana 

1. Over 100 thousand deaths annually are directly linked to
acute alcohol poisoning. 

2. In 4,000 years of recorded history, no one has ever died
from a pot overdose. 

3. Alcohol causes physical and psychology dependence. 

4. Alcohol is reported to cause temporary and permanent
damage to all major organs of the body. 

5. Cannabis is a much less violent provoking substance than

With over 60 million people using cannabis in the U.S.
today our laws and law makers should view it under the same
light as they do alcohol. Marijuana Status 1970: 11% of
high school seniors said they were using marijuana every
day. 1975: About 27% said they had used marijuana sometime
in the previous month. 1978: The monthly users grew up to
37% then in 1986 dropped to 23%. 1979: 12 to 17 year olds
reported using it within the last month has dropped from a
high point of 17% and in 1987 dropped to 12%. 
Adams, Leon; "Marihuana". Encyclopedia International. Vol
11. pp. 365-347. Lexicon Publications. Philippines, 1979.
Lorimer, Lawrence; "Marijuana". Encyclopedia Year Book
1993. pp. 214-215. Grolier Incorporated. Canada, 1993.
Snyder, Solomon. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs.
Series 2. "Legalization: A Debate." Chelsea House
Publishers. New York, 1988.


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