Should Marijuana Be Legalized? In this year of the millenium, the American populace, even while in the midst of the most prolonged economic boom in the history of the Republic, is confronted with some serious problems. Any randomly chosen group of people asked to list the most dangerous of these, would include among their immediate answers: “The Drug Problem”. By the “Drug Problem”, do they mean the proliferation in our communities of all illicit, mood-altering, physically dangerous drugs? Or do they really mean the accompanying problems bought on by these proscribed substances: crime and the threat of crime, violence, disease, the growing number of users on public welfare, the loss of productivity to the country’s industry, the congestion of the court system, the over-crowding of our penal institutions, the diversion of our tax dollars from more productive areas, the corruption of our law enforcement agencies, and directly and indirectly the erosion of our civil rights? Since I am confining this paper to discussing the laws prohibiting marijuana use, I will concede that it fits the first two categories above; i.e. it is by law, illicit, and by its nature, mood-altering. With the third category we enter upon shaky ground. There is no scientific proof that the prolonged use of marijuana exacts a greater physical toll on the user than the equivalent abuse of nicotine or alcohol.
Under the name Extract of Cannabis, marijuana was once widely used medicinally in the United States, and still has minor medicinal uses in other countries. There is only one species – Cannabis Sativa – which yields both a potent drug and a strong fiber long used in the manufacture of fine linen as well as canvas and rope. The seeds are valued as birdseed and the oil, which resembles linseed oil, is valuable because paints made with it dry quickly. A Chinese treatise on pharmacology alleges to date from 2737 B.C. contains what is usually cited as the first reference to marijuana. Through out the history of man in just about every culture the mention of this substance is found used both as a fiber and a drug.
The first definite mention of the marijuana plant in the New World, dates from 1545 A.D. when the Spaniards introduced it into Chile. The Jamestown settlers brought the plant to Virginia and cultivated it for its fiber. In 1762 “Virginia awarded bounties for hemp culture and imposed penalties on those who did not produce it.” George Washington was growing hemp at Mount Vernon three years later – presumably for its fiber, though it has been argued that Washington was also concerned in increasing the medicinal or intoxicating potency of his marijuana plants. The argument depends on a curious tradition, which may or may not be sound – that the quality or quantity of marijuana resin (hashish) is enhanced if the male and female are separated before the females are pollinated.
There can be no doubt that Washington separated the males from the females. Two entries in his diary supply the evidence. May 12-13, 1765: “Sewed hemp at muddy hole by swamp” August 7, 1765 “- began to separate (sic) the male from the female hemp at do- rather too late”. George Andrews has argued in the Book of Grass (1967): an anthology of Indian hemp that Washington’s August 7 diary entry “clearly indicates that he was cultivating the plant for medicinal purposes as well as for its fiber”. He might have separated the males from the females to get better fiber, Andrews concedes – but his phrase “rather too late” suggests that he wanted to complete the separation before the female plants were fertilized – and this was a practice relating to drug potency rather than to fiber culture Brecher, Edward M. and the Editors of Consumer Reports Licit and Illicit Drugs 1st ed. Mount Vernon, New York: Consumers Union, 1972 The plant has many names: marijuana, hemp, ganja.. The list is almost endless. To the ancient Hebrew it was Kaneh Bosm, a name that can still be found in the Hebrew version of the Holy Bible (Exod. chapter 30, verse 23; Isa.
chapter 43, verse 24; Jer. chapter 6. verse 20; Ezek. chapter 27, verse 19; Song of Solomon chapter 4, verse 14). The Chinese were using the plant as a medicine 6,000 years ago.
The first American law concerning hemp commanded all land-owning citizens to grow a certain amount per year; and taxes could be paid with hemp in all 13 of the original British-owned American colonies. George Washington grew hemp on his estate, as can be seen in a letter he sent to the gardener at Mount Vernon: Make the most of the Indian hempseed, and sow it everywhere! Hemp has over 60,000 different uses. Anything that can be made from petroleum can be made more cheaply and cleanly from hemp. The government’s own USDA Bulletin 404 states that an acre of hemp will produce 4.1 times as much paper as an acre of trees. The plant that our own great-grandfathers grew, used, and depended on for food, fiber, medicine, and paper is today illegal to grow or possess in all 50 states.
One of the largest issues concerning hemp is its usefulness as medicine. Today research shows its effectiveness in treating ulcers (Bateman, D.N., 1987. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and gastric emptying. Br. J. Clin. Pharmacol.
15: 139., Glaucoma Colasanti, B.K. et al., 1984. Intraocular pressure, ocular toxicity and neurotoxicity after administration of cannabinol or cannabigerol. Exp. Eye Res. 39: 231-259.), Parkinson’s Disease Frankel, J.P.
et al., 1990. Marijuana for Parkinsonian tremor. J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry 53: 436., Multiple Sclerosis Meinck, H.M.
et al., 1989. Effect of cannabinoids on spasticity and ataxia in Multiple Sclerosis. J. Neurol. 236: 120-122. Asthma Tashkin, D., et al., 1973.
Acute pulmonary physiologic effects of smoked marijuana and oral delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in healthy young men. New Engl. J. Med. 289: 336-341., and other illnesses. Harris, L.
Analgesic and antitumor potential of the cannabinoids. In The Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana Cohen and Stillman, Eds. Plenum Press, New York, (pp. 299-305), 1976 Hemp remains an excellent, non-addictive painkiller that is completely non-toxic. In fact, it is physically impossible to overdose on even the most potent marijuana. Marijuana has never killed anyone, in the history of recorded medicine.
It is a drug that patients or their caregivers could grow themselves, rather than pay the thousands of dollars per month that other, often less effective, medicines would cost. Since it is so safe, it can be self-administered with no fear of accidental overdose or side effects. In fact, on September 6, 1988 the administrative law judge for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Judge Francis Young, ruled that: Marijuana is less harmful than many common foods we eat.. Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of he safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.
DEA document, “Accepted Safety For Use Under Medical Supervision., Sept. 6, 1988. Even with all the evidence that shows marijuana to be an effective, safe, and useful medicine, it cannot be prescribed by any doctor. The Drug Enforcement Administration refuses to allow medicinal use of marijuana. Today hemp is categorized as a Schedule I Drug, which means the government considers it to be a dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse, with no accepted medical uses.
By contrast, cocaine is a much more dangerous drug than marijuana. Thousands die from its use each year. Yet it is placed in Schedule II, the group for drugs that may be prescribed by doctors. Even with overwhelming evidence that marijuana is good medicine, the government refuses to reschedule marijuana so it can be prescribed. Because of this patients have a choice: they may remain law-abiding citizens and suffer, or they can risk arrest and ostracism in order to get their medicine. Today sick people sit in jail because our government refuses to admit the usefulness of hemp as a medicine.
New ballot measures have been passed, such as Proposition 215 in California, which allow doctors and patients to make the decision whether or not to use marijuana as medicine, and protect them from state prosecution. However, the federal government has vowed to prosecute patients who grow or use marijuana for medicine under the new law To illustrate the seriousness the Federal Government attaches to this substance, here are some interesting statistics: Average Length of United States Federal Sentences Assault: 3.2 years Manslaughter: 3.5 years Sex Offenses: 5.8 years Drug Offenses: 6.5 years Drug offenders currently make up 62 percent of the federal inmate population, up from 22 percent in 1980,. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 1991, p.532 Even with this incontrovertible evidence about the nature of cannabis, which has been proven time and time again, we are still mired in the “Reefer Madness” mindset started by self-interested parties in the first half of the century. (Some of this notoriety about hemp has been rumored to be initiated by William Randolph Hearst, who feared that paper made from hemp, cheaper and superior in quality, would lessen the value of his vast pulp wood holdings). On January 1, 1932, the newly established Bureau of Narcotics, a unit in the Treasury Department, took over from the Alcohol Unit of the department the enforcement of the federal anti-opiate and anti-cocaine laws; and former Assistant of Prohibition Commissioner Henry J. Anslinger took over as Commissioner of Narcotics.
Commissioner Anslinger had no jurisdiction over marijuana, but his interest in it was intense. Through his efforts, an optional restriction of the traffic in Indian Hemp was urged on the states and state after state complied. By 1937 forty-six of the forty-eight states as well as the District of Columbia had laws against marijuana. Under most of these state laws marijuana was subject to the same vigorous penalties applicable to morphine, heroin and cocaine and was often and erroneously designated as a narcotic. Many false and exaggerated stories about marijuana were used to achieve Anslinger’s goal e.g.
blanket statements that marijuana “addicts” went crazy, or that several mass murders and numerous rapes were directly attributable to the effects of smoking marijuana cigarettes. Indeed only one physician was called to testify at the 1937 Congressional hearings of the proposed federal anti-marijuana law, he was a member of the American Medical Association and he opposed the bill Brecher, Edward M. and the Editors of Consumer Reports Licit and Illicit Drugs 1st ed. Mount Vernon, New York: Consumers Union, 1972. The proposed federal anti-marijuana law was also considered by the American Medical Association at the June 1937 Convention of the American Medical Association in Atlantic City. The “report of the AMA Committee on Legislative Activities” at that convention noted: There is positively no evidence to indicate the abuse of cannabis as a medicinal agent or to show that its medicinal use is leading to the development of cannabis addiction. Cannabis at the present time is slightly used for medicinal purposes but would seem worthwhile to maintain its status as a medicinal agent for such purposes as it now has.
There is a possibility that a restudy of the drug by modern means may show other advantages to be derived from its medicinal use. “The Report of the AMA Committee on Legislative Activities” at the 1937 Convention of The American Medical Association. We are feeling the effects of this hasty ill-advised decision to our present day. When it comes to any rational discussion of marijuana, a purely objective study is impossible to have properly funded and the ones done by previous groups have had their results ignored or somewhat patronized. Witness the findings of the study done in 1972 under President Nixon which found that there is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of marijuana. On the question of law enforcement, the panel recommended a decriminalization of possession of marijuana for personal use on both the state and the federal levels.
Specifically, it recommended that: Federal and state laws be changed to no longer make it a crime to possess marijuana for private use.” The distribution in private of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration or for insignificant amounts should no longer be an offense.” “State laws should make the public use of marijuana a criminal offense punishable by a $100 fine.” Under federal law, marijuana smoked in public would merely be subject to seizure. Report of The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse , 1972 [The Nixon Marijuana Commission] One rather puzzling fact is the number of dedicated advocates of legal (and in many cases, state-funded) abortions using the logic: “my body, my choice”, who go into near hysteria when the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana is mentioned. Surely the same argument could be used for one as logically as the other. Another measure of the degree of our ignorance concerning this substance is exemplified by the fact that under our current drug laws marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance (along with heroin and LSD) while cocaine is placed in Schedule II in the confusing hodgepodge we refer to as our National Drug Policy. Since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent.
In the past 30 years, 10 million people have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the U.S., the vast majority of them for possession and use. Indeed, in 1996, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were 641,600 marijuana arrests in this country, 85% of them for possession; more than in any previous year! Ira Glasser Executive Director of the ACLU, ACLU Spring 1998 National ACLU Members’ Bulletin Issue 3 Prison construction has become a growth industry and some states presently contract out their penal systems to private contractors who provide the actual services (guards and administrators) in running the institutions. The prison boom has its own inexorable logic. Steven R. Donziger, a young attorney who headed the National Criminal Justice Commission in 1996, explains the paradoxical thinking thusly: If crime is going up, then we need to build more prisons; and if crime is going down, it’s because we built more prisons — and building even more prisons will therefore drive crime down even lower.
Our national character, as reflected in our folk heroes, our games and indeed in our Armed Forces’ military strategy is one more geared to action rather than to reaction, to offence rather than defense And so throughout the last half century, whenever we have a problem we perceive as a grave threat to the country, we declare a “war” on the said menace, e.g. President Johnson and his “War on Poverty”, President Nixon and his “War on Cancer”, and in keeping with this pattern, what more natural response to the increasing use of drugs starting in the “Flower Children” and “The Age of Aquarius” Sixties than :”A War on Drugs”? If war is what’s needed, then it follows that a strategy must be formulated. If war is what’s called for, than it is necessary that the enemy must be defined. And if war is the best answer to the problem, than our resources must of necessity be allocated in the most efficient manner. Of course, none of these measures has been put into effect.
For, as Boake Carter observed, “In time of war, the first casualty is truth.” Here are some of the more prevalent myths about marijuana and the truth about these myths from one of the best books recently published on the subject: The Myth: Marijuana is an Addictive Drug It is now frequently stated that marijuana is profoundly addicting and that any increase in prevalence of use will lead inevitably to increases in addiction. The Fact Essentially all drugs are used in an addictive fashion by some people. However, for any drug to be identified as highly addictive, there should be evidence that substantial numbers of users repeatedly fail in their attempts to discontinue use and develop use-patterns that interfere with other life activities. National epidemiological surveys show that the large majority of people who have had experience with marijuana do not become regular users. In 1993, among Americans age 12 and over, about 34% had used marijuana sometime in their life, but only 9% had used it in the past year, 4.3% in the past month, and 2.8% in the past week.
A longitudinal study of young adults who had first been surveyed in high school also found a high discontinuation rate for marijuana. While 77% had used the drug, 74% of those had not used in the past year and 84% had not used in the past month. Of course, even people who continue using marijuana for several years or more are not necessarily addicted to it. Many regular users – including many daily users – consume marijuana in a way that does not interfere with other life activities, and may in some cases enhance them. There is only scant evidence that marijuana produces physical dependence and withdrawal in humans. When human subjects were administered daily oral doses of 180-210 mg of THC – the equivalent of 15-20 joints per day – abrupt cessation produced adverse symptoms, including disturbed sleep, restlessness, nausea, decreased appetite, and sweating.
The authors interpreted these symptoms as evidence of physical dependence. However, they noted the syndrome’s relatively mild nature and remained skeptical of its occurrence when marijuana is consumed in usual doses and situations. Indeed, when humans are allowed to control consumption, even high doses are not followed by adverse withdrawal symptoms. Signs of withdrawal have been created in laboratory animals following the administration of very high doses. Recently, at a NIDA-sponsored conference, a researcher described unpublished observations involving rats pretreated with THC and then dosed with a cannabinoid receptor-blocker. Not surprisingly, this provoked sudden withdrawal, by stripping receptors of the drug. This finding has no relevance to human users who, upon ceasing use, experience a very gradual removal of THC from receptors.
The most avid publicizers of marijuana’s addictive nature are treatment providers who, in recent years, have increasingly admitted insured marijuana users to their programs. 65 The increasing use of drug-detection technologies in the workplace, schools and elsewhere has also produced a group of marijuana users who identify themselves as addicts in order to receive treatment instead of punishment. The Myth: Marijuana is a Gateway to the use of other drugs Advocates of marijuana prohibition claim that even if marijuana itself causes minimal harm, it is a dangerous substance because it leads to the use of harder drugs such as heroin, LSD, and cocaine. The Fact …