Legalizing Marijuana

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Marijuana is a misunderstood drug that is thought of as dangerous, when in fact it is in anything but. Because of people’s ignorance and gullibility marijuana has become illegal for all the wrong reasons and should highly be reconsidered for legalization. For centuries, marijuana has been used by different nationalities of people for religious, recreational, and medical use. Marijuana has been legalized in such European countries as Holland and Belgium. Civil Liberties on the Internet has quoted Great Britain’s Guardian saying, “Italy, Spain and Portugal are reported to be considering similar moves for cannabis" (Europe Goes To Pot) So why is the legalization of marijuana in the United States such a problem for many people today? Considered to be a gateway drug and the reason for the downfall of our youth today, marijuana has developed a negative reputation. Lester Grinspoon, a professor at Harvard University, states, “Few drugs in the United States have produced as much affective heat as marijuana, particularly during the last decade. The controversy essentially revolves around the question of how dangerous or safe the drug is” (Grinspoon, 1). However, many people are chronic users and believe that this drug is no more harmful than smoking cigarettes. Despite its useful medical effects for relieving pain and nausea, marijuana is a psychedelic drug that will be looked down upon because of false claims about it.

Marijuana is a dried leaf from the top of the hemp plant. This plant is able to reach a height of 16 to 20 feet high, depending on climate conditions. Producing both male and female plants, the male plant is thought to have little effect when used for intoxication. With a hollow stem, the female marijuana plant can have seven to eleven leaves and a very strong odor. The part of the marijuana plant that is responsible for intoxication is the sticky, golden resin, which contains the highest amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Expomed dot COM has done further study of marijuana and states, “Tetrahydrocannabinol is generally accepted to be the principle active component- in marijuana, although other cannabinoids are likely to contribute to the physiological activity of marijuana” (Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC) Other parts of the female marijuana plant may contain THC, but more investigation will be needed to determine its potency. Greater intoxication is determined by the amount of resin in the plant.

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Climate plays a big role in the production of resin. A hot, muggy climate is needed for growing marijuana; however marijuana has been found in climates as far north as Virginia.
When using marijuana one may experience many feelings; these psychological and physical reactions are known as a “high”. The World Book Encyclopedia describes a high as, “a dream like, relaxed state in which people seem more aware of their senses and feel that time is moving slowly.” (Marijuana) However, these effects vary from how much THC is consumed from the plant. Marijuana can either be smoked or eaten to receive a high. The more popular method is to inhale the smoke that is created from burning marijuana. Marijuana cigarettes are usually created by the user for inhalation; however, water bongs, pipes, and conventional glass pipes are also used. The other method is to eat the marijuana plant. Whether in baked goods or raw, eating marijuana will also give the user a high effect.

The use of marijuana dates back 10,000 years to the Stone Age. One of the earliest records of man’s use of marijuana comes from Taiwan. Used by Chinese doctors, marijuana was employed to ward off evil spirits which had infected people. Marijuana leaves, and the hemp plant were also a useful resource in Europe for many centuries. However, the United States’ first founders used the hemp plant, but its use for intoxication wasn’t noticed in the U.S. until the 1900’s. When the Jazz Era was in full swing in the 1920’s, marijuana was very common. New Orleans was a large port for marijuana traffic, and the city’s population had a high percentage of marijuana users. After the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937, marijuana was legal only to those who paid a tax for its medical use or industrial use. Finally in 1956, The Boggs Act was passed, setting mandatory sentences for possession or distribution of marijuana. This made marijuana an illegal narcotic in the United States (BUSTED America’s War On Marijuana).

Even though marijuana was illegal, its use continued in the United States. Ernest L. Abel, author of the book Marihuana states, “In 1972, the National Commission on Marihuana estimated that about twenty-four million Americans over the age of eleven had tried marijuana, at least eight million were still using it, and about half a million were using it every day” (Abel, 259). Thought to have just been a fad, the use of marijuana still is strong. On November 27, 2001 a National Household Survey stated, “34 percent of all Americans 12 and older have tried Marijuana today” (Marijuana Remains European Illicit Drug of Choice).

Since marijuana was made an illegal narcotic, there have been many arguments over its illegal status. Why is such a commonly used drug such a problem to most people? Well, the answer may be that not everyone fully understands what happens to a person when he or she is intoxicated from marijuana. Ignorance about marijuana is a problem for most people today, and it was a bigger problem for those who were against marijuana in the early 1930’s. In 1930, the lack of scientific knowledge concerning marijuana led the National Bureau of Narcotics to produce claims stating, “The weed itself looks and smells not unlike cat-nip. Have you ever seen the family cat under the influence of catnip? Well, that is something what the effects of the cigarettes are supposed to have on people” (Grinspoon., 17). The FBI even released statements which accused marijuana of causing insanity and cave man like tendencies. In Lester Grinspoon’s book Marihuana Reconsidered, Grinspoon quotes the FBI saying, “He really becomes a fiend with savage or ‘caveman’ tendencies. His sex desires are aroused and some of the most horrible crimes result. He hears light and sees sound. To get away from it, he suddenly become violent and may kill” (17). With lack of information, scientists and officials could not diminish these false rumors. Therefore, many believed that where there was crime, the cause was marijuana. Ironically it was the U.S. Army that first published supportive and factual information about marijuana in 1933 concluding, “the drug was harmless and did not cause maladjustment in the user” (Grinspoon, 19). In 1942 A.S. deRopp wrote an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association containing many false reports about marijuana according to Lester Grinspoon, author of the book Marihuana. DeRopp was a strong believer that marijuana is a dangerous drug which causes mental and physical misconduct, and it should remain illegal. However, in response to A.S. deRopp’s article a man named La Guardia produced a study published a month later. “Conclusions, previously recognized but now better supported with these studies, are to the effect that marijuana smoking, at least as ordinarily practiced in this country, does not lead directly to mental or physical deterioration, does not develop addiction or tolerance as is characteristic of opiates, and is not a direct causal factor in sexual or criminal misconduct” (Grinspoon, 29).

In the 1950’s, marijuana’s popularity died down because of many false claims regarding the illegal drug. Two serious problems came into effect in the 50’s for the pro-marijuana population. Leon Felkins states the 1952 Boggs Act which was looked upon as unfair. “In 1952 the Boggs Act was passed which, for the first time, made penalties for violation of the marijuana laws the same as those for narcotic drugs. The act also introduced, at the federal level, the concept of minimum mandatory jail sentences for drug law offenders and in general increased the penalties” (Leon Felkins). Harry J. Anslinger, who was Commissioner of Narcotics in the US at the time, enforced the Boggs Act. Anslinger spread the same lies about marijuana heard in the 1930’s. He claimed that marijuana would cause people to become psychotic, sex-crazed lunatics. However, with these lies Ansliger was able to get the Boggs Act passed and upset the population of marijuana users. Also, in 1956 the Narcotics Control Act put harsh penalties on first time offenders of marijuana possession and put a heavier punishment on marijuana traffickers. These two laws were seen as unfair because they were based upon untrue accusations. Marijuana users became upset and irritated from the false allegations marijuana had been charged with from Ansligner.

When the sixties came about, the drug became extremely popular among white middle class citizens. Many thought marijuana’s popularity was to be blamed on the type of music that was being heard. Bands from Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Pink Floyd commercialized marijuana and other drugs through their music. In fact, the use of marijuana became so overwhelming that Congress appealed the 1952 Boggs Act and 1956 Narcotics Control Act because these two laws seemed to have no effect on the population of marijuana users. Marijuana’s popularity lasted from the sixties into the seventies. It wasn’t until 1976 that parental groups began to lobby for stricter punishments for the use of marijuana. With help of the DEA and president Reagan, the War On Drugs campaign was started. President Reagan installed two laws that put harsh punishments on all drug offenders as well as marijuana users. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act put mandatory sentences on all drug related crimes, the Crime Control Act of 1984 put marijuana on the same pedestal as much harder drugs as heroin. Frontline quotes the absurdity of the Crime Control Act, “Possession of 100 marijuana plants was equivalent to 100 grams of heroin” (BUSTED, America’s War on Marijuana).

With the same laws as heroin, Marijuana must have factual effects that would cause such outrageous consequences to be brought about from its use. Irving J. Sloan presents the idea that marijuana could have a habituating or dependency effect. The habit caused by marijuana is one comparable to cigarette smoking, not an addiction seen harder drugs. Real drug dependency is seen in other drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but there are no records of marijuana being a dependency drug. Sloan discusses marijuana and addiction in his book Alcohol and Drug Abuse and The Law.

Marihuana does not lead to physical dependence. Therefore, it cannot be considered addicting. Chronic users become psychologically dependent upon the effects of marihuana. Thus, it is classified as habituating. The fact that a drug is not addicting has little relationship to its potential for harm, since dependence, whether psychological or physical, is a serious matter (105).

The habituating effect stated by Sloan may seem like a serious matter, and a possible habit for every person who experiments with marijuana. Lester Grinspoon does a good job explaining the kind of psychological habit that can be affected from marijuana in his book Marihuana Reconsidered, “While one Egyptian survey suggests considerable psychological dependence, inasmuch as 65 percent of hashish users wished to rid themselves of the habit, it is, on the other hand, asserted by S. Allentuck and K.M. Bowman that habituation to cannabis is not as strong as to tobacco and alcohol” (234). Grinspoon also quotes W.D.M. Paton who says, “Life is in fact built up of such dependencies…[he is referring to his habit of eating Kellogg’s cornflakes each morning]” (234) In conclusion; marijuana is not an addicting drug. It will not cause the user to become totally dependent upon it. However, it may cause the user to form a bad psychological habit. Marijuana’s habituating could be considered one of its serious flaws, or it could be thought of as a bad habit comparable to fingernail biting.
Another problem with marijuana, like tobacco, is it can cause emphysema, lung cancer, and heart disease. Marijuana’s smoke is equivalent to tobacco smoke, if not more harmful. Arnold S. Trebach states in his book The Great Drug War, “In one study on humans, it was found that smoking five joints a week over time is more irritating to the air passages and impairs the lungs’ ability to exhale air [more] than smoking almost six packs of cigarettes a week” (Trebach, 79). Even though this physical consequence is something that can prevent marijuana from becoming legalized, commonsense should inform one’s self that inhalation of any smoke will be damaging to the body. With as much study today on cigarettes as there is, one can take these conclusion and base marijuana smoke in the same category. Other effects produced by marijuana are loss of short-term memory, testosterone deficiency in men, and infertility in women in recent studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. However all these effects are reversed once the user stops the use of marijuana.

Even though marijuana gets a lot of bad publicity for these effects, being a gateway drug causes marijuana the most problems for legalization. Whether a marijuana user will want to experiment with harder and more serious drugs is unknown. Further experimentation among drugs really depends on the personality and type of user. Most marijuana users only experiment as far as marijuana and alcohol, but there are a percentage of people that do go on to harder drugs. The National Institute On Drug Abuse produced information on their website, Marijuana: Facts For Teens, stating, “To better determine this risk, scientists are examining the possibility that long-term marijuana use may create changes in the brain that make a person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine. While not all young people who use marijuana go on to use other drugs, further research is needed to predict who will be at greatest risk” (Marijuana: Facts For Teens).

Today, marijuana is getting closer to legalization. With states starting to legalize it for medicinal purposes, marijuana may soon be compared to a casual days cigarette. Even though many test are being done to prove marijuana as a harmful drug, the truth of the matter is it is anything but. Arnold S. Trebach states, “Every major impartial official study – ranging from the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report in 1894 by British and Indian experts to the National Research Council report, An Analysis of Marijuana Policy, by American specialists in 1982 – reached roughly similar conclusions: marijuana presented some danger to the people who used it, but the actual level of harm was consistently exaggerated and control measures were frequently too harsh” (Trebach, 79). In fact, when the Drug Advance Warning Network (DAWN) was questioned about deaths involving marijuana use they responded with, “DAWN staff are not aware of a single instance in which marijuana though found in the body of the deceased, was deemed to have been the principal cause of death.” (Trebach, 80) Trebach best explains the American War on drugs and its relations with marijuana when he states, “While there has been a national obsession with controlling marijuana, and while the war on drugs primarily nets marijuana offenders, there is unimpeachable pathological evidence that our youth and adults are in greater dangers from many other legal drugs, some of which are totally uncontrolled by the law.” (Trebach, 81) Marijuana is a rather harmless drug compared to the legal drugs that aren’t controlled by the law. Marijuana does not cause serious addiction like alcohol and nicotine that are legalized drugs, granting the user the right to quite at any time without problems of withdrawal. In conclusion, legalizing marijuana would put the eyes’ of the law on more important issues, rather than the innocent American citizen who decides to use marijuana.


Works Cited

(1998). BUSTED America’s war on marijuana. PBS [On-line]. Available: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/etc/cron.html

(2001). Europe Goes To Pot, The old world appears to be making a separate piece in the war on drugs. About [On-line]. Available: http://civilliberty.about.com/library/weekly/aa012401a.htm

Abel, Ernest L. Marihuana The First Twelve Thousand Years. New York: Plenum Press, 1980

Felkins, Leon. Historical Political Events for November 2. Political Almanac [On-line]. Available: http://perspicuity.net/cgi/disp_day.cgi?11&2&2001

Grinspoon, Lester M.D. Marihuana Reconsidered. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971

Marijuana. (1988). The World Book Encyclopedia. (vol. 13 p. 201). Chicago, IL: Scott Fetzer Company

Marijuana: Facts for Teens. National Institute on Drug Abuse [On-line]. Available: http://www.nida.nih.gov/MarijBroch/teenpg9-10.html

Marijuana Remains European Illicit Drug of Choice, Report Says, Despite Relaxed Laws, Pot's Popularity in EU Still Lower Than in US. NORML [On-line]. Available: http://www.natlnorml.org/news/index.shtml

Sloan, Irving J. Alcohol And Drug Abuse And The Law. Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1980

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Expomed Inc [On-line]. Available: http://www.expomed.com/drugtest/thc.htm

Trebach, Arnold S. The Great Drug War. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987


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