Also known as cannabis, Marijuana primarily consists of dry leaves of the hemp plant that people chew or smoke in order to experience euphoric effects. Marijuana normally has psychological and physical effects on the users such as visual impairment and mild euphoria, depending on the amount consumed.
Although the proponents of marijuana legalization believe that marijuana has no negative health effects, scientific research shows that marijuana use affects brain functioning leading to hallucinations, delusions, and memory loss.
However, marijuana has been shown to have therapeutic effects for the treatment of glaucoma and side effects of chemotherapy. The debate over marijuana legalization revolves around the potential health effects of marijuana on the users.
Proponents of marijuana legalization claim that it is a less habit-forming drug compared to alcohol, which is legal in most countries. In addition, its therapeutic usefulness further increases the calls for medical marijuana legalization. Others argue that legalization of marijuana has potential economic benefits, which are not possible due to the continued illegal use of the drug.
The opponents, on the other hand, contend that marijuana is an addictive drug and it leads to substance abuse involving hard drugs. Given the potential economic benefits of marijuana legalization and its medical usefulness, I fully support the decriminalization of marijuana particularly the medical uses.
The History of Marijuana Use in the United States
Historically, marijuana was used to attain euphoria by the users and as a medical herb in China and India, where it originated.
It spread from China to North Africa before spreading to Europe and finally arriving in North America in 500 A. D. In the United States, marijuana or hemp, as was commonly referred to, was used to produce fiber for industrial purposes. Marijuana was recommended for the treatment of nausea and as a pain reliever between 1850 and 1942.
In the 1930s, marijuana was considered a “gateway” drug with an ability to make users to progress to substance abuse. “The Controlled Substances Act passed by the Senate in 1970, placed marijuana as an LSD Schedule I drug along with heroin” (Bonnie, Charles, & Dana, 1999, p.113). This category of drugs lacks any proven medical benefits and has a high chance of abuse.
The illegalization of marijuana began in 1937 when the federal government approved the taxation of marijuana meant for nonmedical use mainly imported from Mexico. The Narcotics Control Act of 1950s outlawed marijuana use by providing for harsher penalties to offenders including those found to possess or traffic the drug.
Prior to this legislation, the US government allowed the cultivation of hemp crops to supply fiber for naval robes used during the World War II. In the 1950s, stricter marijuana laws were passed to restrict marijuana use among the middleclass Americans (Bonnie et al., 1999, p.115).
However, the introduction of the drug among the middleclass Americans increased its use leading to the passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970.
The government attempted to reverse the anti-marijuana laws in the late 1970s with the proposal to abolish the penalties for offenders possessing less than one ounce of marijuana. However, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 reinstated the penalties set earlier that made marijuana use illegal.
In 1996, the state of California took the bold step and legalized marijuana use in medical quarters. This allowed the use of marijuana for the treatment of terminal diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and other illnesses like glaucoma. Arizona also followed suit and legalized medical use of marijuana in the same year.
After California’s bold step in 1996, others states followed suit and by 2008, twelve more states had aped California by decriminalizing marijuana use. Currently, marijuana cultivation is minimal due to strict legislations. However, the illicit use of marijuana is high with much of the marijuana supplied through trafficking from other countries.
The potential harmful effects of Marijuana Legalization
Although historically the proponents of marijuana legalization point to its medical benefits, those opposing its legalization claim, it has harmful physical and psychological effects. The immediate effects of marijuana use are felt almost immediately after smoking or chewing marijuana.
In the short-term, marijuana intake leads to heightened pulses that end up increasing blood flow to the brain leading to a feeling of euphoria to the users. Moreover, marijuana use affects the user negatively by causing delusions and anxiety and at consumption of high amounts; it may lead to scaring effects/attaks.
Chronic use of cannabis impairs vision and judgment leading to decline in the performance of tasks such as driving, which increases the risk of road accidents. In addition, cannabis use impairs learning and may lead to short-term memory loss. However, the extent of the physiological and psychological effects depends on the amount of marijuana consumed, the cannabis tolerance of the user and the social settings.
The immediate effects of marijuana use include euphoria and pleasant sensations of calmness and relaxation. Individuals also experience distorted perceptions of space and time leading to difficulties in their cognitive ability. Impairment to the short-term memory, problems with coordination and inability to perform complicated tasks may also occur, which affects an individual’s ability to perform tasks such as driving and operating machines.
Chronic or long-term use of marijuana has physical effects on the user. When smoked, marijuana impairs the normal functioning of the respiratory in the body leading to symptoms such as chronic coughing that is accompanied with the production of sputum.
Additionally, many cannabis users smoke tobacco, which increases the risk of developing neck and respiratory cancers. “Marijuana smoke contains over 400 chemicals with most of them being carcinogenic and increases the risk of developing cancers” (Hall, Johnston, & Donnelly, 1998, p.200).
Cannabis use during pregnancy, just like tobacco use, affects fetal development leading to conditions such as fetal hypoxia and low birth weight of the newborn. The chemicals contained in marijuana are easily transferrable across the placenta into the fetus affecting its development.
For majority of cannabis users, the drug has been associated with various mental effects including depression, irritability, hallucinations, and anxiety. However, the mental effects of marijuana use are temporary; disappearing once, the drug leaves the system of the user, and thus cannot lead to a serious mental disorder.
Regular use of marijuana by the adolescents has some social effects including effects to self-esteem, antisocial behaviors and may even lead to mental problems. Cannabis can increase the risk of developing mental illness for individuals with a family history of mental illness or individuals predisposed to poor mental health.
However, cannabis use does not lead to mental illness but only increases the risk of a chronic user developing a mental problem. Diagnosable disorders arising from chronic cannabis use include Cannabis Induced Anxiety Disorder and Cannabis Induced Psychotic Disorder, which arise from chronic use of the drug particularly through ingestion.
In most cases, the cannabis users consume the drug for recreational and relaxation purposes. However, chronic use of marijuana has mild psychological dependence particularly on daily users. Other users, who at the same time experience mental effects of cannabis use, rely on the drug to relief themselves of the symptoms of cannabis use.
Individuals experiencing such problems use marijuana as a reinforcement drug for substance abuse involving hard drugs. According to Hall, Johnston, & Donnelly, individuals who are long-term users develop physical dependence symptoms (1998, p.198). They experience withdrawal symptoms including increased anxiety, loss of appetite and insomnia after a sudden discontinuation of the drug use.
Others develop tolerance to the side effects of marijuana becoming heavy users of the drug. Chronic use of marijuana also leads to psychological dependence symptoms, which are characterized by compulsive cannabis use even after developing adverse side effects.
The users crave for marijuana and other substance use without regard to the health and mental effects afflicted by the drugs. In addition, extreme psychological dependence results to individuals relying on marijuana in order to engage in daily activities or any social activity.
Most people who use marijuana for recreational purposes do not engage in the use of other illicit drugs. However, chronic marijuana use increases the chances of individuals using other illicit drugs (Hall et al., 1998, p.201). Nevertheless, this does not imply that cannabis is a ‘gateway’ drug to substance abuse because usually cannabis is used alongside alcohol, cigarette, and not hard drugs.
Heavy use may expose users to substance abuse culture contributing to abuse of hard drugs. In addition, cigarette and alcohol use may also lead to substance abuse but alcohol and tobacco do not fall under gateway drugs and therefore, cannabis use alone does not predispose an individual to use of other illicit drugs.
Most individuals use cannabis occasionally as a recreational drug and they do not progress to illicit substance abuse. However, economically and socially disadvantaged individuals, particularly the youth, may progress to use of harder drugs following chronic marijuana use. The illicit drug use depends on the social influence rather than the effects of marijuana use alone.
The opponents of the relaxation of the marijuana laws contend that marijuana is an uncontrollable intoxicant and its legalization would lead to problems in the fight against drugs. They also outline the potential psychological and physical effects of marijuana to support even stricter legislations against marijuana use.
In addition, the UN policies restrict the use of marijuana and therefore legalization would be in contravention of the UN policies; nevertheless, such argument is not sufficient to explain the continued and perhaps unnecessary illegalization of marijuana.
Benefits of Marijuana Legalization
Most people oppose the legalization of marijuana due to its potential side effects on the general health of the individuals. However, the benefits of legalizing marijuana use outweigh the side effects, which have not been proven through medical research.
In addition, the illegal trafficking and use of marijuana has economic impacts, which can be achieved only if marijuana use was legal. The proponents of marijuana legalization further argue that the medical benefits of marijuana in the treatment of serious illnesses are many and thus legalization of medical marijuana is important.
The proponents of marijuana legalization argue that the government loses economically by keeping marijuana use illegal. Many resources are allocated to the fight against marijuana and other drugs despite marijuana being no more harmful than legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.
According to Debusmann (2010), the cost of arresting marijuana drug traffickers followed by their prosecution in courts and imprisonment is high. The law enforcement arrests more than 750,000 people per year over marijuana possession, which burdens the judicial system in handling all of these cases.
Currently, in the United States, all levels of the government engage in the fight against illegal drugs including marijuana; however, since marijuana use is high, many resources are used in this fight. In addition, a lot of revenue is lost since the government cannot tax illegal drugs; on the contrary, making marijuana legal would allow its taxation. Consequently, the government can generate revenue to boost the campaigns against substance abuse.
The proponents of marijuana use also argue that the prohibition of marijuana use has not been helpful in decreasing the drug use. The prohibition coupled with the popularity of marijuana, particularly among the youth, increases the use of the drug.
However, if the drug were legalized and regulated, the illicit sale and use of the drug would decrease and the many resources allocated in the fight against marijuana use would be used in other sectors of the economy. Additionally, the illegal import of marijuana into the United States would go down following the regulation of marijuana.
Marijuana is also readily available to the youth since there are no regulations to restrict its sale to schoolchildren. For instance, alcohol is regulated and therefore not readily available to underage children; therefore, marijuana regulation would reduce the sale of marijuana to the teenagers and consequently reduce their exposure to substance abuse. The illegal state of marijuana makes it a valuable and popular drug among the teenagers hence more prone to abuse than other drugs.
Currently, the drug traffickers make profit through illegal importation of the marijuana despite the government prohibition. Debusmann (2010) observes, legalized marijuana would “reduce this illicit trade, which increases the flow of money from economy enriching the international criminal gangs dealing with marijuana trafficking.”
The oversea gangs are involved in the cultivation and smuggling of marijuana into the United States, where they often sell it at high prices earning themselves huge profits. If marijuana were regulated, its cultivation and use would reduce its market value to match the production costs and benefit the economy.
Marijuana legalization would also reduce the criminalization of hemp as an agricultural crop with a potential of bio-fuel source. In the wake of the new US energy policy to enhance use of bio-fuels given that fossil fuels are diminishing, expensive, and degrading, legalization of marijuana offers a viable option in the long road of adopting bio-fuels.
Marijuana use has medical benefits and has only mild side effects when used as a medical drug or as a recreational drug. Many people suffering from various diseases use marijuana to reduce the symptoms of the chronic illness (Mathre, 1997, p.76). Marijuana drug has been prescribed for pain relief, nausea and in reducing the symptoms of other illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.
The medical value of marijuana is the rationale behind the medical legalization of marijuana in many States including California. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical found in marijuana, is effective in the treatment of nausea that results from chemotherapy treatments.
Marijuana also reliefs pain in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis to control tremors in such patients. In addition, THC reduces blood pressure in patients suffering from glaucoma. THC is also an appetizer and is used to treat AIDS-related symptoms as it enables patients to gain and maintain appropriate body weight.
The proponents of marijuana legalization further argue that marijuana is a better recreational drug than alcohol and cigarettes. Many people prefer to use marijuana as a recreational drug for it allows them to relax as opposed to use of alcohol because the chances of developing dependence or addiction to marijuana are low compared to other legal drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes.
In addition, the side effects of marijuana use are low compared to other drugs making it a common choice for most people despite its illegal status. Other people develop tolerance to the effects related to marijuana use and can perform their tasks normally.
Legalizing marijuana just like alcohol has the potential of creating numerous employment opportunities for the citizens. Many industries would emerge to seize the opportunity of a regulated marijuana trade in the market. Such organizations would embark on mass production of standardized marijuana and sell them through different retail outlets to the consumers.
The regulation would also include effective pricing to eliminate the high profits currently enjoyed by the illegal traders and distributors of marijuana. The operations in such industries would require human labor to monitor or carry out different operations necessary in the production of the final products. As a result, several job opportunities would emerge hence creating opportunities for the unemployed.
The result would be improved living standards for thousands of unemployed people in the society. Other job opportunities would also come through different businesses that individuals set up to assist in the distribution of marijuana to the users. The regulation would also help in restricting the availability of marijuana to the teenagers compared to when it is illegal.
Given the immense economic and medical benefits of marijuana, its legalization would be of more benefit compared to the continued prohibition of marijuana use and distribution. In my opinion, the problems of substance abuse experienced currently, particularly among the teenagers, could be eliminated if marijuana were legalized.
Marijuana users would continue to push for its legalization despite the persistent arrests and harsh penalties handed to offenders found in possession of marijuana. The medical benefits of marijuana far outweigh its side effects and therefore, an important drug for use in the American society.
Furthermore, the benefits of a regulated marijuana use to the economy are many including revenue from taxation of marijuana trade and reduction in resources allocated towards fighting the illegal use. Therefore, marijuana should be legalized.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It is apparent that the current prohibition has failed to achieve the expected results. Marijuana prohibition has even produced opposite effects by promoting its popularity and use particularly among teenagers. In my opinion, legalizing it would ensure that only responsible adults and patients access the drug for recreation or medical purposes.
In any case, the issue of marijuana legalization would not go away easily and therefore, I would recommend that legalization first begin with decriminalization of medical marijuana use to combat illnesses before allowing nonmedical marijuana use.
America should first relax the current laws against the use of marijuana by reducing the penalties handed to offenders as it undertakes to establish necessary legislations that would legalize marijuana in the next twenty years, beginning with medical marijuana legalization.
The medical and economic gains following marijuana legalization would be more useful compared to the current decriminalization and the illegal use that benefits overseas gangs while hurting the economy. In a recap, in the light of benefits associated with marijuana use, which outweighs its side effects, marijuana should be legalized.
Bonnie, J., Charles, W., & Dana, F. (1999). The Marijuana Conviction: A History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States. New York: The Lindesmith Center.
Debusmann, B. (2010). The Great Debate: The Economic Case for Legal Marijuana.
Hall W., Johnston, L., & Donnelly, N. (1998). The epidemiology of cannabis use and its Consequences. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation.
Mathre, L. (1997) Cannabis in Medical Practice: A Legal, Historical, and Pharmacological Overview of the Therapeutic Use of Marijuana. New York: McFarland and Company.