Legalizing Medical Marijuana The debate over whether to legalize marijuana has been one of the most controversial issues dividing courts, the federal government, state governments, and voters. In 1996, Arizona and California voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Propositions 200 and 215 represented a dramatic shift from a previously united federal and state front against illegal drugs to one where state governments and voters are now at odds with the federal government over the medical use of controlled substances.
Rather than focusing on how to improve and maintain the long-standing war on drugs, the policy issue has now become; who controls America’s drug laws, courts, the federal government, state governments, or the voters? In addition, the legalization of marijuana poses other questions; does legalizing marijuana undermine the seemingly endless federal war on drugs by moving towards greater tolerance of marijuana and other drugs? Is more research necessary to determine the benefits or hazardous effects of marijuana? Would legalizing marijuana open the floodgates to legalizing other controlled substances such as heroin or LSD?
This paper analyzes and examines. The history of marijuana legalization and prohibition. The arguments for and against legalizing marijuana. This paper concludes by recommending that before marijuana is legalized for medical use there needs to be more testing to improve our knowledge and understanding of marijuana. The first recorded use of marijuana as medicine was in a Chinese pharmacopoeia in 2727 B. C. The cornerstone of drug prohibition in the United States was the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 which restricted the use of opiates such as cocaine, heroin, and morphine to medical purposes (Trebach and Inciardi, p. 3). In the United States, marijuana was legal until the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 established the federal prohibition of the drug. (Grinspoon; Trebach and Inciardi). Had marijuana not been removed from the list of drugs in the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1937, it would have been grand fathered into the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act as a prescription drug, just as cocaine and morphine were. (Grinspoon). As a result of the tremendous increase in the number of recreational drug users and a more liberalized political climate, marijuana medicinal uses were rediscovered in the 1970s.
In the later 1970s and 1980s, marijuana was medically used by hundreds of patients (mainly in the form of synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol) in research projects conducted by several states for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy. (Grinspoon). Likewise, in 1976, the federal government approved the use of marijuana as a medicine by instituting the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program (CIND), under which physicians could obtain an Investigational New Drug application (IND) for a patient to receive marijuana. (Grinspoon).
However, this program was so filled with and bureaucratically overburdened that in the course of history only about three dozen individuals ever received marijuana. One argument in favor of legalization is that marijuana provides several medical benefits for individuals suffering from asthma, cancer, glaucoma, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, and other symptoms and syndromes. (Grinspoon, p. 1). First, marijuana is remarkably non-toxic as evidenced by the fact that there has never been a reported death caused by marijuana overdose. Grinspoon, p. 1). In addition, marijuana’s long-term and short-term effects (i. e. , increased appetite, increased memory loss/slowed memory function, etc. ) are relatively inconsequential compared to medicines for which marijuana may be substituted. (Grinspoon, p. 1). Next, once patients no longer have to pay the prohibition tariff, marijuana will be less expensive than the medications it replaces. (Grinspoon, p. 1).
Finally, marijuana is remarkably versatile; case histories and clinical evidence suggests it is useful in the treatment of over two dozen symptoms and syndromes, and others will undoubtedly be discovered in the future. (Grinspoon, p. 1). Another argument in favor of legalization is that there are many activities that are considered integral parts of daily life that are more lethal than marijuana. In order to support this contention, proponents note that in the United States, tobacco alone kills over 430,000, alcohol 110,000, prescription drugs 32,000, and aspirin and Tylenol 7,600 yearly. http://my. marijuana. com, p. 1). By contrast, all illegal drugs combined, including, amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), heroin, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), marijuana, mescaline, PCP (phencyclidine), and psilocybin (magic) mushrooms killed approximately 11,000 in 1999. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 1). In addition, proponents contend that prohibition has not been shown to have a measurable impact on the demand for drugs in general. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2).
Countries such as Italy, Portugal, and Spain, have decriminalized the use of all drugs, including cocaine and heroin, and offer government subsidized programs to assist those addicted to hard drugs such as heroin, providing them with doctor supervised locations to ingest their drugs. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2). Likewise, the Netherlands has legalized soft drugs including marijuana and magic mushrooms. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2). The result of these programs has been lower drug addiction, death, and use rates. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2).
Proponents of legalization contend that by preventing valid manufacturers from making these products, prohibition increases the dangers associated with drug use by preventing regulation, and forcing drug users to buy products which have no guarantee of dosage or purity. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2). In addition, proponents contend that prohibition increases street violence by forcing the sale of drugs to the black market, which encourages the formation of organized crime in order to distribute and manufacture these substances under the control of a group of individuals. http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2). Laws are structured in order to punish adults more heavily than minors, and due to this, minors are enlisted by these organized crime units, provided with guns or other weapons, and used to sell or transport these drugs, with the knowledge that if they are caught, they will not be as heavily punished. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2). This increase in violence and the focus on criminalizing drug use has resulted in the criminal justice system being overloaded. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 2).
Non-violent drug offenders make up 58% of the federal prison population according to the ACLU. In addition, mandatory minimum sentencing laws and laws such as California’s Three Strikes law are unfairly distributed, jailing some for life, simply for selling a chemical which the buyer freely chooses to ingest, making it a harsher crime to participate in a consensual act than to commit second degree murder. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 3). Proponents of legalization also contend that the war on drugs presents an immense monetary drain on the United States economy. http://my. marijuana. com, p. 4). For example, in 2000, the Clinton administration spent more than $17. 9 billion on the war on drugs. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 4). By comparison, the president is requested $4. 5 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Education in the fiscal year 2002. (Dept. Of Ed. ). In short, the United States is spending 40% as much on fighting the drug war as it is on educating for the next generation. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 4).
Finally, proponents of legalization contend that prohibition is causing the government to miss out on an opportunity to raise an incredible amount of tax revenue. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. 4). The international illicit drug business generates as much as $400 billion in trade annually according to the United Nations International Drug Control Program, which amounts to 8% of all international trade and is comparable to the annual turnover in textiles. (http://my. marijuana. com, p. ). Legalizing marijuana and taxing its sale would allow the government to use this money to improve and pay for drug treatment programs, health care, homeless shelters, and schools. Legalization would not only eliminate the $18 billion per year spent fighting the drug war, but would in turn raise at least $40 billion per year in tax revenue, if one assumes a mild 10% tax on the drug trade, a number nearly equivalent to the entire United States education budget. (http://my. marijuana. om, p. 4). While proponents of legalization contend that marijuana provides several medical benefits, there is no concrete, convincing scientific evidence that marijuana offers benefits that patients cannot obtain from approved prescription drugs such as Marinol. However, patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy or suffering from multiple sclerosis report fewer side-effects with marijuana than with regular drugs. (http://www. cnn. com/health/9702/weed. wars/issues/focus/index. html, p. 4).
Although the American Medical Association and other official medical groups oppose medical marijuana, a 1991 survey found 44% of oncologists had suggested use of marijuana to treat nausea associated with chemotherapy. (http://www. cnn. com/health/9702/weed. wars/issues/focus/index. html, p. 4). Thus, before marijuana may be approved as a prescription drug, clinical trials to gauge its therapeutic effect upon pain must be conducted. (http://www. cnn. com/health/9702/weed. wars/issues/focus/index. html, p. 4).
Another argument opposing legalization is that marijuana is a (gateway) drug and that legalizing it will only encourage more individuals to try it. However, like the argument that providing high school students with condoms and sex education will inspire teenagers to become sexually active, this argument is logically flawed. If an individual wishes to try marijuana or to have premarital sex, he or she will not be deterred from doing so simply because it is illegal. Finally, opponents of legalization contend that medical marijuana laws are overbroad, i. . , California’s Proposition 215 is written in such a way that almost any ailment or pain could be construed as justification for the use of marijuana and also allows for the cultivation of marijuana, not just possession. (http://www. cnn. com/health/9702/weed. wars/issues/focus/index. html, p. 3). In addition, Arizona’s Proposition 200 goes beyond marijuana, which is often viewed as a soft drug by both opponents and proponents of legalization, and empowers doctors to prescribe narcotics such as heroin and LSD if they see fit. (http://www. cnn. om/health/9702/weed. wars/issues/focus/index. html, p. 3). Although there are many arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana, more clinical and laboratory research is necessary to improve our knowledge and understanding of marijuana. First, we need to know how many patients and which patients with each symptom or syndrome are likely to find marijuana more effective than existing drugs. Next, more information is required about marijuana’s effect on the immune system in immunologically impaired patients, and its interaction with other medications.
Finally, if and when marijuana is legalized, there should be a uniform distribution and enforcement system in place between federal and state governments to regulate who may obtain marijuana, its accepted uses, and quality control mechanisms. References Grinspoon, Lester. Medical Marihuana in a Time of Prohibition. International Journal of Drug Policy, April, 1999. Trebach, Arnold S. and Inciardi, James A. Legalize It? Debating American Drug Policy. The American University Press, Washington, DC. 1993. http://my. marijuana. com http://www. cnn. com/health/9702/weed. wars/issues/focus/index. html