Should We Legalize Marijuana?
It Is About Time
South Suburban Community College
This paper was prepared for Sociology 101, Section 002, taught by Professor Richardson.
Already, we have brought “back around” old styles of fashion and music. Now, as more of our generation begins to enter the political world we are seeing a change in policies that have held firm for almost a century. More specifically, we are seeing a change in the attitude toward marijuana and whether or not it should be legalized. During the time of illegalization of marijuana, the drug had a vastly negative feeling associated with it, which many people now believe to be inaccurate and unfair. Now that people are more informed, more connected and more vocal, the United States government should allow and even encourage more research of the dangers and addictive nature of the drug which will assuredly legalize medical use and possibly recreational use to benefit the people and the economy greatly.This paper will discuss many topics pertaining to marijuana. It will begin by explaining the history of marijuana in this country. Then it will discuss public opinion of marijuana and reasons for that opinion. Next, it will dispel false rumors about the effects of marijuana. It will then talk about a few disadvantages of marijuana. After it will counter those disadvantages with several advantages of marijuana. Next, it will discuss Colorado and Washington State’s situation since legalizing marijuana recreationally. It will then inform the reader of the other states pursuing legalization of marijuana in some degree. Finally,it will conclude with Arkansas’s take on marijuana and efforts to get it passed medically.
Cannabis is a plant that is grown in many places throughout the world. It is a fast-growing plant that requires only eight to twelve weeks to mature. It chokes out most other plants grown around it and has a resistant to all but eight out of one hundred known pests. Cannabis is grown for two main reasons; for industrial hemp and for marijuana. Industrial hemp includes the seeds, stems, roots and all other parts of Cannabis except for the dried leaves. It has over 50,000 different product applications including: paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, and fuel. Marijuana is the dried leavesof Cannabis that contains high-levels of THC and can be used for many medical issues. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), is the chemical in marijuana that is also produced naturally within the human brain and controls the influence of pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. With such a lengthy list of versatile uses comes many questions all stemming from the bigger question, “What can marijuana do for us?”.The answer will become evident by responding to the following questions:
What is the history of marijuana in America?
How does the American public view marijuana?
What are the cons of using marijuana?
Are there benefits from using marijuana?
What has happened to states that have already legalized pot?
Throughout time the U.S. government has put many sanctions and ignorant beliefs about marijuanainto themainstream view of theAmerican public.Times have changed and problems need solving, the legalization of marijuana is the answer to more than just a few of America’s problems.
What is the history of marijuana in America?
As early as the 1600’s hemp has existed in America. Back then, colonial farmers were forced to grow hemp to send back to England to be used in rope, sails, and clothing. It was not until the late nineteenth century that marijuana became popular for its medicinal uses. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910 the United States started to get its first flood of Hispanic immigrants. These immigrants introduced the possibility of using marijuana recreationally. Smoking marijuana really began to take off in the years leading up to the Great Depression. Due to this unfortunate timing, and the connection to Hispanicimmigrants’marijuana caught a lot of blame for the increased unemployment and violence in America. By 1931 twenty-nine states had made marijuana illegal and that only increased until America entered World War II in the 1941. Following the start of the war the Department of Agricultural encouraged farmers to grow hemp to help make parachutes and other military equipment. During that time 375,000 acres of hemp was being farmed annually. However, after the war ended stark opposition of marijuana returned and within seven years the Boggs Act of 1952 was passed setting mandatory prison sentences for any drug-related offenses, including marijuana offenses.
In 1970 Congress and the Nixon administration reduced the sentences for drug-related offenses butalso began a system of “scheduling” drugs based on their danger and usefulness. Marijuana became a Schedule I drug, meaning it is “a dangerous substance that has no recognized medical use and that has a high potential for abuse” (Eaves). Schedule I drugs are prohibited from being tested which has hampered any ability of solidifying proof of marijuana’s advantages. In addition to marijuana being classified as a Schedule I drug: cocaine and methamphetamine are Schedule II drugs; Tylenol and steroids are Schedule III drugs; Xanax is a Schedule IV drug; and Robitussin is a Schedule V drug (Drug Scheduling). Each higher schedule means it has more medical uses and isless addictive. In discussing the safety of marijuana at the Pennsylvania state Senate hearing over a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes Mike Fraser, Ph.D., testified, “The group [Pennsylvania Medical Society and Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society] does not recommend the use of medical marijuana citing a need for further research to demonstrate it is safe and effective in patient care.” He believes, “the federal government [should] downgrade marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug to facilitate research” (Iorfino).
How Does The Public View Marijuana?
In David Boaz’s article “New Polls Show Libertarian Trends on Marriage, Marijuana, Guns” he begins by discussing the rise in the public’s affiliation with the Republican Party, seen in an accompanying Pew Poll. However, he counters this rise with three other contradictory Pew Polls, all showing opinions trending to the left. One of those polls is the poll “Should Marijuana Use be Legal?” (above). In eleven years the Pew Poll has shown that the percentage of people with pro-legalization opinions has risen from 16 to 45 percent. Another accompanying poll shows that support legalization of the drug among people under age thirty is 57 percent compared to only 30 percent of seniors who support it. Boaz attributes the failure of California to legalize recreational marijuana use in the 2010 election to the high percentage of Baby Boomers who are against idea of legalization. The growing support for legalization with young people shows the changing of times and the inevitability of marijuana being legalized throughout the country like it has been in Colorado and Washington State. These two states made national headlines recently when each voted to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use. This change in law went into effect in Colorado on January 1, 2014; Washington State will become effective in June 2014.Support from high profile celebrities has helped influence the drive of young people to pass this issue. Just last year President Barack Obama said he believes “Marijuana is not as dangerous asalcohol.” He has also been quoted saying, “When I was a kid, I [smoked marijuana and] inhaled frequently. That was the point.” This was a pun to former president Bill Clinton’s comment at the beginning of his presidential term saying “I experimented with marijuana a time or two… but I didn’t inhale and didn’t try it again.” In addition to these two presidents, Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas admitted to smoking marijuana while in college and Oprah Winfrey, Forbes’s 2013 most influential celebrity, admitted to having smoked marijuana in her past (the last time being 1982) and would be willing to try it again (Marijuana Policy Project).
The little research that has been documented helps to prove several rumors about marijuana false. For example the FDA says marijuana is “highly addictive and dangerous” (Drug Scheduling). On the contrary, marijuana is only nine percent addictive, which is equal to caffeine and over twentypercent less addictive than tobacco. In cases of overdose, marijuana requires fifteen-hundred pounds to be smoked in a fifteen minute span to overdose compared to relatively little amounts of methamphetamine, heroin, and even alcohol needed to overdose (Eaves).Another widely held rumor about marijuana is that it increases the crime rate. A recent report by Eric Delmore at MSNBC proves that myth wrong. In his report Delmore shows that since marijuana has been legalized recreationally this year crime in Colorado has already fallen dramatically. In the first quarter of the year “violent crimes including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9%. . . [and] Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%.” In fact, Delmore reported, that since marijuana has been legalized alcohol related crimes have also decreased dramatically. This shows that in the long run keeping marijuana out of the hands of the consumer just increases the need for crime and fills our jail cells.
What Are the Cons of Using Marijuana?
Legalized marijuana does pose some disadvantages. There have already been some reported cases in Colorado and Washington State of deaths caused by marijuana. These deaths are not directly related to the drug though but rather human stupidity. For example the first marijuana-related death that has occurred happened in Denver, Colorado. There a college student from Wyoming purchased some cookies laced with marijuana which caused him to hallucinate and fall off of a balcony to his death. This was reportedly the first time that he or his friends had ever experimented with marijuana (Golgowski).
What Are the Benefits of Using Marijuana?
The benefits of legalized marijuana far outweigh the human stupidity that comes with it. The few studies done have shown that marijuana can help in many cases including cases of: cancer, depression, HIV, Alzheimer’s, glaucoma, and Downs’ syndrome. Erik Rupard, M.D., a cancer specialist from Reading, said “it’s unclear whether pot is addictive, but if it relieves the pain of terminal patients, it’s a moot point” (Iorfino). This also led Andrew Cuomo, New York Governor, to urge citizens in his State of the State address to approve medical marijuana stating that, “Research suggests that medical marijuana can help manage the pain and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses” (Ganga). Such wide range of advantages of the drug could affect numerous families and causes one to pose the question, “Why is it not legalized already, at least medically?”In addition to marijuana’s medical advantages, legalizing it would help the economy as well. In the first month of recreational legalization “Colorado collected more than $3.5 million in taxes and fees from both recreational and medical marijuana sales” (Network). Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper estimated in his budget plan that marijuana sales for the year would be $610 million dollars with $98 million of that being taxes. Marijuana sales are subject to many taxes where sold;Colorado has a 15% excise tax, 10% special sales tax (which can be raised to 15% in the future),2.9% state sales tax, and any local taxes.
Legalized marijuana would also cut back on prisoners who suck up tax payer money. “America has over 2.3 million people behind bars [which make up] 25% of the world’s prisoners.” Before marijuana was made illegal, the incarceration rate in America was 110 people for every 100,000 citizens in the population. Beginning when marijuana became illegal and the war on drugs began, that rate quickly skyrocketed and now America incarcerates 751 people for every 100,000 citizens in the population (Marijuana Prison Statistics). Nearly one-third of all criminal offenses are non-violent drug offences with the only victims being the perpetrators. If marijuana is legalized it would cut the amount that states would spend on enforcement each year by $6-$8 billion and cut another $1-$2 billion in prison costs (Marijuana Policy Project).
What Has Happened to the States That Have Legalized Marijuana?
As mentioned before, on Jan. 1 Colorado became the first state to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The implementation of the new law was met with large eager crowds and long lines. The turnout was considered a huge success — much better than expected. Projections have the state making $98 million dollars in tax revenue in 2014. Governor Hickenlooper has proposed a bill that gives the first indication of how the tax money will be used. His bill, that has made it past the State House, proposes putting the money toward six priorities with a majority of the money going to youth programs, including: “$45.5 million for youth use prevention, $40.4 millionfor substance abuse treatment, and $12.4 million for public health” (Colorado Governor Reveals Plan to Spend Marijuana Tax Revenue).
Washington State will soon be the second state to allow legalized pot going on sale for recreational use this summer. They are not expected to have as large a turnout as Colorado and are expected to only bring in $180 million in four years but they are finding themselves in the same debate as Colorado; spend or save? This is the best debate states could face in an economy like todays and Washington State sure is not sad that they are having it.The graph (Above) shows the predicted outcome of GSP for both Colorado and Washington State after passing recreational marijuana legislation. IHS economist Steven Frable wrote that “Based on our forecast, the state and local government sector’s share of gross state product (GSP) will grow by 5.0% in 2017 in Washington [State], and 1.7% in Colorado” (Wile). This jump in in predicted GSP will help Washington State tremendously because they currently have a twenty percent deficit whereas Colorado only has a two percent deficit (Wile).
Although Colorado and Washington State are the only two states to have legalized marijuana recreationally many states have legalized it medically. Currently twenty-one states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. These include historically democratic states like: California, Hawaii, and Vermont; as well as historically republican states like: Arizona and Montana. In addition to those states that have already legalized medical marijuana, several others have bills pending to try to pass marijuana. Some of those states include: New York (as mentioned before), Ohio, and one southern state being Mississippi. One thing the image shown above leaves out is the states that have medical marijuana initiatives on the ballet like the southern states of Florida and Arkansas.Some states are wanting to follow suit with Colorado and Washington Stateas well. In 2014 Oregon, California, and Hawaii are set to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana. By the 2016 presidential election another five states are projected to vote on recreational marijuana as well.
In Arkansas voters struck down an initiative in 2012 to be the first southern state to legalize marijuana medically. The state split almost down the middle with 51.4 percent voting not to legalize medical marijuana and 48.6 percent to legalize medical marijuana. Since that vote many citizens have asked current Arkansas politicians to sponsor a bill to legalize marijuana medically. Although a few reportedly said they would sponsor a bill they said they doubted it would get past the Republican-state congress and recommended that the only way to get medical marijuana passed is through another initiative in 2014. Now citizens have nearly enough signatures to put two competing medical marijuana bills on the ballet in November.Currently there are two leading candidates in Arkansas that are for the Governor office in the 2014 election. Both Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson are against legalizing medical marijuana. Democrat Mike Ross’s reason for being against the issue is because it is contrary to what our national government laws decree. Republican Asa Hutchinson, former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, has a history of vehemently going after marijuana abusers and sending them to prison. He believes, “the concept of smoking marijuana as medicine has [not] been proved by the medical community” (Asa Hutchinson, Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, Talks about Growing Arkansas’ Economy). Neither of these politicians would help the citizens in their pursuit of a medical marijuana bill in Arkansas.
In conclusion, marijuana was wrongfully made illegal many years ago and has remained illegal for almost a century. With some changes in law and reduction of classification, marijuana couldbecome a game-changer and life-saver medically; help create and save billions in tax dollars; and help keep millions of innocent, non-violent citizens out of prison. Historically, America has flirted with several political ideas, but after the new laws in Colorado and Washington State, and the possibility of having medical marijuana legalized in Arkansas it is safe to say we are on a full-fledged date with “Mary Jane”.