Legalization of Marijuana What Is Marijuana
Marijuana, a drug obtained from dried and crumpled
parts of the ubiquitous hemp plant Canabis sativa (or
Cannabis indica). Smoked by rolling in tobacco paper or
placing in a pipe. It is also otherwise consumed worldwide
by an estimated 200,000,000 persons for pleasure, an escape
from reality, or relaxation. Marijuana is known by a
variety of names such as kif (Morocco), dagga (South
Africa), and bhang (India). Common in the United States,
marijuana is called pot, grass, weed, Mary Jane, bones, etc.
The main active principle of cannabis is
tetrahydrocannabinol. The potency of its various forms
ranges from a weak drink consumed in India to the highly
potent hashish. The following consists of pure cannabis
Marijuana is not a narcotic and is not mentally or
physically addicting drug. One can use mild cannabis
preparations such as marijuana in small amounts for years
without physical or mental deterioration. Marijuana serves
to diminish inhibitions and acts as an euphoriant. Only
once in a while will it produce actual hallucinations. More
potent preparations of cannabis such as hashish can induce
psychedelic experiences identical to those observed after
ingestion of potent hallucinogens such as LSD.
Some who smoke marijuana feel no effects; others feel
relaxed and sociable, tend to laugh a great deal, and have a
profound loss of the sense of time. Characteristically,
those under the influence of marijuana show incoordination
and impaired ability to perform skilled acts. Still others
experience a wide range of emotions including feelings of
perception, fear, insanity, happiness, love and anger.
Although marijuana is not addicting, it may be habituating.
The individual may become psychologically rather than
physically dependent on the drug.
Legalization Of Marijuana
Those who urge the legalization of marijuana maintain
the drug is entirely safe. The available data suggested,
this is not so, Marijuana occasionally produces acute panic
reactions or even transient psychoses. Furthermore, a
person driving under the influence of marijuana is a danger
to themselves and others. If smoked heavily and a great
deal of consistency, its use has been clearly associated
with mental breakdown. In many persons who smoke
chronically, the drug reinforces passivity and reduces
goal-directed, constructive activity. The chronic use of
pure resin (hashish) has been associated both with mental
deterioration and criminality.
One of the major complications of marijuana use is the
tendency on the part of some users to progress to more
dangerous drugs. Users in economically deprived areas
usually go on to heroin, whereas more affluent individuals
tend to move from marijuana to more potent hallucinogens
such as LSD.
There is no established medical use for marijuana or
any other cannabis preparation. In the United States, its
use is a crime and the laws governing marijuana are similar
to those regulating heroin. Many authorities now urge that
the laws be modified to mitigate the penalties relating to
conviction on marijuana possession charges.
The Case For Legalizing Marijuana Use
The United States stands apart from many nations in its
deep respect for the individual. The strong belief in
personal freedom appears early in the nation’s history.
The Declaration of Independence speaks of every
citizen’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness.” The Constitution and Bill of Rights go further,
making specific guarantees. They forbid the government to
make unwarranted entry into dwelling places. They forbid
seizure of personal property, except when very clear reasons
are approved by the courts. They allow every citizen to
remain silent in court when accused of a crime. Legal
decisions have extended these rights, so that every citizen
may feel safe, secure, and sheltered from public view in the
privacy of his or her home.
The Right To Privacy
In recent years, Americans have referred to privacy as
one of the basic human rights, something to be claimed by
anyone, anywhere. United States citizens feel strongly
about this and often tell other countries that they must
honor their people’s claims to privacy and personal freedom.
Foreign leaders often disagree. They resent what they deem
arrogant meddling by the United States. Leaders of the
Soviet Union, for example, regard individual privacy as
trivial when compared to the needs of the state.
If the United States is to be persuasive in promoting
freedom in other parts of the world, it must respect the
privacy of its own citizens. Sometimes it is hard to do
this because what goes on in people’s private lives may seem
offensive. But, according to U.S. traditions, there is a
strong case to be made against legislating the private
behavior of adults, so long as that behavior does not in
turn violate the rights of others.
Some people feel that this reasoning should hold also
for marijuana. A person who smokes at home is not doing
injury. The marijuana user is indulging in a minor pleasure
over which that government should have no jurisdiction. It
is quite clear from survey data that most people do not
become physically dependent on marijuana. The majority use
it as others use alcohol – to relax occasionally and to
indulge a festive mood. How can a mild intoxicant, taken
less than once a day by most users, be seen as a public
Even those who are “hooked”, or psychologically
dependent upon their habit, should not be penalized by the
law. Some people find any compulsive and unproductive
behavior disgusting. But that is not a reason for outlawing
it. Consider eating, many people develop compulsive habits
about food. They talk about it frequently. They spend many
of their waking hours anticipating, planning, obtaining, and
consuming food. This may be unattractive. It certainly is
not productive and it can be harmful if the “food addict” is
over weight. But there are no laws to prevent food
addiction. If Congress tried to forbid the eating of ice
cream sundaes or cotton candy, many people would be
outraged, others would simply laugh.
The same sort of argument is raised by some people with
respect to marijuana. Even compulsive marijuana smoking by
an adult is not so offensive that it injured neighbors or
requires government intervention. The attempt to use the
law to tell people what they may and may not consume at home
is an arrogant invasion of personal privacy.
Protecting the Drug User’s Physical Health
Sometimes it is said that the law must protect the drug
user from himself. The argument takes two forms. One has
to do with the damage a drug may do to a person’s health and
the other with the individual’s power of self-control or
freedom. First consider the health effects.
By any reasonable standard, marijuana is a mild drug
and as for overdosing, there is no scientifically valid
evidence of anyone dying of an overdose of marijuana smoke.
Of course, it is possible to commit suicide by consuming
large amounts of marijuana. But it is possible to die by
eating too much salt. Salt is not illegal. Aspirin kills
by overdose and that’s legal. Many people die by drinking
too much alcohol, an addictive drug. It too is legal. Why
is marijuana considered more dangerous?
Protecting Society from Marijuana
One argument made against the legalization of marijuana
is that it damages not only the user but innocent
bystanders. This argument, like the one about protecting
the user, has two parts. The first deals with physical
injury and the second with spiritual health.
The main physical threat to society is that users under
the influence of a drug with crash a car or airplane, or
lose control in some way and do harm. People who have
recently smoked marijuana do show signs of clumsiness and
disorientation. They should not operate machinery in this
condition. One study estimates that alcohol plays a part in
55% of all fatal highway crashes. Marijuana may present
similar risks, but at present there are no reliable data on
its importance in accidents.
According to John Stuart Mill’s writings, the
government should try to control only the aspects of drug
use that injure society. In this vein, it makes sense to
have laws against driving under the influence of marijuana
similar to those governing driving under the influence of
alcohol. In other words, driving while on marijuana should
be outlawed by not the use of marijuana itself.
Some people believe that marijuana threatens society in
a more insidious way. They argue that it drains workers’
energy and makes them less productive. This in turn lowers
the vitality of the economy, depressing the overall quality
of life. In addition, drug use- including marijuana
smoking- is seen as a plague on society that must be
isolated. This disease theory holds that legalizing
marijuana would make it more widely available and that this
would tend to increase its use as well as the use of all
kinds of drugs. One of the detriments of tolerating drug
use, according to this theory, is that is encourages the use
of more and different drugs.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse;s 1984 report to
Congress cited no evidence to support the idea that drug use
is hurting economic productivity. It said: “The fact is,
very little is known about the complex relationship which
undoubtedly exists between drug abuse, worker performance,
and productivity, or the lack thereof…. Simply put, the
number of unanswered questions currently far outnumbers the
Nor is there any strong evidence that legalizing
marijuana would increase use of the drug. In fact, there is
some evidence suggesting that drug use under a relaxed legal
system might not increase at all. Many states have removed
the penalties for marijuana possession that were on the
books in the 1950s and 1960s. The change occurred during a
reform movement that swept the nation in the mid 1970s. Yet
in spite of the less stringent laws, studies show that the
use of marijuana in the affected states has, after an
initial increase, declined. Although marijuana became
easier to use (from a legal standpoint), it also became less
The Failure of Prohibition
Examining the U.S. policy on marijuana on the basis of
performance, one must judge it a miserable failure. The
number of people who have smoked the drug at least once has
grown from an uncounted few in the 1950s, when some of the
strictest antimarijuana laws were imposed, to nearly 50
million today. During this period the federal government
has made steadily increasing efforts to stop its production
and importation, and seizures of marijuana in the ports has
grown steadily. Elaborate and costly international police
campaigns have been launched, and the number of drug arrests
in the United States has increased.The federal budget for
drug enforcement reflected in several agencies has gone
above $1 billion a year. And yet the illegal trade in
marijuana continues. Supplies are so plentiful that the
price has actually come down.
The response has been to redouble police efforts and
hope that things will change. The result is that more money
is spent on a failed policy, creating an ever-growing army
of drug enforcers dedicated to keeping the policy alive.
The illegal market for marijuana grows even faster than the
police force, however, because the drug users are willing to
pay more to get what they want than taxpayers are willing to
pay to stop it. The drug police enjoy their work and are
not going to quit. And why should they as long as their
salaries are paid? The admission that the marijuana laws
have failed will have to come from someone else- not from
Marijuana is a common weed, easier to produce than the
bathtub gin of the Prohibition years. It is not surprising
that thousands of “dealers” have been drawn into the
marijuana business. Despite the great risks they face,
including bullying by other dealers and the threat of
arrest, they are attracted by the profits. The law cannot
change the economics of this market because it operates
outside the law. All the police can do is to make it risky
to get into the marijuana business. This is supposed to
drive out the less courageous dealers, reduce the amount of
marijuana available, and inflate prices. But even by this
measure, the police effort has failed. As mentioned
earlier, the price of marijuana is declining.
There are several ways in which the policy on marijuana
imposed a burden on society. The obvious one is the cost of
supporting the federal enforcement effort. Aside from this,
there is a hard-to-measure but significant impact on society
because the law creates a huge criminal class. It includes
not just dealers who are out for profit but a much larger
group of users. Consider three major penalties for having
such a large criminal class.
Some Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana
By lifting the ban on marijuana use and treating it
like other drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, the nation
would gain immediate and long-term benefits. This change in
the law would greatly improve the quality of life for many
people. Victims of glaucoma and those needing antinausea
treatment, for example, would find marijuana easily
available. If the medical advantages that are claimed for
marijuana are real, many more patients would benefit.
Research, which has been slowed in the past by the
government’s reluctance to frant exemptions to the marijuana
laws, would be easier to conduct. The cloud of suspicion
would disappear, and doctors could get on with investigating
marijuana’s medical uses with out fear of controversy. It
might become possible to discuss the dangers of marijuana
use without getting caught up in a policy debate.
Meanwhile, the black market would disappear overnight.
Some arrangement would be made to license the production of
marijuana cigarettes. Thousands of dealers would be put out
of business, and a secret part of the economy would come
into the open. It is difficult to say whether this change
would reduce crime because criminals would probably continue
to sell other drugs. But it would have an impact on the
amount of money flowing through criminal channels, and this
might weaken organized crime.
Lastly, the federal budget would benefit in two ways,
Federal revenues would increase, because marijuana
cigarettes would be taxed at the point of sale. The
companies that make the cigarettes would also pay income
taxes, adding to the federal coffers. Seconds, there would
be a reduction in the amount spent on law enforcement
efforts to apprehend and prosecute users and sellers of
marijuana. The drug enforcement authorities might reduce
their budget requests, or, more likely, focus more intensely
on hard drugs and violent crimes. The courts would be
relieved of hearing some drug cases, as well.
The most important gain would be in the quality of
government. The sorts of temptations and opportunities that
lead to corruption would be significantly minimized. The
illogical pattern of law enforcement, which now treats
marijuana as more dangerous than alcohol, would end. It
would set more achievable goals for law enforcement, and
this would lend strength and credibility to the government.
Alcohol vs. Marijuana
1: Over 100 thousand deaths annually are directly linked to
acute alcohol poisoning.
2: In 4,000 years of recorded history, no one has ever died
from a pot overdose.
3: Alcohol causes Server physical and psychology dependence.
4: Alcohol is reported to cause temporary and permanent
damage to all major organs of the body.
5: Cannabis is a much less violent provoking substance then
* With over 60 million people using cannabis in the U.S.
Today our laws and law makers should view it under the
same light. As they do alcohol.
1970: 11% of high school seniors said they were using
marijuana every day.
1975: About 27% said they had used marijuana sometime in the
1978: The monthly users grew up to 37% then in 1986 dropped
1979: 12 to 17 year olds reported using it within the last
month has dropped from a high point of 17% and in 1987
dropped to 12%.
1. Adams, Leon; “Marihuana”. Encyclopedia International.
Vol 11. p365-347. LEXICON PUBLICATIONS. Philippines,
2. Lorimer, Lawrence; “Marijuana” Encyclopedia Year Book
1993. p214-215. GROLIER INCORPORATED. Canada, 1993
3. Snyder, Solomon. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs.
Series 2. LEGALIZATION: A DEBATE. CHELSEA HOUSE
PUBLISHERS. New York, 1988