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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
Cannabis or marijuana is a psychoactive drug that can be used recreationally or for medical purposes. Its use is a highly debated and multifaceted issue, which one can discuss from various perspectives including health risks and benefits, social and legal issues, and even its economic ramifications. Ever since its prohibition in the late 1930s, it has been surrounded by controversy, and those using it were frowned upon and viewed as “potheads”. This unfortunate track of events began after Franklin D. Roosevelt kept his promise made during the presidential campaign of 1932 to end the prohibition for alcohol. However, in the following years, he endorsed even more restrictive laws for cannabis until it was finally blacklisted as a “lethal weed” by Harry Anslinger`s Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Before that, cannabis had been available for religious, social, recreational and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It found extensive use in religious rituals throughout India and Nepal. Nineteenth-century doctors prescribed it, usually, in the form of a tincture for various ailments, and it was freely sold and purchased in pharmacies. The research was done on it, and doctors published scientific articles documenting its implementation in the treatment of different disorders, corroborating its beneficial effects. Until its criminalization in 1937, people were freely growing it in many countries of the world including the United States.
On the contrary to popular belief, cannabis was not banned for its harmful effects on human health. As we will reveal later in our paper, its health’s benefits heavily outweigh its risks, so this cannot be an argument against it. The issues that really led to it becoming illegal were economic interests of powerful people who stood to lose large sums of money if it had been left in use. We will come to this later, but first, let us paint a more comprehensive picture of this plant and all possible uses of it, as well as economic and environmental importance. Namely, hemp, the plant from which marijuana is derived, can be used for many purposes. It has an extremely fast growth rate and has been used for extracting fibers from it ever since ancient history. It is possible to refine it into various commercially usable goods, including clothing and textile, paper, food for human and animal consumption, paint, biofuel, etc. Hemp fibers have excellent properties: they are strong and durable also, therefore, valuable in the production of fabric, rope, and, most importantly, paper. We often hear complaints about deforestation due to extreme exploitation of wood. Well, this is an area in which hemp can be of help. It grows much faster than trees and can be harvested more quickly, without the downside of causing ecological disasters, usually, attributed to deforestation.
Being a plant that produces significant quantities of cellulose, it can further be converted into biofuel usable in anything currently powered by gasoline. Nowadays biofuel is the most commonly obtained from corn or cotton, but hemp holds an advantage over those two plants since it has a shorter growing period, and yields much more cellulose than they do. Fossil fuels cause terrible damage to our planet, being responsible for the greenhouse effect, global warming, extinction of wildlife, etc. Clean energy will become an imperative in the future, and fuel produced from an easily grown crop, such as hemp, is a reasonable alternative for gasoline. It is clear that more substantial use of hemp would benefit today’s society, which sees its natural resources become scarce due to overexploitation, and our environment polluted by the use of fossil fuels.
The restrictions on the production of hemp have a detrimental effect on the economy of many countries, including the United States. Presently, the US imports hemp from countries like China or Canada in which this crop is freely produced. It goes without saying that money is lost through this practice. Paying another country’s farmers to produce something that would be easy to produce domestically is less than reasonable, especially in this economy. National production not only would be much cheaper, but it would also create jobs for Americans along with significant revenue.
So why was hemp, or cannabis, criminalized in the first place? As mentioned before, its outlawing had everything to do with business and personal interests of certain powerful individuals and corporations at the time. During the economic crisis of the 1930s, empowered timber-based paper production companies were about to lose a fortune, if the technology for turning hemp into paper or plastic, was to be made more accessible. Successful businessmen like William Randolph Hearst and Lammot DuPont found themselves at the crossroads; they were either to invest millions to convert their industries based on wood, into hemp producing facilities, or to stand on the side watching others do that. The loss of money was guaranteed either way. However, they managed to find a way out of this situation, and that was to ban the production of hemp. How was this done? Well, apart from money, the most practical thing for changing people’s minds is propaganda. William Hearst owned a newspaper which he used to publish sensationalist articles about the dangers of cannabis. His journalists made up stories about black men raping white women while high on marijuana. Bearing in mind that the racial issue was an incredibly compelling one at the time, and, perhaps, this was meant to create shock, disgust, and public outrage. On his part, DuPont made sure that the former Assistant Prohibition Commissioner for alcohol Harry J. Anslinger was appointed the Commissioner of Narcotics in 1930. He subsequently launched a strong anti-marijuana campaign, which ended in the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act. Another race-related argument against cannabis came from threatening Americans at the time of economic depression, that weed-smoking immigrants from Mexico would steal their jobs. Marijuana, which was another variety of weed sometimes smoked by Mexicans, became the term applied for cannabis after Hearst used it in one of his absurd newspaper articles depicting Mexicans as weed-crazed illegal immigrants threatening the jobs and security of honest Americans. If marijuana was something smoked by illegal immigrants, it must have been illegal itself. Also, when Mexicans were caught smoking it on American soil, they were liable to be deported back to Mexico. This seemed like a win-win situation for most people, being able to outlaw a dangerous substance like cannabis and get rid of unwanted immigrants at the same time. It was a no-brainer. People supported Anslinger`s law eagerly. Anslinger additionally made a statement during his congress address that marijuana was extremely dangerous because of its violence inducing properties. He later recanted this saying that marijuana actually caused people to become overly passive and lazy, and this became the argument he used during his Cold War campaign against cannabis. At the time, marijuana was supposedly weakening the American spirit and willingness to fight off communist influences.
Generations of children were trained to believe that marijuana is a drug just like any other that it is illegal and unsafe to consume. Also, using it involves buying it off the black market, having to deal with shady characters like drug dealers, which presents a significant risk. The actual way, in which cannabis became illegal, in the first place or the reasons behind its criminalization have fallen into oblivion, and they were never actually publicly advertised. It now takes a great deal of effort and time to change the attitude most people have towards it.
Marijuana has been around for centuries. It was and still is used recreationally by millions of people around the world without any form of medical supervision. Nevertheless, no deaths were ever directly linked to its consumption. Medical literature also fails to produce any proven cases of fatalities caused by cannabis. In a laboratory study conducted by Dr. Robert Heath, monkeys exposed to extremely high doses of marijuana smoke died after three months of exposure. However, it was later shown that the study was flawed and that the monkeys actually died of suffocation accomplished by pumping massive amounts of smoke through gas-masks, which deprived them of oxygen and made their brain cells die off. The researchers later became aware of this but avoided publishing the newly found data, because it would make them look bad. The results were subsequently released to the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), but the damage to the public opinion on cannabis was already done. As to the lethal dose of marijuana for humans, investigations have demonstrated that a marijuana smoker would have to consume the equivalent of 20000 to 40000 marijuana cigarettes in a short time period in order to induce death.
All chemical substances we inhale or put into our bodies in another way have potentially dangerous effects, medicines included. In fact, aspirin which is easily available and consumed by millions of people, actually, causes a large number of deaths every year. Still, there is no discussion of making it illegal, quite the opposite; it is advertised through media every day. Alcohol contributes to a staggering number of deaths every year, either through its ill effects on human health, or by being a contributing factor in traffic or work-related accidents, or crimes. Tobacco consumption contributes to an even more significant number of deaths and has been strongly linked to severe illnesses, such as cancer and obstructive pulmonary disease. On the contrary, no one was recorded to have died from consuming marijuana in any form. There are, however, mostly short-term consequences of marijuana use, which include a change in perception, decreased short-term memory, dry mouth, compromised motor skills, paranoia, and anxiety. Some of these effects are dose-related. In smaller doses marijuana causes a feeling of general well-being and relaxation, while in higher doses it can cause distortions in perception, pseudo-hallucinations or even dissociative states. Regular users tend to develop a tolerance to side effects of the substance making these unwanted effects less apparent and severe.
As far as the addictive properties of marijuana are concerned, the substance is far less addictive than alcohol or heroin. In reality, the most addictive item of all ever tested is nicotine. Heroin, cocaine, and alcohol follow, with caffeine coming close after. Marijuana is actually less addictive than soft drinks containing caffeine. Without arguing that the use of cannabis is risk-free, it is fair to say that it is far less addictive than alcohol, and causes significantly less bodily harm so that sometimes even used as a substitute for alcohol for persons unable to accomplish complete abstinence. Alcoholism involves a disruption in the endocannabinoid system, which makes cannabis the treatment of choice for otherwise unmanageable alcoholism. That said, marijuana is not a cure for substance abuse of any kind. People can indeed become dependent on marijuana as well, albeit psychologically. Physical dependence has not been documented.
Another strong argument, that opponents the cannabis legalization, usually mentions it being a “gateway drug.” This suggests that marijuana users are more prone to trying harder drugs like cocaine or heroin. There is, however, no proof that marijuana smoking causes people to take harder drugs. The mere fact that a significant number of cocaine or heroin users had previously smoked marijuana does not mean that it was marijuana that prompted them to do heroin or cocaine. Most of these people smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol too, and no one argues that it was nicotine or alcohol that made them heavy drug’s users. It is only natural that people try to find the culprit for the increase in hard-drug consumption, but let us not forget that there is something like free will and whether someone decides to use heavy drugs or not is a matter of personal responsibility. Marijuana smoking does not make anyone take heroin: they chose to do it themselves.
People argue that if cannabis were made legal, it would make it more accessible to children and vulnerable youths, and possibly increase the risk of social problems caused by young people high on marijuana. As a matter of fact, cannabis is not a big problem to obtain as it is, in some instances even less so than alcohol. Marijuana distributors operate illegally, and never ask for proof that a buyer is actually over the legal age. Alcohol vendors are required by law to ask for ID. If marijuana were made legal, it would be subject to the same restrictions concerning under-age consumption as alcohol.
Keeping cannabis illegal costs taxpayers vast amounts of money every year. Even without taking into account the lost revenue from having to import hemp, instead of producing it domestically, the mere cost of enforcing the law, which penalizes marijuana possession, and the lawsuits resulting from the “three-strike” rule are immense. According to this rule, all parolees are liable to arrest upon any amount of illegal substances being found on them or in their system, which means that a significant number of persons who committed misdemeanors get sent to prisons, and subsequently spend months or years squandering taxpayers` money.
Instead of costing money, if marijuana were legalized, it would actually generate income through taxes which would fill the federal budget. Even if assessed like everyday goods, marijuana would bring billions of dollars each year, let alone if they were to tax it like alcohol or tobacco, which seems more appropriate.
Finally, let us consider some of the possible health’s benefits from the use of cannabis. Medicinal use of cannabis or cannabinoids (found in the marijuana plant) includes pain relief for sufferers of chronic pain and treatment of muscle spasms for persons with multiple sclerosis. It is used in treatment and prevention of glaucoma, which is linked with increased pressure in the eyeball. Marijuana decreases intraocular pressure preventing the damage of the optic nerve and possible loss of vision. These eye-pressure benefits are obviously only short-term ones, and more research is needed to investigate possible long-term effects of cannabis consumption on glaucoma. Another marijuana component called cannabidiol (CBD) helps people with epilepsy resistant to medical treatment. CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) were shown to be able to shrink brain tumors in mice and to slow the growth rate of aggressive brain tumors in humans. Consumption of cannabis can slow the progression of Alzheimer`s disease by preventing a massive formation of amyloid plaques that kill brain cells in people living with Alzheimer`s. It also reduces tremors associated with the Parkinson`s disease, thus, improving the quality of life of those affected. Marijuana also reveals a protective effect on the brain following strokes or traumatic brain injury. It is helpful as an adjuvant treatment for PTSD. It reduces the number and intensity of nightmares associated with the disorder by interrupting the sleep cycle during the REM stage and, thus, preventing the dreams containing terrifying content from occurring.
Of course, the well-documented use of medicinal marijuana is for helping people with nausea caused by cancer treatment. It also stimulates appetite preventing cancer patients from becoming emaciated and withering away. Cancer-related pain is another issue with which cannabis can help. The use of marijuana as pain relief is considerably less harmful than the use of opioid painkillers, which are highly addictive and carry a significant risk of lethal overdose.
Following all the arguments presented here, it is hard to imagine why cannabis remains illegal in the United States and many other countries. Most arguments in favor of keeping it that way can easily be contested or proven unreasonable. Over the years marijuana has been given a bad name through wrongful accusations of being as harmful as harder drugs. Even with the overwhelming evidence that exists today on the potential benefits of this substance when used medicinally, not all countries in the world have approved its use in healing treatments, let alone its social or recreational use. Uruguay became the first nation to legalize the cultivation, distribution, sale, and consumption of cannabis in 2013.
For legislation to pass acts legalizing marijuana, it would need significant support from politicians. On the other hand, lawmakers are reluctant to support such an issue full of controversy in fear of negative publicity and possible loss of support from their electors. However, legalizing something is not the same as prescribing its consumption or approving of its extensive use. Tobacco and alcohol are legal, but there is hardly a single person in the world who would recommend their children to use them. Fast food restaurants and tanning parlors should, probably, also be prohibited for all the damage they inflict upon their clients. It is not even illegal for minors to purchase fast food, although it has been proven to contain cancerous additives and undoubtedly causes obesity and a list of other disorders. Of course, no one is forced to use tanning beds or eat fast food, no more than they are forced to consume cannabis even if it were legal to do so. Freedom of choice is one of the fundamental values in any democratic society. Being free to consume marijuana without fear of being prosecuted or even incarcerated is what proponents of cannabis legalization actually try to accomplish. Bringing the production and distribution of cannabis into legal channels would allow the government to exert more control over it and even to generate substantial income from taxes. It seems that no one really stands to lose anything in this situation.