Should Marijuana Be Legalized?
Don’t Believe the Hype
From a young age, children are constantly bombarded with messages concerning the horrors of cannabis use. Parents warn us of how marijuana impairs our senses and makes us stupid, and that drugs in general are very dangerous. In elementary school, we sit through agonizingly long classes about refusing when offered weed. In the eighties, Nancy Reagan’s famous slogan, “Just Say No”, became the mantra of anti-marijuana activists everywhere (Shen). However, today, pop culture tells us that these ideas may be a little dated. In particular, hip-hop strongly advocates the positive benefits of the plant. On “America’s Most Blunted”(2004), Rapper MF DOOM praises the sedative function of weed, claiming,
“DOOM nominated for the best rolled L’s
And they wondered how he dealt with stress so well”
These colliding ideas have created confusion concerning the legalization of the drug. While an individual should refrain from smoking until the age of 21, marijuana has been shown to have potential benefits if used with restraint. Over the course of my research, I have come to the conclusion that recreational marijuana should be legalized at a federal level.
Being in high school in Oakland, one is constantly surrounded by marijuana. I have a close friend, who used to smoke frequently and may have gotten kicked out of school for it. Additionally, as a hip-hop fan, I recognize that rap often glorifies drug use, marijuana in particular. The popularity of the drug among rappers I admire like Snoop Dogg, Method Man, Domo Genesis, Kid Cudi, Flatbush Zombies, and Earl Sweatshirt has further piqued my interest in the cultural significance of the topic.
The Root of the Plant’s History
The problem began in the early 1900s, when an influx of Mexican immigrants arrived in America, specifically, southern states like Louisiana and Texas(Burnett and Reiman). Many of them participated in the practice of smoking cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes. Mexicans referred to the plant as “marahuana”, a term unfamiliar with the U.S. who knew it only as cannabis(Burnett and Reiman). Law enforcement began to recognize the association between Mexicans and marijuana, leading to xenophobia-induced legislation against the drug. In 1937, congress passed the Marijuana tax act, forcing dealers to pay a steep transfer tax, a federal tax on the sale of marijuana(Siff). Films such as Reefer Madness (1936) and Marihuana (1936) helped demonize the public perception of the plant.
(“Reefer Madness Movie Poster.”)
(“Marijuana Movie Poster.”)
Protests against the criminalization of marijuana were a response to the increasingly severe legislation against the drug. In the 1910s and 1920s, twenty-six states passed laws prohibiting the use of the plant(Siff) In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, forcing dealers to pay a steep transfer tax, a federal tax on the sale of marijuana(Siff). Opposition grew in the 1960s when marijuana became popular among college students and popular magazines such as Life, Newsweek, and Look began to question why the drug was illegal at all (Siff). Legislation against the drug escalated, with President Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act in 1970, categorizing drugs based on their potential addictiveness and medical benefits(Martin). Along with heroin and LSD, Marijuana was placed in schedule 1, classifying it as a drug with no medical benefits and highly addictive qualities (Martin). In 1972, the Shafer Commission, an investigative group appointed by Nixon, recommended taking marijuana off schedule 1(Martin). However, Nixon ignored them, and continued to consider marijuana as a harmful gateway drug, leading to other drugs. Around 1994, the Three Strikes Act was passed in California, imposing strict punishments on anyone caught committing crimes three times(Siff). This new law placed many users and sellers of of marijuana in jail for long terms. As a result, protest grew against the rising incarceration rates and the brutal punishments given for petty crimes.
Nixon’s Disdain for Marijuana
(“Nixon on Who’s Really Responsible for the Marijuana Epidemic.”)
The Road to Legalization
One of the first laws decriminalizing the use of marijuana was emplaced in 1996, when Medical marijuana was legalized in California after the approval of Proposition 215 (“California Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative (1996)”). Under this new legislation, citizens who possessed marijuana recommended by a physician were exempt from criminal laws(“California Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative (1996)”). Since then, 22 states have also legalized medical marijuana(Martin). In 2008, the group “Americans for Safe Access” estimated that California had over 200,000 legally licensed medical marijuana users. (“California Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative (1996)”).
The Present Day
In 2014, Colorado became the first state to permit dispensaries to sell pot for recreational purposes(Siff). Many states followed suit, the most recent being California. However, the states and the federal government are now embroiled in a dispute over the legality of the drug with Attorney General Jeff Sessions wishing to re-criminalize it. Sessions has elected to allow federal prosecutors to decide how to proceed when state laws conflict with federal laws (Gurman). He has historically been opposed to the drug, comparing it to heroin during his time as a Senator of Alabama (Gurman). In early 2018, Jeff Sessions announced that he would be rescinding an Obama-era policy which protected marijuana(Wilson). The policy specifically ordered attorneys in states in which recreational cannabis is legal to deprioritize marijuana-related cases (Wilson). Furthermore, after Sessions became head of the justice department, he asked congressional leaders if he could ” get rid of an amendment in the department’s budget that blocks the Justice Department from using federal money to prevent states ‘from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana'”(Wilson). Additionally, State marijuana dispensaries have long been a target for federal raids. In 2016, James Slatic’s medical marijuana dispensary was raided by federal agents who proceeded to freeze his bank account and all his assets(Carpentier).
My solution to the many problems caused by marijuana is simple: legalize at a federal level the purchase and sale of recreational cannabis to buyers over 21 years of age. My solution to the problem can be easily justified by three points. First, a recent Gallup poll shows that 64% of Americans agree that marijuana should be legalized(McCarthy). Considering that America is a nation founded on democracy, it’s reasonable that we honor those ideals. Despite historically having very little support in favor of legalization, this graph found on Gallup shows the shifting attitudes towards the plant.
Second, marijuana causes far less harm than other legalized “vices” like alcohol and tobacco. A 2010 study by Lancet reported that marijuana results in less damage to users and those around users in comparison to alcohol and tobacco(Jacques). Additionally, marijuana, unlike alcohol and other harder drugs, has never caused an overdose(Jacques). In fact, marijuana has been shown to be a useful sleep aid and anti-pain agent. Here is an interview conducted by Lift News with a medical marijuana patient who describes its benefits.
“Q: TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, FIRST. WHERE DO YOU LIVE? WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Karen Aguilar. I’m a 31 year old woman. On June 28th, 2014 my whole life changed. I got into a terrible motor vehicle collision. I suffered severe injuries & fractures. I have been off work since. The rehabilitation process has been quite the uphill battle.
Q: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN USING MEDICAL CANNABIS?
I was prescribed medicinal marijuana back in July 2016. My prescription was for a three month term, but I was only able to get my prescription filled in August. Technically I have been using medicinal marijuana for three months now.
Q: WHAT DO YOU USE MEDICAL CANNABIS FOR?
In the motor vehicle accident I sustained multiple fractures. I broke my right wrist, and both radius & ulna ripped through my skin. I had seat belt burns from the impact. I have chronic pain across a majority of the right hemisphere of my body, but especially in the legs, knees, lower back and wrist; all related to the motor vehicle accident. I suffer from headaches, and have sensitivity to light and noise related to a concussion from the motor vehicle accident. I had my right toe severed, got 25 stitches on it. Due to the toe injury I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. My nose cartilage was broken from the air bag release for which I underwent a septoplasty back in February 2015. I suffer from vertigo, and have also been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Q: HOW DO YOU NORMALLY USE MEDICAL CANNABIS? SMOKING, VAPORIZING, EATING VIA PROCESSED OILS, ETC.
I usually vaporize but I have smoked it on occasion. I am looking into orally consuming it via processed oils.
Q: HOW DID YOU DISCOVER CANNABIS WAS A USEFUL MEDICINE FOR MANAGING YOUR CONDITION?
I discovered that cannabis was an extremely useful medicine for managing my conditions because it helps reduce pain symptoms, it assists me in eating habits, it’s bettering my sleeping patterns, and it helps control my hyper sensitivity to light and noise. It provides focus and clarity for school and helps me on a day to day basis with energy and mood stability. It helps me feel awesome on an overall.
Q: WHAT EXPERIENCE HAVE YOU HAD WITH OTHER MEDICATIONS? HOW HAS MEDICAL MARIJUANA BEEN DIFFERENT? OR HAS IT?
Due to the interaction of certain medications I experienced side effects that I had to take new medication for. I experienced nausea, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal side effects, and urinary enuresis. Medicinal marijuana allows me to cope with the symptoms without triggering alternative symptoms.”(“Patient Voices: an interview with a medical marijuana patient”)
(Dupont, Barthwell, Kraus, Sabet, Soper, and Teitelbaum)
Finally, the legalization of recreational marijuana would help bolster the economy, creating many jobs and increasing tax revenue. In 2015, Colorado, a state which already legalized marijuana, collected over $135 million in taxes for marijuana(Krishna). In 2016, the revenue from the sale of medical and recreational marijuana in the US grew to $6.7 billion (“Marijuana Legalization and its Economic Benefits”). In the future, these numbers are projected to rise. Moreover, 18,000 jobs were created with the legalization of marijuana (“Marijuana Legalization and its Economic Benefits”). The federal legislation of marijuana would bolster the US economy.
However, considering federal pushback against the legalization of recreational cannabis, the chances of decriminalization at a federal level are nearly non-existent. Therefore, another possible solution would be to leave it up to the states to decide if they want to approve the use of recreational marijuana. That way, each region of the country could decide by majority, honoring the ideals of our country.
Regardless of our opinions on this matter, it will be interesting to see how the conflict between state interest and federal interest plays out. However, we encourage you to show up to the voting booth to stand up for what you believe.
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Burnett, Malik, and Amanda Reiman. “How Did Marijuana Become Illegal in the First Place?” Drug Policy Alliance, Drug Policy Alliance, 8 Oct. 2014, www.drugpolicy.org/blog/how-did-marijuana-become-illegal-first-place.
“California Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative (1996).” Ballotpedia, Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_215,_the_Medical_Marijuana_Initiative_(1996).
Carpentier, Megan. “Why Are Feds Targeting High-End Pot Producers in California?” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 2 Dec. 2016, www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/why-are-feds-targeting-high-end-pot-producers-in-california-w453037.
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Martin, Scott C. “Marijuana in the United States: How Attitudes Have Changed.” Time, Time, 20 Apr. 2016, time.com/4298038/marijuana-history-in-america/.
McCarthy, Justin. “Record-High Support for Legalizing Marijuana Use in U.S.” Gallup, Gallup, 25 Oct. 2017, news.gallup.com/poll/221018/record-high-support-legalizing-marijuana.aspx.
“Nixon on Who’s Really Responsible for the Marijuana Epidemic.” Youtube, Youtube, 7 Apr. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=0093Tqu8n2E.
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Wilson, Reid. “Sessions Will End Policy That Allowed Legalized Marijuana to Prosper.”TheHill, The Hill, 7 Jan. 2018, thehill.com/homenews/administration/367384-sessions-will-end-policy-that-allowed-marijuana-to-prosper-report.