Marijuana, which goes by the scientific name of Cannabis Sativa, is a plant with a rich history for the most part of human history. In 6000 B.C., for example, the Chinese used marijuana seeds in food preparation, and in the days of Napoleon, it grew in popularity for its sedative effects and pain-relieving characteristics (Richter & Levy, 2014). Grown in different parts of the world, this flowering plant has gained popularity for being rich in Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical that causes mind-altering states among consumers. In 2013, it was estimated that about 20 million Americans, aged 12 and older consumed marijuana, both for legal and illegal purposes (Richter & Levy, 2014). Moreover, the trend of marijuana usage has been on an upward trajectory, wherein in 2002, the percentage of users was 5.8, reaching 6.7 in 2009 and 7.5 percent in 2013 (Dufton, 2017). Further, statistics show that approximately five million people used marijuana daily in the United States in 2007, with this figure culminating at around eight million in 2013 (Dufton, 2017). The number of people using marijuana every month in the country stood at roughly 16 million.
In view of the aforementioned statistics, it is evident that marijuana use has become an issue of grave concern in the United States, a fact that is also being witnessed in Canada and selected European countries. In 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington, D.C. passed legislation allowing for the legalization of marijuana, both for medical and recreational purposes; since then, 23 states, including Oregon and Alaska among others have legalized the plant for medical and recreational use.
Bearing in mind that marijuana has known medical qualities and the fact that marijuana usage has been associated with adverse mental health conditions and rise in crime rates, Americans are divided as to whether marijuana should be legalized at the federal level or not. The present paper looks at both sides of the debate to make clear the arguments of the proponents if marijuana legalization and the concerns of those opposed to the idea.
Among those advocating for the legalization of marijuana, they point to the psychoactive effects of the plant. Ideally, marijuana has been known to induce mood swings and changes in consciousness, including making someone to calm down and relax. It is for this reason that marijuana is identified as an important recreational substance. One may argue that the pressures of life, work, and family may sometimes require the intake of substances that can cause relaxation and temporarily loss of present reality; marijuana passes the test in this case. Another argument in favor of marijuana legalization is related to research findings indicating that marijuana use can help reduce symptoms associated with the treatments of ongoing medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis. Moreover, other studies have shown that using marijuana can reduce states of nausea and vomiting among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (Volkow, Baler, Compton, & Weiss, 2014).
The section of Americans calling for the legalization of marijuana ta the federal level argue that the history of prohibition has done very little to curb the widespread use of the drug. Indeed, the statistics aforementioned show that the use of marijuana has been on an upward trend among Americans aged 12 and older in spite of state (for states yet to legalize the plant) and federal legal prohibitions. Proponents of legalization are of the view that legalizing marijuana would reduce significantly drug trafficking and costs associated with legal prohibition (Caulkins et al., 2015). Indeed, this is one way that governments across the two levels can deal a blow to the profiteering of drug cartels from the marijuana trade.
While studies have shown that marijuana use has both short- and long-term health effects among users, proponents are quick to point out that these effects are less damaging compared to those caused by tobacco and other hard drugs like cocaine and heroin (Geiger, 2018). In fact, a recent study has shown that using marijuana does not expose an individual to long-term negative health effects in terms of cognitive functioning (Hasin et al., 2015). Interestingly, a majority of youths prefer using marijuana in place of alcohol, and where marijuana use has increased, alcohol consumption has decreased significantly (Wall et al., 2011). Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that approximately 90,000 Americans die every day due to excessive alcohol consumption, compared to only two people reported to have died from marijuana overdose worldwide in 2014 (Geiger, 2018). Furthermore, states that have legalized marijuana report significantly lower rates of death associated with overdoses of painkillers than states currently prohibiting any form of marijuana use (Hasin et al., 2015). Additionally, where marijuana use is high, heroin addictions are reportedly lower or declining (Hasin et al., 2015).
Beside less long-term health effects, another reason as to why marijuana use should be made legal is related to the commercial potential of the drug, including being a great source of tax revenue. According to analysts, marijuana had a commercial potential of generating in excess of $60 million in taxes for each state by the year 2017. In the first week after legalizing marijuana, Colorado made over five million dollars taxing marijuana sales. Recently, a Jamaican-based company entered into a deal to supply the state with over $100 million worth of medicinal marijuana (Richter & Levy, 2014). In Arizona, the tax potential for marijuana stood at roughly $35 million in 2013, increasing to about $142 million in 2014 (Richter & Levy, 2014). At both the state and federal levels, legalizing marijuana would fetch governments an additional $18 billion every financial year on account of taxation and savings related to the incarceration of offenders (Richter & Levy, 2014). Besides growing the revenue base, states would save money that goes to fund law enforcement activities geared towards enforcing the set legal prohibitions.
Another benefit of legalizing marijuana is that it would move the marijuana trade from the hands of criminal gangs, thereby undermining their ability to fund other criminal activities. Basically, legalization would mean the implementation of measures of quality and safety just like any other medical drug and product (Bennett & Walsh, 2014). What is more, legalization would free up the resources of law enforcement, such as officers and laboratories, to focus on fighting other hard drugs that cause real damage in people and society.
Even as states rush to pass legislation legalizing the sale and use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, a section of the American public stand opposed to such moves. One of the leading arguments used by this group to oppose the legalization of marijuana is the short- and long-term health effects that studies have shown to afflict marijuana users. Apparently, the short-term health effects associated with marijuana use include loss of concentration and distortions with sense and time (Volkow et al., 2014). Indeed, this is a major problem with students who use the drug who report diminished academic participation and performance once they start experimenting with the drug.
The long-term health effects include respiratory difficulties (for marijuana smokers), reduced sperm count and testosterone levels in the male population, and disturbance of the ovulation and menstrual cycles for women users (Volkow et al., 2014). Others include impaired fertility, fatigues, reduced libido, and changes in body composition (increase in fat mass and reduction in muscles mass) (Volkow et al., 2014). Besides marijuana being bad for a person’s brain- the sole reason it is called dope is that it makes someone stupid- it is also harmful to the lungs and the heart. Smoking marijuana causes a 20 to 100 percent increase in heart rate and users are most likely to suffer a heart attack. Studies have associated regular marijuana use with psychosis, anxiety and depression disorders, and schizophrenia (Volkow et al., 2014). Clearly, these conditions represent a significant proportion of the annual cost of health care in the United States, making marijuana a burden to the public health care system.
The argument fronted by proponents that legalizing marijuana could significantly reduce costs associated with the enforcement of legal prohibitions is contended by opponents who are of the view that the opposite would be true. In other words, those fighting the legalization of marijuana state that while resources dedicated to enforcing the laws would be freed for use in other areas, additional costs would come in the form of educating the public and victims about the negative effects of the drug. Other additional costs would go into constructing rehabilitation centers and implementing drug treatment programs. Studies show that about nine percent of marijuana users end up being addicted and in need of clinical intervention (Cerdá et al., 2012). In view of these truths, opponents of marijuana legalization see the legalization debate as ambitious, but highly impractical.
While the effects of marijuana use may be less severe than those of alcohol and tobacco, the drug leads to addiction just like any other controlled substance. According to Cerdá et al. (2012), one in every 10 marijuana users develops dependence over time, exposing such individuals to serious withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, during treatment or intervention. Reports indicate that about seven million Americans categorized as illicit drug dependents are hooked on marijuana (Caulkins et al., 2015). Therefore, legalizing the drug will only expose more Americans, including adolescents, to addiction and dependence.
The view that legalizing marijuana will cripple criminal gangs is not necessarily correct. In fact, growth in addiction will only make the profits of these gangs grow in leaps and bounds, giving them the means to engage in other criminal activities. Looking at Amsterdam, one of the cities of the world to legalize marijuana, it is clear that marijuana legalization serves as a gateway to social problems, including prostitution, muggings, and hard drug trade and use (Shi, Lenzi, & An, 2015). In this case, it is now critical to tighten restrictions, which in itself undermines the very idea of legalization and also commits additional resources, including law enforcement, instead of freeing them. Studies have shown that marijuana smokers are three times more likely than non-users to engage in violent crime. Moreover, driving within three hours of smoking marijuana has a two times high chance of causing an accident compared to drivers who do not smoke marijuana.
More importantly, marijuana use is but a preliminary to a lifestyle of using hard drugs, including cocaine or heroin among others (Cerdá, Wall, Keyes, Galea, & Hasin, 2012). In New Zealand, researchers have found that regular users of marijuana among the youth were 60 times more likely to experiment with other illicit substances compared to those who had never smoked the drug (Shi et al., 2015). As such, legalizing marijuana is clearly a gateway to substance dependence.
In conclusion, the trend towards the legalization of marijuana across states in America is just a window into the history of the drug in human society. The fact that the marijuana plant has been found to have the THC chemical that has proven medicinal values has caused a section of the American public to support the ongoing legalization at the state level and called for the federal government to follow suit. Indeed, the drug has been found to have a huge commercial and tax revenue potential for both state and federal governments. However, the short-and long-term health effects associated with the drug is one of the many reasons that a section of American are heavily opposed to the legalization of marijuana. With both sides of the debate presenting convincing arguments, most of them backed by research findings, it is only fair to say that the legalization of marijuana will continue to generate heated debate in America and remain a controversial social and political issue in the days to come.
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