The Criminlization of Marijuana –
In 1970, Richard Nixon and the United States Government pass the Controlled Substances Act in which they classify marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, alongside drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Nixon created the war on drugs and since then 1 trillion dollars has been spent on arrests and cracking down on the smuggling of illegal substances into this country. While the harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine have been proven to be addictive and destructive to those who use them, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics marijuana possession accounts for 42% of all drug arrests, more than half of any other type. Marijuana possession arrests account for more than all violent crimes, meaning they are filling prisons and putting a permanent mark on so many peoples records. By continuing to arrest and persecute people for usage of marijuana billions of dollars are spent on police, jails and public defense as well as overcrowded jails being strained even more, while schools are failing and people are hungry in the streets.
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug from the cannabis plant that is intended for medical and now recreational use. Most commonly it is inhaled through the lungs or eaten in the form of an edible. It is currently legal for recreational use in 8 states as well as Washington D.C. There are a multitude of other states that have decriminalized possession charges, where instead of a felony, a fine is given, and in a number of other states it is legal for medicinal uses.
Map of Legalized States for Medical and Recreational
Marijuana is not as dangerous as you think:
To date there has been no reported cases of any kind of overdose due to marijuana, neither has their been many deaths linked to its usage at all. The report states that to date there has been no record of any kind of overdose on marijuana. As for mortality from DUI’s involving marijuana it is difficult for any kind of test to be conducted on the scene of the crime so any correlation there is nearly impossible. However there are two very legal substances that together account for more than half a million deaths a year, tobacco and alcohol.
Tobacco (1st leading preventable cause of death):
Tobacco is legal in most states for those 18 years or older but in some municipalities it has been raised to 21. It is a well known fact by now that cigarettes cause cancer and smoking will kill you, this hasn’t stopped people and it probably never will. 15% of US citizens aged 18 years and older are addicted to smoking. It causes over 400,000 deaths per year, mostly due to lung and heart diseases. One worrying statistic reported by the CDC is that 30,000+ people a year die from second hand smoke that causes heart disease and lung cancer. Yet it can be found in any gas station or corner drug store.
Alcohol (3rd leading preventable cause of death) :
Alcohol is another commonly abused legal substance, with nearly 15 million people in the United States being diagnosed as alcohol dependent, more commonly known as alcoholics. Alcohol dependance leads to a highly increased risk of both liver and heart diseases, which leads to 30,000+ people per year dying due to these diseases. 10,000+ more people die each year due to traffic fatalities which makes up a third of all fatal vehicular accidents. These deaths are all easily preventable if alcohol was prohibited but as seen by the 1920’s that never works, just prohibiting marijuana hasn’t done anything to stop it, if anything it most likely increased the stigma and made it more enticing than if it was legal.
The New, More Important Drug Epidemic – Opioids:
Over the past decade opioids have kept growing and growing in the number of overdoses that they cause, today 90 people per day die because of opioid overdoses. According to the NIH, nearly two million people have been diagnosed as opioid addicts in the United States. The worst statistic they cite is that 1 in 4 people who are prescribed opioids for pain medication become addicted to them. These drugs such as Vicodin and OxyCodone are very lethal and the CDC cites the cost of the misuse of these drugs is close to 78.5 billion dollars including healthcare, prosecution, and rehabilitation. Drugs such as opioids and heroin that are truly epidemics should receive the exuberant amount of money that is currently going into crimes related to the possession of marijuana.
Inherent Health Risks for Marijuana (how it can hurt you):
There are a few inherent health risks when it comes to smoking marijuana as outlined by the NIH and CDC health reports.These report from the NIH and CDC state that they struggled to find strong evidence for exact details on risks, but found a few incidents of increased risk from smoking marijuana. Patients that have reported marijuana use were found to have an increased risk in lung cancers, but in most cases these patients have also smoked cigarettes. Some compounds in marijuana have been shown to lead to an increase of circulatory diseases, as well as smoking can increase the risk of heart attack slightly within the first few hours. Through both reports however there seems to be a lack of research that makes concrete claims about the full scale risks of smoking, but that is not to say there isn’t risks just not all of them are based in fact.
Risks that are not really that true (how it’s not going to hurt you):
Some of the biggest arguments against marijuana are myths that are only loosely based on fact.
There has been quite a few studies and articles published that state that marijuana use leads to permanent brain damage. One such article, that took thirty years to make, makes this claim. However, this article did not take into account the environmental factors that lead to the teens, the only group showing significant IQ loss, having a lower IQ. Economic, social, and educational factors were however taken into account when the Twin Study was published. This study took a look at how twins fared, one who used marijuana, and the other did not. What they found was there was no significant IQ loss between the two.
Claiming that marijuana is a gateway drug because a high percentage of harder drug users reported early marijuana use is more of a correlation not causation. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH) states that most people who use marijuana never go on to use harder drugs, as well as alcohol and nicotine use being common among the harder drug users.
The Twisted History of Criminalization (the past):
Marijuana has been an officially banned substance beginning in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act which banned the use of marijuana on a federal level. Then in the 1970’s Nixon organizes the Shaffer Commission which was tasked in determining the harms that marijuana causes and what should be done about it. After they came to Nixon with their extensive research they reported that in fact the best course of action was to at most decriminalize the possession of marijuana. They stated that it is a waste of time and money to continue to pursue the war against marijuana, but Nixon didn’t listen and redoubled his efforts. He placed marijuana as a schedule 1 drug along with heroin and LSD. John Ehrlichman, a top adviser to Nixon came forward and stated this:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Nixon created the war on drugs to fight against his political opponents instead of based upon any kind of scientific fact, something he threw away by denying the Shaffer commission.
How Marijuana Criminalization is Harmful (the present):
Looking at the current prosecution of marijuana today we can see the trends continue to show one of racism. Looking at the FBI arrest statistics there is a trend showing that people of color are much more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people, even though the usage statistics are about the same. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) outlines just how alarming the disparities are between the usage statistics and arrest numbers, and just how bad the discrimination can be when it comes to drug possession charges.
The usage statistics show that it is essentially an equal amount of the black population and white population that have used marijuana within the past 12 months.
Arrest Rates: ACLU Report
The states with the highest disparities plus the District Columbia:
Even Oregon, the fifth lowest disparity in arrests, still has nearly double the rate of black to white arrest rates.
The disparity hasn’t improved over time the ratio has increased in 38 of the 50 states with the seven worst increasing 186% on average:
A Look at States that have Legalized:
A study done in both Washington and Colorado showed that there was no increase of usage after the legalization
A big worry about an increase in traffic fatalities has shown little if any increase.
An increase in tax revenue has brought in Washington a reported $129 million and Colorado $220 million
New Jersey to Become the Ninth Legal State (the near future):
New Jersey Governor Elect Phil Murphy stated in an interview after he beat Kim Guadagno that his number one priority is the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. He is planning to use the tax revenue from marijuana along with an increase in taxes to fund a failing education system that was criminally underfunded under Christie.
What would happen if marijuana was legalized in every state (the optimistic future)?
In Washington they saved $200 million on arrests for possession and reported another extra $200 million in tax revenue increase. Oregon saw an increase in $129 million dollars increase in tax revenue. It isn’t reasonable to expect the same from every state but if every single state saved an average of $100 million on arrests, and gained $100 million in tax revenue. That’s an extra $200 million per state. What could be done with an extra $200 million?
That would be able to fund an extra 18,000 kids to be able to go to public school, per state.
That would be able to fund an extra 10,000 people per state, who were seeking rehab for the more dangerous drugs that ruin peoples lives, opioids, heroin, etc.
A War on Drugs that Just Isn’t Worth It:
In Saint Louis, Missouri, where I grew up there is a heroin epidemic. Countless kids have lost their lives to heroin overdoses because they couldn’t get the proper access to the help and there wasn’t enough money or manpower to stop the sale. Instead of spending resources to stop this drug that is killing teenagers those resources are focused on combatting marijuana. Something that has yet been linked to any overdoses, a less dangerous substance than tobacco or alcohol and a drug that creates racial disparity. The laws created by Nixon during his war on drugs to combat his political opponents and ignoring scientific data is outdate and not practical. Why then do we keep these laws that have done nothing but put marks on the permanent records of students, created a larger racial disparity, and waste billions of dollars. Legalizing marijuana would give more money to schools, helpful drug programs, and lower the incarceration rate.