The plan to legalize medicinal marijuana has unintentionally opened a Pandora’s Box, placing the previously unquestioned opinion that marijuana is a toxic substance that must be illegalized on the defensive. The war on narcotics, including marijuana, attracted widespread popularity from politicians and residents around the country on the grounds that marijuana, like all illegal drugs, is an addictive product that places not only the consumer, but culture as a whole, at greater health and social danger. Marijuana prohibition, on the other side, was effective on questionable grounds. Partisan motivations and manipulations marred it. Not all information was provided. The public was not made conscious of marijuana’s long-established medicinal benefit. Rather, it was deliberately and actively overlooked by highlighting and exaggerating marijuana’s detrimental impact. In brief, political and economic factors conspired to demonize pot.
Since then, the criminalization of heroin trafficking has become not just legal but also morally permissible, and the war on drugs has become a civic as well as a moral responsibility. As a result, minor substance offenders overburdened detention facilities, resulting in not only civil rights violations within and outside of jails, but also unnecessarily bleeding the federal government’s coffers; neighborhood conflict between drug users/pushers and law enforcement improved, necessitating increased police presence, ability, and efficiency, implying increased expenditure allocation for effe Furthermore, the criminalization of marijuana has deprived patients of a potent alternative medicine that could be less expensive than those produced by profit-driven pharmaceutical companies. This paper contends that medical marijuana should be approved because it is more financially lucrative than economically expensive.
The Marijuana: Some Background Information
Marijuana is a Spanish-American word that was initially used to apply to marijuana, but has subsequently come to refer to cannabis in general in South and North America (Iversen 26). The idea that marijuana derives from the Cannabis or hemp plant, which was formally called Cannabis sativa in 1735 by the well-known Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, making it a legally classified genus, must have caused this reference shift (5). Marijuana was nicknamed variedly, like ‘pot, weed, grass, dope, ganja, skunk, and wacky tobaccy’, and the marijuana cigarette, as ‘joint, doobie, reefer, spliff, blunt, bomber, and roach’ (Morgan 17). These nicknames may have served as codes for users/pushers to elude police detection and arrest.
Based on anecdotal records and the discovery of the substance the plant must have most likely originated in central Asia. Tombs dating back to 8000 BCE have bear traces of the substance. Also, Chinese records have shown hemp farming in China as early as 2800 BCE. (Morgan 17) In fact, the hemp was among ancient China’s five major grains. Furthermore, archeological evidence has proven the presence of fiber production in north eastern Asia in Neolithic times at 600 BC. From Asia, marijuana must have been brought to different parts of the world, including the US because of its high versatility. (Iversen 6, 12) Not only can the plant grow in any temperate and tropical regions of the world and can adapt to different environment, even in deserts and at high altitudes, but more importantly, it is multi-useful (Iversen 4; Morgan 18). Hence, it was known as the multipurpose economic plant. Reports of two centuries ago showed hemp cultivation bringing in profit of $13.00 per acre (Iversen 5, 12).
All parts of the plant are useful. Its seed oil is edible and rich in protein and needed fatty acids, and industrially useful in creating cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, plastics and paints. Its seed can be toasted snack, can be processed nondairy cheese and milk, and can be animal food. Its stalk is a good source of fiber for making rope, cloth, paper, insulation and flooring. And its leaves and flowers containing the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) substance are sources of marijuana, with its flower containing more THC than its leaves. It is the THC that gives marijuana its mind-altering properties and its medical efficacy. Hence, marijuana made from the hemp flowering tops is more potent than that made from hemp leaves or both. (Morgan 18-21)
The Use and Criminalization of Marijuana: A Brief History
Early use of marijuana. Marijuana has since its discovery been openly used in different human cultures more for its industrial and medical utilities rather than its recreational use. It was in the ancient Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia, ca. 1-2 century AD that the medical and intoxicating properties of marijuana were first described, named here as ma – meaning ‘chaotic’ to imply the mindboggling and mind-altering effects of the plant. However, ancient China mainly used medical marijuana, specifically as pain-reliever in a preparation called ma-yao – a mixture of ma with wine, and only used recreational marijuana sparingly. Though marijuana had reach the West much later after it had reached India, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans also used marijuana similarly for its fiber. While Assyrians also used it for its medical efficacy, rich Romans on the other hand used it to make exotic dessert. It was in India, Arab, and Egypt that the recreational use of marijuana (bhang in Indian term, hashish in Arab) had been prevalent, becoming well-entrenched into these cultures. Particularly in Muslim Egypt and Arabia, the use of recreational marijuana was socially accepted because unlike alcohol consumption, it was not banned in Koran rendering its future prohibition useless. From Egypt, French colonization at the end of the 18th century brought the recreational use of marijuana to Europe which before had only known industrial marijuana as a good source for making ropes, canvas, cloths, and papers. Never had recreational marijuana become prevalent in Europe. (Iversen 19-23) In fact during the 17th and 18th centuries, compulsory hemp cultivation was imposed on British colonies for economic reasons, becoming one of the most disputed products and one of those that triggered the American Revolution (Morgan 26-27).
From Europe recreational marijuana spread to North America through the vivid written accounts of prominent French writers, specifically Charles Baudelaire’s Les Paradise Artificiels (1860) which until today remains to be one of the existing accounts that most comprehensively and impressively described the effect of recreational marijuana on the human psyche. This book had effectively captured Western reader’s imagination, triggering further interest and curiosity in the use of recreational marijuana. It was only in the mid-19th century that Americans were first introduced to the psychoactive effects of marijuana through the vivid account of the famous American author Bayard Taylor regarding his experience after using hashish in large dose in the Middle East. Its young reader, 16-year old Fitz Hugh Ludlow began experimenting with marijuana for 3-4years without threat of arrest because marijuana use in the US was then widely available over the counter drug stores in different pharmaceutical preparations. In his book The Hasheesh Eater, which became at par in importance to Baudelaire’s in cannabis literature, Ludlow wrote vividly in detail about his experience with marijuana. (Iversen 23-26)
Hence for more or less a hundred years (mid-19th century-1937), medical marijuana was a fad in Western medicine. (Iversen 26) As early as 1840, medical marijuana was recognized. It was listed among the officially acceptable drugs in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1850-1942. (Gerber 2) In fact, there were about 28 different pharmaceutical preparations of marijuana to American physicians in the form of pills, tablets and syrups, and American pharmaceutical companies had started taking active interest in conducting research study on marijuana-based medicines. But all of these scientific efforts faded when in 1937, the hastily approved Marijuana Tax Act criminalized marijuana use of any nature. (Iversen 27)
The illegalization of marijuana. The criminalization of marijuana in the US is actually an unpleasant revelation of a violent history founded not on solid scientific grounds but more on political considerations driven by racism, hysteria, protection of corporate profits, yellow journalism, and careerism (Gerber 2-11). Those who first brought marijuana into prominence in America were Mexican immigrants to the southern US who fled from the 1910 Mexican Revolution led by Pancho Villa (Iversen 26) – the leader of the March 1916 Columbus Raid that caused the death of 16 US military servicemen and embarrassed the US government from successfully eluding US arrest intensifying the tension between US and Mexico (Tucker 1615). This generated American bias against Mexican immigrants and their marijuana habits claiming that marijuana transforms Mexican immigrants into devils capable of violent crimes against anyone. Hence, it appears to be more of a political vendetta than scientific truth. However, similar biased treatment was given to West Indian immigrants who introduced marijuana to the Deep South. This was more for economic reasons, because in the late twenties there was a strong demand for marijuana in the South and Southwest enriching Mexicans and West Indian importers.
It was during Anslinger’s time that the rabid demonization of marijuana had been successfully achieved. Recommended by Andrew Mellon – the treasury secretary and banker to the Dupont chemical firm (a competitor with hemp sales) to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1932-1962, Anslinger – a bureaucrat of tough and unshakable views, single-handedly imbedded in the American society rabid racism in the guise of hatred and fear of marijuana by manipulating facts in concerted effort with the media and legislators. Yet, while intensely propagating fictional claims against marijuana-using minorities, he was in fact illegally supplying his drug-dependent good friend Senator Joseph McCarthy with morphine. Hence with the approval of the Tax Act in 1937 and the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, marijuana was criminalized denying even its medical efficacy. (Gerber 2-11). Paradoxically however, it was during the Prohibition Era in the 1930s that the use of recreational marijuana became widespread (Svrakic et al. 91).
However, history has its own way of bringing out the truth. Today, as the medical efficacy of marijuana remains; as the war on drugs is largely exposed of its brutality, injustice, and violence; as the criminalization of marijuana continues to enrich the pockets of drug lords and corrupts the justice system; and as the demonizing of marijuana revealed; the call to legalize marijuana continues to reverberate from the streets to the congress creating conflict between the Federal law and state law as more and more US states move to legalize marijuana. While anti-legalization speaks of fear; pro-legalization speaks of benefits. One of the benefits worth defending is the economic benefits derivable from legalizing medical marijuana.
Legalizing Medical Marijuana: Economically Beneficial or More Costly
While prohibitionists consistently argue that criminalizing marijuana use lessens marijuana abuse thereby lowering crime rate, increasing productivity, and improving health and safety. But pro-marijuana argues that criminalization of marijuana may have lessened marijuana use but have not stopped drug addiction. Instead it only created more problems that stem from budgetary issue. According to a reliable study (Miron), while prohibition demands large budget allocation for law enforcement and denies the government of taxes from marijuana production and sales, legalizing marijuana would save the US government of $7.7billion annually. From this $5.3billion will be added to local government annual budget and the remaining $2.4 billion will be added to the federal government. Aside from this savings, the legalization of marijuana could raise annual tax revenue of $2.4 billion to $6.2 billion. (1) This large amount of money could enable the government to provide better social services to the American public (e.g., improvement of rehabilitation facilities, low-cost housing for marginalized immigrants, health) and hence could further improve human development.
In retort, prohibitionists argue that the legalization of marijuana could in fact be more expensive because this would mean additional cost in educating, rehabilitating and clinically treating marijuana users as 9% of them are found in need of clinical help. Other than this, legalizing marijuana, just like legalizing other harmful behaviors (i.e. gambling) will not reduce the rate of marijuana users. Instead, it would allow those high in marijuana to roam and drive in the street, causing traffic accidents and crime rates. (Spaulding and Fernandez 2) Such argument sounds absurd, because it seems to imply that these activities are not being undertaken under the prohibition of marijuana. In fact, part of the war on drugs is these activities in the hope of reducing drug addiction in the US. Yet under the current law, these activities are ineffective because these are done in a hostile context, hence the required cooperation of the user is difficult. But in legalizing marijuana, these activities will have a better future because first marijuana use can be better regulated and user cooperation can be more possible. Furthermore, instead of filling US prisons with marijuana users – “There are approximately 700,000 marijuana-related arrests every year… 87 percent [of this] involve more than mere possession of small amount of marijuana” (Douglas 8) – it would be much better to make these people more productive in a non-hostile environment. In effect, they get to feed themselves and the families they leave behind when in prison, than continuously becoming dependent on the government.
Prohibitionists repeatedly discount the medical benefits of marijuana by exaggerating its intoxicating effects, in effect saying that whatever economic savings that can be earned from legalizing marijuana will in fact be more harmful especially to children because legalizing it would lower its price and would become accessible. (Taubman, qtd. in Thornton 429) What prohibitionists willfully fail to see is the fact that the medical benefits of marijuana have been long established since ancient time. By continuously illegalizing it only keeps patients dependent on expensive pharmacological drugs. Whereas, once it is legalized patients are given a cheaper option of alternative medicine. As to its addictive substances, that is where the regulatory function of the state could come in. Added legalizing marijuana will pave the way to further scientific research on the medical aspects of this plant.
Without an iota of doubt, legalizing medical marijuana is more economically beneficial to society. First, the government could save and earn more billions of dollars in legalizing marijuana through reduced budget allocations in direct enforcement costs and through taxes. Second, rehabilitation of marijuana addicts faces better future under non-hostile environment which in the long run will reduce rehabilitation expenses and would later make these addicts productive members of American society. Third, marijuana as a cheap alternative drug to various ailments has long been established since ancient times and this will save patients much money.
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- Miron, Jeffrey A. The Budgetary Implication of Marijuana Prohibition. June 2005. Harvard University. 4 April 2014 <http://www.in.gov/legislative/senate_democrats/files/blog/Budgetary%20Implications%20of%20Marijuana%20Prohibition-Jeffrey%20Miron.pdf>.
- Morgan, Kayla. Legalizing Marijuana. Minnesota: ABDO Publishing Company, 2011.
- Spaulding, Alicia and Stephanie Fernandez. Debate: Should Marijuana Be Legalized in the United States? 2013. Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative, University of Mexico. 4 April 2014 <http://danielsethics.mgt.unm.edu/pdf/marijuanalegalization.pdf>.
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