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America’s Unjust Drug War Essay

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result; this statement fairly sums up the War on Drugs. Let us imagine a scenario of two men, one of them has killed 4 young women in cold blood, for ‘sport’ as he likes to say; the other man was caught with a large amount of an illegal drug. In prison it would not be unlikely for these two to share a cell, but my question is why? Why are these drastically different crimes seen as being worthy of the same punishment? According to a pro-marijuana web site, studies show that in Dallas, Texas “Possession of two ounces or less of marijuana is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000. Possession of greater than two ounces is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000” (“We Be High”). It seems to defy logic, and upon observation of the facts, it does.

The War on Drugs, specifically the prohibition of marijuana, is an unnecessary drain on our country’s tax dollars and law enforcement agencies. Some would even say that these agencies have no right to tell us what we as US Citizens can put into our bodies in the first place. Not only that, but the skepticism and prohibition of marijuana is keeping people from exploring the amazing potential that it has in the medicinal field. If marijuana were legalized properly, not only would these problems begin to work themselves out, but the illegal market and the problems and dangers caused by the prohibition of marijuana would cease to exist. One fact that few in our country would refute is that our prison system is over-crowded and has been stretched in recent years to accommodate all the recent “criminals.” Along with all those which have committed true crimes against society such as murder and robbery, there are now citizens that have been found guilty of possession or distribution of drugs. “In 2003, there were a record 755,186 marijuana arrests in the US – greater than the number of arrests for all violent crimes combined” (Miron).

“In 1998, 65% of those were convicted of drug possession in state court and 71% of those convicted of drug trafficking were sentenced to incarceration” (Chin 10). Not only is being arrested and incarcerated for simple possession of marijuana a set-back in one’s life, but finding a decent job for an ex-con is very difficult (Rachels and Rachels). It is hard to believe that violent criminals and Marijuana dealers belong in the same facility; it is a waste of money to feed and clothe them. A popular philosophical argument for the legalization of drugs, such as marijuana, is that the Government does not have the right to tell us what we can and cannot put into our own bodies. Nowhere in the constitution does it state that all drugs should be illegal and should result in major fines or even jail time if one was caught in possession of the drug. In fact, it seems to be implied that people should be able to have the freedom to self medicate as they want to.

From the utilitarian perspective, people tend to be happier when they have freedom, and the current drug laws reduce that feeling of freedom and happiness. Therefore, the government should not put restrictions on drug use (Rachels and Rachels). If someone were to make the choice to smoke cannabis, that would be their choice and doing so would not directly harm anyone else. After all, isn’t America the ‘Land of the Free’? Our country is filled with propagandists who warp the facts and percentages of drugs that they want to be illegal just so the drug seems more dangerous than it actually is. In fact, some people’s every day activities are proven to be more harmful than marijuana such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, obesity, having unprotected sex, and riding motorcycles (Rachels and Rachels).

A popular argument prohibitionists use for this is that illegal drug use harms the user in a different way (Rachels and Rachels). However, all of these activities listed harm the user in some sort of way and isn’t that what really matters in the end? There are some people out there that truly believe (and try to convince others) that marijuana is a deadly substance when in reality there have been no deaths whatsoever from marijuana use (Herer). However, there are around 106,000 deaths from legal drugs that you can buy at any convenience store, including aspirin. Studies show that aspirin is responsible for anywhere from 108-1,000 deaths per year. Animal studies have shown that it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana (Hager). This has led scientists to conclude that “the ratio of the amount of cannabinoids necessary to get a person intoxicated (i.e., stoned) relative to the amount necessary to kill them is 1 to 40,000” (Hager).

So in other words, in order to over dose on marijuana, someone would have to ingest 40,000 times however much one would have to smoke in order to get the “high” feeling. If legal drugs and every day activities pose a bigger threat on society than marijuana, then why is cannabis illegal while these things remain legal? Rather than criminalizing those who possess and sell marijuana, some have proposed a radical reversal in policy; that the government actually legalize marijuana and tax it. By allowing the illegal importation of drugs into the United States (a multi-billion dollar a year industry), we are allowing all of the profit to go to people who do not deserve it such as “criminals, killers, and dangerous organizations” (“The Economic Benefits”).

“Legalizing marijuana in the US would save about $7.7 billion per year in enforcement costs, and it would generate between $2.4 and $6.2 billion in tax revenue, depending on whether pot was taxed normally or at the higher rate at which alcohol and tobacco and are now taxed” (Rachels and Rachels). All of this can be accomplished by simply repealing the prohibition laws in effect. Along with preventing prison over-population and creating another form of tax revenue, the legalization of marijuana could create a new and simpler class of analgesic, which by definition is a medicine used to relieve pain. In an experiment conducted at the University of California Davis, there were three different groups given three different substances. One was given 7% marijuana, the second was given 3.5% marijuana, and the last was the control group, which was given a placebo. The results showed that both the 3.5% group and the 7% group both experienced equal amounts of analgesic produced.

While the people in the study did feel a type of high in using the marijuana as a medicinal aid, the fact that both levels used created an equal amount of analgesic means that there may be a way around the high feeling. Further testing might be a good idea to see if an even lower dose could still create an analgesic without the side effects of the ‘high’ feeling (“Journal of Pain”). The study also explains that marijuana does not tranquilize the pain, but helps to create an emotional distance from it. In other words the person can still feel the pain but just does not care as much as he or she normally would. Making marijuana a legalized drug would also mean that it would become a more controlled and regulated drug as well. However, one major concern of making marijuana a legalized substance is the possibility of young adults in society being exposed to it.

While this is a valid argument against legalizing marijuana, people must realize that the fact that marijuana is currently illegal actually provides teens more opportunities to make money by selling it to their friends (“Top Ten Reasons”). However, making marijuana a legalized, controlled, and regulated substance would make it much harder for teens to get a hold of the drug. Miron expresses this fact, saying that “unlike drug dealers, licensed vendors would ensure that teens could not purchase marijuana, just as states that have implemented strict controls on underage tobacco purchases have seen sales of tobacco to minors fall dramatically” (Miron). A group of 12th grade high school students were asked how legalizing marijuana would affect them personally. 61% said they would not use the drug even if it were legal to buy and use. 15% stated they would use it as often as they do now, and 1.5% say they would use it less often.

Only 5.5% say they would use it more often than they do currently while nine percent said they would try it. Though these percentages may seem like large numbers, it only amounts to around 14% (about one in seven) of the students surveyed who stated they would either try marijuana or increase their use if marijuana were to become legalized (Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman, Schulenberg). Another problem with people having to resort to the black market for the purchase of cannabis is the danger that accompanies it. The illegal market that has been established because of the combination of the demand and illegality of marijuana brings much violence along with it. It is common for drug dealers at this day and age to carry around and use guns and knives as means of protection.

This results in the possibility of something bad happening to the buyer or innocent bystanders. If cannabis were to become legalized and controlled, innocent people would not have to worry about the dangers that they are currently faced with in the purchasing of marijuana on the black market. This flawed policy should have been thrown out years ago like the failed Prohibition was in 1933, but societal propaganda and a more weary population has kept it securely in its place as one of the priorities of conservative Americans. Hopefully with time and a more intense barrage of facts and logic, this failed war can end and help usher in a new age of understanding and control over the substances we now outlaw. Until then the United States Government will continue to burn money and lock away undeserving citizens.

Work Cited

Barth Wilsey, Thomas Marcotte, Alexander Tsodikov, Jeanna Millman, Heather Bentley, Ben Gouaux and Scott Fishman. “A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial of Cannabis Cigarettes in Neuropathic Pain.” The Journal of Pain. Web. 28 April 2010. Chin, Gabriel J. “Race, the War on Drugs, and the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction.” Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Vol. 6, p. 253, 2002. University of Arizona. Web. 1 May 2010. Hager, Paul. “Marijuana Myths.” Web. 3 May 2010.

Herer, Jack. “Hemp: Fuel Food Fiber Medicine Industry.” HempCar. Web. 3 May 2010. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2009). “Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2008: Volume I, Secondary School Students.” The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. PDF file. 30 April 2010. Miron, Jeffrey A. “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition.” Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States. Mar 28, 2008. Web. 1 May 2010. Rachels, James and Stuart Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 2010. Print Rachels, James and Stuart Rachels. The Right Thing to Do. New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 2010. Print “The Economic Benefits of a Legal Regulated Marijuana Industry.” 2005. Web. 3 May 2010.

“The Top Ten Reasons Marijuana Should be Legal.” AlterNet. High Times. Web. 3 May 2010. “WeBeHigh: A Traveler’s Guide to Getting High.” Web. 2 May 2010.


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