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Decriminalization of Marijuana Essay

A very controversial drug in society today is marijuana. The controversy is mostly due to the myths that people have created about marijuana’s effects. Opponents of the legalization of marijuana argue that marijuana is a gateway drug, more dangerous than alcohol, and will increase crime if it is decriminalized. Through studies there is proof that these myths are untrue. Therefore the reason for marijuana’s status as illegal is not actually there. In fact, having marijuana as an prohibited drug helps the people who sell it make a better profit. Instead America could be making money off of marijuana and at the same time cut down on a lot of crime. So, it is plain to see that the decriminalization of marijuana is the only logical solution.

A persistent myth about marijuana is that it is a gateway drug, leading to the use of harder drugs. The Dutch partially decriminalized marijuana in the 1970’s, since then the use of heroin and cocaine has sharply decreased. The opposite of this gateway affect is also present the United States. In 1993 a study by the Rand Corporation compared drug use in states that have decriminalized marijuana and those that have not. It found that in states where marijuana was more available, hard drug abuse, as measured by emergency room episodes, decreased. What science and real experience tells us is that marijuana tends to substitute for much harder drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.

Another misconception is that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol. Extremely high doses of marijuana cause death. “Extremely high doses” is the key phrase here. Scientists have concluded that the ratio of marijuana needed to get a person intoxicated (stoned) relative to the amount necessary to kill him is 1 to 40,000. That means that to overdose on marijuana you would need to consume 40,000 times as much as you would to get stoned. The ratio of alcohol varies between 1 in 4 and 1 in 10. Over 5000 people die of alcohol overdoses each year, and no one has been recorded as dying from overdosing on marijuana.

These are just a few of the myths various groups used in order to keep marijuana illegal. Along with these myths comes the false belief that crime will increase if marijuana is legalized. Allen St. Pierre, Assistant National Director of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML), says that legalization will wipe out the already 60-billion dollar black market by placing marijuana in the open market. He also said that it is the enforcement of the laws criminalizing the possession, use, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana that are causing the violent crime. This war on drugs is wasting the money, as well as the lives of American people.

The time devoted to tracking down, arresting, and then trying marijuana users is perhaps the greatest exercise in lost time in contemporary activity. In the last two years, approximately 750,000 arrests were made in our mad, quixotic effort to stamp out marijuana. What this adds up to is millions of police hours spent on countless missions, millions of hours of court time wasted, and millions of months in jail, using up space sorely needed to contain people who can’t wait to get out in order to resume mugging and murdering.

The drug laws imprison a multitude of otherwise law abiding people, a disproportionate number of them who are poor or minorities, for nonviolent acts that are directed at no one but themselves. Instead of eliminating drugs, the prohibition of them just fosters an illegal industry able to inflate prices. This is hauntingly familiar to the prohibition era of gangsters present when alcohol was illegal in the 1920’s. Because drugs are sold on the black market, they cause violence, deaths due to no quality regulation, and diseases from sharing illegal drug paraphernalia.

The American Civil Liberties advocates the full decriminalization of the use, possession, manufacture, and distribution of drugs. It does this for constitutional reasons. The following is an excerpt from their policy on drugs which was adopted in 1994:

Criminalizing the use, possession, manufacture, and distribution of drugs violates the principle that the criminal law may not be used to protect individuals from the consequences of their own autonomous choices or to impose upon those individuals a majoritarian conception of morality and responsibility?Enforcement of laws criminalizing possession, use, manufacture of distribution of drugs engender violations of civil liberties. Because drug enforcement is aimed at behavior which is inherently difficult to detect and does not involve a complaining “victim,” it necessarily relies on law enforcement techniques — such as use of undercover operations, arbitrary or invasive testing procedures, random or dragnet seizures, and similar measures — that raise serious civil liberties concerns. These enforcement techniques lead in practice to widespread violations of civil liberties guarantees, including those secured by the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

Along with the legalization of marijuana being fair to society, it will also benefit society in a few other ways. Three benefits that supporters of the decriminalization of marijuana have found include revenue enhancement, medical benefits, and hemp production. The major argument for marijuana legalization is revenue enhancement for the U.S. Government. Much of the money will be saved due to less law enforcement, court time, and the cost of incarcerating prisoners whose only crime is possession. The U.S. spent roughly one billion dollars on marijuana enforcement last year and the DEA has proposed a 400% increase in anti-pot spending, yet domestic marijuana production has been reduced by only 10%. Further, in 1989, 314,552 arrests were made for simple possession.

Considering America’s annual marijuana harvest was worth 50.7 billion in 1989 and 41.4 billion in 1988, $28 billion greater than corn at 31.4 billion, marijuana could become the leading agricultural product in the United States. With trade regulations, industry regulations and consumption taxes on the product NORML has estimated that legalization would produce over $40 billion in taxable revenue. As Congress debates the national debt, legalization would provide the needed funds to help our economy.

Legalization advocates constantly tout marijuana’s medicinal benefits. For cancer patients, marijuana reduces nausea and increases the appetite. Marijuana also reduces epileptic seizures and reduces nerve disorders in multiple sclerosis patients. If it helps patients get extra quality time out of their lives, then attempts to decriminalize it should be supported. Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, as California recently did, could provide answers about diseases and allow research to be conducted for future purposes.

An area that does not gather too much publicity in the legalization issue is hemp production. Marijuana comes from the top leaves and flowers of the female hemp plant. The fiber from the top can be used to make clothing, paper, rope, and methanol fuel. Hemp is a plant that can be grown in poor soil, thus not taking up any valuable agricultural land. Hemp now grows in the U.S. because of its heavy production in the 18th and 19th centuries. Seventy-five to ninety percent of all paper used before 1883 was hemp paper, including the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence. Hemp is safer for the environment; hemp requires 40% fewer chemicals to produce paper, and, over twenty years, one acre of hemp can produce four times as much pulp as can an acre of trees. The production of hemp would save trees and clean up the air.

The push for legalization of marijuana is making news across America just as it did in the 60’s. Shirts are being worn with slogans like “Keep America Green.” Marijuana use is glorified in movies such as Dazed in Confused and Half Baked and by music artists like Cypress Hill and Afroman. Increasing public support and media attention will slowly force the legalization issue into the forefront of the political arena. If the widespread acceptance continues among the powerful new voting block, college students, the policy towards marijuana could change in the near future. Weighing both the costs and the benefits the decriminalization/legalization of marijuana seems inevitable.

Most of the alleged myths about its harmful effects have been proven false. The current war on drugs is clearly failing, and costing too many lives and too much money. There are many benefits to be gained from the marijuana plant: increased tax revenue, safety due to governmental regulation, decreased crime and use of hard drugs, and the environmental benefits of hemp to name a few. With all these reasons taken into consideration the decriminalization/legalization of marijuana is the only logical answer to society’s drug problems.


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