For many years now, there has been great controversy surrounding the illegal drug marijuana. Its widespread use since the Vietnam War has caused many people to speak for and against marijuana and its uses. However, in the recent past, a completely new controversy has arisen surrounding the use of marijuana: its medical benefits. After years of give and take, it is time for us to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. This is not the kind of use a common drug addict would seek, but rather a drug to comfort for terminally or critically ill people.
In the past when “old-time” doctors prescribed a variety of medicines for ailments, drugs of all sorts were accepted. However, in modern times, as more stable drugs have been developed, public concern regarding recreational drug use has grown. It is ignorance and a fear of the unknown that has helped fuel this concern. Furthermore, governmental policies over the years have done less and less to dispel this ignorance. (Terkel 21).
Marijuana use was restricted in 1937 by the Marijuana Tax Act. (Brecher 16). The bill, modeled after the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 that did not ban marijuana, but rather recognized its medical uses. The bill did specify, however, that physicians, veterinarians, druggists, growers, importers, manufacturers, and “compounders” of marijuana had to pay a tax in order to continue either prescribing or continuing their work with marijuana. Only non-medicinal, untaxed possession or sale of marijuana was outlawed. (Terkel 27). The tax, even in 1937, showed an awareness that marijuana was worthy consideration beneficial in the medical arena.
During the Vietnam War, drug use among teens and soldiers increased tremendously, prompting President Nixon to declare a war on drugs in June of 1971. One of the steps in this “war,” was establishing the Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. After two years, the commission suggesting to President Nixon that marijuana should be decriminalized. In an act of defiance to a commission established as part of his own program, Nixon chose to ignore this. (Terkel 29).
President Carter was not ignorant of the commission’s suggestion, and in the years from 1973-1979, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, Colorado, California, Ohio, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, and Nebraska followed the suggestion. Unfortunately, over the following years, celebrity deaths and drug tragedies received media coverage that caused those states to reconsider their policies. (Terkel 57). The states allowed the media to influence the decision of whether to permit marijuana use rather than taking a stand and deciding what was best for the people of each state.
President Reagan declared a second war on drugs during his second term in office, which actually managed to decrease drug use by 1987. (Terkel 79). An unfortunate consequence of Reagan’s war was that it did not discriminate between medical marijuana and other drug usage, which showed a continued ignorance toward marijuana’s possible benefits.
In 1989, President Bush appointed a “drug czar” who suggested that if the war on drugs was stepped up, drug use could be cut in half. President Bush continued a full-fledged war on drugs that continues to this day. (Terkel 104).
Now the major critics of marijuana legalization for medical purposes are doctors and medical organizations who point to its negative affects on the body. They have found some legitimate evidence that marijuana can have negative affects on the body and the mental stability of the user. However, this point could be used to fight the use of many drugs that have negative side affects. It is common knowledge that chemotherapy causes weakness, nausea, and the killing of good as well as bad cells; yet it is still an accepted method to control cancer. In the field of medicine, it is necessary to overlook some negative side effects in order to create new types of medicine and treatments. This is one of the points that those whom support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes focus on.
The people who are willing to look beyond the obvious and really explore the medical benefits of marijuana site its ability to treat pain, nausea, the anorexia of AIDS wasting, and symptoms such as involuntary spasticity associated with Multiple Sclerosis. They believe that responsible use of marijuana for medical purposes may be more effective at treating these symptoms than legal drugs available now. (Report on Prohibition 2003). They wish to have the rights of states, doctors, and patients to make their own decisions about the medical use of marijuana recognized by the government and for a de facto moratorium on medical marijuana research. It is an excepted idea by many supporters that an official distribution system for marijuana would be the most effective way to dispense it. (The Effective Strategy 1999).
The views of certain governmental agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, is that marijuana use for any purposes leads to use of more dangerous drugs and that the benefits of marijuana are myths. Their official position is that there is no convincing evidence that would warrant legalizing marijuana for medical uses. (Assertion V 1989). It is not difficult though for one to imagine that these statements are made more for the sake of DEA agents’ job security than for their actual truth and value to society.
If there were fewer ailing people growing marijuana for medical purposes to bust, then there would conceivably be fewer jobs at the DEA. There are some states, in spite of the ignorance of the DEA, which have either seriously considered or actually passed legislation to allow for medical purposes. These states include California, Maine, Hawaii, and Minnesota. (Task Force 2000). Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has since ruled that federal law does not permit medical use of marijuana.
The battle over medical marijuana is by no means over, and we must continue to dispel ignorance and promote research and exploration of the possible uses of medical marijuana. The actions of special interest groups, that are lobbying Congress, and making this issue a public one in order to gain followers who personally speak out for medical marijuana’s benefits and possibilities, should be promoted.
The political implications of medical marijuana are many. Some of the more prominent ones are that the door will be opened to campaigns to legalize other drugs, as well for the total legalization of marijuana; the government might consider legalization of any sort a losing battle in the war on drugs and step up other drug laws. In addition, other special interest groups who speak about controversial legislation laws, such as prostitution, might gain a second wind inspired by the success of marijuana.
The economic implications are that drug dealers will lose business. Medical patients will be able to get quality marijuana for less money from reliable suppliers, such as pharmacies or hospitals as opposed to the streets, and insurance companies may receive pressure to cover medical marijuana.
The social implications of medical marijuana, much like the political ones, are endless. For example, people might relax their positions against marijuana use, citing that if marijuana is useful for medical patients, it may not be so harmful after all. Protests at places such as colleges, for the total legalization of marijuana may increase and campaigns against drug use may relax their emphasis on marijuana and switch to other drugs that they feel are more dangerous.
As with any great change in policy, it is undeniable that legalization of medical marijuana will be an uphill battle. The hard work of interest groups and those in the medical profession who support medical marijuana usage is a necessary and strong step toward getting new research done and influencing Congressmen, Justices and other members of the government. The key here is that medical marijuana should be taken seriously and not dismissed as an attempt to overturn the efforts of governmental agencies, to win the war on drugs. We must stop the stereotyping of marijuana as a “bad” drug, and start to consider its vast possibility as a medical tool. Let us stop using the war on drugs as an excuse to ignore the future of medical marijuana, and instead wage a new war against ignorance.
Assertion V: There are no compelling medical reasons to prescribe marijuana or heroine
to sick people . 1989. Drug Enforcement Administration. January 28 2004
Brecher, Edward. Licit and Illicit Drugs. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1972.
Report on Sixty Years of Marijuana Prohibition in the U.S. 12 July 2003. Norml.
January 29 2004,
Task Force Approves Medical Marijuana Distribution Plan. 27 Sept. 2000. MPP News
Release. January 27 2004.
Terkel, Susan. Should Drugs Be Legalized? New York: Franklin Watts, 1990.
The Effective Drug Control Strategy. 10 Dec. 1999.Network of Reform Groups.
January 28 2004. < http://csdp.org/edcs/>