Legalized Marijuana and Law Enforcement Essay
Legalized Marijuana and Law Enforcement
Marijuana is the most common illicit drug all over the world including the United States. It is derived from the leaves, flowers, seeds and stem of cannabis sativa. THC, tetrahyrocannabinol is the main active component of marijuana. The drug can either be smoked or mixed with foods and beverages. In the streets, marijuana is commonly known as the herb, pot, ganja among other names. There are many side effects, both short term and long term effects associated with abuse of marijuana. However, marijuana has also been used medically in hospitals. Legalization of marijuana in the United States has always attracted a heated debate.
It is important to note that marijuana was not discovered yesterday. For the centuries in which the herb has been used, it has been completely legal. It is estimated that marijuana has been illegal for less than one percent the period man has used it. The drug is known to have been in use as early as 7000 BC but it was made illegal in the United States in the 20th century. A: History of marijuana The history of marijuana laws in the United States is very interesting. The first law relating to marijuana or cannabis sativa to be enacted in the modern day America was in 1619 in Jamestown in Virginia.
For many years, the plant had been in use for various functions such as food, incense, rope among others. It is also interesting to note that the first law related to the herb was a ‘must grow’ law that required all farmers in the colony to grow the crop. A farmer could be taken to jail or punished for failing to grow the crop due to it shortage in the region in the 18th century. The must grow laws were therefore in place for more than two centuries. The government encouraged the farmers to plant the crop due to its importance among the military requirements.
However, it is important to note that although the plant was critical in the 17th and 18th century, to an extent of it being used as a legal tender, the public was not aware of its uses as a recreational drug until the early 20th century (Inciardi, 1990). In the mid 19th century, over two thousand acres of land in the United States was under cannabis sativa plantations. The herb was mainly grown for use in the textile industry. However, the situation changed in the early 20th century due to the large influx of immigrants from Central America especially Mexico.
This influx was triggered by the Mexican revolution in the early 20th century. Tension was generated between the small scale farmers and the plantation owners due to the availability of cheap labor from Mexican Americans. The situation was made worse by the fast changing world in the after math of the First World War and the event of the great depression. The increased tension as well as the high number of immigrants from South and Central America made resources scarce and the quality of life in American cities deteriorated significantly.
It is important to note that when the immigrants from Mexico arrived in the United States, smoking of marijuana for recreation was common in Mexico but it was unheard among the American population. Consequently, the Mexicans brought with them the herb as well as the smoking habit. These Mexican immigrants introduced smoking of marijuana in the United States which resulted into the first law prohibiting marijuana in California (Inciardi, 1990). Other than the Mexican immigrants use of marijuana prompting the first law prohibiting preparation of hemp, there were other factors that influenced the enactment of the new law.
Most important was the use of the drug by Mormons who had been sent to the Central American country in the early 20th century. The Mormons came back with marijuana and they were already using it. The churches reaction to this may have had a big influence in the enactment of the first anti marijuana laws in California. Consequently, various states including Texas, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon among other states had laws limiting the use of marijuana in the early 1920s. Most importantly, the laws were designed to specifically target the Mexican immigrants who were well known to use the drug (Inciardi, 1990).
Compared to other states, the eastern states did not have a large number of Mexican immigrants but the problem of marijuana was evident in the states too. Analysts have argued that the drug was introduced by Latin Americans and African Americans jazz musicians. Marijuana is believed to have traveled across the eastern states such as Chicago, Harlem and New Orleans. Abuse of marijuana was part of the jazz music performance scenes. Racism was also an important factor in the enactment of the anti marijuana laws where the white extremists argued that the herb gave the Negroes and the Latin Americans the courage to face the whites.
During the same period, there were rumors in the public that the immigrants as well as the African Americans were influencing young whites including children into taking the drug. This was the origin of the ‘assassin’ stories of professional killers under the influence of marijuana. In the 1930s, the use of marijuana in the United States was associated with violent behaviors as a result of these stories (Inciardi, 1990). As early as mid 1920s, the United States supported international conventions that regulated marijuana in the form of the Indian hemp.
These conventions included the international opium convention which prohibited exports of Indian hemp to countries and states in which marijuana use was illegal. The convention also required proper documentations that approved the importation of marijuana to such countries if it was meant for medical use. However, the convention did not affect other cabanas products such as fiber which were widely produced in Europe and the United States. It was believed that the Indian hemp contained higher levels of THC compared to the European hemp which was mainly grown for use in the textile industry (Inciardi, 1990).
The first anti marijuana federal law in the United States was the uniform states narcotic acts whose first draft was introduced in 1925 and the final draft was ready seven years later. This new law sought to introduce uniform anti narcotic laws throughout the United States. Following the enactment of this law, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created which encouraged the adopting on uniform regulations. By mid 1930s all the states had adopted some laws that regulated the production, distribution and use of cannabis products.
The establishment of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 increased the concern over the increased use of cannabis in the American population. The bureau was headed by Anslinger, one of the most celebrated anti narcotic crusaders in the American history, who argued that marijuana was responsible for the increased violent crimes in the society and irrational acts. The bureau used both the print media as well as the first developing film industry to spread propaganda against the use of cannabis (Inciardi, 1990).
The Geneva trafficking convention of 1936 is also an important convention in the legal history of marijuana. Led by head of Federal Bureau of Narcotic, Anslinger, the United States government tried to influence the world society to criminalize all activities involved in the production, processing, distribution and use of cannabis and opium in the world unless it is for scientific or medical reasons. However, the proposal was rejected and only trafficking of the drug remains illegal internationally.
The signatory governments were expected to establish systems within their criminal justice systems to punish individuals involved in trafficking of prohibited drugs in their countries. Due to the failed attempts by the American government to influence the international community, the officials did not sign the treaty terming it too weak to deal with the problem at hand (Inciardi, 1990). The marijuana tax acts of 1937 are considered to be the most significant law towards the legalization of marijuana in the United States.
The act was penned by Anslinger and sponsored by Robert Doughton. The principle purpose of the bill was to completely destroy the production, distribution and use of cannabis products in the United States terminating it illegal drug businesses. The act also specified penalties to which individuals found in possession of the drug were to be subjected to. Those found guilty of cannabis related offences were subjected to a five years sentence or could be fined up to two thousand dollars. This was all aimed at increasing the risks involved in the illegal business.
The act was however opposed by a large number of Americans including the American Medical Association who argued that the act imposed tax on medical personnel using cannabis as a prescribed drug. The act also limited and taxed the production and sale of cannabis meant for medical use. Other than the new acts being enacted, the association proposed that the Harrison Narcotics Tax Acts could have been strengthened to deal with the emerging problem of marijuana abuse (Bertram, 1996). Since then, the federal government has continuously increased its vigilance in dealing with marijuana among other drugs in the country.
Marijuana in the United States is today controlled by the controlled substance act which is contained in the comprehensive drug abuse prevention and control act that was enacted in 1970 as an appeal to the marijuana tax act of 1937. However, the act does not distinguish between marijuana meant for medical use or recreation purpose and prohibits possession, production and distribution of large quantities of the drug. Consequently, the federal laws treat marijuana like any other illegal drug with no medical value. Marijuana is therefore treated in the same way as cocaine and heroine.
All the controlled substances under the federal are placed in a schedule according to their properties which includes risk of abuse and potential uses in medicine. In the controlled substance act, marijuana is not considered to have any medical value and is rated as a highly addictive substance and therefore placed under schedule 1 drug. Although doctors can use the first amendment to recommend its use in treatments, under the current federal regulations, prescribing marijuana is illegal (Gray, 2001). The Drug Enforcement Administration was also established to enforce federal anti narcotic laws in the country.
The DEA has over the years taken a lot of interests in the production and use of medical marijuana. Moreover, the agency has targeted specific individuals involved in illegal drugs production and distribution. This mainly includes the minority races, African Americans and Latino Americans, who have been found to fall victims of illegal drugs abuse. Consequently, the war on drugs has resulted into accusation of institutional racism and racial profiling where the anti narcotic laws were designed to target the minority races.
This issue continues to attract debate in the country while the American correctional facilities and the criminal justice systems in general is overwhelmed by the large number of drug related criminal cases (Musto & Korsmeyer, 1996). Although in many cases the drug enforcement administration leave alone cases involving medical use of marijuana, the federal laws have punitive penalties against individuals found in possession of marijuana for whatever reason. The drug is considered dangerous, illegal and with no medical use.
For this reason, the courts maintain that an individual cannot defend himself on the basis of medical use when convicted of marijuana related cases. However, in many cases, defense attorneys have always raised the issues during trials. Sentencing is also an important legal aspect of marijuana in the United States. An accused can either be subjected to the federal sentencing guidelines created in 1987 or the mandatory minimum sentence created in the late 1980s. In the federal sentencing guidelines, an individual accused of marijuana related crimes is sentenced based on his criminal record.
Under these guidelines, not all marijuana related crimes offenders are subjected to a jail term. However, they are all eligible for imprisonment. The guidelines require that the convicted individual should serve at least 85 percent of the jail term. The length of the jail term is determined by the amount of marijuana the individual is accused of being in possession. Low level crimes can result into a sentence of between one month and one year probation even in cases where multiple convictions are reported.
For example, under the guidelines possession of one kilogram of marijuana attracts an alternative sentence of 6-12 months probation while two and half kilograms and no past record attracts not less than six months imprisonment and up to two three years incase of prior record of drug crimes with no alternative sentence. Although the judges continue to be influenced by these federal guidelines in imposing sentences, they are no longer mandatory. However, they are supposed to be advisory to ensure uniformity in sentencing (Bonnie & Whitebread, 1999).
Cases involving marijuana are also subject to the minimum mandatory sentencing laws. The sentences mainly target individuals accused of possession of huge amounts of drugs. For example, the minimum mandatory sentence for an individual found guilty of possessing one hundred kilograms of marijuana or cultivating one hundred plants of cannabis is five years if he has no drug related crime record and ten years if otherwise. One thousand kilograms of plants attract ten years imprisonment with no prior record, twenty years with prior record and life imprisonment in case of multiple drug offences.
Therefore, drug users and traffickers always avoid possessing one hundred or more kilograms of marijuana at any time to avoid the minimum mandatory sentence of five years (Gray, 2001). Medical Effects of Marijuana The effects of marijuana on the user have attracted a lot of attention in the past few years. There are a good number of studies that are still on going on the negative as well as positive effects of marijuana use on human body. It is important to note that the use of marijuana for recreation purposes has not been widely pronounced in the past as compared to other drugs.
While narcotic use dates back to over a century, the use of marijuana has not been very prevalent in the general society until the last three or so decades. Consequently, the long term effects of marijuana abuse have not been very well documented although there are substantial and reasonable hypothesis that have been proposed. It is also important to note that arguably, marijuana has been considered to be among the safest illegal drugs such as heroine and cocaine. It has also been argued to be safer than some legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.
Moreover, it has been confirmed to have pharmacological characteristic and consequently been used as a therapeutic drug for many years. It has been used in treatment of people suffering from chronic pain, Aids, cancer and other terminal diseases. Research is also being carried out to validate the alleged applicability in treatment of mental conditions such as anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (Gruber et al, 2003). While looking at the negative impacts of marijuana on the user, it is also important to note that when used in moderation, marijuana does not have as many harmful effects as alcohol and tobacco.
The social and economic impacts on marijuana could also reduce significantly if the use of marijuana is controlled. However, this is not possible when its use is illegal. No cases of accidents on the roads have been reported as a result of influence of marijuana despite it being the most abused drug in the United States. Moreover, although the health complication associated with alcohol and tobacco has been confirmed, very few have been confirmed in relation to marijuana. Reports on harmfulness of marijuana on the user have been inconclusive and mare hypothesis some of which are contradictory. Short term effects
The active component in marijuana, THC, is responsible for the short term effects of marijuana experienced by the user. The main short term effects of the drug are as a result of its effects on the central nervous system. THC is known to bind to the protein receptor nerve cells in the brain. After binding, the chemical propagate a chemical reaction in the nervous system and produces the short term effects of the drug. One of the most immediate effects of these chemical reactions is restraining the user’s memory as well as learning abilities. After using the drug, the individual feels relaxed and may be very talkative.
Other pleasant effects of marijuana use include lifting the moods, feeling relaxed and a change in the state of consciousness. This is why marijuana users claim to feel more enlightened and philosophical when they are high. These short term effects on the user plateau after thirty minutes to one hour and subsidies there after. However, there are evidences of some of the effects lasting for several days or weeks (Moore, et al, 2007). Other short term effects of marijuana include increase in appetite, dryness in the mouth, impaired logical thinking and slow reaction time.
Intoxication with marijuana is also associated with nausea, occasional confusion, increased anxiety and agitation, increased heartbeat, loss of memory and paranoia or hallucinations. Marijuana users have also been found to have bloodspots in their eyes, inconsistent time perception and increased inability to carry out tasks that require concentration such as operating a machine or driving. The individual may also suffer from loss of motivation and decreased cognitive abilities making it difficult to learn or acquire new information.
In general, the individual’s ability to learn, remember, make informed judgments, think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively and form concepts is impaired when he is high. Studies indicate that the risk of heart attack increase by more than four fold immediately after an individual has smoked marijuana. This is because the heart rate can increase with up to a hundred percent after using the drug which can be maintained for up to three hours. The increased risk of heart attack is also as a result of the changes in the heart rhythms. This risk increases with age and vulnerability to heart diseases (Gruber et al, 2003).
Long term effects While the long term effects of marijuana are under investigation and therefore not well known, there is no doubt that long term use of marijuana have detrimental effects on the user’s health as well as social life. The insufficient information on long term use of marijuana is due to the fact that the drug has not been very common to many societies in the world until recently. There is no doubt that when marijuana smokers are compared to cigarette smokers, marijuana smokers consume much less cannabis compared to the tobacco consumed by cigarette smokers.
However, this does not mean that marijuana smoking has insignificant long term effects compared to cigarette smoking and therefore should not be ignored. Recent studies have found out that there are more hydrocarbons that have potential carcinogenic effects in marijuana compared to tobacco. Moreover, marijuana smokers may be more exposed to these compounds than tobacco smokers because marijuana is deeply inhaled and the smoke is held for a longer time in the lungs compared to tobacco.
This exposes the delicate tissues in the lungs to more carcinogenic compounds increasing the risk of cancer (Mittleman et al, 2001). Studies have indicated that marijuana use increase the risk of cancers such a cancer of the head and neck by up to three times. It has also been confirmed to have a significant contribution in the development of cancers that have traditionally been associated with tobacco smoking. Marijuana smoke is believed to have up to three times as much tar as in tobacco smoke. Moreover, it has over twice the number of potential carcinogenic compounds when compared to tobacco smoke.
Logically, this suggests that marijuana smoking has a significant increase in the risk of development of cancerous cells leading to lung cancer. However, scientific research is underway to confirm these hypotheses. Other than marijuana being a recent drug among the wider population compared to other drugs, scientific research on its long term effects has been hindered by the small sample that is available due to punitive anti marijuana laws in many parts of the world. For examples, most of marijuana perennial users are still too young to have developed cancer.
However, although there is no prove, long term marijuana users need to reconsider the risks associated with the drug (Hashibe, et al, 2006). The effects of long term use of marijuana in animals’ immune systems are well known. The immune system plays a vital role in protecting the body against harmful microorganisms. Research in animals indicates that the marijuana has a significant effect on the T cells, especially in the lungs. Although this has not been confirmed in human beings, there is no doubt that it affects the user’s immune systems because the animals’ immune system is similar to that of human beings.
While it is expected that marijuana smokers too have similar respiratory system problems as tobacco smokers, it has been observed that majority of these problems are more frequent among marijuana smokers. They are more frequently attacked by chest colds, coughs, production of phlegm, and obstruction of airways and higher risk of lungs infections. This is possible due to the effect of the drug on the T cells and thus immune systems in the lungs (Tashkin, 2005). The long term effects of marijuana on the users reproductive system is not in doubt.
This is more serious considering the fact that marijuana is one of the most abused drugs among young people in the United States. The active compound in marijuana has been known to have adverse effects on various parts of the central nervous system including areas that are responsible for controlling sexual hormones and growth. Consequently, long term use of marijuana has been found to reduce the level of testosterone and other sex hormones in male. In some cases, it has been associated with increased femininity due to distortion of the hormone system.
It can also lead to infertility, reduced sperm count and increased abnormality in sperm cells. Significant cases of infertility in males has for this reason been linked to long term use of marijuana. The drug has been seen to have similar effects in females by altering the hormonal systems leading to irregular menstrual cycles. However, the alteration can be reversed but it may take time. It has also been found to negatively affect unborn babies who are born with an impaired nervous system.
This results into children with poor learning abilities, hormonal irregularities, lack of attention and abnormal reactions to different stimulus such as sound and light (Moore, et al, 2007). Long term use of marijuana is also associated with mental disorders. One of the greatest negative effects of marijuana use in an individual is its addictive effects. The ability of the drug user to develop dependency on the drug has always been the main argument used to support prohibition of marijuana use. However, other mental disorders have been associated with long term use of marijuana.
They include toxic psychosis which may reach acute levels, panic attacks, increased aggressiveness which the user is unable to control, flashbacks and delusions, paranoia and hallucinations as well as some cases of acute depression. Marijuana has also been suggested to trigger other serious mental conditions such as schizophrenia. These effects of the drug on the mental health of an individual have been the point of contention between pros and cons of therapeutic use of marijuana in terminally ill patients (Moore, et al, 2007).
What are the legal guidelines and state statutes of some of the states that have legalized marijuana? The federal and states’ laws in the United States varies in relation to medical marijuana. According to the controlled substance act, the federal systems do not recognize the medical properties of marijuana. However, prosecuting patients or medical practitioner for using marijuana for therapeutic procedures is not a priority in the federal legal systems. The federal legal systems recognizes the fact that caregivers may be compelled to use medical marijuana in certain medical cases which is allowed in some states.
Fourteen states have so far legalized medical marijuana use within their jurisdiction while others gives police or judge discretion to allow significant reduction in the punishment given to marijuana users for medical reasons. One of the most published states in relation to medical marijuana is California where the drug is distributed through dispensaries. It is estimated that medical marijuana industry in California was worth two billion dollars in 2008 which attracted over one hundred million dollars in tax (DPA, 2010).
Despite majority of Americans and civil society organizations in America supporting legislation of medical marijuana, the federal government has always rejected the proposals. In 2005, the Supreme Court made a ruling confirming that a patient can be prosecuted in the federal court for using marijuana and medical reasons cannot be used as a defense. This law applies even in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Consequently, on several occasions, dispensaries distributing medical marijuana such as in California have been raided by federal officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The ruling by the Supreme Court provided an excellent opportunity for the amendment of the law to protect patients and medical marijuana legislatures in different states but the bill was once more rejected by congress (DPA, 2010). . Despite the congress rejecting the proposal to amend the law and legalize medical marijuana, the high court ruling had insignificant effects on the states’ medical marijuana laws. The court did not have the power to overturn or exercise authority over the states legislations.
It is important to note that about 99 percent of marijuana related arrests are done at the states level which makes it possible for legislation in the states to protect patients and caregivers. The state laws can afford to effectively remove all penalties against individuals accused of growing, processing, distributing or possessing marijuana for medical reasons. Other states have not legalized medical marijuana but have symbolic legislatures that legally protect the patient in the state legal systems (DPA, 2010).
From a wide range of contentious issues relating to drug policies in the United States, medical marijuana has received the greatest public support. The American population is skewed towards legalization of medical marijuana despite the federal government rejecting such proposals. Scientific studies have confirmed the medical value of marijuana in patients with serious terminal diseases such as cancer, Aids, epilepsy and chronic pain among others. There is also documented evidence of marijuana use in treating variety of illnesses in the ancient world.
The most comprehensive study relating to medical marijuana was carried out in 1999 by the institute of medicine which concluded that marijuana has potent in the management of conditions such as loss of appetite, anxiety and chronic pain. Various professional bodies and organizations such as the American Public Health Association, the Aids Action Council and the National Association of Attorney Generals have deliberated on legal access to medical marijuana for patients with certain medical conditions.
The American population has favored the abolishment of laws prohibiting production, distribution and use of medical marijuana at the state and federal level. Voters from various states have over the years passed ballot initiatives to push for legalization of medical marijuana. Over seventy percent of voters throughout the United States support the proposal to have legal marijuana available to medical practitioners for prescriptions (Cassidy, 2002). The point of contention on the legality of medical marijuana has been whether the benefit accrued is less than the risk involved.
There have been many arguments on possible shortcoming upon legislation of medical marijuana. For example, questions have been raised on whether patients under marijuana prescription would be allowed to drive while under the influence of the drug, how to control the quantity the patient uses, the issue of addiction and medical marijuana getting into the wrong hands. However, it seems that this is not the main concern of the federal government. The main reason why the federal government has been opposed to legalization of marijuana for any reason is based on the Drug Enforcement Administration description of marijuana.
DEA maintains that marijuana has no medical value and is a highly addictive substance with adverse effects on the body such as compromising the immune systems and triggering the development of cancer. The government has ignored some research that has confirmed the medical benefits on marijuana (Cassidy, 2002). Consequences on Law Enforcement What difficulties would Law Enforcement Officers encounter if marijuana was legalized? Legalization of marijuana is likely to bring about many challenges to the law enforcement structures.
This is due to the interdependence of illegal drug markets where almost all narcotics go hand in hand. Although some people have argued that marijuana is safer compared to other illegal as well as some legal drugs, its legalization will in no doubt be a stepping stone drug. It will open up production, distribution and use of other harder drugs which will be problematic to law enforcement. Research indicates that progressive use of marijuana eventually leads the user to harder drugs. Because marijuana is considered a harmless drug, it is used for experimentation by potential hard drugs abusers.
After a while, the user turns to other drugs. This will be worse if marijuana is made legal. More people will be introduced to it because of its legality and in the long run, the law enforcement will have a difficulty in dealing with a much bigger problem of harder drugs (Husak & Marneffe, 2005). The law enforcement agencies in the United States have enough drug related problems to deal with. The system ought to have learnt a good lesson from the legality of drugs such as alcohol. Road carnage as a result of driving under influence of alcohol is among the top killers in the United States.
The law enforcement has always had a problem dealing with underage drinking and aggressive behaviors associated with alcoholism. Legalizing another drug means added problems. The dangers associated with stone driving will increase significantly. It is therefore wrong to legalize marijuana because it amounts to a victimless crime. There are many crimes that are associated with marijuana use such as violence and aggressiveness. Punitive penalties to deter irresponsible drinking have proved unworkable which suggests that it will be difficult to control marijuana use if legalized.
A device can be used to detect drivers under the influence of alcohol, but this may not be possible when the driver is driving high. There is no doubt that legislation of marijuana will increase crime and burden in law enforcement (Husak & Marneffe, 2005). Arresting individuals found in possession of marijuana and other drugs reduces the likelihood of such individuals committing crimes. Drug addicts have been associated with minor and serious crimes such as shoplifting, theft and other property crimes to pay for their habits.
Legalization of marijuana means that there will be more of these drug users in the streets and neighborhoods. These individuals are more likely to commit more serious crimes since the law enforcers are not obliged to get them out of the streets. Moreover, majority of murderers, rapists and robbers have been found to be drug addicts. By incarcerating these individuals for possession of drugs, they are incapacitated from committing such serious crimes. Common sense dictates prevention is better than dealing with the resultant problem. If there is reason to incarcerate potential murderers,