Turbulent History of Marijuana
To fully grasp why marijuana legalization is such an important matter, you must learn about the turbulent history of this plant. Marijuana has been used as a medical remedy for numerous illnesses such as stomach pains, vomiting, and migraines dating back to at least the 1830s (Little, 2017). By the late 19th century, Americans had easy access to cannabis extracts from their doctors and local pharmacies (Little, 2017). Modern research has also shown that the plant can be very beneficial medically, reducing seizures and relieving pain, without the harsh dependence (Little, 2017). Today’s drugs that are prescribed by doctors have been proven to aid the opioid crisis, leaving many Americans dependent on these harsh drugs. According to the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, states that had legalized marijuana use had 3.7 million fewer daily doses of opioid prescriptions in comparison to states that have not yet legalized marijuana (Fox, 2018). Research has also shown that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, however, alcohol is continued to be sold at nearly every store (Little, 2017).
US Drug Enforcement Administration Statement
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has stated, “No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported” (Little, 2017) Nonetheless, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 signed by Franklin Roosevelt banned its use nationally despite the American Medical Association objecting (Little, 2017) This act came around a time of prejudice against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, with whom marijuana was heavily associated with (Stapes, 2018). The practice of smoking marijuana had originated from Mexican immigrants who grew the plant for both its intoxicating purposes as well as medical purposes (Staples, 2018) Legal scholars Richard Bonnie and Charles Whitebread explained that cannabis was classified as a “narcotic” although it has no addictive qualities, due to it being heavily linked to minorities (Staples, 2018).
History of Marijuana Criminalization
Law enforcers throughout the nation popularized stories of marijuana use being linked to violence and murder. In 1930, Congress with the efforts of Harry Jacob, from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had prohibited its use, setting cannabis alongside drugs like heroin and morphine (Staples, 2018). Harry Jacob declared the drug to cause insanity and horrid acts of criminal behavior even though no significant research on the effects of marijuana had been done (Staples, 2018). Only in 1951 did Congress go back to this issue, this time with a reliable researcher from the Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Harry Isbell, who stated that “smoking marijuana has no unpleasant aftereffects, no dependence is developed on the drug, and the practice can be easily stopped at any time (Staples, 2018).
Despite all of this, Congress continued to criminalize cannabis users, creating harsh sentences such as from 5 to 99 years, without parole for sale, possession, or administration of this “narcotic” drug (Staples, 2018). Although, they understood marijuana was not addictive, they believed it was the gateway drug to heroin addiction and these unforgiving penalties continued until marijuana had become more popular with white college students from middle and upper classes (Staples, 2018). In the mid 1970s, the consequences for marijuana use and possession began to soften when the National Commission of Marihuana and Drug Abuse challenged the law (Staples, 2018). The New York Times, states “the federal government has taken a small step back from irrational enforcement. But it clings to a policy that has its origins in racism and xenophobia and whose principal effect has been to ruin the lives of generations of people” (Staples, 2018). Although the federal government lessened the penalties of cannabis users and eased the tension between federal and state laws, it remains illegal with the same historic stigma surrounding its users and leaving many legal issues unsettled to this day.
I believe that if marijuana were made legal once again, our country would benefit financially. Take for example, the economic boost in Colorado after the legalization of marijuana. The report out of the Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research, asserts that a “taxed and regulated cannabis industry contributed more than $58 million to the local economy (Zhang, 2018). Even though the cost of legalization may be steep, in Colorado’s case it set Pueblo back $23 million, the county still ended with a favorable profit of more than $35 million (Zhang, 2018). In fact, Pueblo had given $420,000 in scholarships to 210 students that were funded by local marijuana excise tax and this year plans to triple that number (Zhang, 2018).
Legalizing Marijuana on the Federal Level
According to cannabis analytics firm New Frontier, “legalizing marijuana on the federal level could result in an additional $105.6 billion between 2017 and 2025” including business tax revenues, payroll withholdings and a 15% sales tax, as well as adding 654,000 jobs and up to a staggering 1 million jobs by 2025 (Zhang, 2018). Not only are local economies going to thrive from the legalization of marijuana, but it would also mean saving billions of dollars in law-enforcement costs (Williams, 2018). Removing marijuana from the controlled-substance list would result in less court cases and fewer incarcerations, saving approximately $3.6 billion annually (Williams, 2018). Considering most individuals are incarcerated for more than a year, the price escalates astronomically.
I believe that one of the first steps in legalizing marijuana, the federal government must recognize that scheduling marijuana as a schedule I drug is erroneous. Therefore, if it were to become legal, many policies regarding safe use must be put in place. I would address age restrictions, date and time restrictions, retailer liability, quality testing, warning labels, restrict advertisements, driving under the influence, and second-hand exposure. To limit the use of marijuana by minors, I would implement policies on age, as you would do with alcohol, individuals under the age of twenty-one cannot purchase marijuana. Just as the MLDA laws enforce retailers to comply with not selling to underage buyers, it would follow with marijuana sales. If date and time restrictions were to be placed, marijuana use would be controlled.
Possible Regulation Policies
With alcohol, there are cut off periods after which no alcohol will be sold. I believe the same can be applied to marijuana, where only a certain amount can be bought in one given day and create national cut off times as well. Retailer liability would play a huge role in curbing marijuana misuse by not overservicing marijuana to customers. Policies regarding quality control of marijuana are vital. Tests must be done to protect consumers from any harmful chemicals such as pesticides, mold, mildew, and toxins as well as stating the potency levels. (Apha, 2014) Warning labels must be placed on all marijuana products explaining the risks, just as they are present on tobacco and alcohol products. In order to further control marijuana use, restricting advertisements would prevent and protect marijuana misuse. In regards to driving under the influence, I believe that strong penalties should be implemented to individuals who drive under the influence of marijuana. Some states have adopted laws that if any trace of drugs is found in the driver, then the driver must be prosecuted. (Apha, 2014) Second hand exposure is another important policy that would need to be applied. By limiting the use of marijuana in public places and in the presence of children, second hand smoke can be controlled. I believe you can further adjust existing smoking laws to include marijuana.
Another important policy would be taxation on marijuana and increasing the price of marijuana, just as you would do with cigarettes, it may decrease the abuse of marijuana. I believe that by legalizing marijuana and enforcing these policies, my strategy would operate just as well as it currently functions with alcohol and tobacco products. My strategy of regulations and policies will work best to regulate marijuana use. Other alternatives would include to keeping marijuana only at the medical level and allow it to be dispensed by government-owned facilities. By making marijuana safe and regulated, it will generate a much happier public, more stable local economic governments, and more options in regards to an individual’s health. Marijuana is a renewable resource with known benefits, medically and economically, however, our government chooses to continue see violence and criminal behavior as the dreadful result of marijuana use.