Research Paper: Legalization of Marijuana

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Legalization of marijuana is one of the most controversial issues in American society. In 2009, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported 16.7 million Americans aged 12 years or older used marijuana within the one month period prior to the survey ("National Institute of Drug Abuse"). This statistic shows the high availability of marijuana, as millions of Americans use it despite its illegal status in most states. The marijuana legalization debate has ethical, legal, and medical views, which are expressed between the pro-legalization and the anti-legalization arguments. The pro-legalization arguments generally focuses on the medical benefits of marijuana, view the prohibition of marijuana as a loss of personal freedom, and view the use of marijuana as a personal choice and matter of free will. Those who are against legalization state that government should not be involved with the distribution of illegal substances as it is unethical, drugs are addictive and will cause the user to try harder drugs and have negative health consequences, and that legalization will send a negative message to children: using drugs is acceptable.

Although the anti-legalization position offers a strong argument, the legalization of marijuana will have positive medical outcomes, can allow law enforcement to focus on more significant crimes, and supports an individual's right to free will and to make personal choices. The use of marijuana in its natural form does not pose any greater health threat than that of drinking alcohol (Leung 452-462). Marijuana legalization, in addition to government regulation similar to that of alcohol and tobacco use, can reduce illegal drug activity. Most importantly, legalizing marijuana supports the individual's right to free will, even if their choices cause harm to their own bodies: there are no laws that prevent people from overeating or skydiving, both of which can cause bodily harm, and individuals should have the right to use marijuana despite negative physical consequences.

Since the early 1970s, marijuana has been the most widely used illicit substance in the United States (Grossman, and et al. 134-145). Millions of Americans use marijuana for medicinal purposes, and millions more use the drug for recreational uses. The main psychoactive chemical in cannabis (marijuana) is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and has effects on psychomotor performance, cognitive function such as memory and attention, and motivation (Drewe, Drewe, and Riecher 659-663). Additional effects of cannabis smoking include faster heart rate, changes in blood pressure, euphoria and anxiety (Leung 452-462). The physical consequences of smoking marijuana have been compared to cigarette smoke. Cannabis contains similar cancer-causing chemicals and "some of which are present even at higher concentrations" (Leung 454). Population studies have linked smoking marijuana with lowered lung function and some lung diseases, however these studies do not account for individuals who smoke cigarettes in addition to marijuana, and therefore can have misleading results (Leung 452-462).

Although smoking marijuana is connected to negative bodily consequences, the same can be said about food addiction and overeating, tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol use. Food, tobacco, caffeine and alcohol are all available for legal use even though they have been linked to several health risks, including cancer, disease, and death. People have a right to make choices about their own bodies. The U.S. government does not stop a person from overeating, which causes a variety of health problems, because individuals are allowed to make their own choices about personal habits. The effects of smoking marijuana are similar to that of drinking alcohol, such as lowered psychomotor function, changes in mood and memory (Leung 452-462). The consumption of alcohol can also cause many health problems and death, and people are given the right to drink as much, or as little, alcohol as they want. It is a personal choice, and individuals should be given a legal right to make the same choice to smoke marijuana.

Marijuana is linked to health risks, but it is also associated with several medical benefits. Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, and "the first record of cannabis as a medicine can be found in the oldest Chinese pharmacopeia, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, written in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25 to AD 220)," (Leung 453). The record showed that marijuana was used to treat rheumatic pain, malaria, constipation, and disorders of the female reproductive system (Leung 452-462). In the present, marijuana is used to help patients who are suffering from various medical conditions. Studies research how cannabis can be used to treat some diseases, but currently cannabis is used mainly for therapeutic reasons. For example, loss of appetite and weight loss for patients with cancer or AIDS is a major health concern. The medical use of marijuana in these scenarios have showed to improve appetite, and help these patients take in the food nutrients they need and gain weight (Marmor 540-543). Medical marijuana has also been prescribed to help patients that are suffering from nausea and vomiting that is associated with chemotherapy treatment (Marmor 540-543). Patients have also been prescribed medical marijuana for anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disorders. Although some health benefits have been linked to moderate consumption of red wine, the overall use of alcohol is not viewed for medical and therapeutic characteristics yet is still a legal substance. The medical and therapeutic benefits of marijuana continue to be studied, and these benefits should be legally available to all individuals.

Those who are opposed to the legalization of marijuana advise individuals who use marijuana are at risk for developing dependence and abuse. Marijuana is considered a substance that has a great potential for dependence, and dependence "occurs in 1 out of 10 people who have ever used cannabis" (Leung 454). After chronic use of cannabis, individuals can experience withdrawal symptoms (Leung 452-462). The potential for an individual to abuse marijuana and develop dependence is similar to that of alcohol. Alcohol represents similar risk factors and people still abuse alcohol and can be dependent on alcohol. Knowing similar risks for dependence exist for both alcohol and marijuana, the worry about drug dependency weakens the anti-legalization argument. If people can legally become dependent on alcohol, people should be legally able to become dependent on cannabis.

Opponents of legalization also have concerns about marijuana being a "gateway" drug. Marijuana is referred to as a "soft" drug because it is considered to be a less-addictive drug. "Hard" drugs are considered more addictive and damaging. Those against legalization state that the use of a softer drug like marijuana is really a "gateway" drug, because it "is a stepping stone to harder drugs" (Grossman, and et al. 139). A government body cannot predict that an individual will choose to use "harder" drugs based off of an experience with marijuana. Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol have also been associated with "harder" drug use, yet these substances remain legal for individual use (Grossman, and et al. 134-145).

In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act allowed for individuals to be penalized for "any act of possessing, dispensing, and prescribing marijuana" (Leung 453). The enforcement of this law costs the U.S. $7.7 billion every year (Leung 452-462). However, since 1996, 14 states have amended their state laws to allow for the medical use of marijuana as prescribed by a licensed physician (Leung 452-462). These states include: California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Michigan, and New Jersey. The legalization of marijuana in these states for medical uses has caused research groups to study the effects of decriminalization of marijuana. There is some evidence that shows the legalization has helped "free up law enforcement resources to curtail other trafficking activities without leading to increased cannabis abuses" (Leung 453). Legalizing marijuana has the potential to allow law enforcement to concentrate on criminals trafficking harder drugs, and put their money and resources towards more significant crimes.

The anti-legalization argument is concerned about the effects legalization would have on youth and adolescents. Legalizing marijuana could cause advertisers to market marijuana towards children. Similar to how advertising for tobacco and alcohol have been geared towards young people, the same could happen with marijuana (Joffe, and Yancy 632-638). Measures would need to be taken to prevent advertisers from focusing on young people as buyers of marijuana, the same way these measures must be taken against adolescent tobacco and alcohol advertisements. The risk of advertising towards young people alone is not enough to make a case against legalization. There are concerns that legalizing marijuana will send a message to children: using drugs is acceptable. Overeating, smoking tobacco, and drinking alcohol are all legal, and children learn what is, or what is not, acceptable through education and interactions within their environment. Children must be educated on how drugs are harmful the same way children must learn proper nutrition. They must be given the tools to make healthy decisions, but ultimately they have to make decisions for themselves.

The legalization of marijuana represents a highly debated issue as it is one of the most controversial topics in American society today. In the United States, marijuana has been the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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