Policy Brief: Why Marijuana use should be legalized in the US

Many assiduous and conscientious policy makers would readily agree to the fact that the 21st century world is becoming increasingly dangerous due to a myriad of social problems and challenges that are inarguably threatening to scar the gains made so far.

While globalization, technological innovations and modernization has opened up new opportunities for communities to reap immense socio-economic benefits, a multiplicity of social problems such as crime, drug use and terrorism continue to claim the centre stage at the expense of positive socio-economic and political developments. The drug problem has particularly been cited as one of the most serious problems bedevilling civilizations across the world.

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A study conducted in the US in 2004 revealed that “drugs are now a far more serious problem than property crime, violent crime, domestic violence or even the threat of terrorism” (Williams & Falco 1). Such a revelation brings into focus some of the existing policy frameworks relating to drug use and abuse.

While it is indeed true that some drugs such as cocaine and heroine have serious ramifications on users in particular and society in general, recent developments and research on marijuana calls for a considerable reconsideration of the policies governing marijuana use in the American society. It is the purpose of this paper to provide arguments in support of a policy framework that will legalize marijuana use in the US.

Available statistics reveal that marijuana is the most commonly abused drug in the US. In a 2007 national survey on drug use, around 14.4 million citizens aged 12 years or older said they had used the drug at least once in the month preceding the survey (NIDA para. 16). According to the survey findings, around 6000 Americans a day experiments with marijuana for the first time.

In 2006, marijuana was responsible for over 16% of all admissions to addiction treatment facilities in the US. It is interesting to note that 36.1% of marijuana users were between 15 and 19 years old (NIDA para. 14). However, growing, using or possessing the drug still remains unlawful under US Statutes and users can be punished under the law as part of the US $13.2 billion a year war on drugs (Lauber para. 3).

Diverse views have been advanced on whether marijuana use should be legalized in the US. Proponents of legalization argue that the controversy regarding marijuana use arise from the fact that it is not clear whether continued use of the drug causes mental problems, aggravates them, or is used in an effort to self-medicate symptoms that are already in existence (NIDA para. 8).

Indeed, it is prudent to assess the facts about marijuana use in an environment that is free from the crippling narrow-mindedness and discrimination of age, race, social class or political orientation (“Marihuana” para. 1).

A large volume of research has been conducted in both man and animals regarding the immediate influence of marijuana on vital body processes (Carter, Gieringer & Rosenthal 11). However, no conclusive evidence exists to date to reveal a direct correlation between marijuana use and any physical damage, interruptions of vital body processes or verified human fatalities that can be sorely attributed to marijuana use.

Evidence points to the fact that marijuana may have been unfairly targeted by the non-using public at the expense of the marijuana users, who experiment with the drug for curiosity or pleasure but end up spending many years in jail as first offenders due to the harsh treatment instituted by the US legal framework (Tracey & Acker 37).

It is important to underscore the fact that marijuana was banned by federal law in 1937 due to popular assertions that it was to blame for a multiplicity of social and individual ills that affected society during this period, including crime and mental illnesses. However, consecutive studies continue to show that these popular assertions were based more on fantasies and misrepresentations than on proven fact (Carter, Gieringer & Rosenthal 18).

In this perspective, it is valid to argue that marijuana users may be undergoing long incarcerations in US jails due to the misconceived fantasies that took root in the public mind in the 1930’s, and now continue to influence the public perceptions on the use of marijuana. What’s more, limiting the use of marijuana through penalties intrudes on personal freedom and goes against some of the basic tenets of a free society. Individuals must be given the right to choose what harms them (Merseli para. 3).

Marijuana has proven medicinal and economic values. Marijuana is widely believed to inhibit pain brought about by the side-effects of chemotherpaty technique in the treatment of cancer (Merseli para. 5). Marijuana is also effective in the treatment of depression, Cachexia or appetite deficiencies, Glaucoma, and neurological and movement disorders (Carter, Gieringer & Rosenthal 152). The government will also stand to benefit additional tax revenues from marijuana users and sellers, the same way it benefits from the tax revenues received from the sale of alcohol, cigarettes, and in some states, the taxes received from brothels and gambling.

What’s more, some organized criminal groups sorely depend on finances received from the sale of banned substances such as marijuana, heroine and cocaine to fund their dangerous activities (White para. 16). Legalizing marijuana will not only ensure that such finances benefit the federal government through taxes but it will also effectively deal a massive blow to organised crime through nipping their sources of income.

The most apparent feature of marijuana use is that it is against the law in the US. Whereas marijuana use has been related to several antisocial behaviours, one could argue that the discrepancy that exist between behaviour and the legal norm banning the use of the substance is not adequate, in itself, to generate a social problem (Tracey & Acker 56).

According to pro-marijuana advocates, many social and political problems bedevil the American society today, including blatant violations of legal frameworks against gambling, alcoholism, money laundering and adultery. For instance, alcohol related problems are known to cause more deaths in addition to enhancing family break-ups and child abuse cases (Tracey & Acker 34).

However, while alcohol and tobacco use continue unabated in the US, marijuana use continues to trigger more public outcry and tougher legal penalties. The argument that marijuana is less destructive than alcohol and should be legalized holds water (Merseli para. 2).

On the other hand, various arguments have been presented to support a stay of the legislation that criminalizes marijuana use in the US. For instance, it is widely believed that marijuana intoxication results in distorted perceptions, weakened coordination, memory lapses and difficulties in thinking and problem solving (NIDA para. 5).

Long-term marijuana intoxication has been blamed for suboptimal intellectual performance, addiction and harmful ramifications upon the social functioning of the user in the context of family life, school life, work, and recreational activities (NIDA para. 7).

A number of studies have also revealed a close correlation between long-term marijuana use and enhanced levels of anxiety, depression, emotional breakdown and suicidal ideation among the users. Proponents of the tough regulations on marijuana use in the US argues that the drug introduce users to harder drugs such as heroine and cocaine (Merseli para. 13).

Other anti-legalization pundits argue that not only will legalizing the drug increase road carnage through stoned driving but it will also enhance the chances of marijuana falling into the hands of children. To others, the legalization and subsequent use of marijuana is not only morally unacceptable but it also endangers the lives of bystanders through passive smoking.

From the discussion above, it is clear that the US government stands to gain more by legalizing the use of marijuana. The blanket condemnation of marijuana users and frequent incarcerations in jailhouses arises more from the juxtaposition of factors and misrepresentation of facts other than hard evidence correlating the drug to the above named social vices (Tracey & Acker 37).

Indeed, some pundits claim that political mischief and racism directed at the Mexican migrants played a more critical role in criminalizing marijuana use in the US in the 1930’s than scientifically proved facts that the drug had health ramifications.

As such, the only viable option would be to correct the injustices conducted in the 1930’s by lifting the blanket ban on marijuana use that is still enforced in some US states. Some commendable achievements have been realized towards decriminalizing marijuana as 13 US states have agreed to lift the ban on marijuana use for medical reasons (Carter, Gieringer & Rosenthal 27).

While this is a step in the right direction, more work needs to be done to ensure individual basic rights of marijuana users are not crushed by federal laws and regulations. It is indeed illogical for American decision and policy makers to allow the sale of alcohol and cigarettes – drugs that are known to cause immeasurable physical, social, financial and psychological anguish to individuals while at the same time continue to inhibit the sale of other drugs such as marijuana, whose side-effects are only in the imagined.

In this age of organized crime and terrorism, organized groups utilize the loopholes existing in the drug business to benefit financially. For instance, the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist groups receive their funding from the sale of opium (Peters 34). The 9/11 terrorist attacks committed on the World Trade Centre could not have happened if these terror groups never had the financial resources needed to plan an attack of that magnitude.

Analysts believe the marijuana business in the US is a multi-billion dollar business; but much of the cash remains in the hands of organized criminal groups due to the fact that marijuana use is criminalized in many US states. While the precise magnitude of the US marijuana market may be unknown for now, cartels and organized criminal groups could be trading $20 billon worth of marijuana in the US underground market each year (Rosenthal & Kubby 21).

Any counter measure that can serve to effectively block financial resources form getting through to these criminal groups is most welcome. In this perspective, legalizing marijuana will not only ensure that the federal government gets its fair share of taxes accruing from the business but it will also ensure that such criminal groups are starved financially. Indeed, this is the best strategy to immobilize organized crime (Rosenthal & Kubby 24).

As already discussed, marijuana use may have overbearing ramifications on the lives of individuals in terms of nervous breakdowns, depressions and cognitive disorders (NIDA para 7). However, other drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes continue to cause more problems than marijuana use yet they continue to be legalized and the government continue to benefit from the taxes that accrue from their sale.

Available statistics reveals that alcoholism alone is responsible for over 20% of divorces, 45% of child abuse and desertion cases, 25% of poverty cases and over 50% of crime cases in the US (Tracey & Acker 28). Yet in all these scenarios, the public has declined to cry for a moral high ground as it has done in the case of marijuana.

Anti-legalizations pundits have vehemently argued that marijuana legalization will dangerously expose young children to the drug. However, no one raises a finger when alcohol and cigarettes are sold in the open. In such circumstances, it would be prudent to argue that marijuana use is criminalized for reasons that cannot pass the moral and economic test.

All in all, the decision on whether to legalize marijuana in the US is fundamentally a prerogative of the government of the day. However, all indicators points to the fact that the US government will stand to gain if a law legalizing the use of marijuana is passed. In the present system, the police and federal courts end up using a lot of resources to fight marijuana use instead of concentrating in more serious crimes (Merseli para. 8).

According to Tracey & Acker (45), around 65% of convicts incarcerated in US jails due to drug related cases are marijuana experimenters. Jailing such people may not be part of the solution to the drug menace in the US. Indeed, that is why many Americans consider the war on marijuana use as an expensive failure on the part of government. Marijuana use needs to be legalized with speed, and proper legal frameworks developed to control its use as is the case with other common drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.

Works cited

Carter, G.T., Gieringer, D., & Rosenthal, E. Marijuana Medical Handbook: Practical Guide to Therapeutic Uses of Marijuana. Quick American Archives. 2008

Lauber, M. Legalization of Marijuana Casts a Legal Fog. (n.d.). Retrieved 18 Oct 2009

Marihuana: A signal of Misunderstanding. Retrieved 18 Oct 2009

Merseli, J. Should Marijuana be legalized under any Circumstances. 2009. Retrieved 18 Oct 2009

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIDA InfoFacts: Marijuana. 2009. Retrieved 18 Oct 2009

Peters, G. Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda. Thomas Dunne Books. 2009

Rosenthal, E., & Kubby, S. Why Marijuana should be Legal. New York: Running Press Book Publishers

Tracey, S.W., & Acker, C.J. Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. 2004.

White, D. Pros and Cons of Legalizing Marijuana. Retrieved 18 Oct 2009

Williams, H., & Falco, M. Drugs and Crime across America: Police Chiefs Speak Out.

Retrieved 18 Oct 2009

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