Essay: Should marijuana be legal?

I believe that one of the main reasons marijuana should be legal is because of the way it was criminalized in the first place.

In the years before the depression there was a significant growth of Mexican-Americans in the Western part of the United States as a result of the revolution in Mexico in 1910. As the depression hit, larger farms started using the Mexicans as cheaper labor, which in turn put many smaller farmers out of business and caused much tension. These Mexican laborers were known to use the marijuana plant as a recreational drug by smoking the leaves of the plant. Sprouting from the many Mexicans working on farms, many farms harvesting the hemp plant popped up in Mexico itself.

Around the same time many Mormons from the Salt Lake City area were traveling to Mexico. In their return they would bring back marijuana for the sole purpose of recreational use. The Mormon Church did not approve of this behavior and ruled against it, which in turn prompted the very religious state of Utah to pass the first known law against marijuana in 1915. Many other Western states followed in years to come. But, it was not until the state of Montana outlawed the drug in 1927 that the truth behind the outlaw came out. It was noted that a Texas senator said on the Senate floor: ‘All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is that makes them crazy.’ This comment alone can show that these laws where not backed by anything but racism against Mexican-Americans.

On the other side of the country we found the marijuana ‘problem’ being directed towards Latin Americans and black jazz musicians. At this time, marijuana was a big part of the music (especially jazz) scene. Many musicians even calling reference to the drug in their songs, such as Cab Calloway’s ‘That Funny Reefer Man.’ Because of the ongoing racism at this time, this led to negative outlooks against marijuana. A quote found in an editorial in a 1934 newspaper stating: ‘Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white women twice.’ What this person is basically saying is that, although blacks are inferior to whites, while under the influence of marijuana, blacks will act in inappropriate ways.

One of the biggest reasons for the criminalization of marijuana is a man named Harry Anslinger. In 1930, Mr. Anslinger was given control of a new section of the federal government called the Bureau if Narcotics and found this to be an extremely good career opportunity. His goal was to build up the agency, and he believed that working on making marijuana illegal at the federal level would help this. Except his way of going about making this substance illegal was by fundamentally creating a problem based on past propaganda of racism and violence. According to the Journal of American History, here are a few of Mr. Anslinger’s claim’s he presented before the Senate in 1937:

‘There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.’

As anyone could see from these outlandish accusations, there is no proof or facts behind any of these. Everything said by Harry Anslinger was a lie and an attempt to sway a very na??ve society to further his career in government.

Harry Anslinger had some help on his side. The owner of many newspapers nation wide, William Randolf Hearst, helped Anslinger through the practice of yellow journalism. Yellow journalism, in short, is biased opinion masquerading as objective fact. Moreover, the practice of yellow journalism involved sensationalism, distorted stories, and misleading images for the sole purpose of boosting newspaper sales and exciting public opinion. Hearst was not just doing this to be nice and help out Anslinger, he had himself in mind as well. For one thing, Hearst had a lot riding in the timber industry because of his involvement in the newspaper business, if the use of the hemp plant was to remain legal, the hemp paper could become competition for him. Another reason for him helping was because of his hate of Mexicans. Because of this hate towards Mexicans he did not hesitate to print lies about the Mexicans involvement in ‘devils drug’ marijuana because it was exciting to read and sold newspapers, and in turn made him money. This is one example of a story found in one of Hearst’s newspapers:

‘Was it marijuana, the new Mexican drug, that nerved the murderous arm of Clara Phillips when she hammered out her victim’s life in Los Angeles’? THREE-FOURTHS OF THE CRIMIES of violence in this country today are committed by DOPE SLAVES ‘ that is a matter of cold record.’

This and many other stories where not backed up by any evidence of marijuana use, nor did they have any proof that marijuana could cause such behavior in the first place. During the hearings of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Council of the American Medical Association summed it up with this:

” We are referred to newspaper publications concerning the prevalence of marijuana addiction. We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. An informed inquiry shows that the Bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point.”

From then, after the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, more and stricter laws against the production and use of marijuana were passed eventually making marijuana illegal.

In the United States, the laws against marijuana are set up state-by-state, and not federally enforced. Every state varies a little when it comes to the laws they have, but as an example I will use New York’s laws.

According to the NORML website, New York’s marijuana laws are separated into two parts: possession and manufacture, delivery, and sale. The punishment for the possession of marijuana is determined by the amount of marijuana in possession at the time. For example, the possession of twenty-five grams or marijuana or less is punishable with a misdemeanor or civil citation, up to a $250 fine, and fifteen days in prison, depending on the amount of past offences. The highest possession offence in the United States comes with being found with over ten pounds of marijuana. This carries a punishment of a felony charge and up to a $5000 fine with 5 ?? years in prison. The sale or delivery of marijuana penalties are much like the ones of possession. The larger the amount of marijuana being handled, the tougher the penalty is. The most severe penalty for movement of marijuana in New York State is a felony charge with 5 ?? years in prison along with a $5000 fine. New York is one of the few states in the nation that have decriminalized marijuana to some extent by making the consequences less harsh. Yet unlike eleven of the states, including California and Vermont, New York has yet to declare the cannabis plant as an aid for medical reasons (NORML).

Another reason I strongly believe that marijuana should become a legal substance in the United States is because it can be used for medicinal purposes.

Experts say that the use marijuana dates back as far as 8000BC. Other then use of the plant for textiles and personal use, the plant was also used for medical purposes. Some things that marijuana was used for in the past were:
Constipation, rheumatic pain, female disorders, earache, jaundice, glaucoma, asthma, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, and excitability

Other things it was known to be used for were:
Prolong life, improve judgment, lower fevers, induce sleep, stimulate appetite, aid in childbirth, and better the voice

Today marijuana is proved to treat:
Pain, muscle spasms and tremors, seizures, nausea, vomiting, appetite stimulation, insomnia, migraine headaches, depression, and glaucoma(Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana)

Here are some people that have been helped by the medical uses are marijuana…

Jean Charles Pariseau, A 30-year-old AIDS patient from Ottawa, Canada. According to his physician and himself, ‘if he would of stuck to his legally prescribed medications, Jean would probably be dead by now (Grey).’ Before he started his marijuana therapy Jean Pariseau had to take up to thirty pills a day. The pills were to boost his immune system, fight nausea and stimulate his appetite. The only problem was, he couldn’t keep the pills down. He was only at this time 82 lbs and bedridden. Dr. Don Kilby, Pariseau’s physician, gave him three months to live. Don Kilby has his own practice and is also director of health services at the University or Ottawa so some would say he is well educated. According to Kilby in the article, in reference to Jean Pariseau’s condition after starting the marijuana treatment, ‘Jean has a decent prognosis. He is doing remarkably well because he can now digest his medications. His cerebral toxoplasmosis is in remission, the HIV has been suppressed because he has improved immune function, he has put on weight and he has learned to walk again, with a cane. Most important, he has a decent quality of life. He has regained weight, recovered his appetite and can join his wife and child at the dinner table. Now, instead of Pariseau forcing thirty pills a day into his body, in hopes that that will affect him in a good way, or even stay down; he smokes marijuana each day, a half an hour before taking his pills (Grey).’ In Ottawa, where Jean is from, the pill form of marijuana is available, and legal. But, because one of the main reasons for the marijuana therapy is because he cannot keep his pills down, he is forced to use the, illegal, leaf form of the drug. In essence, he can get in serious trouble for just trying to keep himself alive.

A woman in Maine described the last days of her sister-in-law who was dying of pancreatic cancer. “The medications prescribed for the nausea do not work, but marijuana does. After watching her retch more than 30 times, I felt it was time for her to try it, and it worked. For the moralists out there, I suggest you see what an end-stage cancer patient has to endure.”(Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana)

Joe Hart, 50, has been HIV positive for 15 years. He gave up on pharmaceutical drugs two years ago, relying instead on relief from nausea from eight daily puffs on a marijuana cigarette. Hart’s Key West physician Dr. Raymond McKnight said, “I think it’s a fascinating case. I don’t think I can get a doctor to sit in the same room with me and [Hart] and guarantee me it’s not helping him. He definitely couldn’t say this is not working.”(Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana)

If marijuana was legalized, among state and local governments, there are three major ways that the government would be saving money.

The first place you will see a great savings is within police resources. By cutting down the amount of criminal activity going on, fewer arrests will be made, the amount of police resources could be cut down as well, which would result in the savings of salary and other resources.

According to data used by the United States census bureau, in the year 2000, $1.71 billion in expenditures were used for marijuana related arrests.

Prosecutorial and judicial resources will be needed less as well, which will also lower the court and prosecution costs. In the year 2000 $2.94 billion were used for the judicial and legal budget due to marijuana related offences. The last place one can find a great savings in government funds is within correctional resources. This is because the amount of marijuana related incarcerations would be greatly reduced. In the United States the prison population is six to ten times higher than in most European nations. In the year 2000 alone, 734,000 people were arrested and put in jail for marijuana related offences. This led to a corrections budget of $484 million in the United States. With all these figured combined, that is $5.1 billion spent on marijuana related crimes on the state and local level only.

When it comes to the federal expenditures it gets a little trickier, but according to the United States census, the federal government, without worries of marijuana related crimes in the United States will save approximately $2.6 billion. Imagine what we can do with that money (Miron).

Although, by decriminalizing marijuana, the government would save a lot of money and save many resources, they could also make money in other ways. The government could make money by taxing the revenue of the legal sale and production of marijuana. Figuring this statistic out is complicated, but put simply: the average amount of money spent on marijuana each year in the United States is approximately $10.5. Assuming the supply and demand of marijuana stays constant the federal government would produce revenue of $6.2 billion per year on legalized marijuana and each state would receive an additional $16million (Miron).

As I stated before, when 117 professional economists were asked on their feelings about the legalization of marijuana, 71% of them agreed that it is a good idea. Although many of them have different ideas about the way to legalize it, all that were for it make clear that it is an economic plus for the government. Economist Robert J. Barro who is for the legalization and sin taxes (taxes put on ‘sin’ products such as cigarettes and alcohol) says, ‘The experience with drug enforcement shows that prohibitions of recreational drugs drive up prices’ leave intact the existing regulatory structure for cigarettes ‘ which include substantial but not outrageous tax rates and restrictions on sales to minors.”

Gary Becker, also believes in legalizing marijuana finds the sin tax too much but believes in only a normal taxing, ‘Legalizing drugs is far from a panacea for all the distress caused by drugs, but it will eliminate most of the profit and corruption from the drug trade’ lowering street prices, but can be partially offset through sizable excise taxes on producers…’

The numbers speak for themselves.

I believe that the laws made criminalizing marijuana are too harsh and should be amended to make the substance more socially acceptable.

Make Marijuana Laws similar to Tobacco and Alcohol

I am not a believer in making marijuana completely legal and available to the public, especially not right away. I strongly believe that the best solution is to treat marijuana much like alcohol and tobacco in a sense, maybe with even more restriction. Firstly, I believe there should be an age limit on purchase of marijuana. Much like alcohol and tobacco, although not nearly as addicting, marijuana can still be abused. I also believe that children with growing brains and bodies should not be exposed either. To note, I am not saying this is a dangerous drug, I just believe that one should be mature enough to use it, and if made completely legal, children as young as ten may be using it. With an age limit, I believe that it will control at least a situation such as that from that happening. This is why I think there should be an age limit of eighteen on marijuana. I pick this age because it is the age that most children are out of high school and going to college and I believe that they are mature enough to use the drug responsibly.

Control the ways Marijuana can be Consumed
How much is sold at one time

Along with age limits, I also believe that marijuana should be controlled in the way it is consumed. When it is sold, I don’t believe that the drug itself should be sold alone; it should be sold in joint or blunt form, much like cigarettes and cigars. I also think that one should not be able to purchase more then four joints or two blunts of marijuana at any given time. My reasoning for both of these is to limit the illegal sale of the drug to minors. By controlling the amount and type of consumption, it will drastically cut down on those that want to sell it and make more of a profit. Furthermore, by selling the marijuana in only rolled forms, it diminishes the possibility that people will get the seeds and grow the plant themselves. If people are growing their own marijuana, the government cannot tax on it and will loose out on money.

Source: Essay UK -

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