Legalizing Marijuana: Individual and Societal Benefitsin Sample Work
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This is part two of the previous post we published in a sample paper on legalizing medical marijuana. The rest of this paper is located below and reflects reasons why medical marijuana should be legalized in our society.
Marijuana legalization is at the forefront of both cultural and medical discourse. Despite federal restrictions against the use of the illicit drug, roughly 14% of Americans have tried it at least once in their lives (Shohov, 2). This presents the challenge of determining whether it is a positive or negative influence on society. On one end, medical marijuana can be extremely beneficial in treating specific types of illnesses that other forms of treatment simply cannot cure. This offers a medical challenge as to whether using the drug should be legal. On the other end, the broader societal implications of using the drug should also be evaluated. Issues like civil liberties, criminal behavior and economic implications need to also be addressed. Finally, the negative health implications that have been studied and scientifically collected should be analyzed with scrutiny and caution. While marijuana use has some documented negative externalities, the overall benefits to the individual and society prompts us to reconsider its legalization.
Current status of marijuana legalization and the individual and societal benefits
The current standpoint on marijuana is that it is entirely prohibited. As a schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is classified as being potentially abused, not accepted in the medical community and highly dangerous according to the Department of Justice (DOJ, 1). This means that not only is it fully illegal to have privately and use, but doctors cannot prescribe it.
|State||Type of usage||Legislation effective date|
|Kentucky||Medical||2014 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
|Maine||Medical/recreational||2016 (recreational use)|
|Massachusetts||Medical/recreational||2016 (recreational use)|
|Mississippi||Medical||2014 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
|Missouri||Medical||2014 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
|Tennessee||Medical||2015 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
|Texas||Medical||2015 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
|Utah||Medical||2015 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
|Wisconsin||Medical||2014 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
|Wyoming||Medical||2015 (medicinal use of CBD oil)|
Many oppose it's classification as a schedule I substance, and when compared to other substances on that list, Marijuana often appears as a black sheep. Any doctor that prescribes it is subject to arrest. The DOJ listed some of the negative side effects of marijuana very clearly. Some of these include “adverse physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral effects…[as well as] short-term memory problems” (DOJ, 1). Moreover, absolutely no medical benefits of reported cases of efficacy regarding the drug were listed on the website, despite overwhelming research by other medical professionals. There are also other negative aspects.
Health and safety implications
Marijuana has been cultivated for as long as human history has been documented as pointed out in this sample essay on World Cannibus Week. Historically in the U.S., marijuana use has been highly stigmatized as being a dangerous drug that offers risks for the user and society as well. Mostly, medical studies and their conclusions have contributed to this viewpoint. One such perspective was offered by “Cocaine, Marijuana, Designer Drugs: Chemistry, Pharmacology and Behavior,” which argued that not only does marijuana impact cognitive and motor performance on complex tasks, but it is also associated with decrements in behavior (Redda, 121). Specifically, the dangers of consuming the drug and driving around are very serious threats because the user is not in full control of their body and equipment they use (like cars). Driving and getting into an accident where innocent people are hurt is definitely a very serious problem that contributed to the apparent dangers of using it. However, evidence suggests that this generalization about the negative aspects of marijuana may be unfounded in a real world setting.
Despite studies detailing negative side effects of marijuana, predictive behavior studies are still unclear. While Redda’s research showed the negative lab results of marijuana in rats, “there is no data to show predictive validity outside the laboratory” (Redda, 123). We should thus be cautious in accepting that lab results will apply directly to human behavior in a different setting. While claims of marijuana’s benefits have been substantiated through testing in real world scenarios, empirical studies against the use of it simply have not had the same scrutiny. Even with regards to driving dangers, “the extent to which it impairs driving is still unclear” remarked Redda (123). This shows that further studies need to be done. It remains to be seen if marijuana use while driving is as deadly as drinking, or even texing while driving. Moreover, the addictive characteristics of marijuana are also unclear. According to Lester Grinspoon, “in ordinary use THC leaves the human body so slowly that withdrawal reactions are muted or nonexistent” (749). This places marijuana in a different class than drugs like heroin or cocaine, which have highly addictive characteristics. Clearly, not only is the evidence inconclusive regarding negative aspects like impaired driving and predictability, but marijuana is not on the same level as Cocaine and Heroin, despite being labeled a Schedule I substance. In addition, it is important to not only explore the negative aspects of the drug, but the positives as well. While studies can often time can have an overarching opinion towards one side or another, it is vital to consider both the benefits and costs to society as whole as well as the individual.
Marijuana as a treatment option
That being said, marijuana’s effectiveness in treating specific ailments is a benefit that society should carefully consider. Cases that involve stomach problems, cancer and AIDS, leave patients with limited options in terms of what is going help alleviate the pain immediately. While the traditional treatment of taking pills is effective, some patients have a hard time holding the pill in their stomach so that it can begin to take effect, (due to vomiting) and prefer a holistic approach. Luckily, marijuana offers an alternative that can be inhaled and get through the blood brain barrier much quicker than pills (Clark, 43). This makes the effects almost immediate for the patient. Once the drug has been inhaled, clinical findings suggest that marijuana is extremely effective in healing short term pain, motor problems, stomach nausea and relief from chemotherapy for cancer patients (Clark, 42). When compared to patients who vomit before pills can take effect, the probative value of marijuana in this case is that it is a quick and easy treatment alternative that is effective. This gives both patients and doctors more options for effective treatment.
Marijuana gives another treatment option when a cookie cutter solution is not available. If patients are diagnosed with illnesses that cannot be easily treated, it is only in the best interest of the doctor and patient that all options are explored and seriously considered. A few documented health hazards or social stigma surrounding marijuana’s use should not be utilized as the single driving force in banning all use of it. This effectively alienates the doctor from delivering the best treatment possible and compromises the healing process of the patient. In denying patients the best options for treatment, there is more of a burden for individuals that don’t have access to the treatment.
Legalizing medical marijuana: A case study
A prime anecdotal example of how this legalization problem interferes with patient healing is the case of JJ and his mother, documented in Kevin O’Brien’s article, Mother and Son: The Case of Medical Marijuana. The anecdote first introduced a troubled child named JJ who had been diagnosed with severe psychotic, aggressive and hyperactive behavior. After seeing sixteen physicians, trying nineteen different types of medications and being hospitalized three times, JJ finally attained success by trying medical marijuana (O’Brien, 11). After starting treatment to curb JJ's mental illness, and with careful review by a pediatrician, “[JJ’s] demeanor is very polite and he interacts enthusiastically with staff and students. The most noticeable change is JJ’s ability to use words; now, when he becomes frustrated in class, he explains what the problem is and he is no longer afraid to get help from staff” (O’Brien, 11). Despite the clear effectiveness of his treatment, JJ was removed from his mother’s care and retained by county officials. This example clearly epitomizes a case in which other methods of treatment have clearly failed and medical marijuana proved effective. More importantly, it shows the federal government’s inability to recognize that patients deserve the right to alternative treatment. This example further draws support that cookie cutter treatments are not always in the best interest for the patient.
Medical professionals and patients are not the only ones who have documented the value of marijuana. The effectiveness and supported usage of medical marijuana also comes from respected medical officials and political representatives, not just clinical studies or patients. Doctors that have practiced medicine for most of their lives generally have the knowledge and experience to conclude what is and is not an appropriate treatment option for patients. Consequently, the medical community should have a say in what drugs are legal for prescribing. For instance, Jocelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General, offered her support based in similar findings that were listed. She remarked that “the evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS” (ProCon, 2009). Indeed, the opinion of the former Surgeon General is credible on the basis that this position requires medical experience and notoriety. Having held such a position of merit within the medical community deserves the recognition and attentiveness toward the probative value of marijuana as a legalized drug.
Supporters of legalization
Furthermore, this opinion is not solely limited to medical professionals but also prominent figures outside of the field of medicine. While individual people cast ballots and raise their voices, it is important to remember that often ties the decision makers are judges and political figures as well. Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson has long been a vocal supporter of medical marijuana. Another such example is Lyn Nofziger, former Press Secretary to Ronald Reagan, who argued that “several states conducted extensive, and expensive, research programs which demonstrated marijuana’s medical utility-particularly in the treatment of chemotherapy side-effects” (ProCon, 2009). While not being a doctor, Nofziger aided in helping states conduct further research into the value of marijuana. Her research did support the notion of marijuana as being a great form of alternative treatment. Even though “the chief administrative law judge of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration ruled marijuana has legitimate medical applications,” his ruling was appealed in a higher court (ProCon, 2009). Together, the testimony of these experts suggests that marijuana is not just a treatment option that patients and doctors wish to use. Having the support of other notable administrative officials and judges within the US Government shows that legalization is an issue that is being addressed and supported by a wider audience of influential people.
Besides the clear medical benefits of marijuana, broader societal benefits such as reduced crime rates and problems of enforcement can be addressed. For instance, NCMDA’s 1972 report on marijuana clearly emphasized that enforcement was not only difficult, but ineffective on the whole. Within their study of nine states, the commission conducted surveys and collected statistics on the arrests and their prosecutions. 50% of the U.S. prisoners are incarcerated on minor drug offenses and the system is seeking reform. In general, “federal authorities make little to no effort to seek out violators of laws proscribing possession of marijuana… [these cases] are generally dropped or turned over to the state for prosecution” (Shafer, 110). This suggests that the level of efficacy towards enforcing the law is quite low. Of those individuals that are caught with it, almost 70% have less than an ounce on them (Shafer, 111). These statistics further show that offenders are typically not convicted criminals or holding large amounts. Finally, of all the cases taken to the state, 50% are dropped for the general population while 70% are dropped for youth cases (Shafer, 111). This further illustrates that enforcement with arrested individuals does not lead to swift punishment or heavy penalties. Clearly, enforcement is an issue that is consistently not followed through with. This raises the serious concern that if the federal government bans marijuana, why do they not enforce it?
If the law is not properly enforced, then it should be reconsidered. If only some offenders are caught and their cases don’t amount to actual prosecutions, the whole process becomes a burden on both the state and tax payers. If laws cannot be fully carried out, then it truly questions the credibility and validity of the United States government. Not to mention that unnecessary burden it puts on tax payers, who spend an average of twenty billion dollars per year on drug enforcement (Cussen, 539). If over half of the marijuana related arrests are merely dropped, then why is such a large amount of hard earned tax payer dollars being spent if it is not even going to be enforced?
According to Meaghan Cussen in Legalize Drugs Now!: An Analysis of the Benefits of Legalized Drugs, banning marijuana poses crime related concerns in addition to enforcement problems. In assuming that drug transactions are commonplace, Cussen remarked that “crime, an act the breaks the law, and in its very insurrectional essence leads to societal instability, will be greatly reduced through the legalization of the inevitable activity of drug transactions.” (Cussen, 528). Basically, with or without the drug laws, they are going to be bought and sold. If the state became a medium for these illegal transactions, the activity could be controlled and mediated by authorities without leaving criminals and culprits to take the law into their own hands. Moreover, not only will “the lowered price of narcotics eliminate theft and murder associated with their high prices,” but “dealers will be able to use the courts to settle their disputes instead of taking the law into their own hands” (Cussen, 528). In legalizing marijuana, the crime related externalities such as violence, theft and murder would not take place. This would be an extreme benefit to society overall because it would increase safety and would encourage the use of the current legal system as a means for settling drug related disputes, while the tax dollars from legal sales stimulate a local state's ecomomy, like in Colorado.
If the taxpayer dollars were used for regulating and mediating drug transactions instead of promoting unenforced laws, the market would be controlled. No longer would petty and casual users be arrested for crimes that are not as destructive to society. Instead, control and prosecution would be reserved for serious offenders that offer a much more serious threat to society, like cartels, criminals and murderers. This would not only help alleviate the crime related activities associated with drug use, but it would also control and stream economic activity away from dangerous organizations like terrorists, crime rings and cartels (Cussen, 528). In opening up a market place with trade sanctions, drug revenues would go to American people that claim honest livings for their work. Thus, this would further benefit society by reducing crime and helping stimulate legal, economic activity.
Individual and societal benefits of marijuana: Civil liberties
Civil liberties and popular support also play a role current state of marijuana. From a constitutional perspective, Americans are granted liberties and freedoms that allows them to pursue liberty and happiness as long as they do not interfere with the well being of others. These individual rights are the foundation that America was built on, and banning marijuana threatens that freedom.
According to Cussen, banning the substance poses a threat to the “guiding principles of the United States iterated both in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, [to] protect Fred's basic civil liberties to ‘pursue his own happiness’ as long as he doesn't infringe on others' rights to life and property (526). This means that as the government bans marijuana use, the core philosophy of the nation is directly challenged. As individuals are not allowed to pursue their happiness, the American creed is not being lived up to. Moreover, “drug prohibition severely threatens our civil liberties and is inconsistent with the anti-slavery philosophy and the founding documents of the United States” (Cussen, 526). Simply put, by not allowing individuals to exercise their freedom, they are treated analogous to slaves. This clearly has ethical and political implications with respect to the government’s ability to uphold the constitution. If civil liberties are supposed to be guaranteed to Americans, the government should play an active role in recognizing what is fair and what is not. Since the use of marijuana for specific purposes such as medicine or in a controlled environment meets the criteria of civil liberties, it is utterly wrong for the federal government to deny it.
Furthermore, legalizing marijuana has gained widespread social support. Not only does marijuana use call for civil protection based on the constitution, but there is also widespread support by the public. If a democracy calls for peoples’ opinions being important, then the US Government has neglected the foundation of the American constitution again. To exemplify, a 2001 Pew Research poll showed that 75% of American adults supported medical use of marijuana while other similar polls showed support between 60%-80% (Shohov, 13). On a state level, many voters among Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine and others have voted in favor of legislation to remove penalties for marijuana use among the ill (Shohov, 13). This illuminates that there is substantial and consistent support for legalizing marijuana. Even among medical professionals, “a survey of cancer specialists found that 54% of those with an opinion favored controlled medical availability of marijuana” (Shohov, 13). While Americans are largely split on issues like gun control, the support for marijuana legalization is far less divisive. If there is an overwhelming amount of support for the drug on a national level, it must be recognized that the US Government should be proactive in actualizing these needs without just dismissing them. If American people represent the votes that elect president of the United States (via the electoral college), then these same voices should be active in having other laws and demands come to fruition. In not doing so, the federal government is neglecting citizens of their civil liberties and denying the voice of the people.
The pros and cons of legalization
Legalizing marijuana offers benefits for not only individual patients and doctors, but for society as a whole. Aside from the medical benefits, legalizing would contribute to reduced crime and protection of civil liberties. While negative externalities like impaired driving skills and cognitive deficiencies have been documented, many of these have not been tested outside of the laboratory setting. However, the benefits of marijuana as an effective treatment alternative have seen results directly from patients. Supporters outside of the medical community have supported this assertion as well that marijuana can be useful. On a broader scope, legalization would reduce crime for a law that is terribly enforced in the first place. Rather than having taxpayer dollars go towards a law that is not implemented completely, it would be much more useful for controlling and mediating drug transactions that can potentially have economic benefits to the whole society.
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Clark, Peter. "The Ethics of Medical Marijuana: Government Restrictions vs. Medical Necessity." Journal of Public Health Policy 21.1 (2000): 40-60. JSTOR. Web. 28 Mar. 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3343473
“Federal Controlled Substances Act.” USDOJ.gov. 9 May 2011 www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/csa.html
Grinspoon, Lester. "Marijuana Addiction." Science, New Series 277.5327 (1997): 749-752. JSTOR. Web. 9 Apr. 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2893088
O'Brien, Kevin, and Peter Clark. "Case Study: Mother and Son: The Case of Medical Marijuana." The Hastings Center Report 32.5 (2002): 11-13. Web. 9 Apr. 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3528708
Peterson, Robert. "Health Implications of Marijuana Use: A Review." The American Biology Teacher 41.9 (1979): 526-529. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4446747
ProCon.org. "Should Marijuana be a Medical Option?" ProCon.org. N.p., 31 Aug. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001325
Redda, Kinfe. Cocaine, Marijuana, Designer Drugs: Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Behavior. 1989. Reprint. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2000. Print.
Shafer, Raymond. Marijuana - United States Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. Washington DC: U.S. Government, 1972. Print.
Shohov, Tatiana. Medical Use of Marijuana: Policy, Regulatory, and Legal Issues. New York City: Nova Science Publishing, 2003. Print.
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