Medical Marijuana … Controversial ?

Are you one of the millions of Americans that is suffering from sleeplessness or insomnia? It is estimated that one-third of all adults have insomnia.

Medical marijuana patients usually find that sleep is a wonderful benefit of cannabis. Many chronic pain patients experience insomnia due to their pain and find excellent relief and sleep when using cannabis.

Marijuana Legalization is one of the most debated issues of the twenty first century. Use of the plant even dates back “further than 7,000 B.C. and was legal as recently as when Ronald Regan was a boy…” (Guither). The drug is the most commonly used illicit substance around the world and there are numerous slang terms for the plant such as cannabis, reefer, mary jane, weed, etc. Most Americans are familiar with the anti-marijuana commercials and the side effects of smoking pot as well as seeing athletes and celebrities reprimanded for the legal use and sale of cannabis. However, according to NORML (“The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws”) in 2008 “more than 80 million Americans admit that they have smoked in the past year.” This is a very large number considering how much money the United States government spends on advertising for the war against drugs. Many people agree that the drug is no more dangerous than the use of any other legal drugs such as the consumption of alcohol or cigarette smoking. For this reason, marijuana should be decriminalized and available to the public while regulated as cigarettes and alcohol.

The most obvious reason for a number of Americans to avoid marijuana is the belief that it is morally unethical. Jobs, that do drug testing, make it clear that it is not socially acceptable in the work place and that it will not be tolerated. Most Christians especially do not approve of smoking pot. Ironically, the Rastafarian religion has found numerous references to pot in the bible. For example, “…thou shalt eat the herb of the land (exodus 10:12)” (“BBC”).Though all religions vary in teachings, in general American parents are concerned that legalizing Marijuana sends the wrong message to children. Which is a good indication that most American parents of teenagers do not realize that “47% of high school students have tried marijuana” (Leachman 2). In 1936, “Reefer Madness”, a propaganda film framed as a documentary, warned parents and children of the dangers of the marijuana. The film was a far cry from reality and showed very unrealistic “scenes of high school kids smoking pot and quickly going insane, playing 'evil' jazz music, being committed, and going on a murder spree” (Murphy 1). “Reefer Madness” is now a musical and has been used for entertainment purposes because of its outdated and exaggerated views on marijuana.

For many people, marijuana is what is referred to as a gateway drug, or a seemingly harmless substance which may cause more serious addictions in the future. Joseph A. Califano says that “teens who drank, smoked cigarettes, and used marijuana at least once in the past month are more than 16 times as likely to use another drug like cocaine, heroin ,or LSD”(33) which are all very serious illicit drugs which can lead to severe health and legal consequences. For most of the American population it is considered to be common knowledge that marijuana is what gets people hooked on harder drugs. Despite this assumption, some believe that marijuana is not the cause at all and that most drug addicts begin substance abuse with legal drugs such as alcohol or cigarettes. According to the Institute of Medicine “ecause it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug that most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users do not begin with marijuana- they begin with alcohol and nicotine, usually when they are too young to do so legally”(36) It is understandable that”[people who enjoy the effects of marijuana are, logically, more likely to be willing to try other mood-altering drugs than are people who are not willing to try marijuana or who dislike its effects”(The Institute of Medicine 37).The Institute of Medicine also states that “illions of Americans have tried marijuana, but are not regular users. In 1996, 68.6 million people-32% of the U.S. population over 12 years old-had tried marijuana or hashish at least once in their life time, but only 5% were current users”(35). This does not mean that marijuana does not contribute to the amount of people who try hard drugs or become addicted to them. “Most people who smoke pot do not move on to other drugs, but then only 5% to 7% of cigarette smokers get lung cancer”, the lesson is that young people “who smoke pot are at vastly greater risk of moving on to harder drugs”(Califano 33). It would be easy to blame marijuana for drug dependency in America, but drugs that are legal in the U.S. are at fault as much or more because of their availability to the public.

For most educated Americans, it is known that marijuana has several harmful side effects. Health risks include memory loss, gum disease, lung and respiratory problems, and several mental health conditions that could become detrimental to a person's well-being. The most argued health issue is weather or not the drug is addictive. According to Tim Anderson “any people use marijuana compulsively even though it interferes with family, school, work and recreational activities” (226). Alcohol and nicotine are both legal drugs which are proven to be addictive and cause serious problems in the lives of people who become addictive. Why should the fact that marijuana is addictive keep it from being legalized when two other addictive substances are legally sold to the public? Alcohol can lead to the same poor choices as marijuana, such as unprotected sexual activity, neglect of responsibilities, or driving while impaired. Alcohol and nicotine are both proven to have as serious health consequences as marijuana. The Office of National Drug Control Policy states that “people who use marijuana on a regular basis often have the same breathing problems as tobacco users, such as chronic coughing and wheezing, more frequent acute chest illnesses, and a tendency toward obstructed airways”(228). More disconcerting than the physical health issues would be the mental health problems which may follow such as difficulty in “memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, and anxiety” (Office of National Drug Control Policy 226).Regular marijuana users have also been shown to have double the chance of suffering from depression and anxiety, panic attacks, or thoughts of suicide later in life (ONDCP 226, “Drug Facts: Marijuana” 1). Alcohol is a depressant; these same effects hold true for alcoholics. “Is marijuana addictive? Yes, can be, in that some people use it to excess, in ways that are problematic for themselves and those around them, and find it hard to stop. But marijuana may very well be the least addictive and least damaging of all commonly used psychoactive drugs, including many that are now legal. Most people who smoke marijuana never become dependant. Withdrawal symptoms pale compared with those from other drugs. No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose, which cannot be said for most other drugs. Marijuana is not associated with violent behavior and only minimally with reckless sexual behavior, and even heavy marijuana smokers smoke only a fraction of what cigarette addicts smoke. Lung cancers involving marijuana are rare” (Nadelmann 215).

The point is any substance, weather its caffeine or prescription drugs, can be abused and become addictive and harmful to a person, this should not mean that marijuana in particular should be illegal. Instead, marijuana should be legalized and regulated in the same way as alcohol and nicotine.

The first and possibly most essential reason for marijuana decriminalization is the many medical uses for the drug. A number of people with terminating illnesses have found relief from the use of marijuana. AIDS patients have shown an increase in appetite, as well as “cancer patients often smoke marijuana to battle the nausea caused by chemotherapy” (Rich 1). According to Ted Gottfried “arijuana has been effective in treating Glaucoma, a condition resulting from a pressure in the eyes, which the drug eases” the patient's pain (20). Marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes and can be beneficial to society but it is illegal, alcohol and nicotine are not effective as medicine for any diseases however they are both legal to the public. To supporters of marijuana legalization it is obvious why it should be legalized if only for medical use. The main concern for most patients would be the adverse affects of smoking marijuana may be more detrimental than the symptoms that the drug is meant to relieve. Luckily, less invasive ways to use the drug for medicine have been developed: “Pharmaceutical products containing marijuana's central ingredient, THC, are legally sold in the U.S., and more are emerging. Some people find the pill form satisfactory, and others consume it in teas or baked products” (Nadelmann 215). Even if patients decide smoke instead of one of the newer techniques, the effects on the person's health are minimal compared to the disease which it is helping to treat, especially since most of the diseases are fatal and incurable at this point in time.

Unlike cigarettes, marijuana has absolutely no harmful chemicals added before it is sold and smoked. For this reason alone pot is less likely to lead to cancer or lung problems. Lung cancer from the smoking of marijuana is rare and the use of tobacco is much more likely to result in respiratory complications and gum disease. In general, heavy users of marijuana still do not smoke as much as people who smoke cigarettes. Marijuana's health risks are significantly mild compared to legal substances and hard drugs. Infact many of the health risks are exaggerated or not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence: “In 1972, after reviewing the scientific evidence, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse concluded that while marijuana was not entirely safe, its dangers had been grossly overstated. Since then, researchers have conducted thousands of studies of humans, animals, and cell cultures. None reveal any findings dramatically different from those described by the National Commission in 1972. In 1995, based on thirty years of scientific research editors of the British medical journal Lancet concluded that “the smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health” (“Myths and Facts about Marijuana”1).

Some researchers will argue that the effects of marijuana are clearly visible regardless of scientific proof. The idea that marijuana leads to brain damage, has yet to be anything more than a theory. Scientists continue the study of the effects of marijuana on animals and humans:”None of the medical tests currently used to detect brain damage in humans have found harm from marijuana, even from long term high-dose use. An early study reported brain damage in rhesus monkeys after six months exposure to high concentrations of marijuana smoke. In a recent, more carefully conducted study, researchers found no evidence of brain abnormality in monkeys that were forced to inhale the equivalent of four to five marijuana cigarettes every day for a year. The claim that marijuana kills brain cells is based on a speculative report dating back a quarter of a century that has never been supported by any scientific study”(“Myths and Facts about Marijuana” 2).Though marijuana smoke is not necessarily a healthy habit, it is not any more harmful than the legal drugs that are being used everyday in the U.S.

Legalizing marijuana would not increase the number of people who abuse the drug; because it would be less taboo and not as thrilling if it is legal. When drugs are prohibited in America or in neighboring countries, use of the drug is actually increased. As determined by Dan Gardner, “he most frightening jumps in drug use the world has seen have happened after the introduction -or escalation- of drug prohibition” (132). He also believes that “tates with higher rates of drug incarceration experience higher rates of drug use” (133). If that is true, keeping marijuana illegal is counter productive to the fight against drug use in America. Legalization would cut down on the number of people in jail for marijuana related crimes. Instead of police chasing people, who may be illegally dealing drugs or in possession of marijuana, they can focus on catching criminals who are guilty of rape, burglary, or murder. Also if the number of people in jail were reduced tax payer's money would not be wasted and marijuana users could be productive members of society. According to District Attorney, Paul Gallegos, legalization of the drug “would probably reduce the value of marijuana pretty significantly, so we'd probably see a reduction if not a complete end to the ancillary crime associated with marijuana” (1). People who do not smoke pot now while it is illegal will most likely not start if it becomes legal due to religious beliefs or health concerns.

Economically, the legalization of marijuana could be beneficial to the U.S. because it could be taxed and regulated like tobacco. NORML states that currently “Californians consume $1-$2 billion worth of medical marijuana per year, enough to generate some $100 million in sales tax” (2) or approximately 1.3 billion dollars a year! The Economy in America is suffering and hemp could be a major export and beneficial cash crop. The use of hemp in clothing and other products has been around for thousands of years. Infact the first woven fabrics are believed to have been constructed from the plant's stalks (Guither 1). Of course, clothing is not the only industrial use of hemp; “over the centuries the plant was used for food, incense, cloth, rope, and much more” (Guither 1). According to Dan Stancliff California's sale of marijuana could lead the nation out of the recession if pot were legalized. The money would not only come from industrial use but also on “tourism picking up for the entire state, and especially for the Emerald Triangle, 'Green Tours' would have a new meaning, more importantly, legalizing marijuana would put an end to the Mexican cartels who infest our state and national forests with their huge destructive grows” (Stancliff 1). Presently, much of America's tax dollars are being spent on anti-drug programs and advertisements. Many supporters claim that “f drugs were decriminalized…much of the $50 billion spent annually by federal and state government agencies might be used in such critical areas as health care, education, low-cost housing, and programs to reduce dependency on drugs and alcohol”(Gottfried 68). The cost to enforce marijuana laws in the U.S. is an estimated $10-15 billion (Nadelmann 214). Most supporters of marijuana legalization agree with the opinion of Ethan A. Nadelmann:

“No drug is perfectly safe, and every psychoactive drug can be used in ways that are problematic, The federal government has spent billions of dollars on advertisements and anti-drug programs that preach the dangers of marijuana -that it's a gateway drug, and addictive in its own right, and dramatically more potent than it used to be, and responsible for all sorts of physical and social diseases as well as international terrorism. But the government has yet to repudiate the 1988 finding of the Drug Enforcement Administration's own administrative law judge, Frances Young. Who concluded after extensive testimony 'marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man',” (Nadelmann 214).

Instead of spending American tax dollars on advertisements which people will ignore, that money could go toward improving the lives of the citizens.

In the United States, the possession of marijuana lands more that 700,000 people in jail every year (Nadelmann 214), most of which have no other criminal records. That means that the number of people arrested for marijuana related crimes is “almost as the same number as are arrested each year for cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and all other illicit drugs combined” (Nadelmann 214). Clearly the U.S. government has overreacted and over the years this view has grown without many of the view-holders fully aware of the facts. In the some countries the use and sale of marijuana is legal and regulated as tobacco. For example, Amsterdam allows people to buy marijuana at coffee shops and the country does not seem to have a problem with abuse of the drug.

“Young people who smoke marijuana are to do so in coffee shops that openly sell the drug. There are rules governing these coffee shops. They are not allowed to sell alcohol or hard drugs. They may dispense no more than five grams of marijuana or hashish in any single transaction. Drugs may not be advertised. The shops must not cause any nuisance to local neighborhoods” (Gottfried 92).

Not all Americans agree that the same success with pot would happen in the U.S. Amsterdam and the other European countries, which do not prohibit the sale of marijuana, rely more on public transportation than most citizens of the United States. If pot were legal to the American public for personal use, laws prohibiting driving under the influence of marijuana should be enforced much like the laws regarding drinking and driving.

For a number of United States citizens that idea of marijuana legalization is a subject in which lies a lot of gray area. There are people who are totally against the idea, others who think that legalization is an imperative part of improving the quality of life in America, and many who are undecided on the matter. However, a plethora of American people who believe that marijuana should be legalized are vocal enough to gain national attention. Nadelmann states that “Marijuana Prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed so unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace” (213). Many people disagree with the use of marijuana because of moral views but the same groups also disagree with tobacco and alcohol, both of which are not prohibited by law. Marijuana is no more dangerous than cigarettes or alcohol and therefore, should be legally treated as equals.

Above the Influence. “Drug Facts: Marijuana.” http:// http://www.abovetheinluence.com/facts/drugs-marijuana.aspx#. (2009)

Anderson, Tim. “Marijuana should be Decriminalized.” http: //www.themountaineeronline.com. (18 Nov 2008).

BBC. “Worship.” http: //www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/rastafaria/customs/customs_1.shtml.(18 Mar 2009).

Califano Jr., Joseph A. “Marijuana is a gateway drug.” Espejo, Roman. Drug Abuse. San Diego: Green Haven, 2002.

Drug Policy. “Myths and Facts about Marijuana.” http:// http://www.drugpolicy.org /marijuana/factsmyths /#harms. (2009).

Gardner, Dan. “Legalizing Drugs would not cause an increase in Drug Use.” Espejo, Roman. Drug Abuse. Green Haven: San Diego, 2002.

Gottfried, Ted. Should Drugs be Legalized? Brookfield: Twenty First Century, 2000.

Guither, Pete. “A Brief History of the Criminalization of Cannabis.” http:// Marijuana.drugwarrant.com. (2009).

The Institute of Medicine. “Marijuana Use does not lead to Harder Drugs.” Espejo, Roman. Drug Abuse. San Diego: Green Haven, 2002.

Leachman, Dr.Mackenzie. “Welcome to High School: What to Expect of your teenager through High School.” http://www.pld.fcps.net/welcom/htm. (19 Mar 2009).

Murphy, Kevin and Dan Studney. “Reefer Madness History.” http: //web. archive.org/web/20060328163232/ http://www.reefer=madness-movie.com/index.html. (2005).

Nadelmann, Ethan A. “An End to Marijuana Prohibition”. Goldberg, Raymond. Taking Sides: Drugs and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

NORML. “NORML Statement on the Cultivation of Industrial Hemp.”http://www.norml.com/index.cfm? group_ID=5447. (11 Dec 2006).

Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Marijuana and the Truth behind 10 Popular Misperceptions.” Goldberg, Raymond. Taking Sides: Drugs and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Rich, Alex K. “Legalization of Marijuana: an overview.” Points of View: Legalization of Marijuana. http: //search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=puh&AN=23554883&site=pov-live. (Feb 2007).

Stancliff, Dan. “California can lead the nation out of this depression by legalizing Marijuana.” http:// http://www.times-standard.com/ci_11865538?source=most=viewed. (08 Mar 2009)

Tam, Donna.” Marijuana Legalization Supporters say Bill could save Billions.” http: //www.times- standard.com/localnews/ci_11865543. (08 Mar 2009).

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