Marijuana, which is a psychoactive drug, is the most widely used illicit substance in the world and its scientific name is Cannabis Sativa (Kailash 335). The main active ingredient of Marijuana is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen (Kailash 335). It is estimated that about 4% of the world population (about 162 million people) use it on a daily basis for recreational purposes (Kailash 337).
The production, preparation, trade and use of marijuana has been prohibited in most parts of the world and a lot of resources are used every year to combat it. For years, there has been a long standing controversy on the prohibition of marijuana. There are however more reasons for its legalization than for maintaining its current illicit status.
Reasons for Legalizing
Foremost, the prohibition of Marijuana goes against the individual’s rights to Liberty and freedom of choice. Individuals who use marijuana do so conscientiously and are aware of the dangers of using it. The government should not prohibit personal use unless its use by an individual affects other people rights or otherwise. In any case, the negative effects of using marijuana are far less than those of using alcohol and tobacco which are both ironically legal.
In fact, alcohol and tobacco related diseases and accidents are one of the leading causes of deaths in the USA, and the medical costs incurred in treating those disease runs into billions (United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime 165). According to the proponents of Marijuana no single health related death has been reported to have been caused directly by Marijuana.
Additionally, the cost of policing marijuana is very high; for the last 30-40 years, governments have spent Billions of dollars yet the trade is still thriving. These resources could instead be used to provide social services such as education and medical care. The failure to tackle the demand side of the illicit drugs market makes the commodity scarce, expensive and its trade lucrative: currently, illegal trade in drugs is worth about $322 Billion globally (United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime 170).
In the process this has attracted highly organized criminal gangs and has engendered corruption in many regions of the source countries supplying this drug. Drug related violence is also common as criminal gangs fight for the control of the lucrative trade. Thus, decriminalization of marijuana is likely to reduce the attractiveness of the trade and consequently the demand for the drug (Kailash 342).
Besides cost and inefficacy, the fight against marijuana has been found to be racially biased. Prejudice against young black males for instance has led to their arrest rates for possession of marijuana being much higher compared to that of white counterparts.
In a study carried out in the state of California, it was found out that even though the prevalence of marijuana use was higher among whites than blacks, the arrest rates for marijuana possession related charges showed that more blacks than whites were incarcerated for marijuana possession and use (Levine et al).
The study found out that “blacks were arrested for simple marijuana possession far out of proportion to their percentage in the total population”, since while they constituted 7% of the total population, they accounted for as much as 20% of marijuana arrestees (Levine et al).
The above figures are based on the categorization of Hispanics as whites. Were Hispanics to be classified as an independent race, as they often are, the variance between the black and white statistics would be even much higher. These disproportionate statistics show the inefficiency of the system in fighting the use of marijuana and its vulnerability to abuse.
One of the reasons why marijuana use has been criminalized is apparently because of its potential for dependence. But marijuana is not as addictive as it is popularly perceived to be. Its low addictive risk may be explained by the fact that marijuana use patterns are usually more periodic than that of most other drugs.
At the same time, withdrawal symptoms for cannabis such as “restlessness, irritability, mild agitation, insomnia, nausea, sleep disturbance, sweats and intense dreams, are mild and last for a short period only” (Jain & Balhara, 223). Indeed, marijuana has lower addiction potential compared to the legal and more popularly used tobacco. Potential for addiction is therefore not a sufficient reason for the criminalization of cannabis sativa use.
Yet another reason cited in support of the criminalization of marijuana is that it is a gateway to the abuse of hard drugs such as heroine and cocaine. This perceived risk is however highly disproportionate to actual risk as has been found in a number of studies.
The basis cited for the possibility of soft drugs leading to abuse of hard drugs is founded on the premise that being addicted to the narcotic effects of one drug may raise the need to experience higher narcotic experience. The second presumption is that use of soft drugs provides one with access to hard drugs.
The networks formed for the sake of acquisition of illegal soft drugs will more often than not also enable one to access hard drugs as it is argued. Unfortunately, this hypotheses, that soft drug use is usually a stepping stone to hard drugs, has had quite a significant influence on the policy and law making processes (Melberg et al). This is in view of the fact that research has found out that the relationship between illegal soft drug abuse and the subsequent hard drug use is not conclusive.
A research study by Melberg et al came to the conclusion that there are a number of mechanisms that can explain the gateway effect. It therefore cannot be so readily and conclusively declared that use of soft drugs has an obvious causal-effect relationship with subsequent hard drug use.
Proponents of marijuana criminalization have also relied on the perceived relationship between marijuana use and crime. The belief that marijuana use leads to higher probability for the commission of crime by users has been entrenched by the fact that many studies have found that “approximately 60% of arrestees test positive for marijuana use” (Pacula & Kilmer).
This is hardly a plausible basis for describing the relationship between the use of marijuana and crime as causal since a positive THC test in the blood of arrestees only implies that marijuana was used in the past month, and not immediately prior to the commission of crime. At the same time, the blood of arrestees isn’t tested for the presence of other drugs other than marijuana. However, in their study, Pacula & Kilmer found out that there was a positive association between marijuana use and crime.
Nevertheless, the findings of their study are limited to the extent that it could not be immediately established whether marijuana use merely increased the probability of arrest or actually influenced one to commit crime. Thus, it would be wrong to base the argument of illegalization of marijuana on inconclusive evidence.
Additionally, prohibition ignores the benefits of Marijuana such as its medicinal, industrial and agricultural use. The prescription of marijuana on medical grounds has been hampered by its criminalization.
For instance, the American College of Physicians (ACP) in a position paper, stated that physicians have had to be increasingly cautious “in their wording (when discussing the substance) so as not to appear that they are aiding or abetting patients in obtaining cannabis” (9). Since aiding and abetting the acquisition of Schedule I Controlled Substances, like marijuana, is a criminal offence in the United States.
The risk of legal action usually discourages medical practitioners from prescribing marijuana based drugs even when such drugs present the only hope for their patients. In addition, further research on medical use of Marijuana has been hampered by its illicit status since being in its possession is illegal (American College of Physicians 5).
All the above facts point to the need for the serious consideration of the legalization of marijuana. As we have seen, the arguments proposed by proponents of marijuana criminalization have either had no scientific backing, or have been the result of misrepresentation of research findings. There is also little evidence to support the claim that its criminalization has had any benefits to the society so far. Legalization on the other hand seems capable of offering more benefits than costs.
American College of Physicians. Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana. Philadelphia: American College of Physicians, 2003. Print.
Jain, Raka & Yatan, Balhara., “Neurobiology of Cannabis Addiction.” Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, 52.3 (2008): 217–232. Print.
Kailash, Chand. “Should drugs be decriminalized? Yes.” British Medical Journal, 335 (2007): 966 – 90. Print.
Levine, Harry., Jon, Gettman. & Loren, Siegel. “Targeting Blacks for Marijuana: Possession Arrests of African Americans in California, 2004-08.” Drug Policy. 2010. Web. 4 Feb 2012.
Melberg, Hans., Anne, Bretteville-Jensen. & Andrew, Jones. “Is cannabis a gateway to hard drugs?” 2007. Web. 4 Feb 2012.
Pacula, Rosalie & Beau, Kilmer. “Marijuana and Crime: Is There A Connection Beyond Prohibition?” Rand. 2003. Web.4 Feb 2012.
United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime. UN World Report on Drugs. New York: United Nations Publications, 2007. Print.