Should Marijuana Be Legalized

.. Most users of heroin, LSD and cocaine have used marijuana. However, most marijuana users never use another illegal drug. Over time, there has been no consistent relationship between the use patterns of various drugs. As marijuana use increased in the 1960s and 1970s, heroin use declined.

And, when marijuana use declined in the 1980s, heroin use remained fairly stable. For the past 20 years, as marijuana use-rates fluctuated, the use of LSD hardly changed at all. Cocaine use increased in the early 1980s as marijuana use was declining. During the late 1980s, both marijuana and cocaine declined. During the last few years, cocaine use has continued to decline as marijuana use has increased slightly.

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In 1994, less than 16% of high school seniors who had ever tried marijuana had ever tried cocaine – the lowest percentage ever recorded. In fact, as shown below, the proportion of marijuana users trying cocaine has declined steadily since 1986, when a high of more than 33% was recorded. Proportion of Marijuana Users Ever Trying Cocaine High School Seniors, 1975-1994 1975: 19% 1980: 27% 1985: 31% 1990: 22% 1976: 19% 1981: 28% 1986: 33% 1991: 22% 1977: 20% 1982: 27% 1987: 30% 1992: 18% 1978: 22% 1983: 28% 1988: 26% 1993: 17% 1979: 25% 1984: 29% 1989: 23% 1994: 16% In short, there is no inevitable relationship between the use of marijuana and other drugs. This fact is supported by data from other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, although marijuana prevalence among young people increased during the past decade, cocaine use decreased – and remains considerably lower than in the United States.

Whereas approximately 16% of youthful marijuana users in the U.S. have tried cocaine, the comparable figure for Dutch youth is 1.8 percent. Indeed, the Dutch policy of allowing marijuana to be purchased openly in government-regulated coffee shops was designed specifically to separate young marijuana users from illegal markets where heroin and cocaine are sold. The Myth: Marijuana Policy In The Netherlands Is A Failure Marijuana offenses are not severely punished. Few marijuana law violators are arrested and hardly anyone goes to prison.

This lenient treatment is responsible for marijuana’s continued availability and use. The Fact Marijuana arrests in the United States doubles between 1991 and 1995. In 1995, more than one-half million people were arrested for marijuana offenses. Eighty-six percent of them were arrested for marijuana offenses. Eighty-six percent of them were arrested for marijuana possession.

Tins of thousands of people are now in prison for marijuana offenses. An even greater number are punished with probation, fines, and civil sanctions, including having their property seized, their driver’s licenses revoked, and their employment terminated. Despite these civil and criminal sanctions, marijuana continues to be readily available and widely used. The Myth: Dutch law, which allows marijuana to be bought, sold, and used openly, has resulted in increasing rates of marijuana use, particularly among youth. The Fact The Netherlands’ Drug Policy Is the most Non-punitive In Europe.

For more than twenty years, Dutch citizens over age eighteen have been permitted to buy and use cannabis (marijuana and hashish) in government-regulated coffee shops. This policy has not resulted in dramatically escalating cannabis use. For most age groups, rates of marijuana use in the Netherlands are similar to those in the United States. However, for young adolescents, rates of marijuana use are lower in the Netherlands that in the U.S. The Dutch people overwhelmingly approve of current cannabis policy, which seeks to normalize rather than dramatize cannabis use. The Dutch government occasionally revises existing policy, but it remains committed to decriminalization.

(pg.49) Zimmer, L. & Morgan, J.P. Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts New York: NY: Lindesmith Center, 1997 In 1972, President Nixon’s Shafer Commission concluded that for marijuana users, the harm of an arrest was significantly greater than the harm from using marijuana. It recommended that state and federal laws be changed to remove criminal penalties for “possession of marihuana for personal use” and for the “casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration not involving profit.” In 1982, a national Academy of Sciences report on marijuana possession concluded that criminal justice approaches were inappropriate and harmful it recommended not only that marijuana possession be decriminalized, but that lawmakers give serious consideration to creating a system of regulated distribution and sale. (Like tobacco cigarettes) Since the Shafer Commission’s report in 1972, ten million people have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the United States.

Federal law enforcement officials-from the DEA, the FBI, The U.S. Customs, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service—focus mainly on growers, distributors, and large-scale sellers. For example, in 1994, about two-thirds of the marijuana offenders sentenced in federal court possessed two hundred pounds or more of marijuana. These federal marijuana arrests account for only a fraction of marijuana arrests in the U.S. less than 5%.

At the state and local level, where most marijuana arrests occur, the vast majority are for simple possession, not cultivation, trafficking or sale. An all-time high was reached in 1995, when state and local police officers arrested nearly 589,000 people for marijuana offences almost 86%- were arrested for possessing marijuana. Because of plea-bargaining, some people convicted of marijuana possession may be marijuana sellers. However, most people arrested for possessing marijuana are users, who possess small amount for personal use. (Zimmer & Morgan 1997:38-40) There has been an increase in arrests for marijuana usage nationwide from 1990 – 1996. Criminal penalties for marijuana offenses vary across the country.

In ten states, possessing small amounts of marijuana (usually less than one ounce) is punishable by a fine. In other states, incarceration is possible, although probation and fines are often given. Under federal law, possessing a single joint (or less) of marijuana is punishable but a fine of from $1,000 to $10,000 and up to one year in prison-the same penalty as for possessing small amounts of heroin, powder cocaine, and crack cocaine. State penalties for possessing a few ounces or more of marijuana range form a low of six months’ imprisonment in some states to possible life imprisonment in others. Penalties for marijuana sale also vary from state to state. Ten states have a maximum sentence of five years or less and eleven states have a maximum penalty of thirty years or more.

Under federal law and in six states, marijuana importers and traffickers can be punished with life in prison. In some states, cultivation of a few marijuana plants for personal use is punished as severely as large-scale trafficking and sale. National Criminal Justice Association, A Guide to State Controlled Substances Acts, Washington, DC (1991) ;Bureau of Justice Statistics, Drugs, Crime and the Justice System, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice (1992),pp.178-81; Thomas, C., Citizens’ Guide to Marijuana Laws, Washington, DC; National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (1994). There has been no systematic compilation of imprisonment rates for marijuana offenses in the U.S. However, data from the federal prison system and from a number of states indicate that substantial numbers of marijuana law violators are being incarcerated. The trend is toward increased incarceration not only for marijuana sale, but also for possession. For example: An average of 3,677 marijuana offenders have been put in federal prison each year since 1990. This compares to an average of about 1,900 per year in the 1980’s and about 1,200 per year in the 1970’s.

(Federal Bureau of Prisons) Given a current average sentence of about four years as many as sixteen thousand marijuana offenders may now be in federal prison, comprising about 17 percent of the federal prison population. In Michigan, in 1995, 22% of those sentenced for marijuana offenses were sent to prison. The same year, in N Y State, 34 % of the people convicted of marijuana offences were incarcerated. Sentences for Marijuana Convictions in 1995, N Y State Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York, July 1996 In Texas, 33 % of those convicted of marijuana possession were sent to prison. A slightly higher proportion of sellers and distributors (43%) were imprisoned, and half of them possessed two ounces or less of marijuana at the time of arrest. In Georgia, where marijuana arrests have doubled since 1990, about four hundred marijuana offenders were sent t prison in 1995, more than half of them for possession.

Of more than 1,500 people now in prison for a marijuana offense in California, half were convicted of possession. Under California’s “three strikes” law, more people have been sent to prison for possessing marijuana than for all violent offenses combined. In addition to ten of thousands of inmates sentenced to state and federal prisons for one year or more, tens of thousands of marijuana offenders are serving sentences of less than a year in local jails around the country. The hemp plant (Cannabis Sativa/Indica/Ruderalis), or marijuana as it is known in America today, has been illegal in the U.S. since 1937.

Up until this point, it was the second most used pain medication in America, and one of the greatest cash crops of states such as Kentucky. The first U.S. flags were made of hemp, as were the first Gutenberg Bibles and the first Levi pants. In 1943 hemp was made legal again, as the government rolled out its Hemp For Victory war program. Complete with a patriotic film that urged farmers and youth groups to grow cannabis, the program raised thousands of tons of hemp for the war effort.

Today, there is another marijuana arrest every 65 seconds, and about 85% of these are for simple possession of the plant. In several states, any marijuana crime is considered a felony, and the person caught will spend jail time and lose his or her rights to vote and to bear arms. Today the American government spends billions of dollars to prosecute, arrest, and detain otherwise law-abiding marijuana consuming citizens. Thirty-five states have declared their wish to legalize marijuana in one form or another, from medicine to full recreational use. However, these states are still stymied by the federal government’s vendetta against hemp.

It is once again, time for hemp to be legal in the United States. The first step in a rational approach to the drug problem is the immediate decoupling of marijuana from the other Schedule I drugs as heroin, and morphine and a federal decriminalization with a view toward legalization. It is nothing short of absurd that people have been indelibly branded as criminals and in some cases are actually serving sentences in penal institutions for doing exactly what our own Chief Executive has admitted to (I have often mused what a Queens County Criminal Court Judge would react to a defendant’s statement: ” .. but Your Honor, I never inhaled .”) The list of politicians, present and would – be office holders, sports and entertainment figures who have flippantly admitted to past and current marijuana use is too lengthy too be quoted but is common knowledge. This has had a devastating effect on the average citizen’s perception of our justice system. If what an inner city youth is arrested and put through the court system for doing what is a source of recreation for those in a higher socio-economic bracket, what perception of the equality of justice are we giving these kids? If marijuana were to go head to head against alcohol in terms of effects both beneficial and detrimental, it would be declared “No Contest”.

There is no known lethal level of TCH. There is no known death attributable directly to an overdose of TCH Deaths caused directly from alcohol doses every year range from youths to college students to street “lushes”. There is also no equivalent of the delerium tremens that often lead to an alcohol abusers death; no sudden pot induced rages akin to that caused by alcohol that any medical, or law-enforcement person knows as Alcohol-induced psychosis. Number of American Deaths Nationwide Per Year From Drugs Tobacco………..340,000 TO 450,000 deaths Alcohol………..150,000 (not including 50% of all highway deaths and 65% of all murders) Aspirin…………. 180 to 1,000+ (including deliberate overdoses) Caffeine ………..

1,000 to 10,000 (from stress, ulcers and triggering irregular heartbeats, etc.) Legal drug overdoses..14,000-27,000 (deliberate or accidental, including from mixing with alcohol) Illegal drug overdoses…3,800-5,200 Marijuana……………….0 world almanacs, life insurance actuarial (death) rates, and the last 20 years of U.S. Surgeon Generals’ reports.(Figures are for 1994)from the federal government’s Bureau of Mortality Statistics and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, et al.- the last complete year on hand.) None of this should be taken to support the idea that marijuana is a benign substance only that it is on a par with alcohol and nicotine And should be classified as such. The zealots in the Drug War seem to believe that the legalization of marijuana would herald the beginning of the complete breakdown of our moral standards, and the presence of drugs in every area of our life. With all these facts in mind, I believe that a new approach to the “Drug Problem” is needed urgently. An impartial and extensive investigation is called for and our present policies examined to determine whether their effects are beneficial or not.

I believe that marijuana should be decoupled from the demonstrably more dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine et al., immediately. It is time to stop pandering to those drug warriors who shamelessly use children as propaganda for their own agenda, whether it’s to aggrandize the power, influence and funding of their own particular agency, or their sincere, albeit misguided, desire to shape the country in the form they have decided it should be. These advocates are seemingly even unwilling to accept the possibility that cannabis might possess therapeutic value in cases of nausea, glaucoma, or anorexia. As a result of their efforts, most studies start with a decidedly negative approach, with the burden of proof on the drug, which is certainly in direct opposition to the scientific examination of any experimental new substance looking for FDA approval. Certainly, not least important is that when an adolescent is told as “scientifically proven” fact that pot heroin, LSD, PCP, and crack cocaine and the new synthetics as “Ecstasy” all pose the same danger to his health and psychic well-being, we have immediately risked the danger of losing all credibility with that particular youngster.

If he ever does experiment with marijuana, and suffers none of the dire consequences he was warned about, it is not to great a leap of logic to assume that he will subsequently think that what he was told about the other substances is also suspect. Another troubling fact, though documented in 1970, is still true today: The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 reduced Federal penalties for marijuana possession. However, as in the case of similar penalties for the possession or sale of heroin these “mandatory” penalties were in fact rarely invoked; the offender was usually allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense. When extreme penalties were handed down, there usually appeared to be some other reason – some conduct or advocacy – aside from the involvement with marijuana. Ordinary people, it is commonly agreed, rarely draw such sentences.

“In California”, one youth cynically explained, “it is illegal to smoke marijuana unless you have your hair cut at least once a month.” The children of governors, senators and others in the public eye, when arrested for marijuana offenses, rarely receive even short prison terms. Inequities of sentencing are no doubt among the factors bringing the marijuana laws, and drug enforcement generally, into disrepute. Brecher, Edward M. and the Editors of Consumer Reports Licit and Illicit Drugs 1st ed. Mount Vernon, New York: Consumers Union, 1972 Applying the lessons of history to the marijuana laws, we can observe that any attempt to repeal marijuana prohibition must be approached carefully. For instance, granting the existence of problems with alcohol and tobacco legalization, it may be appropriate to first reform those systems of regulation and control in order to facilitate the effort to discourage use of those two drugs. Then, after making these changes, a similar system should be put in place that would regulate and control the use, production, and distribution of marijuana, while at the same time discouraging abuse and first use of marijuana.

Such discouraging mechanisms include, yet are not limited to, the following: age limits; restrictions against some forms of marketing and merchandising that may be seen as glamorizing the drug; a complete ban on advertising; prominent display of medically legitimate health warnings; and pricing structures that discourage consumption while denying criminal drug dealers market supremacy. The system for legal marijuana would need to be flexible, since the effects of marijuana legalization, pro and con, can only be guessed at – yet, it is vital to get past initial objections and begin coming to grips with the practical necessities of dealing with drugs. It is easy to dismiss the notion of marijuana legalization as long as no plan has been officially formulated at the federal level to handle such a change in policy. Efforts at the federal level should thus be directed toward developing a scheme for marijuana distribution, regulation, and control that would be acceptable to a plurality of the public. States would then have the option of adopting such a system or maintaining some sort of prohibition, much as states have the option of prohibiting alcohol sales and production.

Appropriate taxes and user fees would be levied in order to fund substance abuse prevention efforts. Such a system, with appropriate discouraging mechanisms built in, would send the message that marijuana is no more acceptable when legal than it was when illegal. It is only the current methods of control that are inappropriate and must be altered. Once the stigma of criminalization is removed, the relatively few users who develop abuse or dependence problems could come forward and get help. Taking the marijuana market out of criminal hands would ensure purity, quality controls, and the like.

It would also eliminate the possibility that the dealer, motivated by greed, would entice the marijuana user to try harder, more dangerous (and more profitable) drugs. Social Issues.