Imagine suffering from an unbearable pain and discomfort and being denied the medication you need for relief because it is a controlled substance. Medicinal marijuana is a term used to define derivatives of marijuana that can be used to treat various ailments. Marijuana is an illegal substance in all but 16 states in the United States. This means majority of American citizens who are willing to choose medicinal marijuana are unable to consume it as acceptable therapy for their ailments.
This proposal will advance the argument for the legalization of medicinal marijuana. The thesis statement is that the United States as a whole should legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes because it is effective, non-addictive, traceable, safe and profitable.
The history of medicinal marijuana is relatively short compared to that of marijuana as a whole. Marijuana is a plant that has been used for thousands of years. Blanchard explains that before 1840, marijuana was mainly used for intoxication purposes. During the 1840s, physicians in the United States noted that there was therapeutic potential in the drug. In the period between 1850 and 1940, marijuana was recognized in the United States Pharmacopoeia as medicinal (Eddy 41). As the popularity of medicinal marijuana, regular marijuana was facing causing security concern because it was associated with increased crime. By 1939, most states had already enacted laws that prohibited the use of marijuana. This illegalization caused medicinal marijuana to be scraped form The National Formulary as well as The United States Pharmacopoeia (Eddy 42). In 1937, the Marijuana Tax was introduced on all marijuana buyers, growers and sellers. In 1996, the states of California and Arizona became the first to legalize medicinal marijuana for therapeutic purposes (Eddy 67). Currently 34 states still maintain the ban on medicinal marijuana. Millions of Americans in these states are banned from choosing therapies that contain marijuana because it is illegal.
Medicinal marijuana should be decriminalized because there is an extensive a body of research from around the globe that supports the therapeutic properites of marijuana. Studies have repeatedly shown that marijuana can effectively alleviate symptoms such as nausea muscle spasms, spasticity and chronic pain. Additionally, marijuana can increase appetite, reduce intraocular pressure and relieve anxiety (Eddy 27). Since most of the symptoms mentioned are common in cancer, HIV and other illnesses, marijuana can be utilized in treating such patients. The intrinsic therapeutic properties of marijuana should be a reason for state governments to legalize medicinal marijuana.
Marijuana when used for medicinal purposes does not have the same effects as recreational marijuana. Ronald Swartz, an employee of the Department of Social Work at Humboldt State University in Arcata California and writer of “Medical marijuana users in substance abuse treatment” explains how medical marijuana users actually had better results in therapy compared to recreational users of marijuana (Swartz 6). The difference in results was attributed to the purpose, style and frequency of usage rather than the drug. Steven Wishnia, author of the article “Is Marijuana Addictive?” states that, “The estimate most often cited, based on a NIDA-supported survey from the early 1990s, is that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will develop dependence at some point in their lives, compared with 15 percent for alcohol, 17 percent for cocaine, 23 percent for heroin, and 32 percent for tobacco” (Wishnia1). He estimates that some marijuana users will get addicted but the number of users who actually get addicted to the substance is very small. However, most sources say that addiction and Marijuana do not go together. The numbers from the previous surveys prove that this is true.
All though marijuana is not completely “safe” it is safer than other legal controlled substances. One person that occupies the side for relaxing marijuana laws is Paul Armentano, a senior policy analyst of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). In an article titled “Marijuana Laws” Armentano states that the greatest danger to health posed by the consumption of cannabis by adults arises from criminal arrests and incarceration associated with the substance. Marijuana has been said to be a relatively safe drug compared to the other substances used for recreational reasons according to the current issue of Current Opinion in Pharmacology”(Marshal 2).He is stating that the laws should be relaxed in order to cut down crime and help the economy more by having more taxpayers. But some say that the laws should not be relaxed due to health reasons. Robert L. DuPont, M.D., the president of the Institute for Behavior and Health and theformer director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stated that “like speeding, drunken driving, smoking cigarettes in elevators and failing to buckle your seat belt in a car, possessing and selling marijuana are prohibited in order to protect the public health” (Marshal 2). He sticks to his claim but researchers from Vancouver Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) Research Group give a compelling argument. The Vancouver BOLD Research group conducted a study in Canada in which they surveyed a random section of 878 people aged 40 years and above. They asked about their medical history regarding respiratory symptoms together with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). From these results they were able to state, “Smoking both tobacco and marijuana synergistically increased the risk of respiratory symptoms and COPD. Smoking marijuana only was not associated with an increased risk of respiratory symptoms or COPD” (Don et al. 1). As a result, there is no excuse as to why medicinal marijuana is not legal and these other substances such as tobacco and alcohol are.
Furthermore, once medicinal marijuana is legalized, its use will be controlled much like other prescription drugs. Patients will be required to get a physician’s recommendation or prescription for the medicinal marijuana. Pharmacists will demand for these signed recommendations before they can issue any issue any prescriptions. Legalization will increase control and traceability of consumption. This is not to say that legalization of medicinal marijuana will prevent abuse. Bruce Mirken, Director of Communications of the Marijuana Policy Project, believes that abuse of medicinal marijuana is inevitable and that federal surveys indicate that an average of seven million Americans abused various prescription drugs in a month (Kartel 1). This does not include marijuana but does include FDA approved drugs such as Morphine, OxyContin, and Methadone. The drugs described could be deadly if abused and yet they do not require documentation during purchase. The question then begs, why certain more harmful drugs less controlled than medicinal marijuana which is less harmful?
The opponents of the legalization of marijuana, and by extension, medicinal marijuana have argued that its decriminalization will pave way for campaigns to legalize other dangerous narcotics such as cocaine and heroin. Joel W. Hay, a professor of Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California, created a grim picture of the reasons why marijuana should remain illegal. He says that “Alcohol and tobacco are safe as long as their business interests contribute to pot legalization, and marijuana will be safe after decriminalization as long as their merchants contribute to the inevitable next round of political campaigns to legalize heroin and cocaine” (Dubner 1). While it is true that recreational marijuana is a gateway drug to stronger narcotics, this progression does not apply to medicinal marijuana. At the same time, government should pay more attention to alcohol and tobacco which are legal substances but possible more harmful than marijuana. Robert Platshorn, a former marijuana smuggler and leader the largest marijuana-trafficking cartels in the 1970s holds a dissenting opinion. He argues that decriminalizing marijuana would deprive the black market of business and profits. Secondly it would allow government to collect taxes relieving a substantial burden on taxpayers. Furthermore it would permit the police force to concentrate on serious crime instead of pursuing the more than 800,000 citizens who are arrested for marijuana related offenses. Taxpayers would save at least $14 billion (Dubner 1). Milton Friedman and more than 500 other economists endorse the legalization of marijuana saying that the substance has real economic value (Dubner 2). Having the literal firsthand experience, Platshorn proves that legalization is profitable and relieve burdens rather than cause them with heroin and cocaine.
Citizens being able to get jobs by lowering crime rate and overall helping the economy are possible outcomes that stem from the legalization of Marijuana which is safe and effective. The reasons stated above are controversial issues that arise when the topic of “Legalization of Marijuana” is brought into a conversation. Some believe that it would lead to “back-door legalization” which is almost impossible due to the traceability that legalization would introduce. The profits medicinal marijuana would provide are staggering which should open people’s eyes and that marijuana has health benefits and a little addiction, if at all.
The question of whether medicinal marijuana will become legal in the remaining thirty-six states is subject to time. The debate is further complicated by the fear of the unknown and deeply rooted stereotypes. Of note is the assumption that marijuana is responsible for crime and violent behavior. This assumption holds for other intoxicating substances such as alcohol. It is time that the myths and the stereotypes that surround medicinal marijuana are debunked. Medicinal marijuana is not recreational marijuana. It is a drug just like morphine which can helps to ease pain but is also subject to abuse. Unlike morphine, medicinal marijuana can be used to relieve pain without the addiction that is typically associated with morphine.
The opponents of legalization should realize that medicinal marijuana is not a luxury but an efficient drug for several ailments. America and Americans stand to gain both economically and health wise from the legalization of medicinal marijuana. The government can enact stricter laws to inhibit the abuse of medicinal marijuana and other prescription drugs. On the back of the facts and arguments presented in this paper, the debate should shift from “why” medicinal marijuana should be legalized to “how” it can be integrated into the healthcare system with minimal abuse.
Don D. Sin, et al. "Marijuana And Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease: A Population- Based Study." CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal 180.8 (2009): 814- 820. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.
Dubner, Stephen J., “What Would Happen if Marijuana Were Legalized?” Freakonomics blog. The New York Times, 22 May 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2008
Eddy, Mark, “Medical Marijuana: Review and Analysis of Federal and State Policies.” Congressional Research Service (2003): 25-27. CQ Researcher. Web.12 Apr. 2013.
Katel, Peter. "Legalizing Marijuana." CQ Researcher 12 June 2009: 525-48. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.
Swartz, Ronald. "Medical Marijuana Users In Substance Abuse Treatment." Harm Reduction Journal 7.(2010): 1-9. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.
Wishnia, Steven. "Is Marijuana Addictive?" Editorial. alternet.org. N.p., 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2013