Should Marijuana Be Legal? Experts Weigh In
Call it a sign of society’s moral erosion, an act of economic desperation or folks finally coming to their senses, but a record-high number of Americans – 61% – now support marijuana legalization, according to a March 2016 survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Such sentiment is the product of a decades-long shift in perspective, which has taken this hot-button issue from the realm of “I didn't inhale, and I never tried again” to "When I was a kid I inhaled frequently; that was the point." And that’s just commanders in chief talking!
But the topic of toking has in recent years come to a head, with four states and the District of Columbia legalizing the drug and another 16 states enacting some form of decriminalization, turning the rest of us into rubberneckers eager to see what would happen. The early returns have been promising for pot proponents, with Washington reaping $83 million in tax revenue the first year of legalization, while also saving millions of dollars on law enforcement resources, thanks to a 98% drop in low-level marijuana offenses. Similarly, Colorado collected roughly $41 million in tax revenue and saw an 84% decline in marijuana-possession arrests.
Not everyone is ready to climb aboard Puff the Magic Dragon just yet, however. From concerned parents to threatened corporations, the reasons for opposition are varied. For example, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest anti-marijuana lobbying groups, and a recent study from researchers at the University of Georgia perhaps explains why, showing that the average doctor in a medical-marijuana state writes 1,589 fewer prescriptions for anti-anxiety, anti-nausea and seizure medication each year.
With that in mind and much of the pot problem still unsolved, we turned to a panel of leading experts in the fields of economics, public policy, law enforcement and healthcare for additional insights. We asked them one simple question: Should marijuana be legal? You can find their bios and responses – including 19 Yes’s and 7 No’s – below. And make sure to share your thoughts on the issue in the Comments section, too!
Yes – Marijuana Should Be Legal
- “Back in 1966, concerned that so many young people were harming themselves through the use of marijuana, I began to review the medical and scientific literature to help clarify the nature of this harmfulness. Much to my surprise, I discovered that it was a substance remarkably free of toxicity. In fact, it is far safer than any pharmaceutical or recreational drug. There is no record of a single overdose death around the world from its recreational or medicinal use. Compare that to aspirin, which is responsible for more than 1000 deaths per year in this country alone.”
- Lester Grinspoon, M.D. // Associate Professor Emeritus, Harvard Medical School
- “We need to move beyond our completely broken prohibition model on marijuana to a sensible tax-and-regulate model. It’s widely recognized that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and our law is dishonest in how we treat it.”
- Richard N. Gottfried // Chair, Committee On Health, New York State Assembly
- “Cannabis should be legalized. Legalization of adult use of cannabis would change the landscape of cannabis use, and deliveries would be a key component in continuing to allow legal users safe access to quality tested cannabis while keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors.”
- Keith McCarty // CEO and Founder, Eaze
- “If marijuana were legalized and regulated, thus treating it the same way we treat alcohol in this country, a number of positive developments should be expected to follow. First, we would put an end to the extraordinarily discriminatory fashion in which we have enforced our marijuana laws, which has done extensive damage to communities of color. Second, we could begin to treat addiction as a health problem, which is what it is. Third, we could begin to educate our children more honestly and, therefore, more effectively, as we do about alcohol and cigarettes.”
- Andrew Horwitz // Assistant Dean for Experiential Education, Roger Williams University School of Law
Marijuana should at least be decriminalized, as it has been in Portugal especially, but also in other European nations. Portugal is the prime example of decriminalization working. Personal possession of substances results in no criminal penalties. Portugal made the change in 2001, and went from having one of the worst substance problems in Europe, to one of the best. An internet search for ‘Portugal decriminalization’ will yield a substantial set of stories on the subject.
Does anyone need to use marijuana to have a better life? Some individuals with various medical or psychological problems may indeed benefit substantially from marijuana, but others, who do not need marijuana, simply enjoy the experience. Although we can tell them not to enjoy it, prohibiting marijuana (and other substance use) has worked about as well as alcohol prohibition (1919-1933) did: Not very well.
We have created many more problems with the War on Drugs (actually a war on drug users) than we would have without that war. We have created a set of laws that are widely ignored, leading to a lower respect for law in general. We have imprisoned many people who have had very small offenses in comparison to the sentences they have received.
Perhaps most significantly, we have given drug dealers a very strong financial incentive to market marijuana and other substances. Ask most teenagers what is harder to get, alcohol or marijuana, and they most often state that alcohol is harder to get. Alcohol sales are state regulated. If we were serious about keeping marijuana out of the hands of those under 21, we would regulate it not outlaw it. Although solid data is not yet available for Colorado and other states that have legalized marijuana, we can expect to see these states have lower problems over time with marijuana, just as Portugal did. They now experience lower rates of substance use and problems in younger people.
The arguments against marijuana (primarily that it damages brains, and that it can lead to other substance use) are also true for alcohol, yet alcohol remains legal. Most drinkers manage alcohol use without major problems. With decriminalization or legalization we would arrive at the same situation with marijuana (most would effectively manage it), and we would not have to experience the damage done by the War on Drugs.
Back in 1966, concerned that so many young people were harming themselves through the use of marijuana, I began to review the medical and scientific literature to help clarify the nature of this harmfulness. Much to my surprise, I discovered that it was a substance remarkably free of toxicity. In fact, it is far safer than any pharmaceutical or recreational drug. There is no record of a single overdose death around the world from its recreational or medicinal use. Compare that to aspirin, which is responsible for more than 1000 deaths per year in this country alone.
Many of those who staunchly defend the prohibition against marijuana believe we do not yet know enough about it to be able to make the kinds of decisions that are now necessary. Despite the US government's three-quarter-century-long prohibition of marijuana and its confinement to Schedule 1 of the Drug Control and Abuse Act of 1970, it is nonetheless one of the most studied therapeutically active substances in history; to date there are more than 23,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature referencing the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, nearly half of which were published within the past five years. By contrast hydrocodone, a pharmaceutical opioid which is responsible for a large and growing number of overdose deaths from illicit use, yields just more than 600 references in the entire compilation of the available scientific research. The entirety of this research supports none of the claims of those who believe that it is a harmful substance, whether used as a medicine or a recreational drug.
Marijuana simply does not conform to the conceptual boundaries established by 20th-century institutions. It is truly a sui generis substance; is there another non-toxic drug which is capable of heightening many pleasures, has a large and growing number of medical uses and has the potential to enhance some individual capacities? The only workable way of realizing the full potential of this remarkable substance is to free it from the present dual set of regulations – – those that control prescription drugs in general and the special criminal laws that control psychoactive substances. These mutually reinforcing laws establish a set of social categories that strangle its uniquely multifaceted potential. The only way out is to cut the knot by giving marijuana the same status as alcohol – – legalizing it for adults for all uses and removing it entirely from the medical and criminal control systems.
I am a DEA certified cannabis expert. I am a Veteran. I am a patient.
Let’s get it down right. ‘Marijuana’ is slang. The subject of my comment is a plant, an herb, correctly called ‘cannabis.’ It is not a drug. Cannabis compounds may be used therapeutically. Cannabis compounds are identical to compounds in all humans, in all living creatures excepting insects, produced by the ‘Endocannabinoid System’ (ECS) which regulates all physiological systems: pulmonary, neurological, immune, etc. All creatures have cannabis compound/ECS receptors in every organ: heart, brain, lungs, skeleton, skin, etc.
Veterans use cannabis to reduce or eliminate opiates, pharmaceuticals and alcohol legally, medically, in Veteran Health Administration (VHA) facilities in 27 states. Veteran suicides are around four dozen a day. Vets that use cannabis reduce suicidal thoughts.I have used cannabis for pain and PTSS for 40 years-plus. I have interviewed hundreds of Vets on international radio (archived) that confirm my written words. The VHA has allowed cannabis therapeutic use for over six years without a reported problem.
What I really want is for Vets to be treated equally in the VHA system. The VHA leadership are health care professionals: MD's, RN's, science based PhD's. In July 2010, by directive, the VHA declared cannabis was a medicine and its use in VHA facilities by Vets who complied with state law would be incorporated into their treatment protocol. The injustice is personal. An insult to my Brothers and Sisters. We are pissed. If I lived in Maine and sought help in a VA facility I would be welcomed. I live in Florida. As a cannabis patient seeking help in a VA facility, security would be called and escort me from the grounds, warned to return only when I had no cannabis in my system.
I am thankful to those in the VHA that stood for Veterans all they could. VHA policy, ignored by Congress, is now the most illogical, immoral, modern medically unethical protocol ever undertaken, and it is inflicted on wounded U.S. military Veterans!
All I see are bad medical cannabis laws or none at all in some states. Lawyers and cops have taken control of a medical issue, witches with not a scintilla of medical or nursing education. Quacks. The medical community has abrogated their responsibility to those ‘practicing medicine without a license.’
Veterans faced death and survived, and now we are supposed to wait for charlatans to decide if the VHA can provide equal health care? We did not sacrifice, our cohorts did not die or suffer for ignorance to prevail. If legalization provides equal care in the VHA I'm for it.
Let’s get something straight. In 2014 there were 3.9 million people who sold illegal drugs in the United States, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. As marijuana is the most popular and widely used illegal drug it is likely that most of these people sold marijuana.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, there were 263,848 arrests for illegal drug sales in 2014 – meaning 6.7% of the people who sell illegal drugs were arrested for this crime. The number of people arrested for selling marijuana were 81,184, or 2.1% of all the people selling illegal drugs.
The illegal drug market sells marijuana to teenagers. Experts are in agreement that delaying the age of first use of marijuana and other drugs is one of the most reliable ways to reduce drug abuse in our society. Indeed, many the concerns legalization opponents have about marijuana argue against their primary interest, increasing societal protections against teen use. Look at how teenagers get marijuana.
In 2014 there were close to half a million drug sellers under the age of 18. That’s how many teenagers get marijuana; they buy it from other teens. Here is one of the ways prohibition corrupts American society, it teaches young people that there is easy money to be made breaking the law. Teens sell marijuana to take advantage of the artificially high profits available because of the drug’s illegality.
Consider this. Yes, teens use alcohol and tobacco even though these legal drugs have age restrictions. But there is no thriving market of illicit alcohol and tobacco sales from teen to teen. A considerable reduction of the corrupting illegal market in teen to teen marijuana sales is one of the most important benefits that can result from marijuana’s legalization.
Legalization will reduce the availability of marijuana to teenagers by restricting legal access to adults and by reducing and removing profit incentives for teens to sell marijuana to their peers. Furthermore, it will eliminate the corruption prohibition has on teenagers, which now teaches many they can make easy money selling drugs and that they can break the law without fear of consequences.
Remember, close to 4 million people sell illegal drugs every year and only 2% to 7% of them are caught. To be precise, only 2.1% of people selling illegal drugs get arrested for selling marijuana. This is not deterrence, not in practical terms, and it contradicts two central arguments against marijuana legalization. Prohibition is not effective in sending a message to young people that selling marijuana is wrong, and it is not effective in reducing teen access to marijuana. Prohibition is not an effective means of drug control, and it has a corrupting effect on America’s young. Marijuana’s legalization, on the other hand, addresses these central and important issues and a more effective manner.
Yes, marijuana should be legal like carrots. The price would plunge. The drug cartels would find something else to sell. People would feel better. It’s a good deal.
As a neuroscientist who has extensively studied the actions of cannabinoids in the brain of animals, I cannot answer your question in the manner you wish. The answer is neither Yes or No. The answer depends upon what one chooses as the criteria for making any chemical legal. If the only criteria is that a chemical produce euphoria and is safe, then the answer is Yes. However, one must also accept the risks associated with making any euphoria-inducing drug legal; we need only look at the problems with alcohol and tobacco. Also, once a chemical is out of Pandora's jar, there is no putting it back.
In contrast, if one's criteria is that the chemical produce some medical benefit, and that it is safe, then the answer must be No. There are no scientifically proven benefits of marijuana in humans. There is considerable, very promising evidence from animal studies, including many that I have published. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding as well as political and social prejudices, no reliable (!) human studies have ever been conducted. Thus, no one knows with certainty whether marijuana will produce beneficial effects in humans.
I believe that marijuana will be shown to be very beneficial, however beliefs do not substitute for actual proof. That said, any society is free to ignore the safety of the chemicals it makes available to its citizens; after all, there is rarely any relationship between the safety of a chemical and its legal status.
The answer to your question regarding legalization is, of course, a resounding YES! However, more than the devil lays in the details.
The greatest problem with prohibition was summed up by the National Constitution Center with regard to alcohol: ‘In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure. It encouraged criminality and institutionalized hypocrisy. It deprived the government of revenue, created a culture of official corruption, and imposed profound limitations on individual rights.’
Frankly, there is simply far too much financial potential for marijuana not to become legalized. Still, the great wealth won’t be in the hands of collectives who serve the poor, mom and pop businesses, or even the dispensaries (unless they have developed into retail chains). Think about how many ‘micro distilleries’ survived the legalization of alcohol. As we see with California statewide regulations and the new ‘legalization’ efforts, the restrictions are many. They are designed to protect mega corporate interests. Just as happened with alcohol, the end of prohibition will make it in some ways more difficult to acquire cannabis as a medicine or for recreation. When it comes to unadulterated, whole plant phytotherapies, the pharmaceutical industry recognizes that small farms can produce high quality, standardized plants and that compound chemists can create powerful plant medicines, far less expensive and not subject to the same costly and cumbersome controls. The biggest threat and the bottom line to the mega-corporation is that the numerous small cannabis-production businesses are competition that cuts into profit. And egalitarian principles fade under that corporate credo.
After the operations are divvied, the question remains, how will poor patients be served? Just as they are now; largely unable to purchase medical cannabis, limited by a system that provides the best ‘wealth care’ for the most dollars. As communities struggle with creating infrastructure to manage the intricacies surrounding the end of prohibition, few have written into law a ‘compassionate access’ directive, obliging profiteers to provide a percentage of equivalent products sold to the indigent. It seems to me that it is the duty of every community, to create safe access, to impact poverty and to reduce suffering.
We need to move beyond our completely broken prohibition model on marijuana to a sensible tax-and-regulate model. It’s widely recognized that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and our law is dishonest in how we treat it.
Continued criminalization of marijuana does nothing to prevent marijuana use. It creates an illegal drug market that costs millions of dollars in law enforcement and other resources while disproportionately punishing African-American and Latino communities.
Public health research consistently shows similar rates of marijuana use across races, with rates actually higher among Whites ages 18-25 than others. However, African-Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites. In 2010, it cost the City of New York $75 million to arrest and jail people for possession – and over a decade, marijuana possession arrests ate up over 1 million hours of New York City police officers’ time.
Supporters of continued marijuana criminalization argue that relaxing marijuana laws leads to increased use, particularly among young people, and may also lead to use of other illicit drugs. However, evidence shows drug use among high school students declining, at levels near the lowest on record, even as many states have reduced criminal penalties (such as changing misdemeanor possession charges to violations) or even legalized recreational use (such as in Colorado and Washington.)
While I would not advocate moving to a tax-and-regulate approach for the purpose of revenue generation, it is clear that state governments can also benefit from this approach. Colorado in 2015 collected nearly double from marijuana taxes what that state generated from alcohol taxes. It is far better that the demand for marijuana be met by licensed, regulated and taxed business owners rather than an underground illegal market.
It’s going to take a lot of advocacy for broader adoption of the tax-and-regulate model. There is strong public support, but many elected officials tend to be jittery about any issue relating to drugs. Fortunately, the experiences of states like Colorado and Washington have shown the effectiveness of this approach and can serve as models for other states considering similar laws – including New York, where I co-sponsor tax-and-regulate legislation as Chair of the Assembly Health Committee.
Cannabis should be legalized.
Legalization of adult use of cannabis would change the landscape of cannabis use, and deliveries would be a key component in continuing to allow legal users safe access to quality tested cannabis while keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors. The use of medical marijuana has been legal in California for the past twenty years. Today we have 25 states plus the District of Columbia with some form of legalized use. In 2012, we saw the first year where the majority of Americans favored legalization. In an industry which has historically had little to no oversight, legalization would provide a regulatory framework to ensure safety and furthermore, allow for more research to be done around the medicinal benefits.
Eaze is a technology company changing the game. From day one, Eaze has been incredibly data driven. In an industry starved for concrete data, Eaze uses data insights to better understand patient behavior and preferences, as well as to create a technology that facilitates safe delivery. Since safe access is of paramount importance, Eaze has worked, and continues to work with regulators to help them understand the market better so they can craft a regulatory framework that makes sense. Legalization will help increase the market understanding of this industry and ultimately create a safer and more educated cannabis industry.
Along with over 80% of people living in the United States, I strongly feel that cannabis should be legal both for recreational and medical use. Cannabis is an excellent reducer of stress, and is far less likely to trigger any aggression or hostility in the user. Because cannabis can be enjoyed in several ways that do not include smoking, that is no longer an issue for recreational users. Cannabis is not addictive and there has never been a fatality from an overdose. Cannabis is food, possibly the healthiest food in the world.
In terms of medical use, I have actually come to refer to cannabis as a miracle. Daily use of a very small amount of cannabis has completely managed my epilepsy for three years. I am symptom-free. I have seen, first hand, two friends who have eliminated their pain from rheumatoid arthritis, and several friends who have been able to stop opioid use by using cannabis to manage their severe pain.
Just today I sponsored an event for ‘Grow for Vets’, and Mary and I worked with veterans with severe PTSD and terrible pain who are trying to use cannabis rather than opiates. There have been extremely positive results, it’s been wonderful.
When cannabis is legal, people who have been acquiring cannabis on the ‘Black Market,’ will be able to know with certainty that the cannabis they ingest does not contain any contaminates or mold and pesticides. Additionally, legal cannabis will allow people to choose the dose that is right for them.
Additionally, the revenue amassed by legal cannabis sales has been huge, and this has benefited education and other public programs. Crime has not increased in the states where cannabis is available, and I guarantee everyone who is switching to weed is being a lot nicer than when they were drinking. Maybe a little fatter!
‘Our country has deliberately undertaken a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose. - Herbert Hoover, 1928
To fully appreciate where we are, first look to where we’ve been. Prohibition failed in the thirties, just like our modern prohibition has failed us for the past century. It has not improved our economy, nor our children’s safety. The difference is how quickly the American public noticed the abject failure of the social experiment of prohibition, and quickly corrected course between the 18th and the 21st Constitutional Amendments. Within those thirteen years, with the formal abdication of control, violent and organized criminals were thrilled to take up the manufacture, distribution, sales and profits of a popular commodity now considered contraband, yet in demand.
President Woodrow Wilson had tried unsuccessfully to veto the harsh punishments for violating the 18th Amendment, known as the Volstead Act, which also granted unprecedented power to a newly formed enforcement arm of the Internal Revenue Service. America also saw the birth of a federal police force whose focus was not to solve violent crimes such as murder, rape, assault or crimes against others like property crime or arson. The new political priority, which has trickled down to every state, local and municipal police force in the country, has been to focus on possession and sales in the name of public safety. The effect has been devastating; expensive in cost and the waste of precious police resources, the unfortunate loss of community policing due to introduced corruption and militarization.
In the end, prohibition proved difficult and expensive to enforce, while fortifying organized crime networks with increased illegal trafficking and public consumption of unregulated and dangerous bathtub concoctions. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized the failure and came into office with the hope of modifying or repealing the Volstead Act. FDR considered the Beer and Wine Revenue Act, a law that levied federal tax on all alcoholic beverages, ‘of the highest importance’ for its potential to raise revenue to pull the American economy out of the Great Depression, funding the New Deal. It raised the vital revenue and also allowed the states to further regulate the sale and distribution of beer and wine.
With prohibition, we lost our ability to control or regulate ‘who’ can purchase, ‘what’ ingredients and potency is of what is being produced, ‘how’ it is manufactured, ‘where’ it is sold and by whom, ‘when’ you are old enough to purchase and consume it. When we just say NO, we lose the ability to test the product for safety, ingredients and potency and we forgo the ability to require it be labeled with ingredients, sources and expiration date. We are also deprived of the fees and taxes collected to pay for regulation, testing and control.
The past century has been an economic miss. Unfortunately, we are no safer; the police murder clearance rate of 95% in the 50’s is now just over 50%, so criminals have a better than even chance of getting away with murder. An arrest, is an arrest, is an arrest. (Pot smokers also tend to sit still and confess easily). Let’s not forfeit our capability to control, tax and regulate the most popular cash crop in the world. Look to the states who have experimented with regulation and found a decrease in violent crime, a decrease in opioid overdose deaths, a decrease in male suicide, a decrease in domestic violence. No increase in use among youth, only a chance to build schools rather than prisons with our money because of the massive increase in tax revenue!
As we turn to marijuana policy reform, and realize as a substance cannabis is safer than alcohol (so the most dangerous aspect is getting busted with it). It is time for otherwise law-abiding citizens to be allowed to participate in the manufacture, distribution, and sales of legal cannabis by passing a national Cannabis Revenue Act, to finally reverse the failed social experiment of prohibition once and for all.
If marijuana were legalized and regulated, thus treating it the same way we treat alcohol in this country, a number of positive developments should be expected to follow. First, we would put an end to the extraordinarily discriminatory fashion in which we have enforced our marijuana laws, which has done extensive damage to communities of color. Second, we could begin to treat addiction as a health problem, which is what it is. Third, we could begin to educate our children more honestly and, therefore, more effectively, as we do about alcohol and cigarettes.
I believe that legalization will come to pass but, like any movement that requires a change in thinking (such as same-sex marriage), it will take some time.
Twenty years have passed since California became the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twenty-four24 other states have since followed suit (with the most recent being Ohio and Pennsylvania), and an additional 16 states allow for the medical use of low THC, high-cannabidiol marijuana. Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and it is anticipated that several other states, including California, will have marijuana legalization measures on the ballot in the November 2016 elections.
It is clear that the marijuana legalization ship has sailed, and despite attempts to demonize the substance by groups such as ‘Smart Approaches to Marijuana’ (Project SAM), certain federal government agencies, and some in the law enforcement community, the ship has not sunk. And despite dire predictions of huge increases in use (especially on the part of young people), increased carnage on our highways from stoned drivers, and exponential increases in hospitalizations/emergency room visits, among other negative outcomes, for the most part, these outcomes have not materialized.
Although it is important to stress that recreational sales have only occurred for two-and-a-half years in Colorado, and two years in Washington, the available data indicate that marijuana legalization makes sense for a number of reasons – only three of which we highlight here.
(1) Fiscal Issues – While the black market for marijuana has not been eliminated, legal sales of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado were just under $1 billion in 2015, and the state collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees from marijuana sales in that year. Two years into recreational sales in Washington, the state had collected more than $250 million in excise taxes. And although it is difficult to monetize the (primarily criminal justice-related) cost savings from not enforcing marijuana laws, the total number of marijuana charges filed in Colorado courts declined from 10,236 in 2010 to 2,036 in 2014 (a decrease of 80%). In Washington, marijuana law violations decreased from 6,196 in 2012 to 2,316 in 2014 (a 63% decline). It is certainly reasonable to infer that both states have realized significant savings by not arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders.
(2) Reduction in criminalization – In 2014, there were over 700,000 arrests for marijuana law violations in the U.S., 88% of which were for simple possession. The data from Colorado and Washington presented above indicate that marijuana legalization will lead to significant reductions in the criminalization of low-level marijuana offenders. African-Americans (who use marijuana at similar rates to Whites) were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana law violations as Whites. While racial disparities in arrests for marijuana-related offenses still exist in Colorado and Washington, they appear to have been attenuated under legalization (especially with respect to fewer African-Americans being criminalized for marijuana possession).
(3) The relative harm of marijuana – While not completely harmless, marijuana is a relatively benign substance, especially in comparison to legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, and prescription painkillers, the latter of which have were associated with more than 165,000 deaths from overdose over the 1999-2014 period. Emerging research indicates that for some individuals, marijuana may actually serve as a substitute for alcohol and prescription opioids, leading to significant reductions in social harm.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, it is highly unlikely that marijuana will be legalized at the federal level in the United States. However, it is similarly unlikely that states that have already legalized will turn back the clock, and several other states are likely to legalize recreational marijuana sales in the near future.
First of all, we should call it Cannabis – the proper name for this highly beneficial plant. There is much baggage with ‘marijuana’ or ‘marihuana,’ the Mexican name for this ancient plant. The alcohol prohibition had ended in the 1930s and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs needed a new drug menace to justify their existence. Cannabis was a well-known and commonly used medicine, but the bureau’s head, Harry Anslinger, purposely used the Mexican name for cannabis to create a reefer madness hysteria about a ‘new and dangerous drug’ that was based on lies, racism and greed. And today, despite all of the national studies that fail to justify its prohibition, cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
Over the last several decades I’ve come to realize that the larger question should be: How did we ever allow a PLANT to become prohibited by law in the first place? The idea that we have been accepting the prohibition of this plant and the subsequent punishment for those who plant its seeds, grow the plant, use the plant, share or sell the plant is totally insane.
We haven’t banned grapevines, yet one can make wine from the grapes. We haven’t banned grains, yet one can make alcoholic beverages from them. We haven’t banned tobacco even though it is linked to more than 400,000 annual deaths. We haven’t banned the toxic plant Foxglove from which digitalis, a heart medication, is made. We haven’t banned mushrooms – some of which are poisonous while others are hallucinogenic. We haven’t banned poison ivy, even though this plant causes harm to most who come in contact with it. Why have we allowed cannabis to be prohibited?
Cannabis is a remarkable non-toxic plant along with its low-THC cousin hemp. Yes, one can dry the leaves and flowers of the plant and smoke them or make medicinal products from the plant (which may or may not have psychoactive properties depending upon the amount of ONE of the cannabinoids found in the plant). But beyond its use as an intoxicant or as an herbal medicine, the plant can be used to make food, fuel, paper, building materials, bedding, skin and hair products, textiles, biodegradable plastics and more. And I haven’t even mentioned the newly discovered endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps explain how and why cannabis is essential for optimal health.
The DEA has placed cannabis in Schedule I (the forbidden drug category) of the Controlled Substances. A synthetic form of THC was developed in capsule form and was approved as a Schedule II medicine in 1985 and several years later down-regulated to Schedule III. How is it possible that the one chemical in the plant that causes the ‘high’ is legal, while the whole plant is forbidden?
As a nurse, I know of no other plant that can provide so many health benefits to individuals, communities, and the planet. The prohibition of the cannabis/hemp plant is a crime against nature. Let’s end the insanity and free this plant.
Medical marijuana should be legal nationwide. Today, over 300 million Americans live in states with medical cannabis laws, and over 2 million individuals are legally using medical cannabis under their state programs. However, all of these patients and programs are in violations of federal laws. In 2015, through a bipartisan effort, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S. 683, H.R. 1538) to resolve the state-federal conflict over medical cannabis. The bills are currently stuck in their respective committees awaiting a vote.
Pre-clinical, observational, and clinical research has demonstrated therapeutic applications for cannabis and cannabis products in conditions such as Cancer, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis-C, Chronic/Neuropathic Pain, Multiple Sclerosis, Movement Disorders, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Epilepsy and Seizures, Glaucoma, and PTSD. A lack of viable treatment options from conventional medicine for these conditions is driving a global movement to create safe and legal access to medical cannabis.
Cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years due to its safety profile and vast interactions in the human body. A lethal toxic overdose of cannabis has never been documented. Unlike opiates, cannabis compounds, such as THC, do not depress respiration or heart function, and lifetime use is not significantly associated with increased morbidity, brain damage or cerebral atrophy.
After 20 years of experimentation, medical cannabis programs now include robust regulations that address public health and safety issues such as diversion for non-medical use and product safety protocols. Studies on these programs have shown little to no negative impact, and in some areas, positive effects on public health outcomes. In 2014, an article from the Journal of American Medicine found that ‘States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.’ Recently the National Bureau of Economic Research reported ‘Our findings suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers.’
Surveys of medical cannabis patients have suggested that cannabis is often used to decrease the use of other drugs. A recent study from University of Georgia found that Medicare experienced a savings of $165.2 million on prescription drugs across 17 states and the District of Columbia with medical cannabis laws, and reported savings would have reached $468 million if all states had medical cannabis programs.
If Congress passes the CARERS Act these programs would no longer be in conflict with federal law. Furthermore, federal agencies could better study and inform programs, such as the EPA creating safe pesticide lists or NIH studying cannabis as a tool to fight the nation’s opiate crisis. For millions of Americans medical cannabis is legal under their state law, it is time for the federal government to show leadership and support for the 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam that are creating medical cannabis programs to address the needs of their residents.
The time has come to end prohibition on marijuana. Currently 50% of US States have medical or recreational marijuana legally available, and 75% of states have reduced federal penalties. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, since 2013 the majority of American voters are in favor of legalizing marijuana. The upswing in support of legalization started in earnest after medical marijuana was approved in California and Arizona in 1996.
The prohibition of marijuana accrues enormous social costs. The sheer amount of time and resources dedicated by law enforcement agencies to arrest otherwise law abiding citizens for marijuana possession is egregious, as it allocates time away from other critical issues and has not been successful in the goal of reducing drug use. The ricocheting effects and repercussions of these unnecessary arrests are felt acutely by individuals, and systemically through minority and poor communities.
In an April 2016 article in Harper’s Magazine John Erlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy advisor, discussed how the ‘war on drugs’ was established to disenfranchise the opponents to Nixon’s campaign. This policy was constructed to allow the administration to disrupt black and hippie communities by having the public to associate marijuana and heroin use to these populations, then heavily criminalize them. These policies were founded on prejudices for political gain, not in the interest of public health and justice.
Marijuana has shown promise as a tool for healing and reducing suffering. The plant has been used to treat diseases and conditions including cancer, PTSD, epilepsy, pain, inflammation, seizures, anxiety, depression, autoimmune disorders, and substance abuse. Recent studies have shown that medical marijuana use for chronic pain can reduce rates of opiate addiction, and that it is a more affordable alternative to pharmaceuticals with the potential to save millions of dollars each year in Medicare costs. Additionally, researchers have supported claims that marijuana is safer and poses fewer health risks than drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco. Although 25 states have now legalized medical marijuana, the plant still remains in the most severe schedule of controlled substances, with significant barriers to conducting drug development research.
By ending marijuana prohibition, we will be able to conduct rigorous scientific studies into the risks and benefits of this plant, and begin to heal the trauma caused by its persecution. We can direct the conversation away from discrimination and prejudice, toward the safe and beneficial uses of marijuana.
Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that my answer to the question of a legalized market for cannabis is a resounding yes. Although I can't reduce the rationale to a couple hundred words, I can recommend the ethical reasoning in Rob Lovering's ‘A Moral Defense of Recreational Drug Use,’ and the consequentialist arguments in my own book, ‘Understanding Marijuana.’ Of course, I do not want a bunch of toddlers purchasing edibles at the local confectionery, but a taxed and regulated market comparable to the one we use for alcohol could be much more humane, consistent with data, and defensible. My read of the data suggests that cannabis is not harmless, but it is certainly less harmful than the consequences of prohibition.
The question of legalization actually raises important issues related to government's role in citizen's lives. What is our government really for? It's delightful to think that our taxes can help protect citizens and ensure fair treatment in commerce, but do we really want government doing a lot more than that? It seems odd to expect a government to not only patrol our borders but also to keep us from deciding about our own personal behavior. We allow adults specific rights to privacy. They are all permitted to pursue happiness as they see fit so long as their actions do not harm others. The worst thing any government can do to its citizens is punish them. Do we really want to give government yet another excuse to break into our private property and penalize us for owning a plant?
Harry Levine’s work and papers by other researchers reveal that the enforcement of drug laws does not appear to penalize groups in accordance with their drug use, a fact that generates a great deal of embarrassment. Over a decade of data from Portugal reveal that decriminalizing possession of personal amounts of all drugs of abuse has helped decrease teen consumption of drugs, opiate overdoses, and HIV infections. The question isn’t ‘Should marijuana be legal?’ It’s ‘What could we possibly be waiting for?’
Well, Sort of
The legalization of marijuana remains an ongoing issue, both in informal debate and at the legislative level. Supporters and opponents of one or another proposal have set forth their arguments for at least a century. In the United States, the sale of marijuana for recreational use is legal in four states and the District of Columbia; 20 states have legalized the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes, and a dozen states have decriminalized small-quantity possession--that is, though the substance is not strictly legal, such possession (up to an ounce) is not a crime either, but an infraction calling for a small fine. The federal government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, that is, a substance with no medical use and a high potential for abuse, and evading federal restrictions on conducting medical research on the effects of the drug is cumbersome and perplexing.
The movement toward decriminalization and/or legalization will almost certainly continue, and loosening legal controls could result in a small but measurable increase in use. Still, recent research indicates that rates of use among Colorado's teenagers – -in a state where marijuana has been legal since 2012 – has remained virtually unchanged. Marijuana is a psychoactive substance; it influences the functioning of the brain, and the more pronounced that influence will be--although nationally, teen use has been slowly declining for years. Some users have become psychologically dependent on the drug, though such dependence is rarer than with most illicit substances. Emergency department incidents under the influence are relatively rare, considering the magnitude of use; on a dose-for-dose basis, cocaine, heroin and meth stand out among those substances likeliest to engender effects that require emergency care. Will marijuana legalization result in a decline in alcohol consumption? Probably not, since most users also drink, though it is possible that such use will cut down on alcohol dependence. Will pot use result in more automobile accidents? Probably, but not substantially--and if it cuts down in alcohol consumption, the reverse is likelier.
What is most likely to occur is that increases in marijuana use will result in some measure of institutionalization of the drug--that is, a ‘taming’ or domestication of its use: Learning how to cope with its effects, and, for its users, weaving its use into everyday life and minimizing its negative impact. Some form of legalization will be neither as catastrophically harmful as its opponents claim nor as benign as its supporters argue. In all likelihood, cannabis use will become, increasingly, a fact of life for the society at large. Over time, Americans will learn to live with marijuana, as they did with alcohol, a far more dangerous drug.
Before considering some relevant studies, we should recognize that the primary funders of opponents of marijuana legalization are economic interests that may suffer losses if marijuana is legalized: the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol beverage industry, police unions, and prison guard unions. Can there be anything more cynical than a union for prison guards wanting to keep possession of this relatively harmless plant illegal, so more people will have to go to prison, have their lives ruined, so their union won’t lose members?
While there has never been a documented case of death by marijuana overdose, there are various studies routinely reported, claiming evidence of various and sundry “dangers” of consuming marijuana. For example:, a study by BU researchers, reported in the Boston Globe by Kay Lazar (4/16/14; “Study finds brain changes in young marijuana users”) -- scary stuff! But if you look closely at the study, there is considerable reason to doubt the researchers’ conclusion.
First off, the researchers (and Ms. Lazar) argue that “changes” due to marijuana use were found. In fact, this is not the case. Differences in brain structure were found that the researchers want to attribute to marijuana use, but there are many alternative interpretations of this correlation between reported marijuana use and brain abnormalities. It may be that the brain abnormalities predated their marijuana use, or that some other variable that the researchers did not control for may be responsible. Because the sample size is so small, the researchers could not control statistically for much. Additionally, results from a single small sample have limited generalization to the general population.
The bigger issue is that the context Ms. Lazar provided for her report is the potential legalization of marijuana for recreational use, and the clear implication of her article is that this is a bad idea. Of course, no one should be recommending that teens use marijuana, but other drugs such as alcohol are worse. In an extensive review of neuroscience research, published in the journal Clinical EEG and Neuroscience (2009), the authors reported that, “Abnormalities have been seen in brain structure volume, white matter quality, and activation to cognitive tasks, even in youth with as little as 1–2 years of heavy drinking and consumption levels of 20 drinks per month, especially if >4–5 drinks are consumed on a single occasion. Heavy marijuana users show some subtle anomalies too, but generally not the same degree of divergence from demographically similar non-using adolescents.”
Many studies claiming negative effects of marijuana use fail to control for or even ask about alcohol use, a known neurotoxin, and thus fail to provide any strong evidence of negative consequences of using marijuana. In fact, for most studies claiming to find harm from marijuana use, there are clear alternative explanations ignored by the researchers. The benefits of marijuana legalization clearly outweigh any purported consequences.
No – Marijuana Should Not Be Legal
- “Though drug policy certainly needs reforms – people shouldn’t be given a criminal record for low-level pot use, and we need more treatment available, to name some examples – marijuana legalization is a very bad idea, unless, of course, we want to experience the 100-year disaster of Big Tobacco all over again.”
- Kevin A. Sabet, PhD // Director, Drug Policy Institute, University of Florida College of Medicine
- “One of my studies was related to marijuana use and the incidence of non-seminoma testicular cancer. I found an association. This association has been verified by two other studies. For this reason, among others, I definitely do not support legalization of marijuana.”
- Janet R. Daling, PhD // Professor Emeritus, University of Washington School of Public Health
- “If the legalization of marijuana occurs widespread, then our generation will grow up to be a population of cannabis addicts who will pay little attention to their regular life. The only benefit of legalization of marijuana is to the older society for its medicinal uses, and will be unfortunately used for its pleasure and peer pressure purposes in the youngsters.”
- Chitra D. Mandyam, PhD // Research Biologist, VA San Diego Healthcare System
- “Among the vulnerable, marijuana consumption increases the likelihood of progressing to schizophrenia by about fourfold. There is good evidence that marijuana is causal in this progression, perhaps in relation to the potency of marijuana consumed.”
- William T. Carpenter Jr., M.D. // Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Maryland School of Medicine
Legalization might sound like a good idea. We can ‘tax and regulate’ something many people do, and hopefully get rid of violent drug dealers and help the economy. That’s the line being sold by a few people who want to get rich, anyway. Buyer beware. Though drug policy certainly needs reforms – people shouldn’t be given a criminal record for low-level pot use, and we need more treatment available, to name some examples – marijuana legalization is a very bad idea, unless, of course, we want to experience the 100-year disaster of Big Tobacco all over again. First, legalization has already triggered serious consequences in the states of Colorado and Washington. Of most concern for those interested in racial justice, legalization has resulted in huge spikes in arrests of Colorado youth from communities of color—up 29% among Hispanics from 2012 (pre-legalization) to 2014 (post-legalization), and up 58% among Black youth in the same timeframe—while arrests of White children fell:
This massive increase in juvenile arrests tracks national survey data shows youth use rates well above national averages in CO and WA, and rising much faster than the rest of the nation:
Other negative consequences include:
- A doubling of the percentage of marijuana-related traffic fatalities in Washington in just one year after legalization (2013 to 2014);
- Huge spikes in emergency poison control calls related to marijuana from 2013 to 2014 in both Colorado and Washington (72% and 56%, respectively); and
- A 15% average annual increase in drug and narcotics crime in Denver since 2014, when retail sales of marijuana began.
They also target youth by heavily marketing edible marijuana products like candy lollipops and gummy bears. These products, like the ones below, now comprise about 50% of the Colorado marijuana market.
Third, the pot lobby has successfully fought off Colorado's attempts to regulate advertising targeting children, rules restricting the use of pesticides, and rules to cap potency. And this same lobby has included provisions in some of the marijuana legalization initiatives being considered in 2016 that would pack state oversight boards with industry representatives. This ‘Big Marijuana’ assault on health and safety regulations is no less than a repeat of Big Tobacco's tactics from the 1960s and 1970s.
Daily marijuana use has tripled among 12th graders nationwide over the past 20 years. Kids today are getting the idea that marijuana is safe because of mixed messages surrounding marijuana legalization, despite the fact that the American Medical Association and other scientific groups oppose such efforts and are concerned with the drug’s public health impact.
Yes, we should reform marijuana laws. But unless we want to usher in another greedy industry, legalization is not the way to do it.
One of my studies was related to marijuana use and the incidence of non-seminoma testicular cancer. I found an association. This association has been verified by two other studies. For this reason, among others, I definitely do not support legalization of marijuana.
NO means no. The topic of legalizing marijuana use has gained attention in the past year. Unfortunately, the public has mixed knowledge on the drug itself, its use and misuse. Medical marijuana is unprocessed marijuana plant for its medicinal extracts to treat some aspects of pain and side effects associated with chemotherapy. This medical use is mostly associated with older population. However, the legalization of this drug may be misused by the young adult population where the illicit use can lead to abuse and eventually addiction to the drug. For example, it is interesting to note that commercially available information on marijuana indicate that there is strong ‘relief’ associated with marijuana use, and that there is steady increase in marijuana tax revenue and that the consumption of marijuana is safer than peanuts. Unfortunately, this notion of safety has been misinterpreted and there is a steady rise in initial use and teen use of marijuana. What fits with the rise in teen use of marijuana is the fact that the drug is addictive (cannabis use disorder – presenting symptoms similar to addiction associated with other illicit drugs such as cocaine, and legally available alcohol and tobacco). To conclude, the use and perhaps the misuse of marijuana will be significantly affected by the legalization of the drug, eventually making it a public health concern. I would like to add a few sentences written by my son Atulya Mandyam, currently a 7th grader at Mesa Verde Middle School in San Diego, California. He states ‘Since marijuana is legalized, the biggest target of this drug will be teen-agers and middle-school students. So, if the legalization of marijuana occurs widespread, then our generation will grow up to be a population of cannabis addicts who will pay little attention to their regular life. The only benefit of legalization of marijuana is to the older society for its medicinal uses, and will be unfortunately used for its pleasure and peer pressure purposes in the youngsters. Since young adults and adolescents have no good reason to use marijuana, it should be banned in the state of California to reduce the chance of adolescents and teens getting access to the drug, and essentially messing up their entire life.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the nation’s largest medical society of physicians and allied health professionals who specialize in the treatment of addiction, does not support the legalization of marijuana. ASAM’s Public Policy Statement on Marijuana, Cannabinoids and Legalization recommends that jurisdictions that have not acted to legalize marijuana be most cautious to protect public health and safety if they are considering legalization. Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the U.S. and it is estimated that it is used by 61% of all persons suffering from a substance use disorder related to drugs other than alcohol. Empirical evidence associates delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the intoxicating effects recreational users pursue, with cannabis dependence use disorder in DSM-V. In one study, 9% of users of cannabis developed cannabis dependence.
It is ASAM’s recommendation that jurisdictions that have yet to legalize marijuana wait until more research is completed on the substance itself, as well as the ‘natural experiments’ on legalization underway in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C. In its extreme, legalization includes legal commercialization, with for-profit entities manufacturing, distributing, marketing and wholesaling cannabis and psychoactive cannabis products for retail sale. The image of major corporations entering ‘the business’ of marijuana is disturbing in its similarity to the presence of major corporations in the promotion and sale of tobacco products. For example, in Colorado, marijuana-infused edibles account for 45% of the legal marijuana marketplace. Given their appearance and current trends in packaging and product names, edibles are often particularly attractive to young adults and even children. The absence of any quality control, consumer labeling or predictability in dosing in edibles has led to appropriate cautionary commentaries and calls for action to protect the public health.
Currently, the legalization of cannabis in some states but not others provides a unique opportunity for a thorough investigation into the societal and public health impact of broader cannabis use. Such research is critical to inform other jurisdictions in how they can best protect and promote public health as they consider the legal status of marijuana use.
Legalization equates to normalization. Normalization equates to endorsement. At one point, Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man were recognized by most of America as symbols of what it meant to be cool or trendy. Decades later, these youth-targeted ads are now banned from the very billboards and television screens that made them infamous because the health risks posed by the products they touted are well documented and accepted by the general public. The legalization of marijuana will inevitably lead to normalization and to general endorsement of its use.
The health risks posed by marijuana use are well documented, especially regarding youth and children. In states like Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2014, THC (the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis) can now be found in items marketed to children such as gummy candy, suckers, candy bars, baked goods such as Pot Tarts, and countless other items designed to look like their innocent counterparts. It is impossible for a child to distinguish between a THC-laced gummy bear from a run-of-the-mill gummy bear. The health risks posed by a child accidentally ingesting THC can be strong and prolonged. It has happened, children have been harmed, and parents have been charged with crimes relating to their children ingesting THC-laced candy. These events can and should be prevented.
Other known risks like drugged driving are also known to occur with more frequency in states with legalized marijuana, posing an increased risk to the community. According to AAA, fatal road crashes involving marijuana use doubled after Washington legalized the drug. This is of particular concern as it relates to young drivers who grow up erroneously believing that using and driving is acceptable practice. Not only does this pose a safety concern for our youth but it is should give us serious pause when we consider the risk to others on the road as our young drivers get behind the wheel thinking that they are safe to be on the road.
The market for marijuana has created an industry not unlike that of the Joe Camel and Marlboro Man days gone by. Ohio’s ‘Buddie’ mascot campaigned for legal marijuana earlier this year as a way to market to children and families. It is clear that a goal of the marijuana industry is to engage younger consumers to create long-term users (abusers?) while turning a blind eye to the potentially devastating effects on these children and the communities in which they are peddling their risky products. What’s next, ‘Pokey’ the Friendly Heroin Needle? It’s a slippery slope.
No. The base for my view is narrow. In saying "no" I am not taking into account the violence associated with illegal marijuana, the lives damaged in prison or the drain on motivation of users or the probability that legal marijuana would be easier to dose properly and less likely to be toxic. These issues are incredibly important and perhaps should be determinate.
My ‘no’ is from the perspective of psychotic illness. The following may apply to several drugs of abuse and to several psychotic disorders, but most data relate to schizophrenia. Many people are vulnerable to developing schizophrenia based on genetic and environmental risk factors. Most vulnerable individuals do not progress to fully manifest schizophrenia. But among the vulnerable, marijuana consumption increases the likelihood of progressing to schizophrenia by about fourfold. There is good evidence that marijuana is causal in this progression, perhaps in relation to the potency of marijuana consumed.
Keeping marijuana illegal does not prevent exposure and is not an effective public health measure. But making marijuana cheaper, safer, cleaner and easily available may increase prevalence of its use. Prevention of progression to psychosis among vulnerable young people is the basis for my ‘no’ to legalization. I wish I were confident that the current status in most states is actually safer/better than would be the case if marijuana became legally available.
This is a bit shorter than anticipated. But after a long review of available data on the short and long term harm caused by marijuana to the user and to society, I believe the overwhelming evidence should have stopped any attempt to legalize the drug. However, the growing social acceptance has been heavily induced by big money since 1992/3 that did everything possible to influence both the public and politicians, under the guise of compassion, advocating the use of ‘medical marijuana.’
But recreational use of marijuana has nothing to do with medical marijuana. As with other drugs, the development of marijuana/cannabis as medicine has to follow modern medical rules - advancing with clinical trials with specific compounds, looking for side effects and interactions with other drugs etc. This, however, has yet to come.
Image: traffic_analyzer / iStock.
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