With marijuana prohibition being targeted by federal legislation, how does marijuana fit into society? (Pexel/stock image)
With marijuana prohibition being targeted by federal legislation, how does marijuana fit into society?

Pexel/stock image

Marijuana and Its Place in Society

Cover Story: Should Marijuana be Legalized

January 31, 2020

The legalization of medical and recreational marijuana is a hotly debated topic in many states as well as the federal government. We believe that the facts are heavily weighted in favor of marijuana legalization federally and in every state.

Where It Stands

At the time being, marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 narcotic in the federal Controlled Substances Act. Drug scheduling is the way that various drugs are controlled by the federal government and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), sorted by potential medical value and potential for abuse. Schedule 1 narcotics are defined by the DEA as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” You may be wondering what other drugs are Schedule 1. Heroin? Cocaine? Meth? PCP? These are certainly some of the very worst drugs out there, being associated with deadly overdoses, theft, robbery, and organized crime. Only heroin, however, is also a Schedule 1 drug, and all the others are in the less tightly regulated, and supposedly less harmful Schedule 2 category.

The Harms and Benefits

Even the most vocal opponents of marijuana would be unlikely to claim that marijuana is just as harmful as heroin, or more dangerous than cocaine, meth, or even PCP. That is, of course, because that would be a ridiculous claim. Marijuana while addictive just like any other drugs, including tobacco, alcohol, caffeine (yes, caffeine is a drug), has much less addictive potential and cause much less severe withdrawals than many other federally scheduled drugs. Marijuana also has proven medical uses. One such use is in treating epilepsy that resists other treatment. Marijuana is also well known for its ability to help treat chronic pain for many conditions including cancer and improve the quality of life, without the use of more dangerous and addictive opioids. Have you ever heard of the munchies? Marijuana has also been used to help treat eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

As far as recreational marijuana goes, it is less harmful than the most commonly used recreational drugs in the United States. There are many studies that find marijuana use is less strongly associated with lung cancer, heart disease, and many other diseases than smoking tobacco. While inhaling any type of smoke can increase the risk of developing many types of cancer, especially lung cancer, and increase the risk of heart attacks, there is less evidence linking marijuana to heart disease than there that demonstrates the very strong link between tobacco and heart disease. Alcohol is also very harmful to health, with extremely strong links to liver disease, heart disease, cancer, and digestive problems. Alcohol can cause huge impairment as well playing a factor in over 10,000 traffic deaths. In total, these drugs cause almost 560,000 deaths in the US every year according to the CDC.

Why then would marijuana be so tightly controlled in the United States if it has proven medical uses and is less harmful than other legal and illegal drugs?

   The History

The Federal prohibition of Marijuana began with the introduction of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970 after many years of strict regulation under the Marihuana [sic] Tax Act of 1937. The CSA was signed into law by Richard Nixon, and established the National Commission on Marihuana [sic] and Drug Abuse, colloquially known as the Shafer commission. The commission’s purpose was to investigate the effects of marijuana and present recommendations for the drug’s legality. Marijuana had been temporarily placed in Schedule 1, pending the result of the commission’s findings.

The Shafer Commission presented Congress with a report that recommended ending the prohibition on marijuana and decriminalizing its use. The report was ignored, and marijuana was kept in Schedule 1 by the Nixon Administration.

    The effects of this prohibition

The prohibition of marijuana and the War on Drugs as a whole have had many costs in their long history. These costs range from lost economic opportunities to squandered tax dollars, incarceration, police brutality, and racial inequality.

One of the most shocking statistics is that, according to the ACLU, African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white Americans, despite the two groups having similar rates of marijuana use. This detail is a large contributor to the fact that African Americans are incarcerated at extraordinarily high rates compared to white Americans, with an African American being 5 times more likely to be incarcerated. These  details are also likely consequences that the Nixon Administration intended to create, according to Nixon’s adviser John Erhlichman who said in an interview 25 years ago, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

Since the creation of the CSA, and the start of the war on drugs, the Federal Government has wasted nearly $1 trillion for arrests, drug seizures, and to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders. The Federal prohibition of marijuana has also prevented the collection of many billions of dollars of tax revenue that could have been used to help rehabilitate drug users, assist poor communities affected by drugs, and, overall, approach marijuana policy from public health perspective just as the Shafer Commission concluded.

Marijuana Reform on the Horizon

Senator Kamala Harris, Sponsor of the MORE Act.

The Federal Government is not oblivious to the many negatives of the prohibition of marijuana, and the many negative effects it has wrought on millions of Americans, and African Americans disproportionately.

Introduced by Senator Kamala Harris and Rep Jerry Nadler of California and New York respectively, the MORE Act seeks to remove marijuana from the controlled substances act and address some of its effects. The Act would finally legalize marijuana on the federal level, likely leading to a full legalization in many more states across the nation and issue a 5% tax on sales. This tax’s goal would be “to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and for other purposes.”

The More Act was passed 24-10 in the House Judiciary Committee on November 20, 2019 and can now move to the full House of Representatives for a vote. Unfortunately, the act has not moved far since, and it seems unlikely that it will even make it to the floor in the Senate.


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