Marijuana or cannabis is a drug that contains the tetrahydrocannabinol compound. At the moment, the Federal laws prohibit the use and trafficking of marijuana. Nonetheless, its criminalization has generated so much drama in modern society. Different people have different opinions on what should be done about the drug. Those who support its decriminalization base their argument on the fact that the law should respect individual liberty, its medical value, the high cost of keeping it illegal and the injustices the public surfers from law enforcers, fighting against its use among other issues. On the other hand, arguments, supporting its criminalization, are based on the assertion that it has negative health effects, it would increase the crime rates and it has high social costs.
In 1937, Henry Anslinger introduced the Marijuana Tax Act (McCaffrey, 1998). After it was passed by Congress, it called for everyone, associated with Marijuana, to be taxed. Association in this case included the sale, use and trafficking of the drug among other actions. Additionally, the bill outlined penal codes for possession and use of marijuana and violators could be fined up to $2,000 and five years in prison. In 1951, Congress passed an act that was more superior to the Marijuana Tax Act. The new act criminalized the use and possession of the drug. The Controlled Substance Act passed in 1970 listed Marijuana as a Schedule I drug. However, some local cities and states began to decriminalize the possession, use or sale of marijuana, considering these activities as low priority offenses. There have been many attempts to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs but in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that it was the jurisdiction of the federal government to decide on the legality of the drug. This paper seeks to support criminalization of marijuana consumption. In doing so, the write up will provide arguments in support and against criminalization of the drug.
Argument for Criminalization of Marijuana
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Although marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the US, it has adverse effects on the health of the users. These effects could either be short term or long term. The most commonly affected body parts are the brain, heart, and lungs. A quick comparison of the behaviors of a marijuana smoker and a nonsmoker would clearly show some of the effects of the drug. For instance, some of the marijuana users seem misplaced and isolated, while others take too long to comprehend an idea.
THC is the most active ingredient in the drug. This compound acts on cannabinoid receptors in the nerve cells and suppresses the neurons in the hippocampus. Most of these receptors are located in the brain parts that are used for memory, pleasure, concentration, thought, coordination of movement, and time perception. THC changes the manner, in which sensory information is transmitted into and processed by the hippocampus. When an individual takes the drug in high doses, he/she could exhibit symptoms of various mental disorders such as disorientation, hallucinations, impaired memory and delusions. In the short term, those who use marijuana could suffer from memory defects, which could persist up to six weeks after using the drug. McCaffrey (1998) asserts that it could also trigger mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar. In addition, marijuana has other direct health effects such as poor perception and coordination of the body, which could lead to accidents.
According to Joffe & Yancy (2004), the heartbeat increases immediately after smoking marijuana. It can increase by about 50 beats per minute. The increase could even be more if the consumer combines marijuana with other drugs like heroine and alcohol. This leads to a drop in blood pressure. The two researchers argue that increased heartbeat combined with low blood pressure increases the risks of suffering from a heart attack, especially within the first hour of smoking. Smoking marijuana also has adverse effects on the lungs. The smoke could cause stinging and burning of the throat and mouth. This would lead to heavy coughing.
Fish (2006) alleges that regular smokers of marijuana can suffer from similar respiratory problems, experienced by tobacco smokers. Some of these effects include frequent chest illness, obstructive airways and increased lung infections. Although marijuana smokers take in less portions of cannabis than the tobacco consumed by cigarette smokers, the harmful effects of cannabis should not be ignored. Marijuana has more carcinogenic hydrocarbons compared to tobacco. Additionally, marijuana smokers hold smoke in the lungs longer and inhale deeper than tobacco smokers. Their lungs are, therefore, at a higher risk of infection than those of tobacco smokers. Regardless of the amount of THC, marijuana smokers inhale about five times more tar and carbon monoxide than tobacco smokers. Therefore, they are at a higher risk of suffering from lung cancer.
Hurley (2007) affirms that if pregnant women use marijuana, it could be detrimental to their health as well as their fetus’ health. The compounds from the drug are absorbed by the fetus through the placenta. After giving birth, the baby still ingests the compounds from the breast milk. Use of marijuana during pregnancy could also result to low birth weight, behavioral problems and development delay.
Increased Societal Costs
Using marijuana could have adverse effects on the society because more youths would engage in drug use. Similarly, there would be a lot of idling in the society. This could lead to underdevelopment of the society. When most people don’t take part in activities that would improve their economic and social status, they are likely to depend on donations for survival other than working hard for their wealth. It could also take away one’s dream or life time goal and render him useless in the society.
When marijuana is legalized, its consumption is likely to double. NSDUH shows that 14.2 % of Americans aged 12 years and above had used illegal drugs in 2008. Marijuana was the most commonly used drug with about 26 million people reporting to have used it. Hurley (2007) alleges that the abundance of marijuana could be detrimental to the society. When young children start using drugs at a very tender age, they are likely to extend to the use of other hard drugs later in life. Furthermore, they lose the motivation and interest for education. Therefore, the effects of the drug would impair their thinking, comprehension, mathematical and verbal skills. Students are likely to forget whatever they learn in class because of marijuana smoking. Hanson, Venturelli & Fleckenstein (2006) assert that students cannot recall whatever they learn, when they are high on drugs. Increased use of the drug by minors would result to an increase in school drop outs because students will not be able to concentrate in class.
Decriminalizing the use of marijuana could lead to a number of advertising campaigns to encourage as many people as possible to use the drug just like it is done for cigarettes. It would be difficult to put in place adequate control measures to prohibit the youths from accessing the drug. Once the lives of the youth are affected, the future of the society would most likely be affected. For the elderly people, marijuana could affect their performance at work. Most workers who use marijuana contribute to 85% more injuries than the sober workers. Furthermore, they are most likely to absent themselves from work or report late to work. This is likely to affect their performance. Ultimately, marijuana smoking would lead to unemployment.
Driving under the influence of marijuana could lead to road accidents that could claim the lives of most innocent men and women of the society. Driving under the influence of marijuana is similar to driving when drunk. An intoxicated individual is likely to disobey the traffic rules such as limits of driving speed. This could result to road accidents. Sajid (2009) affirms that drugs hinder clear thinking and decisive decision making. Currently, it is a huge problem for law enforcers to detect drunk drivers. It would be much difficult to detect a driver high on marijuana, unless he smokes it from the car.
Increase in Crime Incidences
Decriminalizing marijuana would result to an increase in the number and frequency of crimes. Most criminal gangs use drugs to gain courage to take part in crimes they would not have been able to undertake, while in their sober minds. Addiction to the drug could also make the users to use all means to get money to buy more stock of marijuana. This could include taking part in theft and robbery, thus, increasing the number of criminal gangs in the streets.
Sajid (2009) alleges that there has been a 7.4% increase in arrests, related to drug violation over the past 20 years. Most drug users are involved in various criminal activities that include rape, child abuse, assault, damage of property and murder. Marijuana users could commit robberies in order to fulfill their basic needs and buy more drugs, especially if they have no alternative sources of money. Decriminalizing the use of marijuana would, therefore, lead to more criminal activities that would bring more arrests and congestion of prisons.
Hanson, Venturelli & Fleckenstein (2006) allege that a study of the effects of international drug policy has revealed that countries with strong drug polices enjoy low crime rates and low rates of drug use, while those with lax drug policies experience an increase in crime and drug addiction. In 2002, drug watch international stated that legalizing marijuana would increase the number of international mafia. For instance, in 1988, there were only 3 organized criminal gangs in Netherlands. However, when marijuana was legalized, the number rose to 93 by 1993. The mafias are keen on making money, and legalizing the drug makes their business easier because they will make use of the legitimate market.
Since marijuana is addictive, the demand for the drug will increase. This would create a larger market for the criminal gangs. Criminalizing marijuana ensures that criminals who commit drug related crimes are arrested and taken away from the street (Hurley, 2007). This makes the streets safer for all. Keeping such people in prison ensures that they are unable to commit other crimes like robbery and rape.
People opposed to the criminalization of marijuana have genuine claims too. Most of them argue that every individual has the liberty to do whatever he wants to do with their lives. The only thing the government could do it to regulate individuals’ choices. Secondly, they argue that it is very costly to keep marijuana expensive and legalizing it would save the government so much money that could be invested elsewhere. The government would also make a lot of money by taxing marijuana trafficking and selling. Thirdly, they claim that marijuana has medicinal and spiritual values that are beneficial to humanity.
According to Sajid (2009), there is no good reason for criminalizing the use of the drug. Philosophically, everyone has a right to make their own choices. The government can only regulate or limit the choices if they are perceived to interfere with the lives of other citizens. He argues that the use of marijuana does not endanger other peoples’ lives because everyone chooses whether or not to use the drug at their free will. Furthermore, he alleges that marijuana is less harmful than most of the legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol.
According to Cody (2006), marijuana has different effects on different people. The choice to use the drug should, therefore, be based on an individual’s experience with the drug. Consequently, if the drug is harmful, individuals should be left to suffer as a result of their bad choices. This would be enough punishment that does not require the government to impose any more punishments. He further alleges that just like alcohol, there is a limit on the amount of marijuana to consume. Responsible use of the drug should, therefore, have no adverse effects on the human health.
Zerbe (1995) argues that some scholars find it expensive for the government to keep marijuana illegal. They argue that decriminalizing the drug would allegedly save the government substantial amounts of money. In the US, the local, state, and federal governments fight against drug use. Billions of dollars are spend on the war on drugs. The government also spends so much money from the taxpayers to keep people in prison. It has to pay for their healthcare, food, attorney fees, and court costs among other expenses. He finds all these services to be extremely expensive. Additionally, he argues that if marijuana was legal, it would be viable for the government to collect taxes on the drug. The money would be used to educate the public on effective use of drugs.
Additionally, Solar et al. (2008) allege that prohibiting the use of a drug does not have any benefits to the country. He argues that there is no reliable evidence that prohibition could decrease drug use. Contrary, there are several theories like the forbidden fruit effect, which suggest that prohibition could increase drug use. Most high school students can access marijuana because the dealers are not interested in the buyers’ ages. He suggests that if the government is serious about keeping the kids away from drugs, it should come up with genuine programs that would educate the youth, protect them from drugs and provide those with drug problems with treatment programs.
According to Burns, Siddique, Fokkuo & Mohr (2010), there is no evidence that use of marijuana decreases the cognitive functions of the human brain. In fact, he argues that alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than marijuana. The number of deaths, caused by alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking, are more than those, caused by marijuana. Additionally, he states that cannabis is less addictive than nicotine. Marijuana can also help human being to look at their complex problems in a simple way and gain courage to solve them.
There are various confirmed medical uses of marijuana. For instance, it gives relief to patients undergoing chemotherapy, treats glaucoma, and it can be used to treat various psychological disorders. Furthermore, there is no objection to the fact that marijuana is a reliable stress reliever. With such an intelligent approach, one could argue that marijuana has spiritual and mental benefits.
Although all of these claims demonstrate genuine concern from those, calling for decriminalization of marijuana, they are incorrect in one way or the other. For starters the state has the responsibility to protect its citizens from harming themselves. If its effects are considered to be harmful, the state has the right to protect its citizens from marijuana. Some people are forced into drug use by friends or by circumstances. The idea that people are at liberty to consume whatever they want is based on the assumptions that these choices are made by an individual who understands all the costs are benefits of his decisions. Unfortunately, some people made decisions, based on their life history or social pressure. The use of marijuana also threatens the lives of other citizens. It impairs the thinking process and could result to accidents and crimes.
Although taxing marijuana like alcohol might earn the government some money, it would result to added health costs that would outweigh the revenues from the tax. More money will be spent on treating the health effects of marijuana and this would negate the benefits from taxes. Furthermore, legalizing marijuana would reduce economic productivity since most consumers would not concentrate on their work. The degradation of family values and relationships would have more economic cost that would hinder development.
Legalizing marijuana would increase the number of people using it. Contrary to what Burns, Siddique, Fokkuo & Mohr (2010) state, prohibiting marijuana has helped maintain a better society. The situation would be worse if it’s legalized. In order to create a better society, it is necessary that rules are put in place to regulate the behavior of citizens. If everyone grew up in an environment that exposes them to drugs, it would jeopardize public health. Although cigarettes and alcohol affect human health, the effects of marijuana on the lungs are more severe. It also impairs cognition and short term memory. There is a high dependency by marijuana smokers on the drug and this increases its addiction. There is no doubt that marijuana has medical benefits. However, medical consumption of marijuana is prescribed by a medical professional and in specific quantities.
As it has been discussed, some people support the criminalization of marijuana, while others are against such actions. Those who support the idea argue that marijuana has adverse health effects, increase social costs and increase crime rates in the society. The counter arguments allege that everyone should be at liberty to make his own choices. They also state that the government spends so much money fighting war on drugs. They suggest that taxing marijuana would earn the government more money. Furthermore, it is alleged that there is no social benefit in prohibiting marijuana. However, it is clear that criminalizing the drug protects public health and ensures a safe and secure environment. It is, therefore, necessary that marijuana consumptions remains criminalized to create a better society.
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