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The Legalization of Marijuana: Ending Prohibition

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    Marijuana, one of the most commonly used substances in the world, is a psychoactive drug that comes from the Cannabis plant. There are many different nicknames that marijuana can be referred to as, including pot, weed, Mary Jane, ganja, flower, or bud; all of which describe portions of the Cannabis plant which likely originated in Asia. Marijuana is the psychoactive portion of the plant, and comes from the dried flowering buds, leaves, stems, and seeds of the plant (FNP, 2018). Marijuana can be consumed in numerous ways, such as smoking or eating it, and the main psychoactive ingredient of the plant is called Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. Although marijuana remains an illegal, schedule 1 controlled substance in most states, there are multiple states that have, and are legalizing it due to the prolonged history it acquires, its numerous medicinal benefits that are continuing to be found today, and the many gains legalizing it can bring to the economy.

    The Cannabis plant has been around for thousands of years, preceding recorded history. It likely originated in Asia, near the Central Asian steppe or the Altai and Tian Shian mountains. From the sites where prehistoric hunters and gatherers lived to ancient China and Viking ships, humans utilized every part and species of the plant. Cannabis Sativa L, commonly known as Hemp, dates all the way back to 8000 B.C. It is believed that China has the longest continuous history of Hemp cultivation, over 6000 years. Hemp fibers were likely the earliest plant cultivated, especially for its fibers, due to the fact that it preceded many other fibers and natural resources including linen and cotton. Hemp cultivation has been used in many different cultures for many different reasons. Hemp fibers were used to make bowstrings for Chinese Archers and were a lot stronger and durable than bowstrings created from bamboo. Hemp ropes were also very important because they helped make ocean voyages successful for thousands of years, even ancient rulers in Greece such as Hieron II used hemp for ships. Hemp paper, food and clothing were also discovered around the first century BC.

    Hemp seeds contain protein and amino acids, which are both essential in human health. Many cultures used hemp in their food. Healthy ancient hemp-seed deserts made by the Romans, or the natives of India who claimed that hemp was the favorite food of the God Shiva are examples (Earleywine, 2005). Humans have fashioned clothing from hemp for a very long time, and in many places including ancient parts of the world. Hemp fibers helped to minimize the need to use animal skin, and may have been a lot more comfortable to wear!

    Medical use of marijuana began around 2737 BC, long after the plant’s first use as fiber. Famous for discovering many other medicines, Chinese emperor Shen Neng was prescribing cannabis tea for gout, malaria, beriberi, rheumatism, and even poor memory (Earleywine, 2005). Cannabis’s purpose as a medicine helped it expand from ancient Asia to all over the map. The plant appeared steadily in pharmacopoeia as well as folk and traditional medicine. Throughout ancient history, there have been records of using Cannabis medically, and not a single death reported. Although marijuana never hurt anyone, physical and psychoactive effects were eventually reported. The Chinese actually knew there were psychoactive effects. In fact, some physicians advised consumption in small amounts because it could result in “seeing devils” or “communicating with spirits” (Earleywine, 2005). Despite the fact that marijuana was primarily used as medicine, and most plants had little THC in them, there is history of recreational use, specifically in religious ceremonies or healing practices.

    Cannabis use as medicine finally spread to the US when an Irish physician named William O’Shaughnessy with the British East India company discovered the medicinal benefits through Indian research (Earleywine, 2005). He discovered that it was used to treat ailments like rheumatism, nausea, and rabies in the 1840s and helped popularize these medicinal uses in the United States as well as Europe. By the 1850s, doctors in the US were using it to treat tons of disorders, including gout, depression, pain, hysteria, and nervous conditions (Wilson, 2014). Cannabis use rose extremely quickly, and fell even quicker. By the end of the 19th century, marijuana was starting to become outlawed. During the Mexican revolution, there was an influx of Mexican immigrants coming in to the US, many of whom brought marijuana with them.

    The roots of criminalizing marijuana fell back on racism, which unfortunately, is still being carried out today. There were those who wanted control over Mexican immigrants, and used marijuana as an excuse to detain and deport them. Propaganda about how marijuana caused people of color to become violent quickly followed, leading to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which banned the use and sales of marijuana (Wilson, 2014). It is ironic how decades ago, drugs have produced unequal outcomes across racial groups, and it is STILL happening today. Racism and lack of information helped make marijuana far more abusive than it actually was, and because of this, states began to make it illegal.

    As a result of the drug prohibition movement, medicinal as well as recreational use was prohibited in the US for almost half a century. From the 1940s until now, there has been a lobby to legalize it in the US. One aspect was legalizing it as a medicine. Today marijuana is still federally illegal, however, there are many organizations and petitions trying to legalize it, such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) that formed in 1970 (Wilson, 2014). In recent years, there have been many efforts to legalize the drug, both medically and recreationally. Today, 20 states plus Washington D.C have passed marijuana-related laws medically, and 9 plus D.C have legalized it recreationally (“CBD vs. THC…”). The marijuana debate has become a key issue in all states, with its medical benefits being a major benefit. Nearly half of US states have legalized marijuana for medical use. As the demand for marijuana and other cannabis product grows, consumers can’t help but wonder what exactly marijuana is, and what options they have.

    There are two main components found in the Cannabis plant; Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Both of these compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which impacts the release of neurotransmitters, as well as having the same molecular structure. Although they have the same molecular structure, they have very different effects, due to many different reasons; the main one being it’s psychoactive components (“CBD vs. THC…”). THC is the main psychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant, which produces the “stoned” effect that is associated with smoking pot. This component of the plant can be found in the resin of the plant. THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 receptors in the brain which gives off that high effect (“CBD vs. THC…”). The other component of the plant, CBD, is a non-psychoactive compound and primarily comes from the hemp part of the plant. Although both compounds are similar in many ways and have many medical benefits, they do have differences, psychologically and physically.

    THC and CBD both have many similarities and differences in how they affect the body. Both compounds can be consumed in many of the same ways which include being smoked or eaten. THC binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, reaching the pleasure centers in the brain, and can produce feelings of euphoria by letting a chemical loose called Dopamine. This is known as being high or body-high. The effects that THC can give off vary from person to person. Some psychological effects include heightened sensations and creativity, pleasant alterations of perceptions of time, and heightened sociability.

    These are just a few of the psychological benefits of marijuana. Legalizing it recreationally can help people in many ways. There are artists who smoke pot to help them paint and draw, or maybe some use cannabis to reduce many types of anxiety. Although CBD is non-psychoactive and cannot make someone high, it does have therapeutic effects such as being used as an anti-anxiety supplement, as well as many of the same physical effects as THC. THC and CBD both alleviate pain, reduce nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and can also stimulate appetite with none of the side effects that come with traditional medicine (Wilson, 2014). CBD is well tolerable, even if in high doses so it doesn’t cause increased heart rate, dry mouth, or red eyes. Many of the symptoms that marijuana helps treat, can actually be side effects from disease and illnesses.

    Many people today turn to marijuana to treat a variety of medical issues, including cancer, depression/anxiety disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and STD’s. There have been many studies that show THC may actually work to kill cancer cells. Scientists have been starting to discover Cannabinoids such as CBD and THC may slow the growth and possibly kill certain cancer cells. Smoking marijuana has also been shown to help cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy, which can cause nausea and vomiting. Marijuana has been known to cause the munchies, and smoking it can help by giving the patient an appetite. Not only can legalizing marijuana ease the horrible side effects that come with cancer, it can also give scientists more access to run tests and possibly find permanent cures for life-threatening diseases like cancer. There are also animal studies suggesting that CBD can reduce behavioral and physiological measures of stress and anxiety. There have actually been studies done in Israel and Europe that have investigated the utility of THC to treat PTSD (Wilson, 2014).

    Researchers are also testing marijuana in other areas as a treatment for diseases like epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and Chron’s. In June 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration actually approved a cannabidiol based drug called Epidiolex, which is a drug taken orally to treat seizures associated with certain types of epilepsy syndromes (CITE). Marijuana has also been shown to help symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease such as tremor, stiffness, insomnia, weight loss and pain (APDAPARKINSONS). There have even been videos posted on social media that show what happens when someone with severe Parkinson’s Disease as well as HIV/Aids tries marijuana for the first time. The dyskinesia immediately stopped after a man used marijuana for the first time as well as an AIDS patient who moved to a different states so he could use cannabis legally for his symptoms. The fact that there is physical evidence that marijuana can stop symptoms like these automatically be a reason for cannabis to be legal. Nobody should have to move to a different state so that they can live more comfortably. Not only that, marijuana should also be federally legal so doctors and scientists all over the united states can utilize the benefits that medical marijuana brings to people suffering from these types of illnesses. This will help the public health overall while creating many economic benefits.

    The marijuana debate has become a key issue in all areas ranging from medicine to politics. Legalizing marijuana for economic reasons is one of the hottest topics debated today. There are many reasons why legalizing marijuana can help the economy, including the amount of money that can be generated through taxing it, the amount of jobs and investment opportunities it can create, and the corrupt implications of the legal system that can benefit from legal pot. Imagine if marijuana was legalized and taxed like alcohol and tobacco are. In 2015, state and local governments were able to collect 18 billion dollars from tobacco taxes as well as a whopping 16 billion in alcohol (urban.org). Keep in mind that alcohol and tobacco both kill millions of people every year. Now imagine if marijuana was legalized and taxed the same way are alcohol and tobacco. In Colorado, estimates that taxes on legal marijuana can range anywhere from 5 to 60 million a year. If marijuana was taxed, local and state governments could make millions of dollars from it! This money could benefit the US in so many different ways, such as schools and programs like Medicare. There are also so many homeless people in the world, so this money could even help get people off the streets. Not only will taxing cannabis provide tons of profit, there will also be more jobs and investment opportunities which will only make even more money.

    Once marijuana is legalized, there will be tons of marijuana dispensaries that need to be set up in order to keep the supply coming. This will create many jobs such as growing, trimming, and packaging it, as well as opportunities for second industries. Just because some industries are not directly related to cannabis, they can be involved with the production and distribution. Software developers, financing services and construction companies can all easily benefit from the legalization of marijuana. A study in Nevada says that legalizing recreational marijuana in the states could support over 41,000 jobs, also generating money in labor income (Krishna, “The Economic Benefits…”). Marijuana is already showing many economic benefits through the states that have legalized it, so prohibiting it is just stopping all of the other states from also benefiting.

    When considering the economic benefits, it is also important to think of the time, money, and space that could be saved if marijuana was legal. Officers wouldn’t have to worry about searching for, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating a couple of stoners, they could instead focus more on other crimes such as murders and rape cases. There would be an overall lower cost of enforcement because there would be fewer court cases, and fewer incarcerations. This alone saves tons of time, money and jail space. Criminalization of minor drug offenses, such as marijuana, can actually increase crime. Because marijuana is the most popular recreational drug in the United States, legalizing it can decrease deadly trafficking activities, as well as help government corruption (Wilson, 2014). There will be less contributions to the black market because people will no longer need to break the law and go to that extent to get it. Doing so would help shift the focus from incarceration to rehabilitation, helping implications of the legal system. As stated earlier, the root of marijuana prohibition was racism, another hot topic of today. Marijuana is still being used today to detain, deport and incarcerate people just because of their skin color. Legalizing it is vital to ending the racist war on drugs. For example, if a white male and an African American male were both accused of having marijuana, the African American would automatically be accused first simply because of the color of his skin. There are many studies that state all races use marijuana at roughly the same rates. How is it that there are more people of color in jail for marijuana?

    Although there are those who have their reasons for prohibition; whether it be for concerns about youth drug use to confusion among law enforcement to even those who just don’t want change. More and more states are decriminalizing it and proving the many compelling reasons to consider nationwide legalization. There so many different reasons why prohibition needs to end. The Cannabis plant has done nothing but benefit the human population since the beginning of time. Drugs like alcohol and tobacco kill millions of people every year and can be bought everywhere. There has never been one case where marijuana alone has taken someone’s life. It simply makes no sense for marijuana to be classified as a schedule 1 drug – a drug with no medical benefits and a high probability of abuse/addiction – such as heroin. It is ironic that marijuana is safer than many drugs you can buy over the counter such as tobacco and alcohol, yet it still remains federally illegal. Although marijuana still remains federally illegal, it is important for people to understand how wonderful and beneficial the Cannabis plant can be. As more and more states continue to legalize and discover its history, medical, and economic benefits, it is only a matter of time until marijuana will be legalized across the nation.

    References

    1. CBD vs. THC: Properties, Benefits, and Side Effects. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-vs-thc
    2. Earleywine, M., & Marlatt, G. A. (2005). Understanding marijuana: A new look at the scientific evidence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    3. Grinspoon, L. (1994). Marihuana reconsidered: The most thorough evaluation of the benefits and dangers of cannabis. San Francisco, CA: Quick American Archives.
    4. Iversen, L. (2001). Science of Marijuana.
    5. Krishna, M. (2018, October 22). The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Weed. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/insights/110916/economic-benefits-legalizing-weed.asp

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