Legalizing Cannabis

I believe I know what you are thinking, “Not another person trying to get cannabis legalized so that all they get to do is sit in their basement and get ‘high’ all day long.” If this is your line of thinking you would be wrong. I am a full time union worker at a hospital. I am a father and a husband. I am also a veteran who comes from a long line of military history. I am a law abiding citizen who, as my wife says, “drives like a grandpa,” while only being twenty-seven. What I am not is someone who uses or abuses cannabis, nor have I used it since I was a teenager. I am a firm believer in the freedom of choice, which is what my Grandpa, Dad, and I fought for in every major since WWII. That freedom of choice must be extended to allow responsible adults to have the choice to use or not use cannabis.

Cannabis sativa, according to the UXL Encyclopedia of Science, is an annual hemp plant native to Central and Western Asia. It is known by many names like marijuana, bud, weed or pot. The World of Scientific Discovery states that it is known to be one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world with documentation dating back to 2700BC. One of the main reason it is one of the oldest crops, according to the World of Scientific Discovery, is because of the many uses of the fiber from the plant. Rope, paper, or linen can be made from the fibers of a cannabis plant. As early as 1545 explorers in America saw these uses and, according to PBS, in 1619 required all farmers in Virginia to grow the plant or face a fine. PBS also states that Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland allowed hemp to be used for business transactions as a replacement for legal tender.

Not only does cannabis have these practical and every day uses, but individuals recognized cannabis can be used for its medicinal purposes as well. BBC published a documentary in 2009 explaining that individuals in Kazakhstan have been using the plant for medical purposes for almost three thousand years. Mayo Clinic states that it can be a relief from symptoms ranging from chronic pain, caused from a multitude of illnesses or injuries, to Epilepsy. Take into account the story of Jeremy, an Australian man who suffered from up to twenty seizers as a result of Acute Viral Encephalitis that he contracted when he was just six years old. Doctors placed Jeremy into a medically induced coma for five days after contracting the disease to try and help his uncontrollable seizers. Eventually released from the hospital while at home Jeremy continued to have seizers causing issues at night trying to sleep and drug induced psychosis from some of his medication he had been prescribed by his doctors, along with issues in his mouth from grinding his teeth during his seizers. Surgery to help correct his seizers wasn’t an option due to the damaged caused in his brain. Feeling that they were out of options and going against their doctor’s advice, Jeremy’s family decided to try an oil derived from cannabis to help him. The very first night he went to sleep without issues. His body twitches have decreased and his seizers have been further apart and last significantly less time. The family has started to wean Jeremy off of the pharmaceutical drugs. Cases like Jeremy happen all the time. Instead of individuals having to take a multitude of medications prescribed by doctors, people must have the option to try cannabis in order to heal and avoid some of the negative side effects that modern medications can have.

While individuals use cannabis for medical purposes people have discovered its recreational uses as well. The Drug Enforcement Agency states that the short term effects of cannabis can include an altered senses and time, happiness, increased sociability, increased sensory which can allow users a greater appreciation of music and touch, and an overwhelming sense of relaxation.

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This enhanced state of relaxation is caused by a chemical found in cannabis is called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC causes this effect by attaching to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These cannabinoid receptors, according the BBC, are like a lock on our brains neurotransmitters and the THC is the key. Mayo Clinic states the neurotransmitters are responsible for the communication between cells, which pass information all across the body and brain.

There are risks involved with the use of cannabis. A person would be a fool not to acknowledge that fact. But it isn’t as bad as one would expect. In 2010 a study conducted by Professor David Nutt, a former chief drugs adviser to the British government, determined the negative effects of twenty illegal and legal drugs on an individual who uses them, and the negative effects against society scaling them from 1-100 with 100 being the most dangerous. The researchers scored the drugs using sixteen factors including, risk of crime, which effects society, and health of the individual who uses the substance, cannabis scored a 20. By comparison alcohol, a legal substance that was once under an unsuccessful prohibition much like cannabis, scored a 72 and tobacco scored 26. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency the health risk factors in individuals who smoke cannabis have an increased risk of developing cancer much like tobacco users. Addiction might be considered as a risk, but cannabis is one of the least addictive substances available. The National Institute of Health states the probability of addiction in alcohol of 22.7% amongst all users compared to 8.9% probability of addition for cannabis. In the past studies have linked cannabis use in teenagers to an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, a mental issue effecting less than .8% of the world according to James Kalat in his textbook “Introduction to Psychology, even the Drug Enforcement Agency links the two. However a study published in Journal of American Medical Association challenges the line of thinking that cannabis is a cause of schizophrenia if used only in males during their teenage years stating that it will only affect individuals who are highly genetically predisposed to the disease. Females who used cannabis had no correlation whether they had a high or low risk of developing the disease.

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Being such a useful drug with less of a health risk or a risk to society than alcohol and tobacco, and being in use throughout history it is a shock that it is illegal in most parts of the world. In the United States one man can be singled out for the denial of the freedom named Harry Anslinger. Anslinger was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner from 1930 until he retired in 1963. Anslinger stated what he felt as fact to the House of Representatives in 1937 that cannabis would send men into an uncontrollable rage. Anslinger sighted a case that happened in 1933 where Victor Licata from Tampa Florida murdered his family. Later Licata was diagnosed with “Dementia Praecox with homicidal tendencies.” The headlines in the Tampa Times a few days later exclaimed, “STOP THIS MURDEROUS SMOKE,” because Licata was thought to be addicted to cannabis. Anslinger used the headline to help push the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which essentially made cannabis illegal unless it was for medical purposes if individuals could afford the tax placed on it. The issue with this is the police chief in Tampa states that cannabis had a small and indirect part in the mental health of Licata. Ben Montgomery of the Tampa Bay Times states that the doctors that diagnosed Licata didn’t mention his cannabis use in his diagnoses. Anslinger’s lies don’t just stop there he also stated that cannabis caused, “…white women to have sexual relations with blacks.”

Race has always been an issue with the illegalization of cannabis. Bernie Sanders, a Senator in Vermont and a Presidential candidate at the time of this writing, states that racism is cited as one of the main causes that it is still illegal today. Senator Sanders states that while African American and Caucasian individuals use cannabis at about the same rate, the African American individual is four times more likely to be arrest for use or possession. The ACLU states in their study “The War on Marijuana is a Black and White Issue,” that in 2010 the number is closer to 3.73 times more likely. At that same time African Americans only represent 13% of the population according to United States Census Bureau. In some states that number is even higher; Iowa for example an African American is 8.34 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis.

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The issue with these arrest and incarceration from cannabis is the bourdon it puts on our federal and state tax payers and the fact that it doesn’t work. According to CBS News it cost an average of $31,307 per year to house an inmate in the United States. Mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, which PBS states was passed as a law in order to discourage high level drug traffickers, can have an everlasting effect on individuals. The minimum sentencing for an individual arrested for one cannabis plant can face up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Cannabis has been illegal or next to illegal in the United States since 1937 and the rates at which it is used or available hasn’t changed. What is surprising is that according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that cannabis use has actually increased by about 5.3% since 2007.

Not only has this current prohibition not worked there is an economic benefit to allowing our freedom of choice. Colorado allows for recreational use of cannabis, and has benefited from the taxes and fees along with it. In 2014 according to CNN Money Colorado collected fifty-three million dollars in cannabis tax revenues from sales alone. This does not include any additional state taxes collected from the new jobs cannabis created, whether it was from cultivation or retail stores, or the influx of travel. Forbes also reports that construction in Colorado is up significantly since the legalization.

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With cannabis use during its current prohibition not declining, we as Americans, the champions of freedom must look at the states that have legalized cannabis in order to show that we are responsible and set forth common sense and fair laws. The first step is to ensure that recreational cannabis is only available at the age of 21. This is a must. Prior to 1984, when the national drinking age was 18 the Federal Trade Commission reported 66% of high school seniors had an alcoholic beverage within the last thirty days. After 1984, when the drinking age rose to 21, that number fell to 42% in 2012. The thought is that having an age of 21 will reduce the access that teens will have to cannabis. Next we must insure that responsible adults can cultivate their own cannabis crop. The State of Colorado allows the residents of Denver to grow up to three plants at one time per individual per household with twelve being the maximum, as long as it is in a locked and enclosed area without any access to children. Public use must be unacceptable. According to The Denver Post it is hard to get a, “contact high,” or fail a drug test by being around individuals who are using cannabis. They state it would take fourteen joints in a ten by ten room in order to fail a drug test. Making it illegal to use in public, like alcohol is to ensure minors and the general public are not exposed to the use of cannabis. Although the Colorado State Department of Transportation shows that since medical cannabis has been legalized in 2002 that the total number of traffic fatalities has dropped from 642 deaths in 2003 to 488 in 2014, and the United States Department of Transportation concluded in a study that, “Of the many psychotropic drugs, licit and illicit, that are available and used by people who subsequently drive, marijuana may well be among the least harmful,” we need to invest in an on the spot cannabis test, and have strict penalties if cited for driving under the influence of cannabis. Diving a vehicle must be done sober no matter the substance. We must provide education on how to identify the signs of addiction; this should be in place for alcohol consumption as well. An individual who uses cannabis for medical purposes must have a right to work. Just as a person who takes a medication from a pharmaceutical company isn’t persecuted for their substance use that same individual, or an individual who chooses cannabis instead, shouldn’t be persecuted for taking medical cannabis.

In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt was frustrated with the prohibition of alcohol since its induction in 1920. He understood it was a complete failure and that individuals will use alcohol no matter what the government says. His statement on August 27th, 1932 can still be heard and applied to cannabis today.

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But the methods adopted since the World War with the purpose of achieving a greater temperance by the forcing of Prohibition have been accompanied in most parts of the country by complete and tragic failure.

Works Cited

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Lobosco, Katie. “Recreational Pot: $53 Million in Tax Revenue to Colorado.” CNN Money. CNN. 12 Feb. 2015.

Lopez-Quintero, Catalina. Ed al. “Probability and Predictors of Transition from First Use to Dependence on Nicotine, Alcohol, Cannabis, and Cocaine: Results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC).” National Institute of Health. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011 May 1. PDF. 10 Dec. 2015.

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Montgomery, Ben. “Trial Has Echoes of ‘REEFER MADNESS’: As in a 1933 Tampa Murder, the Zimmerman Trial asks if Pot Can Incite Violence.” ProQuest. Tampa Bay Times. 10 July 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

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