Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The case for decriminalization...

Author's note: This was written several years ago, in response to an argument with my sociology professor. Take it with a grain of salt...

Making the Case for Decriminalization of Marijuana Usage in the United States of America


Barry H. Rhodes

Author’s Foreword

The purpose of this essay is not to create an entire nation of “hippie dopeheads”. It was not written to argue that a person is able to smoke marijuana for every waking moment of his life and not have any ill effects. It was not written to promote the music of Bob Marley.

My “drug of choice” is sold in a twelve ounce can with a red and white label, and I am of the legal age to both purchase and consume this drug within the confines of my home. I am also legally allowed to drink this beverage in any establishment licensed to sell Budweiser, and even drive myself home after doing so, provided I have not consumed so much as to make myself intoxicated.

The purpose of this essay is to explain the manner in which the negative consequences of marijuana criminalization have consistently outweighed any positive effects. To date, there are four major areas of concern, which I will address in this essay.

Marijuana, when consumed for medicinal purposes, is known to have far better results at treating life-threatening aspects of chronic diseases than many other prescription drugs. However, due to the US federal government’s refusal to allow marijuana to be grown and used as a medicine, people are forced to rely upon prescription drugs which often have very adverse negative side-effects, and in many cases, are not as effective as a simple puff or three from a “joint” would be.

The negative affects caused by generations of skewed statistics and, occasionally, outright lies, has caused a nation of teenagers and young adults to distrust the wisdom of those who are in the best position to provide advice which will protect them from actual harm. If a drug such as marijuana is proclaimed by authority figures to be “dangerous”, and a reasonably intelligent person realizes that it is not, such a reasonably intelligent person is far less likely to trust that same authority figure when he says that snorting cocaine or guzzling scotch whiskey is bad for one’s health.

The price upon society, in both emotional and financial drainage, has been unparalleled by anything this country has ever faced, with the possible exception of the US civil war. The prohibition of alcohol has showed us the evils that will present themselves within society, when there is a vast market for something that has been outlawed. In addition, the stigma associated with a person being known to have used marijuana can be severely detrimental to that person’s future. Being arrested for a marijuana offense can mean the difference between getting a job that will provide food and shelter for a person’s family, and working a job where the employee asks if you would “like fries with that”. The cost of tax dollars alone spent on arrest, prosecution, incarceration, and community supervision of those arrested for simple possession charges goes far beyond the billion dollar mark. That’s BILLION, with a “B”. In today’s geopolitical situations, with terrorist threats looming from every corner of the globe, all that money could be better spent protecting this nation from smugglers of arms, “hard drugs”, illegal immigrants, and terrorist operatives.

The last aspect I wish to address is the very notion of individual liberty in this nation, which is supposed to be the “land of the free”. It is my personal belief that when a grown man, who has reached the age where our government has decided he is old enough to make a choice to wear a uniform and possibly even die for our country, that man should have every legal right to do whatsoever he chooses within the privacy of his own home, as long as exercising these rights do not interfere with the rights of others. Instead, a man is forced to hide his guilty pleasures not only from his neighbors, but also from his employers and the law enforcement community. It makes no sense whatsoever that a man is legally allowed to purchase enough Vodka to kill a small elephant, and at that same liquor store purchase as many cartons of cigarettes as he can afford, but will be arrested if he has a marijuana seed in his ashtray while being pulled over for speeding on the ride home.

I would like to dedicate this essay to two of the most important women in my life, my mother and my aunt. Both have been afflicted with hereditary and incurable life-threatening diseases. One is afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis, and the other with Lupus. One once had a prescription, while living in another area and under the treatment of another doctor, for Marinol™, but is now forced to manage her symptoms with dangerous prescription painkillers. The other never had a prescription for medicinal-use marijuana in any form, but continues to smoke marijuana as a pain reliever, and to this day risks going to jail for doing so. To protect their anonymity, I will decline to say which falls into what circumstance. It is for their sake, and for all others like them, that I attempt to make this argument for the decriminalization of marijuana.

Medicinal Usage of Marijuana

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is legal for prescription consumption by human beings in all fifty of these United States. Of course, you cannot legally grow it yourself, in your own yard. You cannot legally purchase it from some guy down the street. You cannot legally go into a pharmacy and fill a prescription for a “quarter ounce of pot”. You can, however, go to any pharmacy in America and fill a prescription for Marinol™, a synthetic form of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

Unlike Naboline™, Marinol™ is not merely “similar in chemical structure” to the active ingredient in actual marijuana. It is chemically identical, even though it is created in a lab, as opposed to being grown in a field. Naboline™, which was scientifically engineered to provide a chemical which would reduce nausea without creating the euphoria associated with marijuana, was shown to be ineffective at performing the task of reducing nausea in cancer patients.

Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy for the treatment of malignant tumors have long been known to suffer from uncontrollable nausea as a result of their treatments. Such nausea is known to reduce the appetite, and also make the patient vomit. Without a desire to eat, and the inability to digest what little has been eaten, the body is deprived of precious nutrition.

A side effect of the consumption of marijuana, one which many “potheads” consider a negative side effect of “getting high”, is the inherent stimulation of appetite. While the recreational user may ingest marijuana to experience euphoria, the cancer patient ingests marijuana to be able to eat. The recreational user ingests marijuana to stimulate his mind, and looks at the desire to eat a case of Twinkies as a negative consequence; the patient ingests marijuana to consume nutrition and sees laughing hysterically at C-SPAN as a negative consequence. Either way, neither is harmed by the “negative consequences” of marijuana.

To date, a dozen states in our nation have decriminalized the usage of actual marijuana (in herbal form, as opposed to a tablet of Marinol™), provided the user has a valid prescription written by a Medical Doctor licensed to practice in that state. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

The only actual medical doctor currently sitting in the US Congress, Dr. Ron Paul (R-Surfside, TX), has publicly stated that marijuana is both safe and effective as a treatment of a multitude of ailments.

There have always been a number of medical organizations which backed the use of marijuana as a medicine, but in the past several years, there have been an increasing number of legitimate medical organizations which publicly support the use of marijuana for treatment of chronic diseases. Among them are The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (America’s second largest cancer charity), The American Academy of Family Physicians, The American Public Health Association, and The American Nurses Association.

Myths, Misinformation, Propaganda, and Problems

Before going further, it should be pointed out that the subject of whether or not to decriminalize marijuana should not be looked at lightly, as if it were a debate over whether it should be illegal to wear white shoes after Labor Day. There are, as with any other drug, serious consequences which can arise from its misuse. There are certain facts that should be brought up here, and it does no good to hide them.

Marijuana smoke contains four times as many toxic chemicals as the average cigarette. Marijuana intoxication is associated with its very own set of mental disorders, as classified by the DSM-IV. Marijuana usage has been known to decrease sperm count in males. Marijuana usage is known to alter the hormonal balance in both males and females. Smoking marijuana is known to weaken the immune system defenses against bronchial infection, and also the immune system as a whole. Marijuana is known to cause hallucinations, psychosis, delusions, and paranoia. It is known to reduce short-term memory.

All of these things sound absolutely horrible, don’t they? Well, to the unknowing, they would. However, words are meaningless if their true meaning is unknown, and statistics are equally useless, when not studied objectively.

Marijuana contains four times as many toxic chemicals as your average Marlboro. However, for a marijuana smoker to ingest as many toxins as a “pack a day” smoker of Marlboro Full-Flavor Kings, he would have to consume five “joints” in a single day. Even “regular smokers” of marijuana would be hard-pressed to find themselves smoking five joints per day.

Marijuana intoxication is known to cause certain mental disorders, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version IV. These include Cannabis Abuse, Cannabis Dependence, Cannabis Intoxication, Cannabis-induced Anxiety Disorder, Cannabis-induced Psychotic Disorder Hallucination, and Cannabis-induced Psychotic Disorder Delusion. These sound terrible, but are they? Not really.

”Cannabis Abuse” is diagnosed under the criteria of taking a larger dose than anticipated, gaining a tolerance to cannabis, or spending too much time finding that next quarter bag.

“Cannabis Dependence” is defined as having unsuccessful efforts to stop or reduce the use of cannabis, or seeing a marked and noticeable reduction of other activities because of cannabis usage.

“Cannabis Intoxication” is simply the effects of the human mind when under the influence of marijuana.

“Cannabis-induced anxiety disorder” is nothing more than the idea that your mom already knows you are high, and is playing a big elaborate hoax on you when she asks you about your day.

Much has been said about the ability of cannabis to cause “psychosis”, but many fail to realize that A) marijuana psychosis is only temporary, lasting only for the duration of the “high”, and B) psychosis, in and of itself, is nothing more than a “detachment from normal perceptions of reality”. Psychosis with delusions is basically what leads a pothead to think “Three’s Company” was one of America’s greatest television series, and “psychosis with hallucinations” is merely the idea that the television got really loud all of a sudden. Of course, both of these (as well as all other “mental disorders” associated with marijuana) will gradually fade away within hours of ingesting the herb.

On the other hand, there are many other propaganda myths perpetrated by the powers that be, which lead to distrust among the youth of our nation. Among them are the notions that marijuana smoking, in and of itself, is inherently as dangerous as any other illicit substance.

Unlike LSD, smoking marijuana has no permanent effects upon the human brain, other than damage to brain cells caused by lack of oxygen. It will not “fry” your brain the way LSD can, by causing irreparable damage to the nervous system. Holding bong hits until you pass out, however, is every bit as dangerous as holding your breath until you turn blue and pass into unconsciousness.

Unlike cocaine, heroine, cigarettes, caffeine, methamphetamine, and the myriad prescription painkillers on the market, marijuana has absolutely ZERO physically addictive properties. You will not get nauseated, run a fever, get chills, break a sweat, start twitching, or anything else if you don’t get that “next hit”. You may become annoyed with life in general, but you will not become sick.

No one, in the history of mankind, has ever died of an overdose from marijuana. The reasoning behind this is quite simple. The portion of the brain which controls involuntary muscular movement such as breathing and heart rate has very little cannabinoid receptors, and is largely unaffected by the use of marijuana. On the other hand, drugs such as cocaine, heroine, alcohol, and prescription painkillers directly affect these regions of the brain, and can lead to death or permanent injury by overdose.

Contrary to the “just say no” campaign, marijuana is not a “gateway drug”. While it is a generally accepted fact that smokers of marijuana are far more likely to try other drugs than persons who have not smoked marijuana, that does not mean smoking marijuana makes a person snort a line of coke or start eating Xanax from a PEZ dispenser. A person willing to try heroine is, most likely, also willing to smoke marijuana. A person unwilling to try heroine is, most likely, also unwilling to smoke marijuana. A person with a history of speeding tickets is ,most likely, going to have obtained a driver’s license at one point in his life. A person without a driver’s license is less likely to get behind the wheel, therefore that person is less likely to get a speeding ticket. Getting a driver’s license does not cause a person to break the law.

All of this misinformation has had an effect upon those who blindly accept whatever those in positions of authority will tell them. Smoking marijuana is against the law, therefore it must be bad. However, the majority of people on this earth do not blindly accept what they are told.

If a policeman says “the sky is green, the grass is blue, and Spam tastes good”, a few people will actually eat a Spam sandwich. Many others, however, will think twice about opening that can. They know that the person making that statement has proved himself to be untrustworthy when he said the sky was green and the grass was blue. When you tell a person “don’t do this, it’s dangerous”, and that person knows it to be false (often from the experience of others he actually trusts), he is less likely to believe you when you tell him the truth. Because of this, we have an entire generation of children raised under the Nancy Reaganite agenda of “Just say no!” who don’t really know that much about drugs one way or the other, but know they can’t trust what those who are supposed to be teaching them are actually saying. Things like this lead people to believe that “snorting a line or two won’t hurt”.

It is only through absolute truth that a man can have absolute trust from his fellow man. Until propaganda is stopped, there can be no trust.

The Price We Pay

During the year 2005, there were over 90 thousand people arrested for the sale or manufacture of marijuana, by state and local police agencies. There were almost seven hundred thousand people arrested for simple possession, by those same local and state agencies. Let’s do some simple math here.

Assume the arresting officer makes ten dollars per hour, and spends only one hour total while filling out paperwork, making the actual arrest, et cetera. Assume the district attorney makes only 40k per year, which equals out to slightly more than 19 dollars per hour, and that district attorney spends a total of only one hour on each case, including reviewing the case, attending hearings, et cetera. That’s 10 dollars for police x19 dollars for the DA x688,690 cases. That’s over one hundred and thirty million dollars in a single year, wasted on simple possession charges, spent to cover the wages of only two people involved, for only one hour of work per case.

Of course, this number does not include the money used for undercover drug sting operations, sophisticated Infrared camera equipment used to spot marijuana “grow houses” from helicopters, the cost of incarcerating offenders, or any of that sort of thing. The US federal government spends BILLIONS of dollars every year to fight a “war on drugs”, and over half of that money is spent on marijuana cases.

The prohibition of alcohol has shown this country that the criminalization of a substance the population wants will only lead to crime, unnecessary taxpayer expenditure, and death or injury due to impure and unregulated product. On top of that, a very substantial amount of tax revenue is lost due to the inability to collect taxes upon something when it must be sold outside the boundaries of the law.

When we once had bootleggers and mafia “whackings” due to territory infringements concerning the sale of alcohol on another gangster’s turf, we now have liquor stores with neon orange paper signs showing the new low price of that half-gallon of budget tequila. When we once had a nation of people who showed complete disregard for the law because the law made booze illegal, we now have a nation of people who don’t mind the enforcement of reasonable laws regarding the sale and service of alcoholic beverages.

As long as marijuana is illegal, marijuana will be a lucrative cash crop for those willing to make a profit without regard to the law. It will remain an untapped source of tax revenue. As long as marijuana is outlawed, it will be enjoyed by outlaws.

This does not even begin to cover the personal cost of those who are caught using or even possessing marijuana. I have a personal friend of mine who was pulled over for a minor traffic offense, and was arrested for “possession of drug paraphernalia” because an acquaintance left a cigarette paper (perfectly legal to purchase at any gas station, but apparently illegal to possess, since it can be used to roll a “joint”) in the ashtray of his car. That person now has a criminal record involving a drug offense, and that record will remain with him until the day he dies.

He can no longer fill out a job application without being required to disclose a drug conviction. He cannot purchase a new firearm from a licensed dealer, which requires signing a federal BATF “yellow form”, because he has a drug conviction. He cannot receive federal student aid for an education, because he has a drug conviction. He cannot serve in the United States military without a waiver, and is permanently disqualified for several jobs within the military (including many which need to be filled in our time of war), because he has a drug conviction.

Personally, the criminalization of marijuana has also affected me and my relationship with a member of my immediate family. Because a member of my family has an incurable illness, and uses marijuana to manage pain instead of a destructive and addictive prescription opiate, I can no longer visit this person’s home out of fear that I may be arrested in a drug raid. I cannot associate with certain friends of mine in public places, because of the “guilt by association” phenomenon known to happen around people who are known to use marijuana. A few use it for valid medical reasons, but most use it for recreational purposes. Regardless, I must stay away from them, because I hold great value of my ability to have access to federal financial aid in order to further my education.

Land of the Free?

Perhaps the most important argument that can be made for the decriminalization of marijuana is the blatant hypocrisy associated with making a plant illegal. Marijuana has been used as both a medicine, and a recreational drug, for as long as mankind has had recorded history. Eating cannabis is assumed to have been experienced for thousands of years before drinking fermented fruit juices ever brought us around to the modern age of breweries, mainly because there was no processing needed other than to sit and wait for the buds to blossom. Honestly, we may never know for certain, because recorded history has been with us for only a few thousand years, but getting hammered on pot and booze have been part of man’s history since the beginning of the written word.

As I write this essay, I am also quenching my thirst with an ice-cold bottle of Budweiser beer. That bottle of beer was manufactured less than an hour away from my home, under the appropriate license provided by the state of Texas and the guidelines of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It was transported via a registered and inspected tractor/trailer to Del Pappa Distributing, where it was then shipped to a convenience store less than half a mile from my home. The convenience store paid a fee for a Business Permit. It also paid a fee to the state of Texas to obtain a license to sell alcoholic beverages. When I purchased that six-pack of beer, the clerk was under legal requirement to ascertain my age, to insure that I was of legal age to purchase said beer. Upon paying for my purchase, I also paid around eight percent of the original cost, to cover the sales tax…which was then forwarded to the City of Angleton. After that, I drove home, and then enjoyed my beer in the privacy of my own home.

Yes, beer is a legal substance. It is, however, a very dangerous drug. It is known to cause death by overdose, commonly known as “alcohol poisoning”. It has led to numerous deaths, especially while involving the operation of a motor vehicle, including the death of my older brother. It has been consistently proven to be a very addictive substance among some people, causing severe physical symptoms if the addiction is not “fixed” on a regular basis. In contrast to the eight mental disorders listed in the DSM-IV caused by marijuana, alcohol is known to cause fourteen…almost twice that of marijuana. The effects of alcohol, unlike marijuana, do not “go away” after the initial intoxication has worn off. Alcohol is known to cause irreparable damage to the liver, brain, and several other organs. If I consume enough alcohol so that I am not in control of my “normal physical or mental faculties”, I am guilty of a crime the moment I step outside of my home. If I am intoxicated from ethyl alcohol, and attempt to drive a motor vehicle on a public street, I am liable to spend the next six months or more behind bars for driving while intoxicated. If I intoxicate myself from alcohol and harm another individual, either intentional or unintentional, I am guilty of (at the very least) criminal negligence and possibly more serious charges. If I am in the care of children, and become intoxicated by an alcoholic beverage, I am guilty of endangering the welfare of a child. If I provide alcohol to a child, I can be arrested for contributing alcohol to a minor. Still, on top of all of this, I am able to purchase as much beer as I can afford, so long as it is after 7:00 in the morning and before 12:00 midnight.

Is there any reason why a man determined mature enough to enlist, vote, get married, smoke a cigarette, buy a gun, watch pornography, purchase land, et cetera should be unable to make a simple decision about sitting around his own home and burning a doobie? I’m quite certain that if a man is mature enough to understand the consequences of picking up an M16 and pointing it at another human being, that man is mature enough to understand the consequences of picking up a dimebag and spending a Friday evening listening to Jimmy Buffet.

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