“Legalization of Marijuana”
For many years now there has been a constant argument over whether or not the medicinal uses of marijuana are enough to overlook the side effects of the drug and make it legal for medical use in the United States. To many people, when they think of the plant marijuana, technically known as Cannabis Sativa, or hear the phrase “legalization of marijuana”, they tend to only think of the addict smoking it for a high and not the person using it as a medicine. However, many people, all around the world, including the United States benefit not only from the medical uses of the plant, but also from many others. For example, to an AIDS or cancer patient, this is the plant that fights nausea and appetite loss or to the nutritionist, in which its’ seed is second only to the soybean in nutritional value, and is a source of cooking oil and vitamins. Finally, to the paper or cloth manufacturer, it is the plant that provided much of our paper and clothing for hundreds of years and produces four times more fiber per acre than trees.
Before making any sort of determination of whether or not marijuana should be legal or illegal, one needs to know some basic facts about the plant. Lester Grinspoon, M.D. and James B. Bakalar, authors of the book “Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine”, note,” Most botanists agree that there are three species of Cannabis: Cannabis sativa, the most widespread of the three, is tall, gangly, and loosely branched, growing as high as twenty feet; Cannabis indica is shorter, about three or four feet in height, pyramidal in shape and densely branched; Cannabis ruderalis is about two feet high with few or no branches” (Grinspoon and Bakalar, Pg.1). They also say, “Cannabis has become one of the most widespread and diversified of plants. It grows as weed and cultivated plant all over the world in a variety of climates and soils” (Grinspoon and Bakalar, Pg.1). Cultivation of the plant has become more and more of a problem in recent years due to the widespread popularity of marijuana.
Cannabis may have been cultivated as long as ten thousand years ago. It was certainly cultivated in China by 4000 B.C. and in Turkestan by 3000 B.C. where it was mainly used as a sedative and analgesic. It has long been used as a medicine in India, China, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South Africa, and South America. Nevertheless, according to Grinspoon and Bakalar cannabis didn’t make its way into the United States until 1842 when,” Doctors in Europe and the United States began to prescribe it for a variety of physical conditions. It was listed in the United States Dispensatory in 1854 (with a warning that large doses were dangerous and that it was a powerful “narcotic”). Commercial cannabis preparations could be bought in drug stores. During the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia, some pharmacists carried ten pounds or more of hashish (4).” Though this seems unheard of today, at this point in time it was very common. There were too many remedies and uses of marijuana during this time period to mention, so it was decided to leave as many out of the paper as possible.
Today there are also many ways in which marijuana can be used to accommodate those who are severely ill. In an article in the 1999 January edition of High Times Muddy Webster says, “The American Cancer Society, the American Glaucoma Society, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the American Medical Association all agree that there is some evidence that use of marijuana as a medicine has merit.” (High Times Magazine, Pg.30) Though much different from the treatment used over a century ago, cannabis is still a remedy for many sicknesses. According to information from The American Public Health Association, received from the site ”http://www.tfy.drugsense.org/apha.htm” which clearly states,” that marijuana has been reported to be effective in reducing intraocular pressure in glaucoma, reducing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, stimulating the appetite for patients living with AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and suffering from the wasting syndrome, controlling spasticity associated with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, decreasing the suffering from chronic pain and controlling seizures associated with seizure disorders.” This shocking information cannot only be verified by countless physicians, but also has been known by the Supreme Court for many years now!
Marijuana is illegal today because of the Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937. The following information is not only appalling but sickening to think our government would ever do something such as this. According to Grinspoon and Bakalar, “This law was the culmination of a campaign organized by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics under Harry Anslinger in which the public was led to believe that marihuana was addictive and caused violent crimes, psychosis, and mental deterioration…Under the Marihuana Tax Act, anyone using the hemp plant for certain defined industrial or medical purposes was required to register and pay a tax of a dollar an ounce” (15). Almost incidentally, the law made medical use of cannabis difficult, because of the extensive paperwork required of doctors who wished to use it. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics followed up with “anti-diversion” regulations that contributed to physicians’ disappointment. Cannabis was removed from the United States Pharmacopoeia and National Formulary in 1941.
In the 1960s, large numbers of people began to use marijuana recreationally. Anecdotes about its medical use began to appear, generally not in the medical literature but in other sources, such as popular magazines. Meanwhile, concern about recreational use increased, and in 1970 Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act. This law assigned psychoactive drugs to five schedules and placed cannabis in Schedule I, the most restrictive. According to the legal definition, Schedule I drugs have no medical use and a high potential for abuse, and they cannot be used safely even under a doctor’s supervision. Two years later, in 1972, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) petitioned the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (formerly the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) to transfer marijuana to Schedule II so that physicians could legally prescribe it. As the legal proceedings continued, other parties joined, including the Drug Policy Foundation and the Physicians Association for AIDS Care.
The hearing was finally allowed and as Grinspoon and Bakalar mention, “The hearings before the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) were instructive. As one of us (L.G.) waited to testify on the medical uses of cannabis, he witnessed the effort to place pentazocine (Talwin ), a synthetic opioid analgesic made by Winthrop Pharmaceuticals, on the schedule of dangerous drugs. The testimony indicated several hundred cases of addiction, a number of deaths from overdose, and considerable evidence of abuse. Six lawyers from the drug company, briefcases in hand, came forward to prevent the classification of pentazocine or at least to ensure that it was placed in one of the less restrictive schedules. They succeeded in part; it became a Schedule IV drug. In the testimony on cannabis, the next drug to be considered, there was no evidence of overdose deaths or addiction – simply many witnesses, both patients and physicians, who testified to its medical utility. The government refused to transfer it to Schedule II.” (19) Although the attempt failed, not all was lost. NORML fought back in January 1974 by filing a suit against the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
In rejecting the NORML petition, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs failed to call for public hearings as required by law. Information from Grinspoon and Bakalar says, “NORML again filed suit. In October 1980, after much further legal maneuvering, the Court of Appeals remanded the NORML petition to the DEA for reconsideration for the third time. The government reclassified synthetic THC as a Schedule II drug in 1985 but kept marihuana itself – and THC derived from marihuana – in Schedule I. Finally, in May 1986, the DEA administrator announced the public hearings ordered by the court seven years earlier.” (19) This was the beginning of a long and strenuous trial period in which many parties and organizations joined NORML and were involved in the trial, even though being opposed by the DEA.
The lengthy hearings involved many witnesses, including both patients and doctors, and thousands of pages of documentation. As stated by Grinspoon and Bakalar, “Administrative law judge, Francis J. Young reviewed the evidence and rendered his decision on September 6, 1988. Young said that approval by a “significant minority” of physicians was enough to meet the standard of “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” established by the Controlled Substances Act for a Schedule II drug. He added, “marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man…. One must reasonably conclude that there is accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision. To conclude otherwise, on the record, would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.” Young went on to recommend “that the Administrator of the DEA conclude that the marijuana plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, that there is no lack of accepted safety for use of it under medical supervision and that it may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II.” (19) The DEA was obviously not pleased with the decision and decided that something had to be done.
The DEA administrator responded with the following new criteria for accepted medical use of a drug: (1) scientifically determined and accepted knowledge of its chemistry; (2) scientific knowledge of its toxicology and pharmacology in animals; (3) effectiveness in human beings established through scientifically designed clinical trials; (4) general availability of the substance and information about its use; (5) recognition of its clinical use in generally accepted pharmacopoeia, medical references, journals, or textbooks; (6) specific indications for the treatment of recognized disorders; (7) recognition of its use by organizations or associations of physicians; and (8) recognition and use by a substantial segment of medical practitioners in the United States. These were the criteria rejected by Judge Young in his marijuana decision. The DEA disregarded the opinion of its own administrative law judge and refused to reschedule marijuana.
In spite of the constant defense of the federal government, a few patients have been able to obtain marijuana legally for therapeutic purposes. State governments began to respond in a limited way to pressure from patients and physicians in the 1970s. In 1978, New Mexico enacted the first law designed to make marijuana available for medical use. Also according to Grinspoon and Bakalar, “From 1978 to 1986 about 250 cancer patients in New Mexico received either marihuana or THC; after conventional medications failed to control their nausea and vomiting. For these patients both marihuana and THC were effective, but marihuana was superior. More than 90 percent reported significant or total relief from nausea and vomiting. Only three adverse effects were reported in the entire program – anxiety reactions that were easily treated by simple reassurance.” (25) Only ten states ever established programs in which cannabis was used as a medicine.
The court returned the case to the DEA for further explanation, but it offered no direct challenge to the central belief that marijuana lacks therapeutic value. As stated by Grinspoon and Bakalar, “Twenty-eight patients whose applications have already been approved will not be supplied with the promised marihuana. Twelve patients now receiving marihuana will continue to receive it. After more than twenty years in which hundreds of people have worked through state legislatures, federal courts, and administrative agencies to make marihuana available for suffering people, these twelve are the only ones for whom it is not still a forbidden medicine.” (25) The DEA issued a final rejection of all pleas for reclassification in March 1992.
Although there was an abundant amount of information on the trials of legalizing cannabis, the information was needed in order to portray why marijuana is illegal today. Today cannabis is commonly used for the ”high” or euphoric feeling it causes. The most active ingredient in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinal commonly referred to as THC, which wasn’t discovered until the 1960s. This, of course, is when marijuana first got its’ popularity in the United States. Although the drug was widespread at this time, it was nowhere near as potent as it is today. Grinspoon and Bakalar say, “There are three varieties known as bhang, ganja, and charas. The least potent and cheapest preparation, bhang, is produced from the dried and crushed leaves, seeds, and stems. Ganja, prepared from the flowering tops of cultivated female plants, is two or three times as strong as bhang; the difference is somewhat akin to the difference between beer and fine Scotch. Charas is the pure resin, also known as hashish. Any of these preparations can be smoked, eaten, or mixed in drinks. The marihuana used in the United States is equivalent to bhang or, increasingly in recent years, to ganja.” (1) This poses a big problem because cannabis has become so prevalent in the U.S. as of late.
The question of whether or not marijuana is as dangerous as it is made out to be now becomes a major issue. Especially since according to online site http://www.nida.nih.gov/MarijBroch/parentpg13-14N.html which states,” Marijuana is the most frequently used illegal drug in the United States. Nearly 69 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once.” Large varieties of people have many different opinions on the subject, sometimes depending on their professions. People, who are pro-marijuana, argue that marijuana is considerably less harmful and addicting than tobacco and alcohol, the most frequently used legal drugs. Furthermore marijuana has never directly caused anyone’s death.
An ongoing study of why people smoke “pot” has been something of a mystery for years. The main reason for this is that there is such a vast majority of answers to the question that it is nearly impossible to find one definite explanation. In the book “The Cannabis Experience” Joseph Berke states, “Curiosity was the most frequently cited reason for using cannabis for the first time…People were interested in the effects of the drug and wanted to try it to see what it was like.” ( Berke Pg. 23 ) Surprisingly, peer pressure, was next on the list as Berke says, “ The next most common reasons were social pressure and a desire for excitement and a new experience.” ( Berke 23 ) This tends to be the primary focus of the government of why younger kids have now began using cannabis. This area is where the government would like to make a significant change. To reduce the amount of users, especially in the younger kids. Also in heavy users, some of the long term affects are still unknown. In the book “Cannabis and Cognitive Functioning” it mentions, “Cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in the world, with estimates between 12 and 20 million current users in the USA alone, but the question of whether long-term use of the drug can result in lasting and irreparable cognitive impairment remains controversial.” ( Solowij xiii ) Since marijuana is so highly abused in the U.S. this is becoming a larger problem.
Given that there are so many users and heavy users the effects of marijuana can often times vary from person to person. Information from site “http://council-houston.org/marijuan.htm” says, “ Marijuana can cause the user to develop tolerance, increasing the need for more and more in order to experience the expected high. Some of the effects of marijuana use include increased heart rate, dryness of the mouth, reddening of the eyes, impaired motor skills and concentration, and frequent hunger and an increased desire for sweets.” Although, as mentioned before, these effects can differ from time to time, these are the most common effects of the drug.
Another problem with the study of marijuana has been the inefficient facts about behavioral and psychological effects of marijuana use. In the book “Marijuana and Health” it says, “The mind altering effects of marijuana underlie its widespread and increasing popularity…Studies of the effects of marijuana on complex behavior must be carefully interpreted, because there are numerous variables that can influence the results…The dose, type of preparation, route of administration and speed of administration must be specified…The user’s personality, motivation to perform, and especially his previous experience with marijuana, are powerful influences on test results.” (Institute of Medicine 112) This makes it very hard to get specific results on how marijuana effects peoples behavioral and psychological thoughts.
Everyone has his or her own opinion on medical marijuana and it’s legalization. Each side of the debate presents data on a regular basis, some of which causes more controversy. Marijuana is one of the only drugs that can actually be given to patients and not cause serious side effects. It is also a less expensive means of treatment. If the United States government regulated the use of marijuana, it would be a very successful step. If the doctors prescribed marijuana for certain patients, and if the rules for usage of the drug were very strict, there would not be any misuse of the drug. Marijuana is also very cheap to produce, and more people could afford this drug instead of being subjected to high-tech treatments that don’t always work. It is easier to administer, and the results are often much faster. It would be a tremendous advantage if patients were allowed to legally smoke marijuana. Marijuana should not be an illicit drug; it should be legalized for medical purposes only.