By James R Owens
America’s prohibition on marijuana is out of step with reality, out of step with the views of science and out of step with human rights. While alcohol and nicotine have little medicinal value and cause the death of millions, marijuana has many medicinal applications. Yet, regardless of its attributes, it has been prohibited since 1937.
Science has secured cannabinoids’ place as having significant medicinal value, yet people who choose to use marijuana are considered criminals in most states. To fight the facts that cannabis is useful and should be legal, our government has used a false campaign against it.
While our government has continually claimed marijuana is a “gateway” drug that leads to the use or harder drugs such as crack, meth and heroine, credible evidence and common sense point us to the opposite opinion.
Alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs are regulated and taxed and consumers enjoy a layer of protection from regulatory processes that make them safer to use. Marijuana has no regulation on the black market where it is usually sold.
More than a half trillion dollars has been spent on the War on Drugs since it began during the Nixon Administration and our nation has seen little benefit from the use of their tax dollars. Marijuana is an element of the War on Drugs that should be removed, and in fact, 14 states have approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and others have decriminalized possession of small amounts.
The lives of users and law enforcement officers are placed in harm’s way because of a worn-out, almost superstitious, set of ideas about marijuana usage. Prisons are overcrowded with drug offenders, many of them for marijuana use or possession, and convicted drug offenders are not eligible for student loans. This fact, in and of itself, makes little sense and is counter-productive. Marijuana is not the enemy it has been made out to be and the prohibition against it should end.
The gateway theory has long been used against marijuana, but studies by the American Medical Association, and others, conclude the marijuana and abuse of other drugs do not have a direct correlation. They call this the “misplaced fallacy of connectedness.”
Neighborhoods and the environment, along with low parental supervision and forced contact with criminals have more to do with the negative effects of marijuana. In states where marijuana is prohibited, those who wish to obtain it must do so from shoddy sources. This connection introduces the purchaser to a criminal black market where other drugs are sold. The other drugs, such as cocaine, are far more profitable, so one might hear, “I don’t have any pot today , but I can hook you up with some of this …”
The World Health Organization also concludes the gateway theory is a fallacy. “The hypothesis that it (marijuana) represents a direct effort of cannabis use upon use of the later drugs in the sequence is less compelling.” WHO goes on to say that non-conformist adolescents, who have a propensity to use drugs are likely to use harder drugs due to social interaction with drug using peers, and exposure to other drugs when cannabis is in the black market. The fact that marijuana must be obtained from illegal sources greatly increases the likelihood harder drugs will introduced.
Further, The Institute of Medicine found “there is no evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are casually linked to subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” The institute goes on to say, “because marijuana is the most widely used drug, it is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter.”
Because marijuana is often the first drug illicit drug used, a correlation has been falsely developed that it leads to other illicit drug use. Does the use of alcohol lead to smoking? Is there a correlation that points to alcohol as a gateway drug for the use of nicotine? Absolutely not, there is no correlation from one to the other and there is no real correlation between marijuana and cocaine or heroin either. In fact, the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse finds no correlation between marijuana, alcohol and tobacco products.
I have been told by a physician that marijuana is likely to have less side effects, and is therefore less dangerous, than many prescription drugs legally sold on the market today. While many in government hang on to the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug, they have turned their heads when it comes to prescription drugs like pain killers. Not all government agencies agree, and in fact, some who deal directly with illicit drug use find pharmaceuticals more harmful.
According to DEA reports it is extremely difficult to track the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs. Even though prescriptions for pain killers, sleep aides and psychotropic drugs are monitored, there is a reporting time lag that creates a tracking maze for agents.
Prescription drugs are also obtained through fraudulent insurance claims, bogus prescriptions and theft. The addictiveness and withdrawal symptoms are much harsher for prescription drugs than many illicit drugs. Further, insurance companies collectively lose as much as $72.5 billion annually through fraudulent prescription benefit claims, a cost that is passed on to the consumer, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The illegal use of pain killers, often obtained through “doctor shopping” increased by nearly ten percent for youths aged 12-17, and by nearly 20 percent for individuals between the ages of 18 and 25. The illegal use of pain medication is somewhat hidden an off the radar, but it is a huge problem in this country.
Doctor shopping is the practice of using several doctors simultaneously to obtain prescription drugs by people who are usually faking their condition in an effort to feed their addiction.
Commonly abused prescription drugs include: Ambien, Xanax, Valium, Oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, Morphine, Codeine and Demerol. According to the DEA, doctor shopping is one of the primary ways addicts and drug pushers obtain prescription drugs.
The use of prescription drugs often times begins with legitimate use, and because of this, people who would otherwise not become drug addicts find themselves addicted. In 2006 radio talk show celebrity Rush Limbaugh turned himself in for doctor shopping. He was using massive amounts of the pain killer oxycontin and receiving prescriptions from several care providers. Limbaugh, it’s said, ingested up to 30 pills a day, which eventually led to a hearing loss.
The Boston University School of Medicine reported in 2006 that 10 million Americans were taking prescription medications to treat pain, and that more than 40 percent were addicted and using on a regular basis.
Marijuana prohibition denies patients legitimate use of a less addictive and usually cheaper alternative medication. Prohibition raises supplier costs, disrupts marketing and denies authorities the ability to collect taxes. Further, the prohibition of marijuana, like that of alcohol, has not slowed its use.
Regarding the use of marijuana as a medicine, the DEA’s Administrative Law Judge Francis Young concludes: “ In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. Marijuana, in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.”
In 2008 there were 847,863 marijuana-related arrests, which included 93,640 for trafficking and 754,224 for possession.
Medicinal Values and summary
Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, and researchers are looking into their use in the field of oncology. The properties in marijuana are also useful for stroke victims, trauma victims, neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson and Alzheimer’s diseases, HIV, dementia, glaucoma and chronic pain from such things as arthritis and migraine headaches.
Cannabinoids have been found effective in clinical trials to treat the effects of chemotherapy and treat anorexia.
Orgainizations supportive of medicinal use include: American Academy of Family Physicians, American Cancer Society, American Nurses Association and many others. Editorial boards such as the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Denver Post, New York Times and USA Today have endorsed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Yet with all the evidence and people in favor of lifting prohibition, prohibition remains in full effect in 36 states. The old arguments have been proven wrong, denying people a medicine that can relieve suffering is wrong, denying the tax revenue that could be realized is wrong, sending people to the streets and the black market is wrong and prohibition of marijuana is wrong.
So why does prohibition still exist? Perhaps, we need to follow the money trail and find the beneficiaries; only they have the answer. Prohibition must end.