Alcohol, if consumed in high quantities, poses serious personal and public health and safety issues. In the realm of public safety, engaging in said activity significantly impairs cognitive activity, affecting one’s ability to utilize proper judgment and operate machinery, among other things. Thus, operating machinery while under the influence of alcohol puts not only the operator, but also others in the vicinity of the operator, in danger of being harmed. This is a universally recognized and accepted reality.
In the realm of personal safety, long-term alcohol abuse severely compromises major organs and bodily function, chiefly among them the lungs and fluid operability of the blood vessels. Thus, excessive alcoholic intake can lead to eventual chronic and debilitating health problems, such as liver cancer and diabetes. This is also a universally recognized and accepted reality. It is because of the widespread acceptance of these relative hazards that alcohol, although legal, has been seemingly sequestered by American society into a niche category of vices that are appropriate when consumed responsibly, but dangerous and overtly negative when consumed otherwise. Why then, has marijuana seemed to sidestep this particular form of judgment and swung itself onto the complete opposite end of the pendulum; the end that says it is completely harmless to consume
Whether one points to popular culture, the efforts of certain states to legalize the drug, or the growing debate over its medicinal qualities, marijuana appears to have occupied a space with regards to drug use and public and personal health that constantly debates its illegality. More and more, the question over why marijuana should remain illegal continues to persist. Proponents of its legalization usually point to the legality of other, just-as or more harmful drugs, such as the aforementioned alcohol or prescription painkillers, to say that if these various depressants and narcotics are legal, then marijuana should be as well. But what is lost in the shuffle in the endless debate over whether the primarily recreational drug should be legal is the fact that it poses serious personal and public health risks. Above all else, this is the primary reason why marijuana should remain illegal.
This is not to serve as a commentary for why alcohol and prescription drugs should be made illegal. Comparisons and perceived inequities in regard to the wide spectrum of dangerous substances are a debate that should be left up to those that create policy. This is strictly an analysis of the health problems associated with drug use, specifically marijuana, and why that alone constitutes the need for them to remain prohibited.
The “high” effect that is experienced by marijuana use is the result of its contents’ effects of various nuero-receptors in the brain. These nuero-receptors effect certain cognitive functions, chiefly among them pleasure, memory, thinking, concentrating, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement . This affects various tasks associated with the use of these functions. Problem solving, the ability to focus, fluid movement and clear event recollection become significantly compromised when under the influence of marijuana.
Its affect on problem solving is particularly noteworthy, broadening the scope of the ramifications of its legalization to macro levels, specifically with regards to the edifice of the American educational system. One can surmise that marijuana’s effect on problem solving cognitive ability would have an adverse effect in capacities that primarily make use of such brain function, including teaching, research studies, and mathematics. This would no doubt call into question the integrity of the United States educational framework. Marijuana use that is fluidly permeating throughout educational institutions would force a serious look into a changing of educational practices and standards with regard to performance. If it is scientifically proven that excessive marijuana use impairs brain function, and both the disseminating and reception of education is entirely predicated upon brain function, how can the merits of education as currently constituted continue to persist Such a reexamining of educational standards would have to commence if legalization of marijuana were to occur.
Furthering the discussion of marijuana’s impact on our neural health, chronic consumption of the drug has also been linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals, and high doses can produce acute psychotic reactions. Research has also shown that the long-term use of marijuana in younger age groups may be linked with lower IQ levels (as much as 8 points) later in life1.
From a macro standpoint, this presents an issue with respect to public health, particularly as it pertains to healthcare. As it currently stands, healthcare in the United States is already a great point of contention. Proponents who reside on one end of the tax bracket who cannot afford healthcare constantly vie for the opportunity to advocate for more affordable healthcare, while those who do have the means to afford healthcare declare that they shouldn’t be penalized with higher taxes in order to help pay for healthcare for the disenfranchised. The legalization of marijuana and other drugs would place an abject strain on this already stressed healthcare infrastructure, in which higher dependence needs because of the effects of now readily available legal drugs would demand greater taxation in order to incur the heavy costs associated with them. While this would no doubt serve as material and fodder for those running for public office who would attempt to find a way to make healthcare affordable regardless of the rise in national dependencies, the question of just how far the envelope on healthcare can be pushed without it bleeding into other areas of America’s economic and security interests would have to be brought to the table.
Marijuana use in high doses also poses significant respiratory risks. One study concluded that marijuana smokers have a nearly “five-fold” increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking. Additionally, marijuana smokers, as compared to non-smokers, have significantly more associated health problems, chiefly among them respiratory illnesses, including lung disease, cystic fibrosis and emphysema1. This further magnifies the aforementioned point about the ramifications that marijuana legalization would have on greater healthcare. Not only will legalizing marijuana and other primarily recreational drugs increase the amount of brain-impaired dependencies nationwide, but the amount of respiratory-related health dependencies would also rise, causing an even greater strain on the now fragile-at-best healthcare system. Advocates of the legalization of marijuana may want to think about how legalizing drugs can have the potential to cripple healthcare, thereby bringing the integrity of the United States economy to its knees.
In closing, while there may be inequities with regard to the legalization of drugs in the United States, it remains clear that drugs, particularly marijuana, should remain illegal. Dissenters to this viewpoint are no doubt going to point to the fact that other forms of drug abuse, such as alcohol and prescription pain medication, can be just as damning (if not more so) on American economics, mental health, and healthcare, yet they continue to be legal. This is a worthy point and one that continues further examination. However, the cognitive and respiratory health risks associated with continuous marijuana use are not debatable. They have been scientifically proven given decades of accumulated empirical data, and based on these health hazards, should remain illegal. Furthermore, as the adage goes, two wrongs don’t make a right, and justifying the legalization of drugs on the grounds that other dangerous substances are also legal is simply weak. Much is at stake with this issue, and decision makers can ill-afford to use such arbitrary ideology as grounds with which to decide whether the legalization of marijuana and other drugs is truly worth investigating.
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[Note The assignment for this short paper was to (I) present a viewpoint in opposition to the legalization of drugs, specifically marijuana, (II) provide health and economic-based reasoning for why prohibition must persist, and (III) critically assess how that reasoning would have greater repercussions on American educational, economic and healthcare interests (while presenting a possible objection).]