When I think about social issues that should be discussed more often than they are, I think about the topic of legalization of marijuana. As a person that has consumed marijuana both in legal settings, and illegal settings, I can say that the title “illegal drug” should not apply to cannabis. The reason that I believe this is because I do not feel that marijuana is a threat to my personal safety, nor is it a threat to the safety of people that are around me if I was to be smoking it in their vicinity. I am not a violent person, and do not consider myself to be a criminal based on what plants I have smoked. While I believe that cannabis should be legalized in every way, there are some people that sit on the fence on the issue. The problem is that they either don’t know enough about marijuana to make an informed decision or do not have any personal feelings on the matter. I believe that these people should consider choosing a side. I believe that this particular paper can show the injustices of marijuana laws and why they provide unnecessary hurdles for hardworking citizens that want nothing more than to be given their right to get “high” after a long day of work. Everyone should know more about the topic because it is more than likely that someone they know will be adversely affected by the unjust system of laws that govern American society. This paper will provide all the information that a reader needs to make an informed decision, including a history of the cannabis plant, and biased and unbiased information regarding the topic and why law reform is the only conceivable solution to the debate over marijuana.
The history of marijuana reaches back thousands of years to the time before the birth of Christ. Assessing marijuana’s use as an intoxicant in the historical sense is difficult because for many people around the world, its importance as an intoxicant has been secondary to its use as a folk medicine or a ceremonial adjunct (Grinspoon, 173). Because of this, I will focus primarily on the use of marijuana as an intoxicant because when used as an intoxicant is when the law is the harshest on marijuana law offenders. The use of marijuana as an intoxicant was first documented in India around the time of 1000 B.C. and was used mostly as a part of Hindu culture (Snyder, 125). Reasons for why the plant was used are unclear from the texts that are left behind. I would guess that it was first introduced because of the somewhat euphoric state that cannabis can induce. The marijuana was consumed in three different forms in ancient India (27). The first was called bhang, which was made from hemp and was consumed in a drink form. This was mostly consumed by the lower classes and was ingested to relieve one from the stresses of a long days work (Grinspoon, 173). The first of the other two forms was called ganja and was taken from the tops, or bud, of the plants and smoked. The last and most potent form of the marijuana was called charas and is similar to hash. The plant quickly spread from India to other areas of Asia. In China marijuana was called the “Liberator of Sin” (Fort, 15). The plant soon spread into Middle Eastern areas and permeated into the Muslim religion, most likely because the prophet Mohammed prohibited the use of alcohol so marijuana became the preferred substitute (Geller, 5). The Muslims had two myths concerning the use of hashish, the first arising in the tenth century and the second in the thirteenth century. The myths concerned Arabs that brought the magical drug, hashish, from the Middle East to Spain. The famous traveler Marco Polo gave a name to these myths, “Hash Assassins”, “assassins” actually being derived from the word hashish (6).
The use of marijuana in other areas such as Africa, Europe and the United States is not documented so far back in history as the east. Europe is well known as an area of marijuana use, mainly because of underground knowledge of the quality of Spanish and Moroccan hash, and the legalization of marijuana in The Netherlands. During the nineteenth century European interest in the plant was aroused by two scientific reports, one by the Queen’s physician, that suggested that marijuana could be used to treat certain ailments, and could also be used as a mild euphoriant (Grinspoon, 56). Cannabis was highly lauded by physicians and it soon became readily available without prescription (Snyder, 121).
The origin of use of marijuana in the United States is unclear. One thing that is clear, is that the settlers did not use the plant as an intoxicant, but rather used the plant as covering, twine, and as other textiles (Geller and Boas, 16). Marijuana began being used as an intoxicant in America in the early nineteenth century. One of the first documented cases of use of cannabis as and intoxicant concerns the influx of Mexican American workers and their use of the plant (14). A report to a military surgeon in nineteen thirty three noted that marijuana did not have the addictive side effects of opium and drugs similar and that marijuana presented no threat to military discipline. The report also said that there was no reason to prevent the sale and use of the supposed drug. In the nineteen sixties cannabis became increasingly popular among the American youth. The history of the use of marijuana shows how long the plant has been used as an unobtrusive intoxicant, and also proves that use of marijuana can be an insightful experience.
While history can be used to explore the necessity for marijuana law reform, the present can provide some much more interesting facts about why laws should be changed. While legalizing marijuana is a goal that I believe should be reached, I also recognize the necessity for laws that would regulate the use to a level that is deemed responsible, such as laws that provide punishment for driving under the influence. The cost that marijuana prohibition allows for is approximately ten billion dollars a year, and the United States taxpayers foot this bill (NORML). This cost is far too high. The money that is used to keep marijuana off the streets could be put to a much more practical use. Along with the ridiculous cost incurred by implementing these laws, marijuana laws also imprison seven hundred thirty four thousand people annually, which is more than numbers for all violent crimes combined (NORML). Of these drug arrestees, many have no history of violence or any other criminal activity. I believe that this proves that cannabis smokers do not pose a significant threat to society in any way. Some may argue that while pot smokers are not a threat to society, they engage in an unsafe activity that can be harmful to one’s health, therefore they should be kept from engaging in use of marijuana in all cases, I think that marijuana has little adverse side effects to one’s health. The British Medical Association says that the smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to one’s health (NORML). There are also no potential risks for marijuana smokers, insofar as the likelihood of death is concerned. There has never been a reported case of marijuana overdose, and it is believed that no one ever will overdose (Erowid). In recent polls taken, a majority of Americans apparently feel that marijuana is less dangerous than both alcohol and tobacco. A majority of Americans also support changes to the United States’ drug policy (NORML). I believe that these polls show an increasing sentiment in modern day America that marijuana is not as serious as it may have been believed to be. However, looking at the issue through the eyes of only one or two pro-legalization groups does not fully cover the spectrum of public opinion.