Prohibition has been initiated many times throughout history in attempt to control and deter civilians from the use of substances or from different types of behaviors that are believed to be destructive. More recently, several types have been discussed in terms of the social problem of substance abuse and ways that can be implemented in the methods of attempting to prevent the continued global spread of this problem. According to MacCoun, Reuter, Pacula, et al, “The appropriate legal response to marijuana possession has been a matter of public debate in the U.S. and Western Europe since the 1970s…” (Do Citizens Know Whether Their State Has Decriminalized Marijuana…, 2009, pg. 348). The growing problem of illicit substance use has been the subject of discussion among more than political debates or research studies and has now become the subject of discussion in deciding whether or not prohibition is effective at all in reducing its ill effects. The idea of drug legalization has crossed the media plane many times within the last few months, and the more popular substance of discussion is marijuana. The states Colorado, Arizona, Alaska, Connecticut, California, and District Colombia have all managed to drop their federal stance and legalize marijuana under state governance for medical and recreational use, but other states maintain their punitive statuses. Quite a few people consider the war on drugs a senseless waste of time. Spending energy, resources, and time fighting a non-winnable war on drugs appears to be illogical to many, but others have upheld the idea that our laws have kept what little semblance we have left. The federal legal system has been failing for years to bring control to the use and abuse of drugs like marijuana. The history behind marijuana criminalization stands to provide rationale behind why the state governing systems initially prohibited the use of marijuana, and state governing systems, such as in Kansas, want to legalize the use of marijuana and believe that this idea will aid in counteracting the social problem of the substance, however, undetermined factors could easily produce more harm than good in the removal of regulations.
The laws that encompass the limits imposed upon the distribution, sale, and use of drugs have been enforced since the early 1900’s (Burnett & Reiman, 2014). There are many stated hypothetical and some factually based assumptions out there about why marijuana was classified as illegal back in the early 1900’s, but the truth lies in the generalized control of population through the use of fear-based insinuations and greed from our own government. Throughout history, American culture has had a tendency to create hate-mongering and overall distaste for what is believed to be undesirable or unwanted, i.e. Native Americans (cowboys and Indians), African Americans (diseases and white supremacy), and more recently Iraqis and Muslims (after effects of 911 terrorism, religious differences), etc. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that during the early 1900’s after the Mexican Revolution, when there was an influx of Mexican immigrants, there was a growing distaste for the culture that came with them. According to the article How Did Marijuana Become Illegal in the First Place, “…when the media began to play on the fears that the public had about these new citizens by falsely spreading claims about the “disruptive Mexicans” with their dangerous native behaviors including marihuana use, the rest of the nation did not know that this “marihuana” was a plant they already had in their medicine cabinets (Burnett & Reiman, 2014). Ironically, this fear-based culture discrimination was seated in negligence about what purpose the drug served, especially since it was already in use within the borders.
The history behind the criminalization of marijuana extends beyond the initial fear-based deterrent. The views on the dangers of marijuana were influenced by a highly singular source, Harry J. Ansligner, who happened to be the nation’s top anti-narcotics official at the time and he had a powerful influence in the enactment of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. The idea behind making it illegal initially was to control certain cultural influences upon current citizens, but it became much more through the tests of time. The logic behind marijuana remaining illegal made less and less sense to those who sought answers about what usefulness it stood to have beyond the so-called dangers it had been believed to put out. Political officials used its “dangers” as campaign fuel to feed the fire behind supporters based on the already present fears and bias present about drugs. Nixon was the biggest supporter of anti-marijuana laws and according to the article The Illegalization of Marijuana A Brief History, Nixon had blocked the public disclosure of a report from a Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, that was in favor of decriminalizing the possession of marijuana (Siff, 2014). The statistical medicinal uses of marijuana were preempted by our president on the basis of its pre-existing illegal status under the suggestion that opening up to the uses of the substance will lead to societal downfall due to compromised judgment. Oddly enough, this is coming from history’s first president who resigned due to being caught in illegal acts of his own.
Legislation has obviously not been a great barrier in preventing or reducing the use and abuse of drugs. “Despite the harsher penalties that were enacted in the mid-1950s, recreational marijuana use not only continued, but increased dramatically during the 1960s” and after 1970’s Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, “…efforts to relax federal policies since the 1970s, such as rescheduling marijuana, have failed” (Khatapoush & Halfors, 2004, pg. 1). The idea implicated in this information would infer that adjustments need to be made because the legal system is broken where drug use is concerned and nothing implemented before now has been working properly for legally deterring individuals from drug use, possession, or distribution. Other than populating the prisons and increasing the public servant workload from continuously accrued drug charges, the laws criminalizing such behaviors and actions have not met their goal in eradicating drug use in America.
The controversial topic of marijuana legalization has sparked debates and research for many different types of discussions be they social, political, medicinal, or even personal. Many arguments in either favor or opposition have been addressed in the discussions between communicating parties and have brought some concerns to light when the idea of legalization came into question on the political plane. The more recent promotion of the implications of medical use of marijuana has changed views and bias regarding the “dangers” it was promoted to influence in its earlier introduction to the United States. The fear-based myths about the drug have been engrained in society so deeply, that it has raised all kinds of questions such as marijuana being a “gateway drug” and its use leads to the use of more harsh chemicals and substances. This concept has been debunked through studies conducted by researchers Golub and Johnson for the National Institute of Justice, and according to their findings they concluded, “A standing argument for controlling marijuana use, based on the gateway theory, is that it can lead to the use of more dangerous drugs. As determined in this study, however, the drug of choice for persons born in the 1970 ‘s and coming of age in the 1990 ‘s has been marijuana. These youths have been much less prone to progress to other drugs than their predecessors. This suggests that the gateway theory may be less relevant to their experience” (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). Ultimately, this conclusion suggests that all who use marijuana are not all-inclusive to the effects of smoking pot or will proceed to hard drugs after extended use. The myths and presumptions formulated over years of exposure to government hype and scare tactics, i.e. the movie Reefer Madness or commercials from the NDA comparing a human brain to a frying egg with the suggested phrase “This is your brain on drugs!”, have all become the basis of theories and arguments in the opposition of the legalization of marijuana. These arguments have inevitably lost momentum and credibility over time through the use of research and statistical evidence.
Other concerns that have been raised in lieu of the discussion of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana relate to the idea that increased use would follow and create more problems than it fixed, such as poor health. According to the article Assessing the Effects of Medical Marijuana Laws on Marijuana and Alcohol Use The Devil is in the Details (2013), “ In 200405, for example, household survey respondents in states with medical marijuana laws were 92% more likely to report using marijuana in the last 12 months than those in non-medical marijuana states (Cerdá et al., 2012)” (Pacula, Powell, Heaton, & Sevigny, pg. 3). The potential for use to increase based on the knowledge that punitive measures were removed is a realistic assumption because the lack of one or more negative consequences adds to the appeal and lessens the repellant. Unfortunately, the absence of legal consequences does not reduce or eliminate the effects marijuana can have on an individual’s health. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests there to be both short and long term effects of regular use of marijuana. According to the article Drug Facts Marijuana, an individual that uses marijuana could begin to have breathing problems, increased heart-rate, prenatal problems (when used during pregnancy), fertility complications, as well as some potential mental health issues such as altered state of general life satisfaction or lowered physical health (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016, para. 8). Other health problems that have been linked to the use of marijuana are anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, impaired brain development, paranoia, and hallucinations (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016, para. 11). Health problems like these have been indicated as reasoning to prohibit the use of marijuana, but similar symptoms have been said as potential risks from the use of alcohol and cigarettes; and those substances are legal. Advocates of the current legislation of marijuana regulation attempt to argue their reasoning on prohibition by focusing on the undesirable health effects of marijuana use (Weitzer, 2014, pg. 208). The argument concerning the ill-effects of marijuana use on an individual’s health is lacking the proper weight in influencing the resistance to legalization and decriminalization of marijuana based on the relatively similar health concerns mirrored by its currently legal counterparts alcohol and cigarettes. The presence of negative health impacts have no more influenced the criminalization of tobacco use any more so than it has for marijuana.