The Other War

Discussion in 'Marijuana Legalization' started by Superjoint, Nov 7, 2003.

  1. By Brent Ables
    Source: Collegian

    While the world keeps its attention on the wars in the Middle East, there is another war being fought against a different kind of "enemy" here in the United States. It is a war that is perpetuated by a long history of cultural myths and unfounded popular prejudices, but nonetheless millions of Americans have been arrested and prosecuted as accomplices of the enemy in this war. That enemy is the marijuana plant.

    Despite years of research and evidence to the contrary, many Americans still believe - and our federal government still claims - that the use of marijuana is a serious threat to our country's wellbeing, and even that (as U.S. Drug Czar John Walters recently opined) marijuana is on an equal footing with cocaine and heroin in terms of danger to the public. As a result of such widespread beliefs, our government has continued to wage a costly fight against the private and medical use of the cannabis sativa plant; in college language, smoking pot.
    President Jimmy Carter said: "Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself." I agree, but I think that this statement can be expanded into: penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to a nation than the use of the drug itself. Apparently, however, our Justice Department doesn't agree.

    According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report, released in October, police arrested approximately 697,082 people in 2002 for crimes relating to marijuana. This number comprises about half of all drug arrests in the nation, and exceeds by far the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined: murder, rape, robbery, assault, etc. Nearly all of those arrested (88 percent) were not arrested for distribution, but for simple possession of the drug, even for medical use. Included in these arrests were those who distributed or used marijuana in accordance with democratically-enacted state laws, such as have been passed in Colorado and 11 other states.

    These astounding numbers might be justifiable if marijuana was truly the great threat it is perceived to be. However, decades of research and popular opinion point to the opposite conclusion: that it is not only dangerous, but could in fact be a potential goldmine for medicinal purposes.

    Consider:

    * Not a single person has ever died from smoking marijuana. This can be compared to the hundreds of thousands that die each year from legal drugs like tobacco, alcohol and even over the counter drugs like aspirin.

    * Most major medical journals have written that the health risks associated with even long-term marijuana use are minimal. For instance, the British medical journal, Lancet wrote that: "The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. ... It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat ... than alcohol or tobacco." The American Public Health Association, like many other organizations and several states, has called for Congress "to move expeditiously to make cannabis available as a legal medicine."

    * Marijuana has been linked in studies to relief of pain due to a wide variety of afflictions, including AIDS, cancer and other terminal diseases. This is why organizations as prestigious as the American Medical Association have urged that more studies be done on the subject, due to the potential medicinal uses of the plant.

    There are, of course, other issues besides the health risks and benefits of marijuana. For example, readers might recall recent commercial advertisements asserting a direct connection between smoking marijuana and committing irresponsible or even violent acts, the most graphic of which was a group of youths that hit a girl on a bike because they were "high." Despite the emotional tug of these advertisements, they hardly amount to a logical argument.

    First, there are so many causes of irresponsible driving that to focus on one that is relatively harmless is pointless and rhetorically dishonest. To be consistent, the federal government would have to sponsor ads condemning cell phone usage, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, pain medication, fast food, car stereos and probably cars. For good measure, why not assault rifles and machine guns as well?

    Second, this argument misrepresents the issue. Of course no one advocates driving while significantly impaired by any substance, marijuana or otherwise. Even those most in favor of legalizing marijuana state clearly that ingesting marijuana is an issue of personal responsibility and accountability, as is any decision to partake in any potentially dangerous activity. "Although cannabis is said by most experts to be safer than alcohol and many prescription drugs with motorists, responsible cannabis consumers never operate motor vehicles in an impaired condition." (From the Web site of the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform.)

    Most of the civilized world has recognized that the benefits of marijuana usage (medical, personal and otherwise) far outweigh the risks. Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Canada, Sweden, Norway and other European nations have reduced marijuana possession to the level of jaywalking, and, in some cases, eliminated penalties for its usage altogether. Americans have also become aware of the drug's benefits. According to a Pew Research Center Poll in 2001, for example, approximately 73 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.

    While popular sentiment does not necessarily make something right, the point is that a consistently democratic government would recognize the currents of reason and legal change. Any objective comparison between the benefits and risks of marijuana finds the evidence on the side of the benefits, as much of the world has realized. Not only are there not any compelling reasons to outlaw the drug, there are in fact positive arguments for its use - medical and otherwise.

    As there are more issues than I have had space to bring up on the subject, however, I would encourage those interested in the subject to look for themselves into this important and contentious issue. I think that most will find that our government is fighting a costly and ultimately futile battle against what could potentially be a great benefit for our collective community.

    Brent is a freshman at CSU studying philosophy. His column runs every other Tuesday.

    Source: Rocky Mountain Collegian, The (CO Edu)
    Author: Brent Ables
    Published: Wednesday, November 05, 2003
    Copyright: 2003 Rocky Mountain Collegian
    Website: http://www.collegian.com/
    Contact: editor@lamar.colostate.edu

    NORML
    http://www.norml.org/
     

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