Marijuana’s history in the United States dates back to its colonization. In fact many prominent historical American figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have grown marijuana on plantations. This was mostly for the plant’s fiber known as hemp. Although in Washington’s case there are suspicions of weather or not he was growing for personal use as well (Andrews p. 403).
But even with our presidents growing pot it was still largely unknown as a drug of abuse until the early 1940’s when it was becoming popular among famous jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, and Charlie Mingus, and due to the fact that most jazz musicians who were using marijuana in this time period were black, white America saw it as a low class “black man’s drug. ” (www. erowid. org/plants/cannabis/cannabis_timeline. php3). This led to white America launching what is known as the “Reefer Madness” campaign.
A propaganda campaign built on lies and hearsay such as, marijuana smokers, or “dope fiends” as the Reefer Madness films referred to them, are deviant criminals who will murder you in the street for drug money (Andrews p. 229). The campaign seemed to be working during the 40’s and 50’s because marijuana was still largely unknown to middle America, but in the 60’s marijuana use came back in a big way with young college students, hippies, and popular musicians (Earleywine p. 295). This led people to see the truth about marijuana.
That it is relatively harmless and can be used safely for recreation. Which brings us to today and the debate about whether or not marijuana should be legalized. Today in the United States Marijuana is classified as a DEA schedule I drug in all of its forms. A drug that is classified as DEA schedule I is a drug that has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medial use in treatment in the united states, and has a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.
This federal scheduling was disputed in 1988 by judge Francis Young, an administrative law judge for the DEA, who recommended that marijuana be re-classified as schedule II on the grounds that if a respectable minority of doctors endorse it then it has a “currently accepted medical use. ” (www. erowid. org/psychoactives/law). But even with the efforts of people like Judge Young, the United States is known for having fairly harsh marijuana penalties. In Britain marijuana is schedule I class B, and on July 10th 2002 was moved from class B to class C due to the British home secretary David Blunkett.
Now in Britain simple possession is treated on a simple seize and warn basis. After making the decision to downgrade marijuana’s scheduling Blunkett said that “Cannabis is a potentially harmful drug and should remain illegal. However, it is not comparable with crack, heroin, or ecstasy. A greater differentiation between drugs which kill and drugs that cause harm is both scientifically justified and educationally sensible. “(www. guardian. co. uk/drugs/story/0,2763,580507,00. html). Since this move towards decriminalization the United Kingdom’s street crime numbers have been cut in half.
The numbers of robberies and muggings in southern London have fallen nearly 50 percent. And in the Lambeth borough police reported 468 robberies and muggings in April as compared with the 916 last October (www. norml. org/index. cfm? Group_ID=5309). Canada is another country that is making steps toward decriminalization. On September 4 2002 members of a special Senate committee unanimously urged Parliament to amend federal law to allow for the regulated use possession and distribution of marijuana for recreational use and medicinal purposes.
The committee said in it’s 600 page report that “Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue… Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties. [Therefore,] we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the state much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization. ” (http://www. norml. org/index. cfm? Group_ID=5405).
The researchers believe that marijuana prohibition poses a greater risk to health that marijuana use. They said in their report that “We believe… that the continued prohibition of cannabis jeopardizes the health and well-being of Canadians much more then does the substance itself or the regulated market of the substance. In addition, we believe that the continued criminalization of cannabis undermines the fundamental values set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. ” Canada has also seen a drop in serious crime as a result of lax marijuana enforcement over the past decade.
So if decriminalizing pot in other countries has worked than why can’t it work in the United States. Studies show that Marijuana is safer then cigarettes and alcohol (http://www. norml. org/index. cfm? Group_ID=5405), and that decriminalization will allow law enforcement agencies to concentrate their efforts on more serious problems, and will generate more money for the economy. Studies show that the health issues that marijuana raises are actually less hazardous then cigarettes. Studies also show that marijuana is not a gateway drug, it does not lead to the commission of crime, and that users are not likely to become dependent.
One study also showed that it is easier for underage teens to obtain pot then tobacco (http://www. norml. org/index. cfm? Group_ID=5386) despite the fact that tobacco is targeted at adolescents (Shepard, Greene p. 213). This shows that our nation’s drug war is failing and that our resources need to be targeted elsewhere. Canadian justice minister agrees with this statement saying that “If you look at the system [America] has in place, keeping marijuana criminal is not very efficient, police currently spend too much time and resources prosecuting marijuana offenders. ” (http://www. norml. org/index. cfm?Group_ID=5350).
Legalizing marijuana would also have positive effects as well. A Nevada proposal to regulate and tax marijuana use by adults would raise an additional $28. 6 million in annual state revenue, according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). The Center based its financial calculations by estimating that 75,000 people – five percent of the state’s population – would use an average of 12 grams of marijuana per month. The Center imposed the same tax rate on marijuana that already exists on tobacco products (http://www.norml. org/index. cfm? Group_ID=5439).
In conclusion marijuana should be legalized in the United States for not only medicinal but recreational use as well. The evidence makes it obvious that marijuana is not dangerous and can make our country better if we legalize it. The appointees in the Shaffer commission knew it when they recommended the decriminalization of pot to President Nixon in ’72 (www. erowid. org/plants/cannabis/cannabis_timeline. php3), Jimmy Carter knew it when he endorsed the decriminalization of marijuana in ’77, and now you know it.