Marijuana (or cannabis) is a psychoactive drug that comes from the hemp plant, a herb, and has an intoxicating effect. Marijuana is used recreationally and medicinally, as well as part of religious ceremonies around the world, and has been used since around 3000 BC. During the twentieth century, movements began to restrict the use, possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis in many countries worldwide.
Once a taboo topic, the legalization of marijuana is now an issue at the forefront of society, being discussed and debated by major figures around the world. Though cannabis has been prohibited in many countries, these bans only began in the early twentieth century. With its many medicinal purposes, cannabis has often been prescribed as a medication to relieve pain and other symptoms. Even in places were recreational use of marijuana is prohibited, medicinal uses of the drug are sometimes allowed.
Marijuana use is widespread even in places where it is banned; meaning that the black market for marijuana is a huge industry around the world. This has led to many related problems, such as the growth of drug cartels especially in Latin America, which in turn has led to other criminal activity including violence and police corruption. This has become a large problem for several countries, and has led to the belief that legalization could take the power away from drug cartels and back into the hands of the government where it can be regulated, controlled for quality, and taxed.
Uses of Marijuana
Marijuana can be used to reduce anxiety and as a relaxation aid. Many people enjoy its effects and use marijuana for purely recreational purposes.
Medical Marijuana Uses
Cannabis has been used for medical purposes throughout history, often in the form of a tincture. Today, marijuana is used as an appetite stimulant for people with sicknesses causing a loss of appetite, and as nausea relief in cancer and AIDS patients.
The hemp plant has many agricultural and industrial uses, and could be used in an estimated 25,000 products. As a quickly growing hearty plant, hemp could become an important agricultural product in places it is allowed to grow (without psychoactive property). Industrial uses include fiber and fuel, two important products in our society. Today, cultivation of hemp can be licensed in the EU.
Hindus, Buddhists, Rastafarians, and members of a few other religions have been known to use cannabis during religious ceremonies.
In the nineteenth century, cannabis was sold as a medicinal drug (typically in tincture form), and may have been used by Queen Victoria.
1894: Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission (commissioned by UK Secretary of State and the government of India), helps make the decision not to criminalize the drug in the UK and India.
1860: Some US states begin regulating Cannabis sativa sales.
1906: US Congress passes Pure Food and Drug Act, which requires labeling of cannabis in over-the-counter remedies and food.
1923: Canada bans Cannabis under the Opium and Drug Act.
1925: International Opium Convention bans exportation of Indian hemp to countries that prohibited its use, requiring it be used for medical and scientific purposes.
1925: Mexico passed prohibition of cannabis.
1930: US Treasury Department creates Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
1931: 29 states in the USA outlawed marijuana.
1936: Propaganda film Reefer Madness, produced by French director Louis Gasnier, is released, instilling fear in youth about marijuana.
1937: FDR administration passes the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, the first US national law making possession of cannabis effectively illegal, requiring people to pay an excise tax for certain uses. At this time, the government began using the Spanish word for cannabis, marijuana, appealing to the negative attitudes towards Mexicans to gain support for the ban. Still, Cannabis sativa was being used and prescribed by doctors during this time.
1944: NY Academy of Medicine releases “La Guardia Report” that found that marijuana use does not lead to violence, insanity, addiction, other drug use.
1951: US Congress passes the Boggs Act, establishing mandatory prison sentences for possession and distribution of marijuana (and other drugs).
1956: US Congress passes the Narcotics Control Act, signed by President Eisenhower, which declares that first offense marijuana possession carries minimum sentence of two to ten years with a fine of up to $20,000.
1970: Congress repealed many of the mandatory penalties for drug offenses. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act is passed, dividing drugs into classes.
1986: Anti-Drug Abuse Act reinstates mandatory sentences for drug crimes.
1989: President George Bush Sr. declares the War on Drugs.
1996: California passes law legalizing marijuana for medical use, cultivation.
1997: Canada law covers marijuana by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
1998: Oregon legalizes medical marijuana.
2002: Canada's Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs reviewed the policies and reported that it is not a gateway drug, should be treated like tobacco and alcohol.
2010: California's Prop 19 seeks to legalize marijuana use, and would have treated marijuana similarly to alcohol, but the proposition was rejected.
Legalizing Marijuana Pros and Cons
Pros of legalization: Economy & Tax Benefits: A global recession has hurt the economies of most countries in recent years. Regulation and taxation could help alleviate some of the economic woes of these countries.
Cost of the War on Drugs: The War on Drugs is expensive and ineffective. Governments, especially in the United States, are spending money to uphold the ban on marijuana. Costly government raids on dispensaries and marijuana farms, as well the cost of imprisoning and prosecuting violators are wasting government money. If the government were to legalize marijuana, not only would this money stop being wasted, but the proceeds from government taxes on marijuana could be used for prevention education programs in schools and campaigns against all drugs, like the system used for cigarettes and tobacco.
Ineffective Ban: Prohibition has not been effective (just as it was ineffective for alcohol in the Untied States in the 1920s), and hasn't stopped people from using the drug. Instead, it has created a black market, which has caused an increase in violence and corruption. Some theories have suggested that making cannabis illegal may have actually increased use.
Regulation: With government involvement in legalization of marijuana, the drug could be better regulated to control its quality, quantity, and who it is sold to, much like alcohol and cigarettes. Since drug dealers are unconcerned with the age of their customers, young people often have easier access to marijuana than alcohol. With legalization, an age limit could be set restricting the sale of marijuana to adults only.
Natural: Marijuana is naturally occurring in plants, and has been successfully used for thousands of years.
Victimless crime: No one, aside from the user (arguably), is harmed by marijuana's use.
Not physically addictive: Marijuana is not a physically addictive drug, though it may be habit-forming.
Public support: With marijuana's growing public support, the laws should reflect the will of the people.
Negative consequences are overstated: Effects of marijuana are often overstated, and negative health effects are less severe than other commonly used legal substances. No known cases of fatal overdose have occurred from smoking marijuana.
Reduction of alcohol-related fatal car wrecks: A study on the states in the USA that legalized medical marijuana in the 1990s looked at government data on the correlation between marijuana use and traffic deaths from 1990-2009 (from the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). The study found that fatal car wrecks actually decreased by 9% in states that legalized medical marijuana. The rate of fatal crashes in which the driver was driving under the influence of alcohol dropped by 12%, and crashes involving high levels of alcohol consumption dropped 14%. The reduction in traffic deaths was comparable to the change after the drinking age was raised to 21, the study showed. Also marijuana is typically more likely to be used at home rather than when outside, resulting in less driving.
Personal freedom and liberty: Banning marijuana infringes on our rights to make a personal choice, like choosing to drink alcohol.
Cons of legalization of Marijuana: Increased use: Marijuana use could increase if legalized. People who would not normally try the drug might be more inclined to begin using it.
Public safety and driving dangers: Driving under the influence of marijuana could increase, causing more accidents.
Health risks: Marijuana use can cause negative health effects, like contributing to lung problems.
Exposure to children: Children may be more exposed to the drug and its use. Second-hand marijuana smoke could lead to unknown risks to children. Exposure might encourage children to begin using marijuana.
Gateway drug: Marijuana is often considered a gateway drug, meaning it opens the door to other more dangerous drugs. People who use marijuana and enjoy it might begin experimenting with harder drugs in search of a bigger high, and harder drugs have severe negative effects and proven addictive qualities.
Immorality: Mind-altering substances are viewed by many people to be immoral, and could lead to other immoral behaviors. Government prohibition protects society from itself.
Inadequate scientific research: The drug has not been fully studied and tested, and there may be unknown negative effects.
Opening the door to legalization of other drugs: Legalizing marijuana could pave the way for harder drugs to become legal as well, leading to societal decline.
Decreases motivation: Marijuana is believed to decrease motivation and increase lethargy and inactivity in users. This could harm individuals who use marijuana, keeping them from fulfilling their personal potential.
Legalization Movements in the United States
The United States federal government has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Marijuana is deemed to have no medical uses according to the federal government. In 1996 Prop 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, allows cannabis to be prescribed by doctors to certain types of patients. Patients with prescriptions (or designated caregivers) are allowed to cultivate marijuana for personal medical use. This Prop also protects a system of cooperative distribution, which means that dispensaries now exist around California to provide medical marijuana. This was the first such law in the nation, and was followed by similar laws in several other states. California medical marijuana laws have been supported by the California Superior Court stating that MMJ laws can co-exist with federal law that prohibits all use. Because this law contradicts federal law, the federal government has conducted raids to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries.
Currently, the following sixteen states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana:
The general support for legalization of marijuana continues to increase in the United States. A Gallup poll in 1969 found that only 16% US voters supported legalization, but by 2005 the number had risen to 36%. According to Ramussen Reports, (a survey company), in 2009, 40% of the United States population supported legalization, and in 2010 that number reached 43%. Most recently, the poll of 2012 found that 47% of the population supported legalization, versus 42% who are against and 10% who are undecided. Part of the reason for the change in support is the financial crisis of 2007-2009. Many supporters cite beliefs that legalization would help solve the financial problems of the country, if the large marijuana industry could be regulated and taxed, similarly to alcohol or tobacco.
Public opinion of the drug itself has been shifting as well. A 2010 survey found that adults view alcohol and cigarettes as more dangerous than marijuana. Many Americans believe that the current strategy, known as the War on Drugs, is failing and that the problems are worse than ever, so many are ready to revise the current strategy.
California's Prop 19 on the 2010 ballot proposed the legalization, regulation, and taxation of recreational marijuana. The bill was estimated to generate upwards of $1 billion annually for the state, which has been struggling financially. Marijuana is California's biggest cash crops, with annual sales reaching $14 billion. The proposition failed with 54% voting to reject Prop 19, though many people argue that dealers and those involved in the illegal marijuana market made up a large portion of the votes against the proposition.
Many proponents of legalization look to the past prohibition of alcohol during the 1920s in the United States, which failed. Most of the arguments against marijuana use are the same as those used against alcohol during that time, and just like alcohol prohibition, alcohol was first legalized again for use as a medicinal aid.
The former Surgeon General of the US voiced her support for legalization of marijuana in October of 2010:
"I think we consume far more dangerous drugs that are legal: cigarette smoking, nicotine, and alcohol. I feel they cause much more devastating effects physically. We need to lift the prohibition on marijuana." - Joycelyn Elders, Former Surgeon General of the United States
The Happiness Gene
If the control of mood in individuals in genetic, Happiness is certainly not a choice. In May 2011, the UK Telegraph published a medical report which said that scientists have discovered a gene, called 5-HTT. When a child inherits two sets of the gene, one from each parent, the child is twice as likely to manage mood fluctuations and remain happy in life. 5-HTT is the gene responsible for the cellular distribution of serotonin, a mood-control chemical produced by the pineal gland. Furthermore the London School of Economics undertook a research and found that a dominant 5-HTT caused people to lead happier lives. This study linking individual genetic makeup and a propensity to remain happy was published in the Journal of Human Genetics. Previously in 2008, psychologists at the University of Edinburgh had worked in collaboration with the researchers from Queensland Institute for Medical Research, Australia, to establish the existence of this gene, though at the time it had not been isolated.
World Cannabis Laws
Around the world, countries have various laws and regulations surrounding marijuana use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking, with very different punishments. About ten countries have switched to decriminalization for personal use, just short of legalization, which has been fairly successful. Medicinal use is legal in Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, and 16 states in the USA. On the other hand, several countries even use capital punishment for cannabis trafficking violators, including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and People’s Republic of China. The Philippines used to allow capital punishment for drug trafficking, but abolished the law in 2006. U.S. Federal law calls for death penalty for traffickers with very large amounts of cannabis (60,000 kilograms or 60,000 plants) or are involved in criminal smuggling netting over $20 million. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that only murder and treason qualify for the death sentence.
Here is a look at some marijuana legislation around the world:
Australia – It is illegal to use, posses, grow, and sell marijuana, but each state and territory penalizes violations differently with different degrees of decriminalization.
Bangladesh – Marijuana is grown and has been widely used for centuries in the Bengal region. It is legal throughout Bangladesh, known as ganja, hashish, and found in a drink called bhang.
Belgium – Marijuana use has been decriminalized, and possession is okay in small quantities for personal use only.
Canada – Marijuana is illegal except for medical usage, but generally tolerated for the general public anyway. Laws in Canada are being reviewed, and have been called unconstitutional by some judges. A review on the anti-drug policies started in 2002, finding it is not a gateway drug, and moving towards treating it like tobacco or alcohol. The country's cannabis industry has an estimated $7 billion in sales, making it a bigger industry than wheat or cattle.
A 2001 audit estimated $500 million spent each year by the government on fighting the drug trade, 95% on enforcement and policing. Two-thirds of the 50,000 drug arrests are for cannabis.
On September 20, 2011, the crime bill, Bill c-10 was re-introduced, which targets growers, dealers, consumers of cannabis, and would have mandatory minimum sentences for cultivation of small amounts. Ontario, Quebec, and British Colombia are against the financial strain this bill would bring.
Costa Rica – Marijuana use is illegal, but not typically arrest-worthy unless it is for distribution. Marijuana plants are often grown in the rain forest preserves, where the government is unable to prosecute.
Czech Republic – Production and possession of drugs in general became a crime in 1938. In 2010, the Czech Republic decriminalized drug possession.
Denmark – Marijuana trade is illegal but generally tolerated. Copenhagen is in favor of legalizing state-run coffee shops to gain control (which currently gangs are controlling the market).
France – France has strict laws against marijuana, and even portraying it in a positive light is banned as inciting use, so decriminalization movements can't go far. Non-psychoactive hemp can be legally grown for other purposes.
Germany – Though marijuana is illegal, possession of a small amount is not fined, and is a low priority for law enforcement. Smoking openly is not uncommon.
Hong Kong - Dangerous Drug Ordinance of Hong Kong states that the possession, cultivation, and trafficking are all illegal, and can be punished with a fine, or even life imprisonment.
India – Sometimes seen as the originating country for marijuana, the drug is still illegal to grow, consume, or traffic since 1980. Known as ganja or bhang (in drink form), there are even licensed bhang shops in some regions. Usage is fairly common, and the drug is sometimes used openly during certain religious ceremonies.
Israel – Marijuana is illegal but there are no severe punishments for personal use. Medical marijuana is legal and prescribed to patients with nausea from chemotherapy or HIV.
Italy – Cannabis is illegal. Punishments for personal use are low in severity, and medical use with a prescription is legal. In July 2008, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that those of the Rastafari religion are allowed to possess amounts of cannabis legally to be used as a sacrament.
Japan – Japan has severe penalties like long jail sentences and fines for possession or use, even of small amounts.
Mexico – Mexico has struggled with marijuana trafficking for much of recent history, causing severe problems in the society. In 2006, Congress passed a bill to decriminalize possession for recreational use, in hopes of slowing cartel crimes and drug arrests. The US did not approve of this change, suggesting that Mexico was not serious about the War on Drugs, and the president worked to reverse the bill.
In 2008, Mexico City's Congress proposed legalization for recreational consumption, possession, and commerce. In 2009, Mexico decriminalized personal use and possession of certain drugs.
Nepal – Marijuana was made illegal in the mid 1970s, but this law is never enforced and use is widely tolerated.
Netherlands – Marijuana is formally illegal in the Netherlands, but no action is usually taken on possession of a small amount and sale under certain specific conditions. Possession and purchase is tolerated in small amounts in coffee shops for people 18 years of age or older. The Netherlands has been working toward more restrictions, like banning the sale of cannabis to tourists.
Marijuana laws in the Netherlands are currently in a state of transition, experimenting with different rules to figure out what works. Recently, the courts decided that medical cannabis was allowed, but the state is appealing the decision. In 2009, coffee shops near schools in Rotterdam were shut down.
There was proposed ban of all sales to tourists from the end of 2011, which has been adopted by Maastricht so far. In May 2011, the government decided that beginning in 2012, every coffee shop will be a private club with membership only allowed to dutch residents, each person only allowed membership to one club.
New Zealand – Marijuana is illegal, but punishment is a fine of up to $500, or rarely 3 months in prison. The maximum prison sentence for this crime is 8 years. There have been many movements to decriminalize it, but none have succeeded yet.
Peru – Use and possession of up to 8 grams of marijuana is typically acceptable if no other drugs are carried.
Portugal – Personal use of marijuana is limited and fined, and each person is allowed 2.5 grams of marijuana, 0.5 grams of hashish, and 0.25 hash oil per day. No more than ten daily doses can be in possession, or it is considered trafficking. Cultivation, however, is illegal.
South Africa – South Africa is one of the first countries to criminalize cannabis in modern times in 1910, but Rastafari and other groups have campaigned for legalization.
Spain – Possession and use in public is classified as a misdemeanor, but trafficking is a crime. There are legal members' associations established, in which marijuana is grown and shared among members, but it must be a closed group.
Basque Country (northern Spain) has moved to legalize sale and cultivation for adults.
Switzerland– Home grown cannabis is legal, up to four plants per person as of January 1, 2012. However, marijuana is classified as an illegal narcotic, and sale is punished by a fine or imprisonment.
United Kingdom - Marijuana became illegal in 1928. In 2011, several political and public figures stepped forward calling for an end to the War of Drugs and an overhaul of drug laws
Should Marijuana be Legal?
Should marijuana be legalized or decriminalized? Would legalization alleviate some of society's problems, including the violence of drug cartels and our economic woes? Do we need government mandated control of our morality, or should individuals be allowed to exercise self-control and decide for themselves what morality means? What legislation method is most effective? Is marijuana worse than alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, or prescription medications?
Is it time reevaluate the legal status of marijuana?