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The Debate Regarding the Legalization of Marijuana

The majority of Americans choose the same issues as the most threatening to the nation. Invariably among these one will see “drugs” as a major concern of most Americans. There is speculation that this is due to a perceived association between drugs and crime (Inciardi 1). A good deal of the argument over government policy towards drugs centers on the least unhealthy and most socially accepted of the illegal drugs, marijuana.
Marijuana, scientifically known as Tetrahydrocannabinol, belongs to its own group among other legal and illegal drugs. It is neither a narcotic, such as heroin, nor a stimulant, such as caffeine or tobacco, nor a depressant, such as alcohol. The cannabis plant is thought to have grown originally in Asia, though it was also discovered upon the settling of North America. Its leaves, when smoked, instigate physiological reactions. When the active chemical in cannabis, THC, enters the bloodstream through the lungs and reaches the brain, it triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that induces pleasure (Gettman). This causes several effects upon the user, such as increased sensitivity of the senses, a dry mouth, the inability to keep a train of thought, and fits of laughter, among others.
Cannabis remains a legal though partially restricted substance in several countries. The Netherlands, for example, has mostly decriminalized cannabis. Portugal and Spain recently partially decriminalized the possession and use of recreational cannabis. However, in the United States, the possession of cannabis or any paraphernalia is expressly illegal. While no major legislation has been proposed to decriminalize the recreational use of cannabis, the United States government has commissioned several studies regarding the properties of cannabis and its effects, and also has considered bills permitting the medicinal use of marijuana.

Cannabis was prevalent in America for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many apothecaries and doctors proscribed medications containing cannabis. Until 1941, cannabis was part of the United States pharmacopoeia. However, in the early 20th century, public opinion swung and cannabis was characterized as an evil and destructive drug. The major step in the criminalization of cannabis occurred when The Marihuana Tax Act was passed in 1937 (Rubin 259). This act placed a minimal tax on the possession, distribution, or consumption of marijuana, which was punishable by severe fines of jail time.
Nearly 25% of Americans over the age of 12 admit to having smoked marijuana at least once in their lifetime (Inciardi 167). There is a substantial portion of the American public which favors, in some degree, the decriminalization of marijuana. There are also staunch advocates of the prohibition of marijuana, many of them in our government. They each have effective arguments, often disagreeing over improvable ideas.

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The faction in favor of full prohibition of marijuana has a strong set of arguments. Firstly, it argues that by causing an altered state of consciousness, cannabis is dangerous. They argue that it is biologically and psychologically addictive and that it the frequent use of cannabis has serious physiological repercussions. They argue that while marijuana may have marginal medicinal uses, that there are several more effective legal drugs for the same purposes. They argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug”, which leads users to “harder” drugs. They say that should marijuana be legalized, its use would run rampant. Some do not believe that it contains any medicinal value whatsoever.
Those in favor of full or partial decriminalization of marijuana have diametrically opposed arguments. They argue that the legalization of marijuana would save billions of dollars that are fed into the “War on Drugs”. They say that it would help clear our overcrowded prison system. They say that the physical effects of marijuana and its level of addiction are lower than those of nicotine and alcohol, both legal drugs. They say that legalization would take the criminal aspect out of the distribution of cannabis; in other words, as the distribution of cannabis would be taken out of the hands of criminals, there would be less crime related to cannabis transactions. There would also be a standard for cannabis, therefore avoiding “laced” cannabis, which can have serious physical effects. They say cannabis has real medical value and can be cheaper than prescription medicine. They

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