“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” -Thomas Jefferson
Americans have a long, mixed history with marijuana. From the nation’s earliest days when hemp was a major plantation crop and therefore critical to the economy, to the 1970s and President Nixon’s War on Drugs, to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ modern day crackdown on state laws that deviate from federal mandate, we’ve never quite come to a consensus on how we feel about weed. In particular, public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has shifted dramatically in just the past few years (see Pew chart), and it appears now that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor some form of legalization.
American federal law still technically classifies marijuana as a “schedule 1” drug, meaning we believe it to be highly addictive and dangerous, and its possession and usage are technically criminal activities. Many experts dispute this classification, arguing that weed bears almost no resemblance to other schedule 1 drugs (heroin, LSD, ecstasy, etc). As such, Barack Obama announced during his presidency that if individual states voted for legalization, his administration would give priority to the state law and refrain from enforcing the federal ban within their borders (as mentioned above, Jeff Sessions is currently trying to reverse this, potentially leading to some awkward confrontations between state and federal law enforcement). As of 2018, 8 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and another 22 have laws allowing various degrees of marijuana use for medical purposes.
Utah may soon join those other 22 states in allowing medical marijuana. In the past few years, several bills which would have legalized the use of marijuana to one degree or another have made their way through the state legislature. None of these bills have become law, but each seems to be getting a bit farther than the last, and public opinion has shifted in favor of legalization in recent years. This year, a statewide ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana usage for medical purposes is in the works, and it looks like it will get enough signatures to get onto the ballot. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the arguments for and against legalization
Probably the most compelling argument for legal cannabis is its medicinal properties. While much research remains to be done, the consensus of studies show marijuana to be an effective treatment for seizures, chronic pain, P.T.S.D., and several other conditions. Many hope that marijuana could be used as an alternative to other, more dangerous and addictive substances, such as opioids. Marijuana impairs judgement and motor skills, but not as much as alcohol; it can be addicting, but not nearly as much as nicotine or some prescription medications. Proponents also argue that legalization could provide a major source of government revenue: regulation and taxation of a legal marijuana industry could redirect money that is currently spent underground to community improvement and drug recovery programs.
Opponents argue that there is still much we don’t know about marijuana, and as such we should be cautious about blanket legalization. While there are certainly medical benefits in some cases, as mentioned above, weed is no wonder drug, and has been shown to drastically worsen the effects of some mental illnesses like schizophrenia and psychosis. Many worry that marijuana, like other mind-altering substances, acts as a catalyst for the formation of gangs, and will function as a gateway drug to opioids or other more dangerous substances (rather than being used as an alternative to them, as described above).
So where does that leave us? Overall, I am of the opinion that there are clear benefits to legalizing medical marijuana, but there is enough that we don’t know that we should be careful in how quickly we do so as more research comes in. I believe Utah’s ballot measure strikes a good balance: it legalizes cannabis for anyone with a medical card issued by Utah’s Department of Health. Card holders can obtain a limited amount of marijuana from regulated dispensaries as prescribed by a doctor, and are allowed to grow a moderate amount at home if they do not live near a dispensary. Smoking marijuana would still be banned, but essentially all other methods of ingestion would be allowed. Driving or operating heavy machinery under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal.
The current status of marijuana is ridiculous. Its classification as a Schedule 1 drug is an outdated remnant of the war on drugs, and there is no real justification to declare it comparable to substances that are many times more dangerous. There are real medical benefits to its legalization, and we should in a responsible and limited manner make those medical benefits available. If we could frame marijuana not as a street drug but as a medical treatment, all around I think weed be much better off.
Latest posts by Stephen Ward (see all)
- Deciding Who Ought to “Shut Up and Dribble” - April 20, 2018
- To Slay the Gerrymander - March 28, 2018
- Utah’s Marijuana Ballot Initiative – Debating Whether Weed Like It Legalized - March 16, 2018
- America’s Other Gun Problem - February 20, 2018