Marijuana is a hot topic in our political and cultural landscape, unfortunately leading to many stereotypes and misconceptions. Though outlawed at the federal level, many states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, which, in practice, usually overpowers the federal prohibition. At the least, medical marijuana should be a legal option in every state. States like Utah have been slow to allow medical marijuana, while marijuana is still completely illegal in other states. There is clear evidence that supports the effectiveness of medical marijuana, and the continued prohibition of the drug will only bring more problems than solutions.
The history of marijuana prohibition is rooted in misconception and outdated scientific knowledge. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, defined as having a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD. This classification is absolutely not supported by reputable research. A 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences provides the most up-to-date information and research on the medical applications of marijuana. There is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that marijuana is effective for chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy, and symptoms of multiple sclerosis, the final being an accepted medical use. More research is definitely needed, but that task is more difficult when marijuana is classified by the government alongside heroin and LSD. While there is evidence that it can be habit-forming and especially harmful for teens, marijuana does not have a “high potential for abuse” to the same degree as heroin, cocaine, or even legal substances like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine .
It should be noted that the Controlled Substances Act was enacted as part of President Nixon’s stated War on Drugs. This “war” continued long after his presidency, with any historian or social scientist being able to lecture about both its moral and legal failures. The creation of mandatory minimums and other measures like three strike laws have created the current issues of mass incarceration, a huge problem in the United States. These laws also disproportionately impact racial minorities. Between 2001 and 2010, blacks were 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though marijuana usage is equal between the two groups . For a substance that is less addicting than tobacco , less harmful for the body than alcohol , and has proven medical use, serious legal revision is needed.
One might claim that just because marijuana is less harmful than other legal substances, it’s still dangerous and should be illegal. This is a tempting mindset. However, if the absolute goal is to reduce overall harm to society, legalized medical use and decriminalization is the best option. While marijuana is especially harmful to teenagers and developing brains, teen marijuana use has not changed in states where marijuana has been legalized . Teen use also has not decreased in states where it is illegal. Medical legalization would make the substance even less accessible to teens than recreational legalization. Legal medical marijuana has its obvious benefits and alleviates pain for many suffering people. Prohibiting marijuana does not make people use it less, as it only leads them to use it illegally, which is unsafe for the user and profitable for drug cartels and criminal activity.
At the absolute minimum, marijuana should not be classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, but rather Schedule II (alongside cocaine, Adderall, and oxycodone) or III (alongside ketamine and codeine). More research is needed to look into the benefits and harm of marijuana for medical and recreational use. Ironically, the Drug Enforcement Agency cites the lack of research as reason for the harsh scheduling . Until marijuana is removed from Schedule I, it can’t be properly and thoroughly researched and sent through the rigorous FDA approval process. Marijuana prohibition will also continue to cost the federal government billions as it prosecutes marijuana related crimes. Until these necessary changes are made, progress on marijuana reform will be deadlocked and society will be worse off.
Maisto S., Galizio M., Connors G. (2017). Drug Use & Abuse. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
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