Legalizing Marijuana: For Better or for Worse? Essay

The legalization of cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, often leads to a contradiction. On the one hand, the medicinal benefits of the plant have been shown to be beneficial for aiding several areas in medical care. On the other hand, it also has been shown to be non-beneficial in terms of its effects on the cognitive functions and overall mental heath of a dependent user. Indeed, marijuana is a drug that has raised a significant array of debates and controversies for decades. For instance, in “Drugs: The Facts About Marijuana,” Ted Gottfried claims that “cannabis was used during the last half of the nineteenth century to treat gout, migraine headaches, rheumatism, hysteria, depression, loss of appetite, childbirth pains, and many other conditions” (11). During this time in history, marijuana was used extensively for its medicinal purposes. It was much beneficial but lacked consistency and standardization in the drug’s strength. Hence, slowly, the use of the drug for medicinal purposes declined. By the mid 1960’s, marijuana became the most abused illegal drug of the country. In the 1969 concert famously known as Woodstock, the use and abuse of marijuana created an outrage. Thus, from the 1970’s onwards, marijuana was not only illegal but was a serious crime against the law.

Central to this debate today is whether to legalize its use or not and if to legalize, the limitations to be imposed. In religious, political and economic scenes, proponents have mainly based their arguments on the plant’s medicinal benefits while opponents cite issues to do with crime rate and health consequences e.g. brain damage among others. For instance, in 1996, the state of California legalized the use of marijuana in medical institutions for the relief of certain problems such as nausea and migraines. Contrary to this is the harm that marijuana legalization would entail. Thus, majority of the U.S. are against its legalization. In Ian Thomson’s “Inhaling: The Changing Significations of Marijuana in Hegemonic and Subcultural Discourses, from Antiquity Through its Prohibition,” he claims that the use of marijuana “had cost U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Douglas Ginsburg, a seat on the bench in 1987, a fact undoubtedly not lost on fast-rising political star Bi11 Clinton. He suggestively pointed out that similar use during the 1988 campaign by Bruce Babbit and Al Gore did no harm to their political careers” (3). The current American President, Barrack Obama, also admitted to have used it rather frequently in his early years. However, Obama, unlike Ginsburg, made it clear in numerous occasions that he is against marijuana legalisation but claimed that new ways need to be formulated. Kayla Morgan elucidates this in a work entitled “Legalizing Marijuana,” by saying that raids and prosecution of marijuana users would no longer be necessary (7). Nevertheless, the debate still remains open to question.

The legalization of marijuana can be seen from two general perspectives, that is, from its advantages and disadvantages. Marijuana legalisation, being a controversial issue across the world, has both its pros and cons but in essence, its pros far outweigh its cons. It is important to appreciate that other people’s views are necessary in developing landmark legislations. This calls for the need to look keenly into the moral and economic issues that surround marijuana use, whether it be for medicinal use or as a normal recreational drug. It is also quite necessary to dig deeper into the reasons as to why this issue is controversial, as well as the possible reasons people fight for its prohibition; one being its moral implications. In “Legalizing Marijuana,” Kayla Morgan states, “Legalizing marijuana is a moral issue for people on both sides of the debate” (10). These people argue that legalizing marijuana is morally wrong not because of its health or economic basis but because it manipulates the mental states of its users, which thus enables them to do illegal and immoral actions. Herein, advocates argue that legalizing marijuana would symbolize the government’s act of permitting such illegal and immoral actions to take place in society. Nevertheless, further research into the origins of prohibition is necessary in order to assess the current stance on marijuana legalization.

Research into the origins of the prohibition of marijuana brings into the fore Harry Anslinger and Randolph Hearst. In Richard Frederick’s “The True American Manifesto: Time for a Revolution Time for a Change,” he explains that “In 1937 the first official action was taken against weed, the Marijuana Tax Act” (107). Herein, any form of possession or consumption of marijuana will be taxed, that is to say, from the buds itself to hemp oil and even hemp as used in fabric and paper. Anslinger, who was once a director of the Bureau of Narcotics, introduced this act to the U.S. congress. During this year, the Decorticater Machine was invented. With this piece of machinery, the industry for hemp would be able to take over other competing industries in a matter of hours. Herein is where Hearst comes into the picture. Hearst was a tycoon in the newspaper business. In his article, “The True American Manifesto: Time for a Revolution Time for a Change,” Fredericks explains that Anslinger may have had a reason to stop marijuana based on the nature of his work but Hearst’s reasons were mainly based on self-interest, for his business “would have lost tremendous value and eventually gone bankrupt had the tax act not been passed” (107). These two parties were sharply in the limelight in supporting the illegalization of marijuana, but others were also involved. DuPont was the other powerful figure in the opposition who thought that marijuana competition would bring with it an increase in the production of hemp seed oil, which in turn would directly compete with their company’s products. Thus, these parties advocated that marijuana would lead to crime, death and insanity but were accompanied by no facts whatsoever. Indeed, they succeeded, and many states enacted legislation against the use of marijuana, but they only fought for the prohibition of marijuana to save their own business and in effect, to make more money.

Given the aforementioned overview, this paper will argue that although the legalization of marijuana may lead to its use as a recreational drug, its legalization proves to be beneficial because it facilitates the improvement of people’s lives in numerous ways more so in relation to health and medical concerns. The world’s economy, for the past three decades, has been facing constant shocks with the recent global economic crisis. As such, global leaders and individual global citizens need to come up with better measures that are more sustainable, especially with regards to revenue generation. Some proponents argue that legalizing marijuana would benefit the economy. In “Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” Dr. Jeffrey Miron claims that legalizing marijuana would produce around $10 billion in savings and taxes every year (8). With this estimated figure, the U.S. economy would be able to save enough money to upgrade hospital machinery, tools, medicines and other medical programs that are in need of funding. Doctors and nurses can be paid more in exchange of better services. In fact, if the production and medical use of marijuana was legalized, hemp could be used to make paper, which would eliminate the major problem of illegal logging and deforestation, thus creating a healthier and environmental-friendly atmosphere. Medicinal use of marijuana can now be put into practice, offering terminally ill patients relief from pain. Now given these facts, isn’t it tempting to argue that perhaps, it’s about time that we legalize the use and production of the drug? It is in this regard that this paper aims to show its health and medical benefits.

Inasmuch as the opponents of marijuana legalization fight to protect society from crime and addiction, the medicinal properties and benefits of marijuana has been proven to be effective. In an article entitled “Marijuana,” Randi Mehling states, “the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana are intricately woven into the medical marijuana movement. Essentially, it is a debate over the value of marijuana’s medicinal properties compared with the risks posed by its use” (91). In fact, its legalization could also manifest indirectly through benefiting the country’s economy. For instance, Stephen Easton lately showcased his calculations on how much revenue his country would gain from legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite the study having been done in Canada, he claims that its results will not vary much, given that the same study were to be conducted in the United States. In Stephen Easton’s “Marijuana Growth in British Columbia,” he claims that a gram of marijuana is sold at $17.16, and its production cost per gram is $4.70 (8, 27). Thus, if the government would legalize the production of marijuana for medical purposes, not only would they gain from the profit earned but they also would have extra funds to use for other medical expenditures. For, a profit of $12.46 per gram of marijuana is definitely too high to ignore. Such revenue on large-scale medicinal production could have made several countries in the world benefit from it. Besides, it’s not like the government did not try different forms of techniques in prohibiting the drug. Perhaps the only technique left would be giving it a shot as a decriminalized and legalized drug.

Indeed, the failure of illegalizing marijuana has come to the attention of many proponents. Jon Gettman, in his “Marijuana Production in the United States,” states that “under the policies of the last 25 years marijuana has become the most widely produced illegal drug in the United States and the nation’s largest cash crop” (18). This is the situation, considering that the drug is declared as illegal, along with other chemical drugs such as cocaine, LSD, heroin, etc. Perhaps the association of marijuana with other more serious drugs is because they all have something in common, i.e. illegality. If marijuana were to be legalized for its medicinal purposes, then perhaps its value can be appreciated. Besides, take a look at Amsterdam, where marijuana is decriminalized. In the U.S., opponents argue that legalizing the drug will lead to an increased crime rate. However, take a look at Amsterdam and Alaska in the 1970’s to 1980’s. Richard Fredericks, in “The True American Manifesto: Time for a Revolution Time for a Change,” shows that “government analysis showed that there was no change in the crime rate for these years…Amsterdam has a lower crime rate than any major U.S. City” (109). Indeed, this proves to show that perhaps, the benefits of marijuana legalization for medical purposes outweigh its costs. An increase in a country’s crime rate has no necessary connection to marijuana legalization, while medical benefits is necessarily connected to it.

To base a claim on medical practicability is serious and with this realization proponents have set forth their proof to fight for its legalization. However, those who oppose its legalization mostly state that it kills. Marijuana, being illegal, does not kill while there are many things out there, which are perfectly legal but are mass killers. In an article entitled “Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000,” Ali Mokdad, James Marks, Donna Stroup, and Julie Gerberding shows that tobacco kills more than 400,000 annually in the United States while marijuana is on record to have killed none according to the US government statistics and the Bureau of Mortality and Statistics (1238-1240). Deaths that are being associated with the use of marijuana does not necessarily point out that the victim was a dependent user or was under the influence of the drug upon death. In fact, many of these incidents have nothing to do with marijuana. It just so happens that marijuana stays on the body for more than 2 weeks. However, this is insufficient to conclude the marijuana kills. Legalization of marijuana is essential because it facilitates improvement of people’s lives in numerous ways more so in relation to health. Thus, Jon Getman, in “Marijuana Production in the United States,” writes: “The failure of intensive eradication programs suggests that it is finally time to give serious consideration to marijuana’s legalization in the United States” (18). Marijuana may not directly be the medical treatment solution for diseases, but it nevertheless aids in the treatment program of numerous diseases. Hence, marijuana legalization is for the purpose of medical use and not for recreational purposes.

However, there are still those who oppose the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. These objections will be addressed in this paper. For instance, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association in accordance to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration strongly supports the prohibition of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Their reasons for such, as James Backstrom asserts, in “Opposing the Medical Use of Marijuana in Minnesota,” varies from marijuana being an addictive drug that poses threats to a person’s health, to marijuana being a dangerous drug for it increases the rate of crime and violence in society (1). In relation to its addictive nature, marijuana maintains to be classified as a Schedule I substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). As Bruce Pastner writes in his “Medical Marijuana: Change in the Air,” “Drugs in this schedule are those that have no accepted medical use in the U.S., lack accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision, and have a high abuse potential” (1). Indeed, the U.S. DEA supports the claim that marijuana does not contain any medical value. In a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine, it was shown that there is insufficient evidence to support marijuana as a medically approved drug, and thus recommends that new studies ought to be conducted. The next section aims to present these objections to the medicinal legalization of marijuana. After presenting them, this paper will show how these objections will not suffice to undermine the medical value of marijuana. It is in this regard that marijuana legalization ought to be reconsidered, given the medical benefits that this paper will argue for.

Rebuttal (Assignment #4)

As mentioned in the previous section, there are still those who oppose the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, one of which being the Minnesota County Attorneys Association (MCAA) in accordance to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). James Backstrom asserts, in “Opposing the Medical Use of Marijuana in Minnesota,” that one of their reasons for strong opposition is that “marijuana is an addictive drug that poses significant health consequences to its users, including those who may be using it for medical purposes” (1). In this perspective, emphasis is placed on the addictive nature of the drug. Support for this claim includes the dependent users’ withdrawal symptoms, which leads to further health complications as manifested in the form of restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, severe weight loss, etc. These complications are highly associated with the addiction that marijuana causes to its users. Moreover, assuming that the user has been using it for a long time already, Backstrom goes on to say that “long-term use of marijuana may increase the risks of chronic cough, bronchitis, and emphysema, as well as cancer of the head, neck and lungs” (1). Aside from its addictive nature, they argue that marijuana causes various of problems related to one’s health, which includes cancer of the respiratory tract, chronic bronchitis, coughing, shortness of breath, and an overall weakening of the respiratory and immune system of the user. In fact, not only does it cause these physical conditions, but it also causes mental conditions such as schizophrenia, depression and suicidal thoughts. As shown in Backstrom’s study, “marijuana users have more suicidal thoughts and are four times more likely to report symptoms of depression than people who never used the drug” (3). Thus, with regards to the safety of marijuana for medical use, it is not advised that marijuana ought to be legalized for its medicinal purposes.

If marijuana is proven to be unsafe, legalization would almost be impossible to achieve. However, proponents for the legalization of the drug argue that it is not the case that marijuana is unsafe. In fact, the drug is said to be rather low in its level of toxicity. In a Marijuana Policy Project article entitled, “Potential Objection to Medical Marijuana,” “Marijuana has an extremely wide acute margin of safety for use under physician supervision and cannot cause lethal reactions… greater harm is caused by the legal consequences of its prohibition than possible risks of medicinal use” (1). Indeed, marijuana is not one among the drugs that can kill. Besides, all medications are harmful, if used beyond what is necessary or without the proper advice from a physician. Hence, the charge on inflicting health consequences to those who use it for medical purposes is unfounded. For, under the care of a physician, marijuana is much less harmful than other prescription drugs. Moreover, their charge on the addictive nature of marijuana is also unfounded. According to Denele Campbell’s “A Rebuttal to the Anti-Medical Marijuana Arguments,” “Marijuana is not considered as an addictive drug” (2). Here, it is much emphasized that compared to other illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is ranked as the least addictive. This is based on a discussion by a National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) scientist, Dr. Jack Henningfield. Campbell explains that Dr. Henningfield enumerates 5 qualities of an addictive drug. These include dependence, withdrawal, tolerance, reinforcement, and intoxication. Among all these qualities, marijuana was in bottom of the list of drugs.

In addition, the sources or authority cited in the article of the U.S. DEA is deemed to be unfounded. For instance, its response with regards to the medical value of marijuana is answered with reference to Joy, Watson, and Benson’s 1999 article. However, upon reading the article, no reference to the said text can be found. What will be found, at most, is a rather neutral position on the medical value of marijuana. In Janet Joy, Stanley Watson, and John Benson’s “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” they claim that there is insufficient evidence to support marijuana as a medically approved drug, and thus recommends that new studies ought to be conducted (245). But nowhere did they claim, like the DEA does claim, that marijuana has no medical value. Therefore, the objection regarding marijuana’s addictive nature, which in effect poses significant health consequences to its users, including those who may be using it for medical purposes is invalid.

This leads us to the debate regarding marijuana’s medical value. As mentioned above, marijuana is argued to cause a variety of health conditions such as cancer, a decline in respiratory and immune system functions, as well as schizophrenia. Thus, due to its absence of medical value, James Backstrom, in his “Opposing the Medical Use of Marijuana in Minnesota,” claims that “The American Medical Association recommends that marijuana remain a schedule 1 controlled substance” (3). However, the American Medical Association (AMA) recommended in 1977 that individual use of marijuana would experience no form of criminal penalty. Indeed, up until today, they maintain the same position. Thus, AMA in no occasion recommended that marijuana remain a schedule 1 controlled substance. Such substances are deemed to carry no medical value whatsoever but pose as a threat towards the general health of persons. Thus, in relation to this is the charge of inflicting serious diseases such as cancer, respiratory problems, immune system complications, increased heart rate and loss of motor skills, among others. But proponents nevertheless argue that marijuana does not cause such diseases. In fact, Denele Campbell, in “A Rebuttal to the Anti-Medical Marijuana Arguments,” argues that marijuana has never been proven to cause such diseases, more so, cancer; “Respiratory problems caused by marijuana are minimal, certainly no greater than with the use of the legal drug, tobacco, which has no medical value. In fact, studies to date have not shown marijuana to be a causative agent for obstructive lung disease” (13). If the charge against the medical value of marijuana concentrates on respiratory diseases, then talk regarding the effects of tobacco is inevitable. For, tobacco is considered to be a legal drug but causes much more problems to a person’s respiratory health.

With regards to the immune system, opponents argue that it weakens the performance of the immune system, and are thus more exposed or prone to infections. However, Denele Campbell nevertheless argues in “A Rebuttal to the Anti-Medical Marijuana Arguments,” that this is not the case, for “there is no evidence that marijuana users are more susceptible to infections that nonusers” (8). Indeed, the studies that were cited by the DEA were not even based on scientific sources or studies that address the said problem professionally. For instance, references were made to newspapers, magazines, and non-scholarly websites. In the charge on immune system and susceptibility to infections, reference was made to an article from a year 1999 issue of Washington Times. So upon close comparison, the charges on such diseases are weak if not based on subjective biases of the author. In fact, James Backstrom, in his “Opposing the Medical Use of Marijuana in Minnesota,” claims that “Harvard University researchers report that the risk of a heart attack is five times higher than usual in the hour after smoking marijuana” (2). However, upon checking the corresponding endnote, reference was not made to any Harvard University researcher, but rather, to a year 2000 issue of Washington Post, another newspaper in the U.S. Given these aforementioned sources, it does not seem that the U.S. DEA supported their research quite reliably.

The last alleged charge that I will address is an objection that most, if not all, opponents of marijuana legalization agree on, that is, as seen in James Backstrom’s “Opposing the Medical Use of Marijuana in Minnesota,” “legalizing marijuana for medical purposes will lead to increased use of marijuana by other persons, increased crime and the perception that marijuana is harmless” (8). This charge stems from the assumption that by legalizing its use for medicinal purposes, there will be no way to regulate the consumption for non-medical use. Of course, this is not necessarily the case. Consider a lot of prescription drugs. Normal people would not be able to purchase them over the counter without a doctor’s prescription. Distribution of the drug is designated to medical drugstores and hospitals. Indeed, with proper implementation, the legalization of marijuana can be controlled, in terms of its recreational use. Yet what about the increased crime rate?

With regards to crime rate, charges also seem invalid if not illogical. Denele Campbell nevertheless argues in “A Rebuttal to the Anti-Medical Marijuana Arguments,” that “the use of marijuana does not bear any causal relationship as to whether a person is more or less likely to commit a crime” (17). Herein, the logical inconsistency of the charge is laid. Indeed, Campbell is trying to show that just because marijuana was found in the body of the victim, does not mean the marijuana was the cause. This is a fallacy in logic, and this is incorrect reasoning, from a profession point of view., Besides, tobacco and alcohol could perhaps be traced as well, but then how come these were not made to be the causes of the victim’s act of crime? Marijuana is known to stay in the body of a person for at least two weeks. People who do commit crime and were tested positive for marijuana does not mean that their use of marijuana led them to do such a crime. Other factors come into play, but were just not emphasized. This tactic was obviously done to frighten its readers about the alleged ‘dangers’ of marijuana.


Given the aforementioned arguments and counter-arguments, it seems that based on these charges, the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes do not pose a threat to society. In order to validate its medical value, further studies ought to be taken into consideration. Therefore, it ought to be reconsidered as a decriminalized drug, which can benefit society in aiding terminally ill conditions. In addition, all the sources used in this defense to argue against the opposition are scholarly and academic sources, versus the sources used to argue that marijuana has no medical value. Subjective and personal biases were suspended throughout the research, in order to maintain an objective approach on the said matter. Moreover, this paper acknowledges the fact that past attempts to prohibit marijuana for medical use has failed and is therefore time to adopt a new approach. It is in this regard that although the legalization of marijuana may lead to its use as a recreational drug, its legalization proves to be beneficial because it facilitates the improvement of people’s lives in numerous ways more so in relation to health and medical concerns.

Works Cited

Backstrom, James C. Opposing the Medical Use of Marijuana in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota County Attorneys Association, 2006. Print.

Campbell, Denele. “A Rebuttal to the Anti-Medical Marijuana Arguments.” Drug Policy Education Group, Inc. Sept. 2002. Web. 20 Apr 2011.

Easton, Stephen T. “Marijuana Growth in British Columbia.” Public Policy Sources 74, (May 2004): 1-40. Web. 16 Apr 2011.

Fredericks, Richard W. The True American Manifesto: Time for a Revolution Time for a Change. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2010. Print.

Gettman, Jon. “Marijuana Production in the United States.” The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform, Dec. 2006. Web. 16 Apr. 2011.

Gottfried, Ted. Drugs: The Facts About Marijuana. Tarrytown: Marshal Cavendish, 2005. Print.

Holland, Julie. Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis: Its Role in Medicine, Politics, Science, and Culture. Rochester: Park Street Press, 2010. Print.

Joy, Janet E., Stanley J. Watson, and John A. Benson, Jr. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999. Print.

Marijuana Policy Project. “Potential Objection to Medical Marijuana.” Marijuana Policy Project, 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.

Mehling, Randi. Marijuana. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2003. Print.

Miron, Jeffrey A. The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition. Cambridge: Marijuana Policy Project, 2005. Print.

Mokdad, Ali H., James S. Marks, Donna F. Stroup, and Julie L. Gerberding. “Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000.” Journal of the American Medical Association 291.10 (2004): 1238, 1240. Print.

Morgan, Kayla. Legalizing Marijuana. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company, 2011. Print.

Patsner, Bruce. “Medical Marijuana: Change in the Air?” Health Law Perspectives (May 2009): 1-4. Web. 20 Apr 2011.

Thomson, Ian. Inhaling: The Changing Significations of Marijuana in Hegemonic and Subcultural Discourses, from Antiquity Through its Prohibition. MA Thesis. McGill University, 1998. Ottawa: National Library of Canada. Print.