On Ending Prohibition

Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally upon our planet. Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit…unnatural?
– Bill Hicks

No, I’m not referring to alcohol or the eighteenth amendment, but to a more “notorious” partner, cannabis. I have long wondered why our federal government has criminalized the recreational use of this substance. Hemp, pot, Mary Jane, marijuana – call it what you want, but I am a firm believer that marijuana should be as legal as alcohol and tobacco. While certain states such as Colorado and Washington have decriminalized non-medical uses of marijuana, it still – sadly – holds its image as the “gateway drug”. Yet many fail to see the multitude of benefits that come from this plant. For one, a growing number of studies are highlighting how marijuana can protect brain cells. And for another, its widespread use, especially among younger adults (a Gallup poll conducted earlier this month illustrated that 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 and 49% of Americans between the ages of 30 to 49 have tried marijuana at one point or another), has potentially positive side effects for our nation’s economy. For instance, prior to the passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy estimated that marijuana legalization would raise approximately $60 million in savings and revenue for Colorado’s budget.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Obama administration has stated that the legalization of marijuana “would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people.” Health risks? Safety risks? An increase of illicit drugs? Where is the proof? Yes, studies have been done illustrating that a heavy use of cannabis can be a rare trigger for acute myocardial infarction (a heart attack), but last time I checked, smoking cigarettes can do the same thing, right? To note, the study that is referenced above is also the same study present on the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s website (found on whitehouse.gov), but the conclusion of that study states that usage of marijuana is a “rare trigger” for an acute myocardial infarction. Similar to other studies, it illustrates that in the first hour after smoking cannabis, a person’s risk of suffering from a heart attack rises by five times. To put that in perspective, a person that can be classified as a “couch potato” would be more likely to have a heart attack due to exercise rather than smoking marijuana (and that’s including the fivefold increase!). Essentially, the risk of having a heart attack in the first hour after smoking marijuana is one in 100,000…for those over 50 years old – and the risk is even lower for individuals under 50 years of age.

Other objective studies have also illustrated that two legal substances (tobacco and alcohol) are far more harmful to individuals than marijuana use.  Health-related costs are eight times greater for alcohol users than marijuana users, and the costs for tobacco consumers are 40 times greater than for marijuana consumers. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also states that there has never been a death attributed to marijuana use, but it has attributed more than 40,000 deaths per year due to alcohol use. And while no one has ever died from marijuana use, over 443,000 people die in the United States every year thanks to cigarettes. So I’ll simply let the numbers speak for themselves. My issue is this: the proponents of ensuring marijuana remains illegal based on federal law continue to allude to the health risks of marijuana – yet every study that has been done proves that the substances we continue to legalize pose much more of a threat than a damn plant.

And some might respond to what I’m saying to tell me parents would not want this substance available to our society’s youth and out and about among their communities. To which I would respond: Isn’t it already? News flash: marijuana is already the most highly used illicit drug among teenagers and young adults (those between 18 and 25 years old). And just to stir the pot a little more, tobacco and alcohol are also readily available to younger individuals. The three substances are prevalent all over – I mean, the fact that a middle schooler can be found smoking a cigarette and kids in high school can be blacking out from too much alcohol makes me wonder why these substances are not being questioned more. If the federal government would legalize marijuana, the substance could be much more controlled. There would be less sales “on the street,” an age limit could be set (much like it is with tobacco and alcohol), and states would reap in revenues based on these sales (much like they do with tobacco and alcohol). While ultimately, the best health benefits stem from an individual not smoking (marijuana or cigarettes) and not consuming alcohol, our society has encouraged the use of the two products that are much more harmful than the one that remains illegal. And asking people to neither drink nor smoke – then you clearly must be smoking something. Time to get rid of that hallucination and make peace with reality. Alcohol, (unfortunately) cigarettes, and marijuana are here to stay – now we just have to make the latter legal.

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