The Cannabis Abyss

Why Marijuana Should Not be Legalized 

Missy Hill

Opposing Opinions

Photo:  The Mercury News

Weed is Wonderful

The War on an Inanimate Object, and Why It Isn't Working

Thomas Werner

April 1st, 2017


The recent movement for the legalization of medical and/or recreational use of marijuana (or its decriminalization) is causing extraordinary amounts of misinformation and speculation. Under federal law, possession of any amount of marijuana can yield a short incarceration (an absolute maximum of one year for first time offenders, but a small quantity and clean record can yield very short sentences--only days long).

 

First of all, states have absolutely no right to overturn federal legislation on the growth, consumption, and distribution of cannabis, which is a Schedule I drug. Our federalist system calls for the respect of the fact that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) does not allow states to individually and arbitrarily decide whether or not to allow marijuana. Legalization cannot be controlled state-by-state, anyway, because of interstate transportation of goods and ambiguity in enforcement--not to mention the incentive of going to a state where marijuana is legal. Even if I were pro-legalization, I would argue that there is a need for regulation on the federal level. If marijuana is legal in one state, use is simply incentivized in that state if one has the means to go there. Since a person can legally use marijuana in some states, it can make a lot of things difficult for that person in other states. Federal financial aid can be revoked from students, and anyone wishing to purchase a firearm can be denied. It is unfair for a person to act within state law, yet suffer federally. Marijuana should not be legal in individual states for this confusion.

       

Marijuana (cannabis) is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning there is “a high potential for abuse…no currently accepted medical use…a lack of accepted safety for use… under medical supervision.”  As a drug, marijuana is “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.”

       

The only way to properly remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I substances is through the Attorney General or an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act. It is within the rights of Congress to penalize states that do not cooperate with its legislation. In the 1984 South Dakota v. Dole majority opinion, the SCOTUS asserted this right in cases where Congress is acting in the greater interest of the nation. The case was in reference to executing a legal drinking age of 21, no lower. I believe, under this precedent, Congress can control marijuana.

       

A common misconception is “if you are going to do drugs, marijuana is the safest, and is practically harmless.” It is quite the opposite. THC is the main the psychoactive ingredient in the plant. Being “high” on marijuana alters the mind, blurring thought and decreasing motor abilities. It is a hallucinogen linked to panic disorders, amotivational syndrome, depression, schizophrenia, and psychosis.

       

When a state legalizes marijuana, allowing industry and regulation to form, people can consume a lot more THC than they realize, especially through edibles, as it takes longer to experience the effects of THC with them (up to an hour, as opposed to the near-immediate effects of smoking). While there are no traditional “overdoses” on marijuana, consuming more of it increases the risk of a psychotic break. The negative psychological effects can be temporary, but they can also be permanent. Marijuana can also negatively affect motor function. In 2011, marijuana was noted in 456,000 United States drug-related emergency room visits. In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, four million Americans had marijuana use disorders. Therefore, there is “a high potential for abuse.”

       

Medical marijuana is very dangerous and not entirely effective. According to a synthesis of numerous studies compiled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cannabis consumption can increase the risk of psychotic disorders, for both one-time users and, to a higher extent, heavy users.  Before allowing medical marijuana, it is safest to wait for approval from the FDA. It is not only illegal to use medical marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, but also under FDA regulation.

 

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s acting head, Chuck Rosenberg, reasserted the status of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug and maintained the importance of complying with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Under this Convention, marijuana must be classified as either Schedule I or Schedule II in United States legislation. Article 28-3 states the following: “The Parties shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, the leaves of the cannabis plant.” In justifying the DEA’s decision to not tamper with the scheduling, Rosenberg referenced the NORML v. DEA, 559 F.2d 735, 751 (D.C. Cir. 1977) decision that marijuana must remain under either CSA Schedule I or Schedule II to cooperate with the Convention. While CSA Schedule I substances are described as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” Schedule II substances are described as “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” If the United States endorses recreational use of marijuana, it is failing to support international agreement. Legalizing marijuana in the United States and allowing a legal industry to form violates international agreement, and would require the consent of the Secretary General of the United Nations.

       

A common confusion is whether legalizing marijuana for recreational use increases or decreases use. Some sources point to the Colorado Healthy Kids Survey statistic which showed that in 2015, 21.2% of Colorado high school students and 21.7% of all United States teens used marijuana in the last thirty days before the survey. This is not a decrease in marijuana use among Colorado’s youth. It is a mere wavering, as in 2011, use was at 20%, then 22% in 2013, and down to 21.2% in 2015, according to this info-graphic produced by the Colorado government. Marijuana was legalized in Colorado for people over the age of 21 for recreational use in November 2012, and these numbers are clearly oscillating around 21%--there is no clear correlation between legalization of marijuana for adults and decrease in teen use. Even the argument that teen use remains flat cannot be fully supported, as this survey does not have national endorsement for accuracy.  It is imperative to note that this survey only represents those who took the survey at school, not teens who were out of school (and perhaps using marijuana). The survey only had a response rate of 46% in 2015. CDC criteria for an accurate representation of the pool require at least a 60% response rate. In any study or statistic, caution should always be taken, as data collection on marijuana use is extremely difficult. Methods of survey and honesty of those taking the surveys can yield large ranges of results.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) actually reported that 7.2% of United States teens had used in the last month in 2015. The NSDUH is likely more accurate, as it had a 71.2% response rate in 2014.

       

If anything, teen use of marijuana has increased in Colorado. Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) incorporated the findings of the NSDUH (sponsored federally by the Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) in its volumes on the impact of the legalization marijuana. The NSDUH is generally considered reliable, as it is conducted by a federal administration and ensures a wide range of respondents. For example, the survey does not reach the hands of only people in school. It reaches out to persons living in shelters and military bases.

 

In 2016, RMHIDTA reported that the two-year average use from 2013-2014 for Coloradans aged 12-17 was 12.56% for past-month use, compared to the national average of 7.22%. This was up from 10.47% of Coloradans in the 2011-2012 average. In the 2005-2006 surveys, Coloradans averaged 7.6%. Medical marijuana was legalized in November of 2000. From 2006-2014, teen use in Colorado increased from 7.6% to 12.56%, and the national average only increased from 6.74% to 7.22%.  There is a similar trend in college-aged individuals in states with legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana, as well as adults ages 26 and older. From 2006-2014, college-aged persons in Colorado (18-25) increased past-month use from 21.43% to 31.24%. From 2012-2013 to 2013-2014, there was an increase in their use from 29.05%-31.24%.

 

Evidently, even legalizing medical marijuana can be associated with an increase in teen use. For past-month usage in the 2013-2014 average of the NSDUH, states with medical marijuana legalization tended to have higher rates of teen use than states not permitting medical marijuana. States that did not have medical marijuana legalized as of the survey averaged 5.99% in past-month use. States allowing medical marijuana averaged 8.52%, and states allowing both medical and recreational use averaged 11.52%. While some anecdotal evidence is often presented to argue the case for medical marijuana, the results of this survey show its legalization poses a threat to large numbers of susceptible teens. The pitfalls of medical marijuana outweigh the benefits. When medical marijuana is too easily accessible, patients can easily not try safer, FDA-approved drugs before using a dangerous, controlled substance. If a person feels medical marijuana is the only answer, that person could benefit from studies in marijuana-derived treatments by enrolling in that study. The FDA has fully approved the drug MARINOL® to treat the side effects of chemotherapy, and this is often presented in an anecdotal success story of medical marijuana. In reference to the possible seizure relief often associated with cannabidiol, the FDA responds, “The FDA understands the interest in making investigational products available to patients while they are being studied for approval, and there are expanded access provisions in both the FDA’s statute and its regulations to make this possible.”

 

In Colorado, it only takes the signature of one doctor to procure a Medical Marijuana Card. Additionally, it is very easy for medical marijuana use to get out of hand. 1.84% of Californians and 1.88% of Coloradans use medical marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.  In Rhode Island, where only medical use is legal (but recreational use is decriminalized), 1.48% of the population uses the drug for medication. In Hawaii, where medical use is permitted and recreational use is not decriminalized, 1.02% of the population uses medical marijuana.

Under federal law, marijuana possession sentences can be up to one year. In 2015, 89% of marijuana arrests were for possession only, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Casual users are not the worst criminals. They are the victims of dealers, and we should focus our efforts on cracking down on dealing. That said, possession alone should not be ignored. It is imperative to enforce penalties on users. In states where possession is treated similarly to minor traffic offenses (decriminalized states), there is little incentive to not use marijuana. Still, it is not fair to taxpayers to pay more than necessary for prisons. Marijuana possession should not warrant long amounts of time in prison, but it should not be completely decriminalized.

 

The argument that the economy will benefit from the legalization and industrialization of marijuana is built on the moral of economic benefit from an extremely dangerous substance. Regulating marijuana as an industry ignores the risk of its unknown origin and encourages its use. The prospect of heavy marijuana taxes alone is not a sufficient argument for its legalization, as it would not automatically obliterate the illegal marijuana market. Because of Colorado’s 2.9% sales tax, the 10% special sales tax on retail marijuana, and local taxes, people who cannot afford to pay those taxes still turn to the black market. This creates a sort of racial division, where upper-middle class whites have the privilege of legal marijuana, but less wealthy populations, where minorities are overrepresented, cannot reap these benefits. Even though in 2015, marijuana added 2.39 billion dollars to Colorado’s economy, it is unfair to put heavy taxes on marijuana so only certain socioeconomic groups can afford it. It makes certain behavior acceptable to people with enough money, but the same behavior unacceptable to people with less money.

 

While the idea of medical marijuana’s ability to change lives seems rather romantic, we must wait until long-term studies indicate it as a safe and viable treatment. For now, participation in studies and expanded access programs appear to be the best option. Medical marijuana’s legalization makes it accessible to populations larger than those who could actually potentially benefit from it. Legalizing marijuana indicates an increase of use among teens, and economic benefits do not outweigh the negative impacts of easily accessed marijuana. Under national and international policy, marijuana is illegal, and any action to change that should be done at the federal and international level.

America declared war on an inanimate object. And lost. The “War on Drugs” is a complete and utter failure and one of the greatest stories of corruption in history.

 

Cannabis is one of the safest drugs and most versatile plants on Earth. Some strains of hemp are unbelievably strong, able to reinforce concrete and even serve as a breathable replacement for wood. The only way to die from it is to be “hit in the head by a 15 pound brick of it falling from the sky” (Joe Rogan). But for years, misinformation and manipulation has deceived the public. The fact is, the war on drugs is not about keeping people safe. “You want to know what it was really about?” prods the late Richard Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman in a 1994 interview for Harper’s magazine. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

 

Humans have been cultivating cannabis for thousands of years. Since the very beginning of civilization, cannabis has been used. Agriculture itself is 10,000 years old, and not coincidentally, the use of hemp cord in pottery was  identified at an ancient village site dating back over 10,000 years, located in the area of modern day Taiwan. Cannabis is one of the first crops humans cultivated, and some, like Carl Sagan, say it might actually be the first. Almost every aspect of life has involved cannabis. Few plants can boast the versatility of this miracle plant, able to provide food, shelter, medicine, clothing, fuel, and more. The word ‘canvas’ is even derived from ‘cannabis’, because that’s what it was made of. Cannabis was an integral part of America from the 1600s all the way up to its prohibition. In 1619, The Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring every farmer to grow hemp in 1619, and it was even used as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. Throughout the 19th century, medicinal cannabis was sold openly in pharmacies as a popular ingredient in many medicines. Cannabis was everywhere. So why did it suddenly become illegal?

 

In 1910, the Mexican Revolution had just ended, and Mexican refugees escaping war torn Mexico flooded into the US. These Spanish-speaking newcomers terrified xenophobic Americans, and immediately the prejudice of ‘violent’ and ‘evil’ Mexicans was fabricated. And what the Mexicans brought with them was something the U.S. had not seen before: smokeable cannabis. Thus began the onslaught of racism, propaganda, and lies.

 

The drug became highly associated with Mexicans and was painted to be the blame for the crimes they supposedly were committing. Newspapers began running headlines like “Mexican Menace” and a synonymous “Marijuana Menace.” “A widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant, according to doctors, who say that there is no hope of saving the children's lives and that the mother will be insane for the rest of her life," read a New York Times story from 1927. The slang term ‘marijuana’ was even probably pushed by narcotics agents because of its Mexican connotation in order to heighten the association.

 

By the 1930s, the prohibition of cannabis was in full swing. Ridiculous propaganda, such as the famous “Reefer Madness” movie, was everywhere. Complete lies based on no factual evidence had constricted the minds of Americans.

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the DEA) first federally prohibited cannabis, and the director of the Bureau Harry Anslinger had some pretty compelling arguments:

 

“"Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage."

 

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”

 

These were the words of a top federal official testifying before Congress. This was the reasoning behind the prohibition of cannabis. Thanks to the efforts of the feds, cannabis now had transformed from an almost harmless plant to a foreign demon drug.

 

The sad thing is, we think things like this are behind us. But cannabis is still illegal. To find out why, we simply have to follow the money. Here is a list of the five biggest lobbyists against cannabis legalization: police unions, private prisons, alcohol and beer companies, pharmaceutical companies, and prison guard unions. Do you think these entities are spending millions of dollars looking out for the best interest of the public?

 

Cannabis is listed as a schedule 1 drug under federal law. As listed on DEA.gov, “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The funny thing about this is that the very same U.S. government who claims cannabis falls in this category  has its own patents on medical cannabis. This is, quite literally, the definition of hypocrisy.

 

Six year old Jayden David lies helpless on the ground, violently shaking. His blue eyes are locked in a thousand-yard stare, simultaneously flooded with pain and a plea for help. This is part of Jayden’s daily routine. Jayden has Dravet syndrome, a rare and catastrophic form of childhood epilepsy. To combat it, he had been taking 22 prescription pills a day, including Benzodiazepine, which had devastating side effects. Jayden was barely human. At six years old, he could not walk, eat solid food, take a bath, or even say “I love you” to his father. "He's in pain and suffering and crying," said Jayden's father, Jason David. "You can't help him no matter what. What are you supposed to do? You have to do whatever it takes to save their life.” “Jayden was having seizures from when he woke up to when he went to sleep, screaming and crying in pain. I was at the end [of my rope]. I lost everything; my house, my car, my business, my wife.” Driven to suicidal thoughts, Jason had one more thing to try. On Jayden’s first day of medical marijuana, he went seizure free. For the first time since he was four months old, Jayden went on to have four seizure free days. After six years of daily pain and suffering, a simple plant set Jayden free. Taking a liquid, non-psychoactive form of marijuana, Jayden now can run around, play with other children, eat real food, and begin the process of getting off of powerful, addictive prescription pills that manage to kill thousands of adults every year. And this is just one story of one life saved.

 

Jayden was on pills that grown men are hopelessly addicted to and even die from. These pills are legal, and doctors are even sometimes incentivized to prescribe them. But all they did was strangle the problem, along with the life of a child. And then one little plant freed Jayden. Arguing medical marijuana is unsafe is hypocritical, manipulative, and almost criminal. “It is the most non-toxic medicine I have ever encountered” says Dr. Lester Grinspoon. Humans and other mammals even contain an endocannabinoid system, “consisting of a series of receptors that are configured only to accept cannabinoids, especially tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)”. This is a huge reason why cannabis is such an effective medicine. The danger of cannabis pales in comparison to caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and almost any prescription drug.

 

So why is it still illegal? Follow the money. Look at what happens when medical cannabis becomes legal in a state:

 

Especially in cases of pain, almost every time medical cannabis is an option, it is safer than what would normally be prescribed. No, it is not a magical medicine with no bad side effects. But when the choice is between a drug less addictive than caffeine and has never killed anyone, or one that kills 15,000 Americans each year (prescription painkillers), the answer is obvious. However, this is a nightmare for the big for-profit pharmaceutical companies. So it comes at no surprise that they are part of the top five lobbyists against medical cannabis, spending millions of dollars to hinder progress.

 

The two drugs often compared to cannabis in the legalization debate are nicotine and alcohol. These drugs are more harmful than cannabis in every way, but the U.S. government has kept them legal. Let’s look at the history of these drugs for a moment.

 

From 1965 to today, cigarette smoking has gone down almost 30%. Why? Did the government crack down more on underage usage? Were they outlawed? Of course not. Why would the freedom-loving U.S. government take away the individual’s right to consume what they want? Here’s what happened: In 1965, a sort of reverse of what has happened to cannabis was occurring. Big tobacco companies spent millions on advertising and propaganda saying cigarettes were actually healthy, and doctors even recommended them. However, as we now know, this is blatantly false. Americans began to become more educated on nicotine and cigarettes, and equipped with their own knowledge, they were able to make a choice for themselves. Use went down and health went up. With marijuana, there is still propaganda and so little is known. Scientists struggle to research this dynamic plant, as its illegal status requires many hoops to jump through and the negative stigma discourages study. Optimistically, however, progress still is being made, and every day, we learn more about what this plant can do for us, despite its prohibition.

 

Speaking of prohibition, let’s take a look at the most famous, and just how well that worked. In 1920, alcohol was outlawed in the United States, deemed dangerous and the root of immoral behavior. Initially, use of alcohol decreased, as well as alcohol related deaths. But by 1922, both began to climb back, and by 1925, arrests for public drunkenness and similar alcohol-related offenses were already above the pre-prohibition records. Consumption by women and children increased dramatically. In addition, the money people were spending on alcohol was going to gangsters, such as Al Capone, instead of going to the state. Organized crime was at an all time high.

 

This almost exactly mirrors the situation marijuana is now in. The war on drugs, a.k.a. the second prohibition, has had virtually zero effect on drug usage. From 1970 to 2010, U.S. drug control spending increased 1,000%. The U.S. drug addiction remained the same. The only thing the war on drugs has accomplished is a waste of $1.5 trillion dollars, a mass influx of harmless cannabis users in jail, lives ruined, billions of dollars in drug dealers and cartels hands, and thousands of deaths from drug wars.

 

Prohibition does not work. It did not work with alcohol, arguably the most dangerous drug, and it does not work with cannabis, one of the safest drugs. It’s time to free cannabis, and let Americans make informed decisions for themselves instead of being bullied by the law. “"If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so," implores Thomas Jefferson.

 

The law should not be burdened with combatting the problems with cannabis. What it has created is a perverted justice system. Over half of all drug busts are for cannabis. 88% are for possession alone. Kingpins and dealers are not the ones getting arrested; instead, common citizens are. Marijuana arrests are outnumbering those for violent crimes. While violent and property crimes have gone down from 1974, drug crimes have boomed. This is something private prisons and people who are employed by the justice system are desperate to cling on to. Because ending the war on drugs would eliminate huge amounts of people going to jail, it comes as no surprise that prison guard unions, police unions, and private prisons are part of the top five lobbyists against ending cannabis prohibition, spending millions to keep citizens in jail.

 

Yes, people can become addicted to it. Yes, it can lead to health and developmental problems. Yes there are problems with it. But a war on drugs is not the solution. It has done nothing to affect drug use, and wasn’t even designed to do so in the first place (remember Nixon?). These problems need to be fixed intelligently, with education and professional help. Like cigarettes and alcohol, adults should be educated on the health risks and know what they are getting into before making the choice to consume cannabis.

 

Cannabis itself is not actually addictive. According to AlterNet, 41 percent of Americans, or 102 million people, have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime; 10 percent or 26 million Americans have used marijuana in the past year, and 6 percent, or 15 million Americans, admit to using marijuana on a ‘regular’ basis. It is estimated that around 10 percent of those who smoke marijuana on a regular basis become long term, chronic users. Those who do become addicted to cannabis develop what is called a psychological addiction, where the user develops a mental dependence to a substance. It similar to being addicted to shopping, video games, food, or sex. But do we outlaw these things? No; we treat them. The problem with cannabis addiction does not lie with the substance, but with what is troubling the user.

 

Millions of Americans can intake cannabis and experience no addiction. But About 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become abusers, according to a study endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). What is to blame is genes and mental issues, not the drug. “Most of us have a lot of choice in life of things that make us feel good,” said Gantt Galloway, Pharm.D., executive and research director of the New Leaf Treatment Center, and senior scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, in an interview with Healthline. “Those who have fewer choices, who perhaps don’t have as rich a set of social interactions because their family life is difficult or because they have emotional problems that are stopping them from forming close friendships ... those people may find drugs such as marijuana more attractive and be at greater risk for addiction. For a lot of individuals, marijuana is pleasurable, reinforcing, and reliable. If you’re talking about someone who has a chaotic home situation, someone who isn’t doing well in school, who isn’t getting praise for good school performance, those people may be at higher risk to use marijuana and to have problems with it.” To say the solution to these problems is jail time is irresponsible and atrocious.

 

Ending prohibition and legalizing cannabis will bring jobs, freedom, health, safety, and peace. Legal cannabis will take profits away from drug dealers and the underworld and place it in the hands of the state, who can use it to improve life for everyone. There will be less crime, less murder, fewer pointless, life-ruining arrests. There will be better healthcare. The police will no longer be an enemy to citizens. Americans will once again have the freedom to make informed decisions for themselves. Imagine if our founding fathers were here today and what they would think of this situation.

 

The War on Drugs is based on racism and political strategy. The arguments we hear for it are manipulations, propaganda, and lies to protect money hungry special interest groups. This is not democracy. This is corruption.