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Harris Sherline: Arguments For and Against Legalizing Marijuana

Marijuana is addictive. Marijuana is not addictive. Marijuana is a “gateway” drug to addiction. Marijuana is not a “gateway” drug to addiction. Marijuana should be legalized. Marijuana should not be legalized.

Take your pick of any of the foregoing statements and you will probably have half the population agreeing with you — or disagreeing with you, depending on your point of view.

“Common Marijuana Myths, Exposing Marijuana Myths: A Review of the Scientific Evidence” by Marijuana.com offers the following information about marijuana:

“Since the 1920s, supporters of marijuana prohibition have exaggerated the drug’s dangers. In different eras, different claims have gained prominence, but few have ever been abandoned. Indeed, many of the ‘reefer madness’ tales that were used to generate support for early anti-marijuana laws continue to appear in government and media reports today.”

For a while in the 1970s, scientific inquiries seemed to begin influencing the government’s marijuana policies: Following thorough reviews of the existing evidence by scholars and official commissions, criminal penalties for marijuana offenses were lessened, and a number of states moved in the direction of decriminalization, and in response to continuing concerns about marijuana’s potential toxicity, the government increased the funding of scientific research, mostly through the newly created National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In the 1970s, there were three large “field studies” in Greece, Costa Rica and Jamaica that evaluated the impact of marijuana on users in their natural environments. These were supplemented by clinical examinations and laboratory experiments oriented toward answering the questions about marijuana that continued to be debated in the scientific literature.

Following are some of the claims about the scientific evidence that supports or dispels the most prominent of the anti-marijuana claims:

» Marijuana use is increasing at an alarming rate.

» Marijuana potency has increased substantially.

» Marijuana is a drug without therapeutic value.

» Marijuana causes lung disease.

» Marijuana impairs immune system functioning.

» Marijuana harms sexual maturation and reproduction.

» Marijuana use during pregnancy harms the fetus.

» Marijuana causes brain damage.

» Marijuana is an addictive drug.

» Marijuana-related medical emergencies are increasing.

» Marijuana produces a motivational syndrome.

» Marijuana is a major cause of highway accidents.

» Marijuana is a “gateway” to the use of other drugs.

» Dutch marijuana policy has been a failure.

LegalizationOfMarijuana.com provides the following information about the use of marijuana in the United States:

The War on Drugs has resulted in the U.S. prison population increasing six to 10 times as high as most Western European nations. In 2000, more than 734,000 people were arrested in the United States for marijuana-related offenses.

Since 1990, nearly 5.9 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges, a greater number than the entire populations of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming combined. In 2000, state and local law enforcement arrested 734,498 people for marijuana violations. In 2000, the overwhelming majority of whom were charged with marijuana violations — 646,042 (88 percent) — were for simple possession. The remaining 12 percent (88,456 Americans) were for “sale/manufacture,” an FBI category that includes marijuana grown for personal use or purely medical purposes. FBI statistics indicate that one marijuana smoker is arrested every 45 seconds in America.

The total number of marijuana arrests in 2000 far exceeded the combined number of arrests for violent crimes, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

People are arrested, jailed and treated like criminals solely because of their recreational use of marijuana. To make matters worse, state agencies often declare the children of marijuana smokers to be “in danger,” which has resulted in many children being placed into foster homes.

This causes enormous pain, suffering and financial hardship for millions of American families. It also engenders distrust and disrespect for the law and for the criminal justice system overall.

Responsible marijuana smokers present no threat or danger to America or its children, and there is no reason to treat them as criminals, or to take their children away. We need to find ways to discourage personal use of drugs, but responsible marijuana smokers are not the problem, and it is time to stop arresting them.

American Deaths Caused Annually by Drugs

» Tobacco — 400,000
» Alcohol — 100,000
» All Legal Drugs — 20,000
» All Illegal drugs — 15,000
» Caffeine — 2,000
» Aspirin — 500
» Marijuana — 0
*Source: U.S. government, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bureau of Mortality Statistics

The most common problem attributed to marijuana is frequent overuse, which can induce lethargic behavior but does not cause serious health problems. Marijuana can also cause short-term memory loss, but only while under the influence. It does not impair long-term memory and, contrary to popular opinion, it does not lead to harder drugs.

Marijuana does not cause brain damage, genetic damage or damage the immune system. Unlike alcohol, marijuana does not kill brain cells or induce violent behavior. Continuous long-term smoking of marijuana can cause bronchitis, but the chance of contracting bronchitis from casual marijuana smoking is minuscule. Respiratory health hazards can be totally eliminated by consuming marijuana with nonsmoking methods — that is, using marijuana in baked foods, tincture or a vaporizer.

Marijuana smokers did not exhibit significantly different rates of decline in lung function as compared with those individuals who never smoked it. The study concluded: “No differences were noted between even quite heavy marijuana smoking and non-smoking of marijuana.”

Marijuana does not cause serious health problems like those caused by tobacco or alcohol, such as strong addiction, cancer, heart problems, birth defects, emphysema, liver damage, etc. Death from a marijuana overdose is impossible. There has never been a single death attributed to a health problem caused by marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana would not only make life better for most people, but it would free up significant government and police forces that are currently dedicated to attempting to stop people from using it.

— Harris Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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