Over the past decade the controversies over the legalization of marijuana has provoked debate between advocacy groups and politicians, the terminally ill and lawmakers, and has empowered some States to defy federal laws that classify marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug. Since 1996, eleven states have passed laws that in effect allow patients to use marijuana for medical purpose; eight of the eleven did so through ballot initiatives (McVay). A twelfth state, Maryland, passed a law in 2003 preventing medical marijuana users from serving jail time but not from being arrested (Thomas 1). Those opposed to any type of legalization argue about the ill effects and corruptive impact that legalization will have on society and refute supporters’ arguments that marijuana should legalized base on marijuana’s medicinal value alone. In this essay I will present the both sides of the issues and controversies over the legalization of marijuana.
A brief look into American history is crucial to understand how this controversy began. In the 1930s, The Uniformed Narcotic Act was drafted and the Federal Marijuana Tax Act was passed requiring anyone who grew, used or distributed marijuana to pay a high tax (Marshall). In the 1960s, Marijuana use spread through musicians, artist, and soldiers returning from Vietnam to the middle class, and in the 1970s, the Federal Controlled Substances Act was passed which made marijuana possession illegal.
Additionally, In the 1970s President Nixon’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse released a report to congress entitled “Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding,” which favored ending marijuana prohibition and adopting other methods to discourage marijuana use (Marshall). The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) petitioned the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a “Schedule 2” drug so physicians can prescribe it legally (Marshall).
In 1980s the FDA approves Marinol, a synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active chemical of cannabis, for cancer patients (Marshall). Moreover, in the early 1990s, “the first Bush administration cancels a ‘compassionate use’ program that provided government-grown marijuana to a small group of patients” (Marshall). In the late 1990s, Arizona and California passed laws allowing possession of marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation (Marshall). The Office of National Drug Control Policy threatened action against physicians who recommend or prescribe marijuana and as a result California doctors and patients sued the federal government (Marshall).
Despite a U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that found some medical benefits in marijuana the Federal government shut down six marijuana cooperatives in California that provided marijuana to patients (Marshall). In 2003, The U.S. Supreme Court, by declining to reverse a lower court’s decision in Conant v. McCaffrey, held that physicians may recommend, but not prescribe marijuana to patients and in November of 2004 voters across the country pass 17 initiatives aimed at liberalizing marijuana laws. To date 36 states have laws that recognize marijuana’s medical value. Moreover, since 1996 twelve states have passed laws that effectively allow patients to use medical marijuana despite federal law (McVay).
Opponents believe that marijuana has no medical purpose and point out marijuana’s harmful affects, “marijuana is carcinogenic, harms the body’s respiratory, immune and reproductive systems, affects short-term memory and ability to learn” (Koch). Supporters counter opponents arguments by citing a U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that studied marijuana’s medicinal benefits, “Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation” (Marshall).
Additionally, Opponents point out that the active chemical in marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol also known as THC, is available as a FDA approved drug called Marinol. Supporters counter stating that Marinol is taken as pill or suppository, and patients cannot get the relief they need fast enough, due to the time required for the drug to absorb into the bloodstream (Marshall). Furthermore, supporters state that THC is only one of the potentially therapeutic chemicals found in marijuana, and state the monthly cost of Marinol is too high.
Supporters cite medical resources to back up their arguments, “‘evidence supports the view that smoked marijuana and THC … can provide symptomatic relief in patients with MS, spinal cord injury and other causes of spasticity,’ said a 2001 report by the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association (AMA)” (Marshall 131). Opponents disagree with supporters claims that smoked marijuana is the sole delivery method for THC, and disagree with the therapeutic qualities that marijuana supporter’s claim.
Opponents believe that legalizing marijuana will increase the number of users and lead them to more dangerous illegal drugs. “Marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs” (Marshall). Supporters counter by saying, “Most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana — usually before they are of legal age” (Marshall). Supporters state that there is no scientific evidence that support the belief that the effects of marijuana are linked to the consequent misuse of illegal drugs.
It is understandable the debate over legalization of marijuana is a major concern for both sides and it will affect all Americans. There will be continued arguments over marijuana’s medical benefits, and difference in opinion of how THC should be delivered to those who need it. The argument over labeling marijuana as a “gateway drug” will continue with no end regardless of the evidence. And terminally ill patients will have to make the decision to obey the law or lobby their state politicians to change it.
Marshall, Patrick. “Marijuana Laws.” CQ Researcher 15.6 (2005): 125-148. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. MacKay Library, Union County College, Cranford, NJ. 2 Oct. 2006 .
McVay, Douglas. “Medical Marijuana.” DRUG WAR FACTS (2006). 1 Oct. 2006 .
“Medical Marijuana.” Issues & Controversies On File 6 June 2005. Issues & Controversies @ FACTS.com. Facts On File News Services. 29 Sept. 2006.
Koch, Kathy. “Medical Marijuana.” CQ Researcher 9.31 (1999). CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. MacKay Library, Union County College, Cranford, NJ 26 Sept. 2006 .
Thomas, Chuck and Richard Smitz. “State-By-State Medical Marijuana Laws” Marijuana Policy Project (2006). 3 Oct. 2006 .