Why sanction something so beneficial?
The legality of marijuana has been hotly debated since the initiation of the ‘war on drugs’ by US President Richard Nixon in 1971, which saw cannabis lumped in with other harder substances like cocaine and ice as the root of all evil.
However, as pro-marijuana advocacy groups have noted for decades, there are numerous benefits to legalization largely ignored by the crackdown. Unfortunately, the mythology surrounding the drug has tarnished public opinion, none more so than the idea it’s a ‘gateway drug’ to other more sinister substances, which was disproven by a study published in the Journal of School Health, which proved nicotine to be far more dangerous than pot. Additionally, a comparative assessment published in Scientific Reports found socially acceptable alcohol to be 114 times more deadly than marijuana.
It’s no secret cannabis is used successfully in medicine, yet people are still uncomfortable with the idea. They cite the potential for loss of control, and patients exploiting their prescriptions. However, this is not an accurate assumption. According to the US Government, the lethal dose of marijuana is roughly one-third your body weight, consumed all at once. To date not a single death from marijuana overdose has been reported.
In fact, the drug has had particular success in children with epilepsy, taken in tablet form, with highly controlled ingredients. Although there have been conflicting reports, individual studies of children with refractory, or intractable epilepsy (Dravet syndrome) who used cannabis medicinally to reduce the frequency of seizures have been extremely encouraging. Regardless, misconceptions still exist.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, is the element of cannabis responsible for producing the psychoactive effects of ‘getting high’. Cannabidiol, on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive element, and has displayed positive effects on certain body systems. Subtract the THC from the cannabidiol and you’ve got a plant-based, controlled drug and the potential to drastically change millions of lives for the better. It’s irresponsible and unjust to deny children and their families the chance to finally be seizure free simply because of the wildly outdated, icky reputation marijuana users have acquired.
I am epileptic, and I’m no stranger to the trauma of body-wracking seizures. When my fits were not controlled, they were the most terrifying experiences of mine and my parents’ lives. I was subjected to medication after medication, all of which had side effects, from sunburn to weight gain, to general fatigue. My doctors even suggested the constant stream of varied chemicals racing through my bloodstream stunted the growth of my breasts. Sadly, there are millions of other children in the position I was in growing up as an epileptic. So why should any potentially successful treatment be sanctioned in this way?
Even if we are to ignore the now widely proven clinical benefits of medicinal cannabis use, the economic logic alone of legalizing the drug speaks for itself. Let’s look at the UK. According to the Institute for Economic and Research, over a billion dollars could be made every year through taxation of a regulated cannabis market. As it is, $512 million annually is spent on policing illegal cannabis. Nearly double could be made from tax on a legalized enterprise.
Now, compare the UK to Colorado; a shining example of the economic benefits of legal pot. Since its legalization at the beginning of 2014, it has brought in millions of dollars of revenue per month. In June 2015, marijuana raked in over $50 million dollars in recreational sales, not to mention over $25 million in medicinal sales. To put the icing on the cake, 2015 saw the drug earn over $60 million in tax revenue, and create 10,000 jobs in the marijuana industry. Combine all these elements and you’ve got a pretty convincing case, right?
However, despite the example of Colorado, and other countries with a successful legal cannabis scheme, the insistence on pushing the war on drugs remains, along with the corruption within the movement.
In 2013, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime described what it perceived as the ‘fallout’ of the war on drugs. They stated a system has been concocted to push drug users to the margins of society. As such, by dehumanizing them, it is all too easy for human rights abuses to slip through the cracks.
The abhorrent treatment suffered by users in prison or rehabilitation facilities in Russia is rampant and extreme. Large numbers of inmates are cramped into one room in deplorable conditions. They have inadequate food and are routinely tied to beds for up to 24 hours. Anyone considered a troublemaker is given an injection of haloperidol; a drug causing spinal pain and muscle spasms. However, when presented with the case in late 2012, the UN Committee Against Torture did not condemn it. Out of sight, out of mind.
Similar corruption and negligence exists in the US. With the largest prison population in the world – in excess of 2.3 million – it also boats the highest number of drug-related convictions. In 1980, roughly 40,000 people were in US prisons for drug crimes. Today, that number has risen to over 500,000. But at what cost?
In July 2012, 22 year-old Michael Saffioti was convicted on a misdemeanor marijuana charge and died 24 hours later in prison after a severe allergic reaction to dairy in the food he had informed prison staff he was unable to eat.
Saffioti is just one of the hundreds of thousands of convenient, casual arrests for petty cannabis-related drug offences every year that allow law enforcement to rack up convictions quickly in order to appear they’re keeping our society safe. Other victims of the drug war include the African American community, who, despite having no more propensity to use or sell illegal drugs than white people, are arrested for drug law violations 5.5 times more often.
Despite rocketing arrest rates, drug-related crime has not decreased in the past decade, and the global black market remains as lucrative as ever. If the drug trade were a country, it would have one of the top 20 economies in the world. The United Nations estimated it was worth more than $320 billion in 2005. More to the point, the UN also estimates there are 230 million illegal drug users in the world, but only 10 per cent of them are considered problematic or dangerous.
Legalizing marijuana would cut drug dealers off at the source. The high rates of street violence and murder instigated by drug-related disputes and vigilante violence would drop significantly. It would be medically and economically beneficial. And most importantly, it would prevent human rights abuses and save many young lives.
So to all those who still vehemently oppose the legalization of marijuana, let me ask you one question; if you had to choose between this ground-breakingly beneficial movement, and a war on drugs we’re clearly not winning, what would your conscience dictate?
Image via favim.com.
Comment: Where do you stand on the legalization of marijuana?