For those who don’t use marijuana, the campaign to legalize it can seem self-indulgent at best, and destructive at worst. However, the politics opposing cannabis usage have proven to be more detrimental to the country than the drug itself. In practicality, the drug can be used both effectively and safely.
To start with, legalized cannabis has fewer life threatening repercussions than most over the counter medications. Taking too much acetaminophen, for instance, can lead to liver failure, which is often deadly. However, even extreme cannabis overdoses are rarely fatal- and when they are, it is usually the result of pre-existing conditions. Although an overdose may be an unsettling and uncomfortable experience, there is most likely not a threat to life associated with it. However, when cannabis is being obtained illegally, the risks of the drug being laced with fentanyl are much higher (Weinstock, 2023). Fentanyl is cheaper than cannabis, and incredibly potent, so during illegal drug trade, they may be mixed to save money. Fentanyl is not detectable by taste, sight, or smell, and can be deadly in even very small doses. This poses a huge risk to cannabis users, who otherwise would not have run into issues with overdosing. Legalizing cannabis can help keep users safer.
Marijuana can be broken down into two main derivatives- THC, and CBD. CBD is a legal derivative that many people use for anxiety and muscle pain, however, there is no “high” associated with CBD consumption. Since marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, it is very difficult to get approval to do experiments with THC (Downs, 2016). Although there may be health benefits to using cannabis, the federal restrictions on schedule one drugs mean that there is no practical way to confirm any possible benefits. In states where its consumption is legal, THC has been used to relieve symptoms of severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Some people claim that it has been effective for treating cancerous tumors, chronic pain, and symptoms arising from MS. A federal legalization of cannabis could unlock new treatment plans for mental and physical health issues.
Another factor in marijuana use may be the extreme costs of healthcare in the United States. 16% of individuals between 12 and 64 years old who have been uninsured for more than six months report using marijuana (Wu, 2003). Many individuals use cannabis to cope with mental health symptoms that insured people have more accessible treatments for. Under federal legalization, this kind of usage could be studied. If found beneficial, these could become approved treatment plans, monitored by doctors for those who have found cannabis to be more effective than other kinds of mental health treatments.
Finally, the illegalization of marijuana has from the start been used to victimize racial minorities. Although marijuana usage is roughly equivalent between white and black population, black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for related offenses. 89.6% of these arrests are for possession only. Additionally, enforcing marijuana laws costs our country $3.6 billion dollars yearly- yet these laws have not effectively diminished the usage or availability of marijuana (Report: The war on marijuana in black and white, 2013). As John Ehrlichman, a counselor to Nixon at the time he signed the Controlled Substances Act, later said about the event- “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war (Vietnam) or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the 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.”
The illegalization of marijuana, and the stigmatization of the drug surrounding it, has never been about public safety. Whether or not you use cannabis personally, federal legalization will make life safer- not just for those who do use it, but with increased research approvals, possibly even for those who don’t.
Downs, D. (2016, April 19). The science behind the DEA’s Long War on marijuana. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-behind-the-dea-s-long-war-on-marijuana/
LoBianco, T. (2016, March 24). Report: Aide says Nixon’s War on Drugs Targeted Blacks, hippies | CNN politics. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html
Report: The war on marijuana in black and white. American Civil Liberties Union. (2013, June). https://www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white
Weinstock, C. (2023, July 23). Fentanyl laced weed : An overview. Avenues Recovery. https://www.avenuesrecovery.com/understanding-addiction/fentanyl-addiction/fentanyl-laced-weed-an-overview/
Wu, L. T., Kouzis, A. C., & Schlenger, W. E. (2003). Substance use, dependence, and service utilization among the US uninsured nonelderly population. American journal of public health, 93(12), 2079–2085. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.93.12.2079