English paper on marijuana legalization is (finally) finished

This morning, after five hours of work, my group from English class finally finished off our group essay. The group had chosen the topic of marijuana legalization, and after our first papers that served as an inquiry into the subject, the group was then divided in half, with one side taking pro, and the other con. My group drew the opposition.

Jeffrey Harlan, Atenas Hernandez, and Eloise Ramirez
Miguel Powers
ENGL 103
20 Jul 2009

Legalization of Marijuana Would Be Harmful to Society

Marijuana, which eventually was made illegal following initial regulations in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, has for decades been a subject of hotly contested debate focused on its current prohibition, and it has become an issue again due to the current economic crisis. Legalization would only encourage the use of a harmful substance and leave citizens subject to unnecessary hazards. Marijuana should not be legalized for many reasons, including its deleterious effects on health, its impact on crime, as well as misconceptions regarding potential new tax revenues to alleviate the nation’s current financial woes.

While we strongly favor the continuation of the prohibition on marijuana, we have encountered many compelling arguments from those who would seek to legalize the substance, including a potential decrease in crime rates, potentially increased tax revenues of up to $1.4 billion, as well as legalization being a better solution to the use of marijuana by minors by comparing it to the sale of alcohol. We believe these arguments are made in the honest belief that legalization will solve many of the problems facing society, but after reviewing the evidence, our position remains unchanged.

One unalterable fact remains that use of marijuana can cause physical harm to those who use it, and the potential for injury through secondary smoke inhalation remains a compelling disincentive toward legalization. Marijuana “has been tied to brain damage, cancer, lung damage, depression, amotivational syndrome, and even death. The brain damage has been shown to cause memory loss and difficulty in problem solving” (Messerli). One study conducted on college students found that “among heavy users of marijuana – those who smoked the drug at least 27 of the preceding 30 days – critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning were significantly impaired, even after they had not used the drug for at least 24 hours” (Margolis). Restriction on the use of marijuana is a matter of protecting the health and safety of the public as a whole. “Simply put,” writes Dr. David Murray, chief scientist of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “marijuana is a substance that intoxicates those who use it, injuring their health and the well-being of those around them” (Dubner). Murray further asserts that the potency of marijuana has increased over the past decade, significantly increasing the risks to young people for developing schizophrenia, depression, cognitive deficits and respiratory problems, as well as a significantly higher risk of developing dependency upon other drugs (Dubner). Marijuana also impairs the immune system, which affects the body’s ability to fight off disease and infection (Margolis).

Another concern is that marijuana “is often used as a stepping-stone drug, leading to heroin, cocaine, or other harder drugs. … [A]fter using [marijuana] for a while, a bigger ‘high’ is sought” (Messerli). Legalization would lead to an increased use of the drug by the population at large. Dr. DuPont also wrote, “Legalization of marijuana would solve the marijuana problem the way legalizing speeding would solve the speeding problem: it would remove the legal inhibition of a dangerous behavior, and thereby encourage the behavior” (Dubner).

Removing this inhibition would lead to stoned driving and would increase other dangers. Marijuana use, despite claims to the contrary by supporters of legalization, is not a victimless crime, considering the other crimes that are often committed when a user is under the influence of the drug. Drunk driving is still a major problem in society, despite education on the subject and the stiff penalties imposed for violators (Messerli). Driving while high would be even harder to detect than while drunk. Unless the offender had been smoking in the car, there wouldn’t be as distinctive a smell as there is with alcohol (Messerli). Additionally, the possibility remains that a lapse in judgment caused by drug use would lead to harder crimes like robbery to finance the drug habit or even rape (Messerli).

Legalizing marijuana would only add to the problems we face on the road with drunk drivers. Arguing that we should legalize marijuana simply because it’s become a social norm like alcohol, which remains legal, is foolish because “that amounts to – if you you’ve smashed your thumb with a hammer, smash the other one,” according to Burns (Katel 530). The current rates of driving while under the influence of alcohol are already an unsafe issue for society; by legalizing marijuana, it would create an even more dangerous situation for the others on the roads.

The comparison to alcohol does not end with DUIs. Proponents of legalization believe that the sale of marijuana would be regulated much as alcohol, enabling the sellers to be held liable for sales to minors. Experience has shown, however, that this remains an ineffective deterrent to underage drinking. Simply put, kids find ways to get alcohol, and would do the same to obtain marijuana despite any regulations on the sales, should it be legalized. From 2002 to 2007, adolescent marijuana use dropped from 8.2 percent to 7.6 percent under the Bush administration’s stringent anti-marijuana policies (Katel 531). “Fewer young people are smoking” marijuana today, Burns says. “But if you say that it’s legal, you reduce the perception of risk – and clearly it would become much more available – that use is going to go up” (Katel 531).

Additionally, proponents of legalization assert that legalizing marijuana would permit tens of thousands of prisoners to be released, freeing billions in annual spending on law enforcement. According to the 2006 Uniform Crime Report figures, 829,625 people were arrested on marijuana charges, which represented a nearly 15 percent increase from the previous year and is a number greater than the arrests for all violent crimes combined. It is estimated that between 45 and 65 thousand prisoners are incarcerated on charges solely related to marijuana (Messerli). In 2001, an average of $22,650 was spent per inmate in prisons nationwide (Stephan). While this number is doubtless greater today, this represents an expenditure of more than $1 billion annually on prisoners incarcerated on marijuana charges.

According to Barry R. McCaffrey, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “People are not arrested and prosecuted and jailed for first-time possession of a controlled drug for personal addiction. … People end up behind bars because they break into your house or your car, they steal money from your business or they’re addicted themselves and they’re selling drugs to other people to pay for their drug habit. That’s why they get arrested and prosecuted” (Cooper 601). Dr. Robert L. DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health and former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, believes that current criminal penalties for marijuana use are “mild,” and that “[t]he few people now in prison solely for marijuana use have almost all been charged with more serious offenses, and then pleaded guilty to this lesser offense” (Dubner).

DuPont believes that “limiting the calculation of marijuana’s societal costs to the costs of arresting and imprisoning marijuana users … minimizes those produced by use of the drug itself (i.e., the costs of treatment, drugged driving crashes, and lost productivity)” (Dubner). In 1995, the cost of treatment for alcohol abuse was $166.5 billion, while rehabilitation programs for all drugs cost $109.8 billion (Cooper 601). Legalization of marijuana would only serve to encourage the abuse of marijuana just as alcohol is abused. Legalization would remove the legal inhibition against marijuana use, and the cost of drug abuse rehabilitation programs would skyrocket.

Supporters of legalization argue that taxation of the drug will bring increased revenues of approximately $1.4 billion to the government to alleviate these costs, but this is misleading. This figure comes from “an estimate of a California crop worth $14 billion, a figure that traces back to a nationwide cannabis crop estimate of 10 million metric tons – worth $35.8 billion – by the White House drug-policy office in 2003” (Katel 530). The United States would have to produce four to ten times more marijuana than would be required for domestic consumption to achieve that level of profit, exporting the rest worldwide, a situation described as “highly implausible” by Martin Bouchard, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia (Katel 530). In addition, Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association says, “I doubt that Mexican cartels are going to want to be regulated or taxed – that’s a pipe dream” (Katel 530). Also, the high prices commanded by the cartels would decline in the face of legalization, which would further impact the revenues estimated by the government. “If you made it licit and taxed it,” argues Mark A. R. Kleiman, director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA, “the price would collapse” because marijuana’s illegality accounts for its relatively high price (Katel 530).

It remains our firm belief that legalization of marijuana would be of more harm than good to society and should thus remain a prohibited substance. We have enumerated many of the reasons why marijuana should not be legalized, highlighting its deleterious effect on health, that use of marijuana can lead to use of other, even more harmful drugs, and that a more permissive attitude in the wake of legalization would lead to an explosion in the use and a dramatic increase in the costs associated with the treatment of those addicted to the drug. The impact of the drug on crime, and the fallacies regarding potential windfall tax revenues, should the drug be legalized, also cannot be ignored.

Works Cited

Cooper, Mary H. “Drug-Policy Debate.” CQ Researcher. CQ Press, 28 July 2000. 593–624. Web. 29 June 2009. <http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2000072800>.

Dubner, Stephen J. “On the Legalization – or Not – of Marijuana.” NYTimes.com. N.p., 30 Oct. 2007. Web. 28 June 2009. <http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/on-the-legalization-or-not-of-marijuana/>.

Katel, Peter. “Legalizing Marijuana.” CQ Researcher. CQ Press, 12 June 2009. 525-548. Web. 29 June 2009. <http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2009061200>.

Margolis, Robert. “Legalizing Marijuana Would Harm Teens.” At Issue: Legalizing Drugs. Ed. Stuart A. Kallen. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoings Resource Center. Gale. CCL Fullerton College. 29 June 2009 <http://find.galegroup.com/ovrc/infomark.do?&contentSet=GSRC&type=retrieve&tabID=T010&prodID=OVRC&docId=EJ3010018222&source=gale&srcprod=OVRC&userGroupName=full44847&version=1.0>.

Messerli, Joe. “Legalization of Marijuana (Pros & Cons, Arguments For and Against).” BalancedPolitics.org. N.p., 24 May 2009. Web. 28 June 2009. <http://www.balancedpolitics.org/marijuana_legalization.htm>.

Stephan, James J. “State Prison Expenditures, 2001.” Office of Justice Programs. U.S. Department of Justice, June 2004. Web. 28 June 2009. <http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/spe01.txt>.

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