By Isaac Mathewson
When I was on vacation in New York City last year, I saw a man walking around Times Square with a bucket of money and a sign strapped on to him saying “Legalize Weed.” I couldn’t help but notice that the bucket was about 2/3 full and counting and there were dollar bills as high as $10 and I might have even seen a $20. That had me thinking, “There must be a lot of people who support the legalization of marijuana.”
It turns out, I was totally right. Ever since the countercultural movement of the 1960s, efforts to legalize marijuana have increased every year thanks to the amount of support it has been getting. The question is why are there so many efforts to support marijuana and not stronger drugs such as cocaine and heroin?
To answer that question, we have to look into the science of marijuana as a drug and the history behind why it was made illegal in the first place.
The first aspect to consider when supporting marijuana legalization is to look at its effects. Marijuana has been known to cause highs which give a user a psychoactive reaction to the drug. There can be many different effects, such as short term memory loss, feelings of euphoria or anxiety, increased appetite, relief from pain or discomfort, reduction of nausea or the urge to vomit, enhanced memory, and increased appreciation in surroundings. All of these effects are relatively short lived and it has been proven that the drug is not anywhere nearly as addictive as nicotine, heroin, or cocaine. Also, it rarely causes long term effects, depending on how often the user uses it or its manner of consumption.
Another aspect to consider is the history behind its legalization. In the 1850s, laws were passed to pharmacists that required them to label any narcotics as “poison,” without much explanation, including marijuana. In the 1930s, Harry J. Anslinger, head of the then recently created Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led a massive political campaign to make marijuana illegal, as he believed that it caused insanity and crime, much more than alcohol. His campaign included advertisements and other forms of propaganda, including the 1936 film Reefer Madness. His efforts led to the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which put a tax on marijuana sales and eventually led to the full illegalization of the drug.
Some may consider Anslinger’s actions to be beneficial to our country’s health, but let’s think about the problems it has caused. The most obvious problem is his interference in free speech. It should not be up to the government to decide how we live our lives and what we put in our body, however harmful it may be.
There is also controversy that Anslinger had racist reasons for why he made marijuana illegal. He is reported to have said in a newspaper, “Marijuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” If he did it out of racism, then that would make the law he drafted abominable. It also does not help that he had fabricated many studies on the effects of the drug.
As more people are becoming aware of these problems and the controversy surrounding them, marijuana support has increased significantly. Since 1970, there have been attempts to make it legal in many states. There have been many laws that have decriminalized marijuana possession and use for medicinal purposes, while maintaining the prohibition of selling or consuming without a prescription. In addition, two states, Colorado and Washington, have completely decriminalized marijuana.
There are many reasons to why these changes have occurred and why people support marijuana in the first place. Many believe, and I share these viewpoints, that marijuana legalization will reduce crime in the United States, boost the economy, and help put an end to the futile War on Drugs. The War on Drugs is one of the most pointless wars ever declared in this country. Not only is it a war that the U.S. can never win, but it has actually cost more lives than saved. Thousands are dying in the Mexican Drug War every year, not from the drugs themselves, but by the violence that is ensuing over them. Meanwhile, the Drug Cartel continues to thrive on the profits it has made and it continues to find ways to ship their cargo overseas to other countries. If the war ends, lives will be saved, economic activity will increase in Mexico, and democracy will spread.
There will obviously be negative effects on the public if marijuana is made legal. There will be people who abuse it, as there are for all drugs, and it can cause users to lose focus or interest in school or work. Also, it can cause slow reaction time in a user, which can impair driving and operating machinery. However, there is no proof that marijuana itself causes any health problems. The only way it does is if a user smokes it, but there are many other ways to consume it, such as through pills or vapor.
I am glad to see that the country has doubled its efforts to legalize marijuana. There are 28 states that have reduced criminalization in some form or another, including two of which, as I said before, that have completely decriminalized it. Even major political leaders have shown support in its legalization, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Barack Obama. I’d say that now is the time for us to get up and show support for marijuana legalization. Even if we decide not to use it, we should at least show our support for the sake of free speech. I’m sure that’s what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. After all, virtually all of them had smoked it at one point.