Marijuana: Medicine, State Revenue, or a “Gateway Drug”?

April 19, 2010 – Tomorrow is April 20th. Often, this date is shortened to “4/20.” According to a 2007 Associated Press article titled “Drug Study Words,” 4/20, 420, or 4:20 “stands for April 20 or the time 4:20. Years ago 4:20 pm was deemed the time of day to get high and April 20 became ‘National Pot Smoking Day.’”

According to Steven Hager, editor of High Times, a pro-marijuana and marijuana culture magazine, the term originated in California, at San Rafael High School, in 1971. As Hager puts it, “The term was shorthand for the time of day the group would meet, at the campus statue of Louis Pasteur, to smoke pot.” The students in question used “420” as code for a time to get high, and its use spread. In light of this, a national economic crisis fueling marijuana advocates to suggest that legalization of the substance would increase state and federal budgets, and an upcoming historical ballot item in California, The Carolinian will briefly address the debate on marijuana legalization.

Marijuana is decriminalized in 13 states, including North Carolina, but many counties and cities have decriminalized marijuana as well. Decriminalization ends criminal penalties associated with specific actions, but generally permits and includes a monetary fine in place of criminal charges. This is different than legalization, which would end all penalties of any kind. There are diehard, stern opinions on both sides of the argument, and according to a new report, released April 1, 2010, by the Pew Research Center 73 percent of Americans say they support their state permitting the sale and use of doctor prescribed, medical marijuana. The research is disputed, but the idea is that marijuana use, its affects of euphoria, serenity, and calm can help patients suffering both mental and physical ailments. Many states already have medical marijuana laws, it is still technically federally illegal, but the Obama administration stated last year it would not seek federal narcotics prosecution against those acting within the parameters of their state’s law. Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington already have some form of permissive medical marijuana legislation. Even so, 46 percent of those surveyed in the Pew study did say legalizing marijuana for medicinal use makes it easier for people to use marijuana, if they have a medical need for it or not. The question becomes, “Is it bad for you if you are not in pain or dying?”

Pro-Marijuana groups like NORML (National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws) assert that Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. They endorse many reasons to decriminalize, and even legalize marijuana. One is that criminalization of marijuana makes lawbreakers out of citizens that would otherwise follow the law. According to a study published by Time Magazine, 42 percent of Americans surveyed admitted to have trying pot at least once. Decriminalization frees up more law enforcement to work on other crimes say marijuana advocates. If one assumes the use of marijuana does not lead to accidents or crime, and this is not necessarily the case, this assertion is in line with the 2001 FBI Uniform Crime Report: Crime in the United States 2000, which states, Police arrest more Americans per year on marijuana charges than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Advocacy groups also try to push for marijuana decriminalization by arguing that if marijuana is sold legally and taxed heavily, like tobacco, its potency could be regulated, dealers of the substance could be registered, and taxes would add revenue to state budgets that are struggling around the country. Tobacco is North Carolina’s number one cash crop. Proponents also point to the violent drug cartels, especially in Mexico, that make most of their money in marijuana trafficking. Legalization would take a great part of their market. Some pro-pot advocates are simply personal liberty proponents, and see drug legislation as a limitation on personal freedom.

On the other side of the fence, opponents of marijuana argue that not only is marijuana incredibly bad for human health, physically and mentally, but that legalization would lead to rampant drug use, as marijuana is often used as a stepping stone to harder drugs. This idea was recently challenged by a 2006 University of Pittsburgh study, but other studies have historically backed up this notion. In kind, opponents argue that easier access to marijuana would mean easier access for everyone, including children. They fear that incidents marijuana-influenced driving would go up. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found in a survey of emergency room trauma patients that of those surveyed 34.7 percent were under the influence of marijuana, more even than alcohol (33.5 percent); half of these (16.5 percent) used both pot and alcohol in combination. Many studies show that regular marijuana use can affect short-term memory, and impair motor functions when under the influence. While not the only method of ingestion, marijuana is often smoked, leading to similar health effects of tobacco smoking such as lung disease and harmful second hand smoke. Other opponents just find using marijuana to be morally wrong and thus should be prohibited.

In November, an initiative that would legalize personal marijuana possession and allow regulated sales of marijuana to adults will be on California’s general election ballot. Activists based in Oakland gathered 690,000 signatures from all but one California county. Only 434,000 are required to qualify for the ballot. So far the initiative seems to have wide support, with many crediting the tax revenue potential. According to one state calculation, California’s debt is up to 37 percent of its economic output. Come November, history could be made, but this debate is far from over. Source.

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