Pot, dope, weed, Mary Jane, northern lights, Acapulco Gold, blunt, joint, hash, and cannabis are just a few of the well over a hundred names for just one thing – marijuana. In the past, people have called it by different names so that only those on the "inside" would know what they were talking about. Not so anymore. Over the last 20 years or so, there's been a concerted effort to legalize the personal use of marijuana and people are no longer shy about letting others know that they are using it. That effort has grown significantly and now, groups, like NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and MPP (Marijuana Policy Project), have taken the public role in the fight to legalize it.
As a result of the effort, two states recently legalized the personal use of marijuana, even though it's still against federal law. The effort to legalize marijuana has been so successful that today it’s almost fashionable to be known as someone who's fighting to legalize marijuana. Some of the more notable supporters are: former president Jimmy Carter, Bill Maher, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart, Ron Paul, and Barney Frank. All of them, and many others, have taken public positions in favor of legalizing marijuana.
To round out the support for legalizing marijuana, there are estimates that upwards to 40% of the U.S. population now support the legalization of marijuana. While it sounds impressive, little is known about who was sampled and how that sample was used to estimate the support of marijuana in the general population. That being said, whatever the percentage is today, it's certainly larger than it was 20 years ago.
The purpose of this article is to examine the best known reason for legalizing marijuana and illustrate why, for the sake of the individual and for society, marijuana needs to remain illegal.
Probably the best known reason for legalizing marijuana is its claimed medical benefits. Some of which are that it helps in the treatment for glaucoma, controls epileptic seizures, decreases anxiety, treats depression, slows the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, eases the pain of MS, treats Crohn’s disease, relieves arthritis discomfort, lessens the side effects from treating Hepatitis C, and even stops cancer from spreading.
The claims are so substantial that it's a wonder why we haven't legalized marijuana already. However, a closer examination of the claims reveals that the actual benefits of marijuana are significantly less than those that are claimed. For example, a major medical organization reports that their clinical tests have not shown any repeatable, conclusive proof that marijuana has helped any of the claimed patients. In fact, major medical organizations are actually distancing themselves from the legalization movement because, as they claim, there are better, and more dependable, alternatives for the alleviation of pain and suffering, than marijuana.
Specifically, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society denies that marijuana, or any of its derivatives, has provided any substantiated benefit for Multiple Sclerosis patients. The American Academy of Ophthalmology tells us that there is no scientific evidence that marijuana has produced benefits that are greater than the wide variety of pharmaceutical agents now available. Also, the National Eye Institute no longer supports the use of marijuana for treating glaucoma because, as they say, there are better alternatives.
Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics points out that marijuana has significant neuropharmacologic, cognitive, behavioral, and somatic consequences. They claim that marijuana negatively affects the user’s short term memory, concentration, motivation, problem solving, and learning. Just to name a few of its consequences.
Other agencies that publicly oppose the use of marijuana include the American Medical Association, the American Glaucoma Society, and the American Cancer Society.
But, if marijuana can provide some relief, even though it's not repeatable and consistent, why can't we legalize it? After all, it might help some patients. The short answer is that the problems that marijuana creates are so substantial that they outweigh all of its claimed benefits.
How substantial are those problems? The medical industry tells us that there are significant short and long term consequences. With respect to its short term consequences, they tell us that marijuana impairs the users short term memory, contains 50% to 70% more carcinogens than regular cigarettes (which is a direct link to future cancer), its second hand smoke can be harmful to others, slows the user’s reaction time and impairs their coordination, alters the user’s judgment and decision making process, increases the user’s heart rate anywhere from 20% to 100% which may induce a heart attack, and, in high doses, could result in increased anxiety and even paranoia.
With respect to its long term consequences, the medical industry tells us that marijuana can suppress the immune system, can become an addiction, can create a need for more support groups to deal with the addictions, can be a gateway to drugs with even more serious consequences, can lead to a poorer education and poorer job performance, can lead to long term respiratory problems like a chronic cough or bronchitis, carries with it a risk of psychosis, and finally, that it can lead to long term cognitive impairment.
The difference between the claimed medical benefits of marijuana and its actual consequences is so significant that we have to wonder how the legalization movement could have missed it. Specifically, how could they miss the serious consequences of lung cancer, memory failure, long term respiratory problems, and possible psychosis? How can they claim to be helping the sick? It’s as though they are less interested in helping others feel good and more interested in just making themselves feel good.
It's important to question and understand the benefits claimed for marijuana, however, it's even more important to ask whether or not it's a good idea for society to legalize marijuana. The latter question centers on what's better for the individual and for society - to allow individuals to recreate any way it makes them feel good, or restrict that freedom for their own sake and for the sake of society. Society can't allow individuals to hurt themselves just because they say it makes them feel good. This is why we have made the personal use of cocaine illegal, why we have made huffing paint fumes illegal, why we have to wear seat belts, and why we don't allow minors to buy alcohol.
While it's true that both cigarettes and alcohol can cause long term health problems, it's also true that marijuana can cause considerably more serious problems. That’s why society has made a distinction between marijuana and cigarettes. The consequences of using marijuana are why society has subjected it to regulation. Its potential consequences are why, for the sake of both the individual and for society, marijuana needs to remain illegal.