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Marijuana: some people know it as their favorite pastime, and some people know it as a force to be reckoned with. The important thing is everybody knows it. It affects everyone. No matter who you ask, everybody has either tried it or knows someone who has. This may sound bad to some, but I am here to tell you that it is not bad at all. There are many myths and flat-out lies told about marijuana, and everyone has heard them, and, even more unfortunate, many believe them. It is something that is less dangerous than caffeine, and yet can be punished more harshly than rape. Innocent people go to jail for doing nothing to anyone. And all of this happens simply because the American people are being lied to, and they, for the most part, believe it.

The goal here, of course, is to address these lies and hopefully make you think a little differently. We must start by looking at marijuana’s current place. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug. A Schedule I drug, by definition, meets four requirements. These are that the drug itself has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use, is unsafe even under medical supervision, and the drug is not alcohol. The first three are totally untrue, and the last one is just weird. Marijuana does not deserve to be a Schedule I drug. If anything, it should be a Schedule III or even a Schedule IV. Both of these have accepted medical uses, but the difference is likelihood of dependence. The point is that marijuana has a reputation it does not deserve. Cocaine, a drug that has a high potential for abuse and less accepted medical benefits than marijuana, is a Schedule II drug. Meanwhile, marijuana’s right at the top, standing proudly next to heroin. Cocaine and heroin destroy lives and kill people on a daily basis. Marijuana makes people think more deeply and just sit around for a little bit. It should not be a Schedule I drug. In fact, it should not even be illegal (2006, p. 6).

You may think that I am completely wrong. After all, if marijuana is illegal, then there must be a good reason for it to be illegal in the first place, right? Wrong! The reasons behind marijuana becoming illegal can be summed up in one word: racism. In 1937, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Henry Anslinger, introduced the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act to Congress. It did not directly make marijuana illegal, but it made a tax on marijuana. This is not so bad, except the punishment for not following proper procedure was rather severe; up to a $2000 fine and five years in prison. With the risks this high, it was too dangerous for doctors to prescribe marijuana, and it was too dangerous for anyone to sell it. It did not make marijuana illegal, but its ultimate goal was to make it too difficult for anyone to get (2006, p. 1).

Congress realized this was rather harsh, but Anslinger convinced them that it was not. He claimed that the American Medical Association was in agreement with this decision, and that they had said that marijuana causes “murder, insanity, and death.” Aside from marijuana causing none of these things, Anslinger also lied about the AMA’s opinion. The AMA did not even know about the Act until two days before Anslinger presented it to Congress. There was no scientific evidence that marijuana should have been outlawed. So why, then, was it outlawed? As stated above, the simple answer is racism. In the 1930’s, marijuana was generally associated with Jazz and Blues musicians, and jazz and Blues were more often associated with African-Americans. Essentially, the point of this law was to “protect” the white community from the black community. After all, if we do the same things for recreation as them, what next? We might like the same music, too. Eventually, they may even go to the same schools as us! Apparently, Anslinger saw this as a problem, and decided to do something about it. Thanks, Henry Anslinger. It makes me so much more comfortable that people like you existed. While on the subject of racism, marijuana wasn’t always known as “marijuana” in the United States. It was actually known as “cannabis” before 1937. They gave it the Mexican name to make the generally racist population of the day see it as more of an evil substance (2006, p. 1).

“Murder, insanity, and death….” That was Anslinger’s claim. That is why Congress allowed this law to come into being. None of these claims are true, with the exception perhaps of insanity, but that has not even been proven yet. In fact, there are a lot of claims people will make about marijuana’s harmful effects that are nothing but myth. The first of these myths you may often hear is that marijuana kills brain cells. Marijuana stimulates receptors in the brain, and that is how it creates the psychoactive effect. It does not actually kill the cells like alcohol. In fact, recent research shows that marijuana stimulates alpha-wave activity in the brain. This is generally associated with creativity, which may explain why there was so much good music in the 1960’s (Levine, p. 3). Similar to this myth is the idea that marijuana has a negative effect on short-term memory. While this is true during intoxication, and may prove true among heavy users, it is generally not the case. Even in heavy users, the effect is only temporary, as it lasts about six to twelve weeks after the last intoxication. If used regularly, but not heavily, it will not affect short-term memory, and one is a fully functional citizen as soon as intoxication is over (Levine, p. 4).

One of the most absurd myths is that it is possible to overdose on marijuana. I can tell you here and now with great confidence that it is impossible to overdose on marijuana. In mice, the ratio of the amount needed for intoxication and a lethal dose is 40000:1. This is near impossible to accomplish. If one were to try, they will find themselves relaxed to the point of falling asleep long before this goal is reached. Thousands of people die from alcohol poisoning every year, but no one has ever died of marijuana poisoning (Levine, p. 2). Some say that marijuana causes cancer, but this, too, is a myth. Smoking marijuana may eventually cause this, but that’s only because of the carcinogens in the smoke, not the marijuana itself. Anything burned and smoked can cause cancer (Levine, p. 5).

The next myth is one that everyone knows; the gateway effect. Everyone has heard that those who try marijuana are far more likely to try other harder drugs. Sadly, this does have a nugget of truth. However, it’s not as bad as is claimed. It is claimed that users of marijuana are 85 times more likely to try cocaine than nonusers. This statistic is very misleading. It was gotten by dividing the proportion of marijuana users who had tried cocaine, which is about 17 percent, by the proportion of cocaine users who never tried marijuana, which is about 0.2 percent (Armentano, p. 237). Essentially, they are getting this statistic because most cocaine users have tried marijuana first, not because users of marijuana almost always try cocaine. They simply do not. As I said, though, there is a nugget of truth to this idea. However, there would be no such nugget if marijuana was legal. When people buy marijuana now, they have to buy it from a dealer rather than a store. Dealers of marijuana often deal other drugs as well. Because of this, people who buy marijuana get more exposure to other illegal drugs. If it was legal, it would be sold in stores, and no one would have to see any drug dealers unless they had a hankering for some cocaine (Armentano, p. 237).

The next myth also has a nugget of truth, but it is, again, only a nugget. Some say marijuana causes insanity. This is slightly true, but only in certain individuals. It can cause anything from minor psychotic episodes to flat-out schizophrenia. However, this will only happen among genetically predisposed individuals during early adolescence, and only if used regularly. There is not much of a timeframe for marijuana to do a great amount of mental damage. Among consenting adults, it would not have this effect. And if marijuana was legal, it could have a minimum age so that consenting adults are the only people who can buy it. After all, drug dealers don’t card.

This last myth is painfully false. Recently, the FDA made a claim that there are no medical benefits for the use of marijuana. Anybody with a working brain who is able to think for themselves and has not been living under a rock for 2000 years can tell you that marijuana has medical purposes. Of course the FDA will say it does not, though. They are a government agency, and, for some reason, the government thinks it is in their best interests to keep marijuana illegal, despite the fact that top scientists in recent years have concluded that marijuana does have medical benefits, not to mention the fact that it has been used for its therapeutic values for over 2000 years. Marijuana can help to relieve pain, and is often more effective than most pain killers on the market today. Marijuana helps to reduce nausea as well. This is a particularly useful feature for cancer patients in chemotherapy. Also, it is a well-known fact that marijuana increases appetite, a trait often referred to as the munchies. This can be good for people with AIDS, who sometimes develop a wasting syndrome that will reduce appetite and cause rapid weight loss (Levine, p. 7). Rather than ease suffering, though, why not just let these people die a slow, painful death, right? How humane!

Knowing that marijuana is not that bad for you, and may in fact even be good for you, one may think that it should not be punished very harshly, if at all. Still, that does not stop the American government from imprisoning innocent people. They’re not just arresting drug dealers; they arrest people who simply use it or have it, and sometimes, they don’t even have to do those. “In 1998 police arrested 682,885 Americans for marijuana offenses, more than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Eighty-eight percent of these arrests were for marijuana possession only.” (Armentano, p. 235). That is a frightening statistic. These people doing something that only affected them, and they were not forcing it on anyone or even selling it; most of these people were arrested simply for having it. There were fewer arrests for crimes where people were hurt or killed or lives were destroyed than for simply having marijuana. This is not just happening to bad people, either. These are everyday citizens, just making a living and trying to do something they find enjoyable. Men like Will Foster are sent to jail. He was sentenced to 93 years for cultivating marijuana. Why did he do this? He was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and just wanted to alleviate the pain. Thousands of people like Foster are sent to jail every year for nothing more than trying to put an end to suffering (Armentano, p. 235). It is sad, but it is the truth.

Imprisoning people for marijuana related offenses goes from senseless to just plain infuriating when one considers the devastating effects it has on the economy. Prison isn’t free. Money is needed to feed and house prisoners. This money comes from the government. Guess where the government gets the money? That’s right: right out of your pocket! Our tax money is going to keep Will Foster and others like him in jail. We are paying to keep innocent people in a situation they do not deserve.

Everyone knows, of course, that our government has quite a high deficit right now that just keeps getting worse and worse by the day. One simple solution that would bring us closer to breaking even, if not getting us there, would be legalizing marijuana. If this is done, it will greatly reduce the amount of tax money spent on keeping these people in prison, and the government could use it to balance the federal budget. To further help the situation, they could tax marijuana, just like alcohol and tobacco. People will still buy it, and the tax will go to the federal government, and it would then be used on something more useful than housing marijuana related offenders. People would still buy it; even taxed, it would probably be less than a dealer charges. Lives wouldn’t be ruined and everyone, including the government, would save a whole lot of money. Sadly, for now, this world I describe is but a fantasy world, and the suffering will continue until someone takes a few steps in the right direction.

One could argue that if marijuana was legalized, everyone would do it, and it would be total chaos, and everyone would just be high all the time. This is absolutely foolish. Is everyone drunk all the time? Look around. Is everyone smoking cigarettes? I should hope not. These are both legal and far more addicting than marijuana, and people still control themselves. Why would it be any different with marijuana? Also, people are worried about the gateway effect, I’m sure. There are people who think it would get worse if marijuana became legal. Well, in countries and even states where marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized, drug use and related crimes have decreased significantly, proving the idea that the gateway effect only exists because marijuana is illegal in the first place. If it was legal, the gateway effect would disappear.

In light of all of this, I think marijuana should be legalized, in case it was not expressed clearly above. It hurts few, and can help many. The medical benefits alone are reason enough to legalize it. We can end a lot of pain and suffering, and at the same time, balance the federal budget. We can repair lives, and we can prevent them from being destroyed. Legalization is a win-win situation, and if everyone realized this, we would all be a lot better off. Drugs wouldn’t take over; those who want to smoke would, and those who don’t would not, just like now. No bad would come of it. Yet somehow, the government finds that it is in their best interests to keep it illegal. Why? I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone does. Until they learn the error of their ways, though, I will keep on fighting the good fight, even if all I can do is inform.




Armentano, Paul. “Drug War Mythology.” You Are Being Lied To. Ed. Russ Kick. New York: Disinformation Company Ltd, 2003. 234-240.


"1937 Marijuana Tax Act." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 22 March 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1937_Marijuana_Tax_Act>


"Cannabis (drug)." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 22 March 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis_%28drug%29>


Levine, Joshua. "The Benefits of Marijuana." AskMen.com. 22 March 2006 <http://www.askmen.com/sports/health/20_mens_health.html>

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