By Amanda Oliva Minardi
Mention the word marijuana and many individuals conjure images of hippie buses and unmotivated, munchies-stuffed, basement dwelling video-gamers. The reality, however, is that in addition to the commonly known psychedelic effects, marijuana is a historical, multifunctional plant used in many countries for food, in the production of goods, and for medicine. Kimberly Clark, a Fortune 500 company, operates a mill in France to produce hemp paper. Hemp, derived from the male marijuana plant, is chosen for bibles because of its longevity and resistance to yellowing. Now replacing the previous stereotype images of stoners, are clear-minded functioning members of society. Although generally considered illegal, sixteen states in the United States, plus Washington, D.C., have recognized the rights of patients to seek the plant’s medicinal properties. The federal and state legalization of marijuana for medicinal and commercial use will end three current major American challenges; the overcrowding of jails, the pill epidemic, and the economic crisis.
First, by decriminalizing marijuana, a large amount of harmless individuals in the nation’s jails and prisons will be removed. Currently, the DEA identifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, noting in The DEA Position on Marijuana that the plant has “a high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medicinal value” (DEA, 2011, p.2). Under these fallacies, individuals using the plant for medicine are incarcerated. With the reclassification of marijuana from a Class I Substance to a drug with accepted medical uses, non-violent offenders do not enter the over-burdened judicial system. Treated similar to a traffic ticket, individuals found using marijuana for non-medicinal purposes are charged with a small fine. Excessive court costs, inmate expenses, and attorney fees are then eliminated. As a result, police and state resources are better focused on severe criminal acts.
From a historical perspective, current anti-marijuana laws were based on the societal fears invoked by Mexican immigrants using marijuana for leisure. In 1915, the first anti-marijuana law passed in Utah. Upon the negative media portrayals of Mexicans as violent and deviant, the law was formed in direct response to a group of Mormons returning from Mexico with marijuana. Early 1900 Americans were not welcome to any aspect of Mexican culture, including their choice in using the plant. In direct contrast of the DEA’s position, the reputable ProQuest staff in, At Issue: Marijuana Legalization, report the widespread use of the plant for hemp and medicinal purposes dates “as far back as 7,000 B.C.” (ProQuest, 2012, para.1). Prior to the political agendas demonstrated during the early 1900’s through the 1950’s that formed current Federal laws, the benefits of marijuana, or Cannabis sativa, were known for centuries.
Individuals using medicinal marijuana are patients, not criminals. According to the report, Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids (2009), the extensive list of fatal or life-threatening illnesses alleviated with marijuana use includes the following: “Gliomas, Alzheimer’s, Fibromyalgia, Dystonia, Hepatitis C, Diabetes, Pruritis, Osteoporosis, MRSA, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Incontinence, GI Disorders, Sleep Apnea, Hypertension, HIV, Tourette’s Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and Multiple Sclerosis” (Armento, 2008, para.5). Many major symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and pain, are eliminated or reduced with the use of marijuana. George Washington used it to treat headaches and Queen Victoria for menstrual cramps. Tinctures made from cannabis have recently been shown to stop cancer cells from growing. Cathy Jordan, a Florida resident diagnosed with ALS in 1986, uses medicinal cannabis to relieve symptoms of her neuro-muscular disorder. Jordan serves as president of FL CAN, an organization dedicated to sensible cannabis policies for patients.
Second, offering medicinal marijuana to individuals suffering from illnesses will eliminate the country’s snowballing pill epidemic. Patients desire the right to choose their own medication. Jeffrey Kennedy, co-founder of I’m a Patient, Not a Criminal, has suffered from severe neuropathy for the past ten years and states in a personal interview that using marijuana, “allows me to cut my opiate intake by as much as 90%” (personal communication, March 17, 2012). In a doctor’s office conversation regarding the ineffectiveness of a prescribed medication, a fellow patient had offered Kennedy marijuana. After the first time of trying only a small amount, Kennedy noted that “my feet were no longer throbbing and my legs were no longer burning” (personal communication, March 17, 2012). Mr. Kennedy is now an advocate, fighting for the patient’s right to access medical marijuana.
Illuminating the non-medicinal fallacies of the DEA, Irv Rosenfeld uses marijuana through a Federal Investigative New Drug study. Recommended by his doctor to treat a congenital disease, the Federal government provides Rosenfeld with three-hundred pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes every thirty days. As a result, Rosenfeld “has not taken an opiate since 1990” (NORML, 2012). In this case, the Federal government acknowledges marijuana is effective in treating Rosenfeld, however, the DEA publicly claims marijuana has no medicinal value. Reminded of their personal freedom and the blatant misinformation produced by authorities, patients have increasingly demanded the ability to choose the benefits of marijuana over pills.
The White House admits the abuse of prescription pills is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S. today. Yet even with this knowledge, the government has continued the prohibition of this safe alternative to pills. Jeffrey Kennedy resides in a state that upholds anti-marijuana laws, noting that “The State of Florida has fought legalization of this corrupt law since the early 30’s handing out some of the harshest penalties in the U.S. for those caught with this plant” (personal communication, March 17, 2012). Despite this continued opposition from authorities, the known high potential for addiction of opiates has led many patients to seek marijuana. Legalizing the plant for patient access would eliminate the nation’s dependency on pills by offering a safer alternative.
In addition to the strain the addiction of opiates’ has placed on the United States, the inflated cost of prescription pills has put individuals at personal financial risk. The NORML Foundation reports that as a result of prescription drug costs, “the average cost of healthcare for individuals increased from $1,106 in 1980 to over $8,000 in 2009” (NORML, 2011). This non-profit organization promoting patient access to marijuana also notes that “spending on prescription drugs is projected to exceed the growth rates for hospital care and other professional services in 2010 through 2019” (NORML, 2011). By offering marijuana to patients at a fraction of the cost of prescription pills, the nation will avert these exploding medical costs and experience collective financial relief.
Compounding the problem of addiction and cost, reports are continuously released revealing the negative side effects of prescription pills. Most pharmaceutical medications cause a plethora of known side-effects, even death. There are no harmful side effects to marijuana use in adults. Despite the DEA’s belief in the DEA Position on Marijuana, there are no addictive compounds in marijuana. There are no known deaths caused by marijuana use. DEA Judge Francis L. Young (1988), in a testimony regarding The Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition, admits that an individual would “theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response” (pp.56-57). In that this is virtually impossible to achieve, it can be stated that there is essentially no lethal dose. Known side effects of marijuana include dry mouth, increased appetite, and euphoria. Drinking more water, perhaps eating healthier, and being happy are side effects that sound far more appealing than nausea, anxiety, liver-failure, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, suicide, and the possibility of death.
Third, the production of marijuana and marijuana products will end the U.S.’s current economic crisis. Hemp, containing no psychedelic properties, has tremendous product versatility including fuel, paper, clothing, personal hygiene goods, food, and building materials. In the article, More States Want Feds’ OK to Grow Hemp, Tim Johnson and Adam Silverman note that “hemp can be cultivated for fiber or oilseed, and it is used to make thousands of products worldwide including clothing and auto parts” (Johnson & Silverman, 2011, para.2) As indicated in this report, an increasing amount of states recognize the potential financial benefits of growing hemp and are urging the federal government to allow the cultivation of the plant. Individual companies are also becoming aware of the advantages to hemp. BMW, an automobile manufacturer, is currently experimenting with hemp materials in an effort to make cars more recyclable. As a natural resource, hemp will end the fuel crisis, provide local building materials, and generate long-term unemployment relief.
As the country desperately seeks new employment, hemp farms offer more than just thousands of jobs. Malcolm MacKinnon highlights hemp farming was a way of life for Native Americans in An Interview with Alex White Plume, America’s Last Hemp Farmer (MacKinnon, 2008). MacKinnon’s interview reveals the desire to regain this ethical farming that had once provided families with financial income and stability for hundreds of years. For most of American history, growing and using hemp was legal. Known for the plant’s strong fibers, hemp was used in ropes and ship sails; the word canvas is actually rooted in cannabis. Hemp farming, similar to cotton, corn, and other crops, produces a non-psychedelic plant with the capability of providing a plethora of much needed resources.
Like traditional crops, the regulation of marijuana and marijuana products offers the opportunity for increased state and federal funding. The Federal government will be able to generate revenue through the national taxation of marijuana. As with other U.S. made products, a known percentage tax will be applied. Stephen Easton, a professor of Economics at the Simon Frasier Institute, estimates that legalizing the plant would create “$40 billion to $100 billion in new revenue” (Easton, 2009, para.4). Additional revenue at the state level will be provided as marijuana dispensaries are also required to purchase licenses to operate, similar to stores selling alcohol and cigarettes. Daniel B. Wood, in the article Confusion Reigns over Medical Marijuana as States and Feds Clash, claims that “at least 70 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana” (Wood, 2011, para.15) Thus, the coordinated efforts between state and Federal governments will produce a generous stream of revenue a majority of the American population supports.
In short, it was only the early 1900’s, when negative connotations were applied to marijuana. Current laws based on the public resentment of Mexicans have placed our nation under financial and medical strain. The medicinal properties of cannabis are again recognized by a third of the states, the Federal government, and much of the population. The time has come to end the prohibition on marijuana. With non-violent offenders not occupying jails, patients able to choose medicine without harmful side effects, and the ability to grow hemp, the United States will rightfully reclaim being one of the greatest countries in the world. As Thomas Jefferson had stated, while President of the United States, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country.”
Armento, P. (2008 January 24). Emerging clinical applications for cannabis and cannabinoids: A review of the recent scientific literature – Fourth edition. NORML Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.medicalmarijuanadoctors.org/norml-medical-marijuana-research
DEA. (2011, January). The DEA position on Marijuana. Drug Enforcement Administration – United States Department of Justice. Retrieved 23 February 2012 from http:/www.justice.gov/dea/marijuana_position.pdf
Easton, S. (2009). Pro: Fund crime or taxes? Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2009/03/legalize_mariju.html
Johnson, T. and Silverman, A. (2011, November 2). More states want feds’ OK to grow hemp. USA Today. Gannett News Service. Retrieved 23 February 2012 from SIRS Issues Researcher
Mackinnon, M. (2008, February 25). An interview with Alex White Plume; America’s last hemp farmer. Native American Photography. Retrieved 23 February 2012 from http://nativeamericanphotography.blogspot.com/2008/02/interview-with-alex-white-plume.html
NORML. (2012). They call it “Pharmageddon”. NORML Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.norml.org
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Wood, D. (2011, December 13). Confusion reigns over medical marijuana as states and feds clash. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 15 Feb 2012 from SIRS Issues Researcher
Young, F. L. (1988, December 6). In the matter of marijuana rescheduling petition. Opinion and recommended ruling, findings of fact, conclusions of law and decision of administrative law Judge Francis L. Young. Drug Enforcement Administration – United States Department of Justice.