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Legalization of Marijuana

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  • Pages: 13
  • Word count: 3004
  • Category: Drugs

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Drugs and human beings share an old relationship. Marijuana was discovered as a pleasure drug thousands of years ago. Some say that it was discovered during the Stone Age when some people swallowed the cannabis plant as part of their food and found it to be highly exhilarating and pleasurable. Since then, drugs have become an integral part of our lives. The usage of drugs as an essential tool of getting high and taking a refuge from the worldly troubles is a long established phenomenon. The tradition of pot smoking traversed through ages and centuries and became an international phenomenon in the twentieth century. Before that, it was already an established norm in the Muslim world as one sect of Muslims, Assassins, got their name from their addiction to hash. Assassin itself is derived from Hashish.

What actually is Marijuana? Before going into the details of Marijuana and its legal and social repercussions, it is necessary to define Marijuana. It is extracted from the dried leaves of a plant known as Cannabis or Hemp. The plant grows naturally in many countries of Asia and Northern Africa. Since early eighteenth century, it is also being cultivated in Europe, North- and South America. Marijuana contains chemicals that give a feeling of weightlessness, enhance efficiency, and used as medicine since centuries. Its recreational drug use gained widespread popularity in the twentieth century because of a quick high and low price (Finkel, 2007).

Marijuana was introduced in the United States in late seventeenth century. The settlers brought it to Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S during their migration to the ‘New World’. Hemp plantation was carried out in large numbers and even some future Presidents of the United States participated in its cultivation and production, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

As marijuana use has become an everyday habit of many people, it is pertinent to discuss the pros and cons of this drug. United States banned the use of Marijuana during the great depression. Although many states outlawed the use of Marijuana in the early 1930s, federal government remained confused about the banning of Marijuana, as there was conflicting opinion in the Congress. The consensus was finally reached in 1937 and Marijuana was banned under law except for those who are eager to pay a tax and use it for medical purposes.

Not many people know that a law was enacted as early as 1917 that put restrictions on the use of opiates and cocaine. It imposed federal tax penalties for people conducting the related businesses. Known as “The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937”, it effectively banned the use of marijuana. A tax of $24 was imposed on the manufactures, importers and cultivators of cannabis and was levied annually. Medical community and researchers had to pay $1 and industries $3 on an annual basis (Beare, 2003).

 The ban on the use of marijuana as a recreational drug severely affected its recreational use. The total number of people using marijuana, however, was still very low as compared to contemporary drug usage ratios. Mexican immigrants, who introduced marijuana as recreational drug and were the major users, faced a severe crackdown during those years (Beare, 2003). Marihuana Act did not deter people from using Marijuana and it gave rise to an underground black market that was mostly run by Mexicans (though American Mafioso oversaw the marijuana trade). Mexicans, in connivance with the Mafioso, also started peddling the weed in high schools and colleges. Although illegal, Marijuana use saw a surge before the start of the Second World War. Teenager boys and girls were unaware of the potential affects of Marijuana and used it in great quantities.

The start of Second World War disturbed this trade as young Americans (the biggest users of Marijuana) were drafted and sent to far-off battlefields. Even during the war years, some people actively campaigned for the repeal of Marihuana Act. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was the most prominent amongst the proponents of Marijuana. He started a commission named LaGuardia Commission that contradicts the claims that the use of Marijuana causes irrational behavior, insanity and increased sexual desires, among other disorders.

Despite the commission’s recommendations, Marijuana remained a banned substance in the US except for the above-mentioned purposes. The medical community also entered the campaign as they were facing difficulties in obtaining Marijuana for therapeutic use. Additionally, even a tax of a single dollar was proving to be disruptive in the medical practice of small-town physicians and researchers.

            There was, however, a strange phenomenon going on during the Second World War. Federal government encouraged the cultivation of hemp as it was used in marine cordage, parachutes and other military equipments. A “Hemp for Victory” program was launched that helped the farmers to grow hemp and provided them with monetary benefits (Deitch, 2003). The biggest benefit, of course, was a deferment from the draft and a sizable number of farmers took the cultivation of hemp as an easy alternative to fighting and dying in the enemy lands. By 1943, the area under cultivation came to 375,000 acres of hemp.

Once the war was over, federal government decided to put an end to hemp cultivation. Additionally, it also decided to enact new laws to strengthen the control over marijuana use and impose harsh sentences for persons having a possession of marijuana. Harry J. Anslinger, who already got notorious for his strong prohibition campaign in the 1930s, was appointed as the head of the Bureau of Narcotics. Under his leadership, there was hardly any way out for a softer stance on the use of marijuana. He remained in office until 1962.

As if the current laws were not enough, the government enacted a new law, called Boggs Act, in 1952. It actually was an amendment to Harrison Act where mandatory sentences were introduced for people who violated the anti-narcotics laws. Then there was the enactment of Narcotics Control Act of 1956 and everything related to recreational drug use came to a grinding halt. Narcotics Control Act of 1956 was aimed at imposing strong sentences for violators of the already in-place drug laws. This law added new dimensions to the practices and implementation of drug laws through following ways:

  • Persons found to have a possession of marijuana were given mandatory sentences of up to a year or even more in some cases.
  • Federal and state governments, under this act, were free to arrest any person or group of persons that is suspected to run a marijuana production or sales business.
  • The onus on the conviction and imprison lied on state governments and police authorities. It gave them an almost unchecked authority over marijuana use.
  • Expulsion of foreigners and aliens found guilty of drug trafficking

There were actually stricter laws and additional clauses when the act was proposed in the Congress. The final legislation, however, was much ‘softer’ than the original proposition. Nevertheless, it still imposed harsh sentences and severe penalties for those involved in drugs trafficking, tracking or consumption. As if these strict legislations were not enough, a further enhancement was added in 1965 by the name of “Drug Abuse Control Amendments”. Bureau of Narcotics and dangerous Drugs was behind the amendment under which tight restrictions were imposed on the use and distribution of barbiturates, amphetamines and LSD (commonly known as Acid).

While these laws were being implemented and a debate was continuing on imposing further restrictions on drugs, a new counterculture movement was at its evolutionary stage. The Hippie culture that resulted in a mini revolution of the urban youth in 1969 was at its nascent stage and employed the use of marijuana as an important tenant of its philosophy. According to them, marijuana was a harmless drug that only gave brief but uncomplicated highs that were not dangerous to health.

As the Hippie movement took strong roots, the consumption of marijuana saw an unprecedented high. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women were drawn to the Hippie movement and each one of them was a user of marijuana. This excessive use of marijuana was the first step towards the legalization of that substance. Hippies used to smoke a lot of pot and still were able to participate in mass mobilization and public protests. They were also very active in politics, race relations, human rights and freedom of speech. All these things were impossible if marijuana had such bad effects on human beings as were being advertised at that time.

Hippie movement was also instrumental in changing the perceptions about marijuana use. People, who were earlier reluctant to try marijuana as a recreational drug, started using it openly. The hippie counterculture thus provided them with an emotional incentive to try marijuana without any fears.

When people started questioning the ban on marijuana and the lame excuses made by the political establishment, the government had no other choice but to strengthen its position by imposing even stricter laws. Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act was a half-hearted attempt at offering a “humane treatment” of the drug problem. Mandatory sentences for the possession of marijuana were repealed and it was separated from the list of dangerous drugs. Subsequently, people were allowed to keep small amounts of marijuana without any legal complications.

Since then, marijuana has attained a cult status in the US. People use it openly and frequently. Even the political and social top shots have admitted using pot and many of them do not feel like to be ashamed of it or to make any public apologies. The list of pot users includes many Presidents of the US including George W. Bush Junior, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. If we start naming the entire political, social and entertainment industry figures that used marijuana then hundreds of thousands of pages would be required (Gerber, 2004).

The rampant use of marijuana and its acceptance by the broader society, however, has not resulted in a federal acceptance of marijuana as a legal drug. It is still considered a social evil in the constitution and statutes books of the US constitution. Additionally, the possession of over a certain amount of marijuana is still punishable under law in many states. All this is happening in a country that is the biggest user of marijuana and where pot smoking is considered an ordinary pastime.

Given the restrictions, it is still impossible to enjoy an open atmosphere where marijuana is used as a recreational drug instead of a rare treat. The proponents for the legalization of marijuana opine that the official ban on marijuana trade and the subsequent arrests of those involved gives an impression of racial profiling and injustice. In most cases, a black or Hispanic person would be arrested for the possession of marijuana. The police also arrest some whites but their ratio is extremely low. This perceptional reality has resulted in a strong resentment among blacks and Latinos as they are regularly subjected to body searches at airport and other facilities. Given this phenomenon, drug dealers now try to use white men or women as the main trafficker instead of a colored one.

The ban on marijuana has badly affected the American youth. Although they can buy marijuana through black market, it is very expensive and mostly out of their financial capacity. Many teenage students turn to profiteering as they can make a lot of money by selling pot. This, however, would not be possible if marijuana is legalized. In that case, the prices of marijuana would plummet and the demand for marijuana would subside. Some teenagers just want to use marijuana for the thrill factor. Marijuana cannot be obtained easily nor is it cheap. When these two factors will be removed through legalization, fewer teenagers would be interested in trying a cheap recreational drug.

The cultivation and production of hemp as a cash crop has been severely affected by the pseudo ban on marijuana. Although the US government allowed hemp cultivation during the Second World War, the production decreased after stronger drug laws were imposed. Many farmers left the cultivation of hemp altogether and started planting other crops like wheat or cotton. Hemp has become a cash crop because of its usage in industrial processes. The restrictions on marijuana have hampered the production of industrial hemp and many industries have to import it from Europe. Interestingly, in many European countries, marijuana is illegal but industrial hemp production is encouraged due to its financial benefit.

The legalization of marijuana would also be beneficial in increasing fuel efficiency and independence. The use of industrial hemp in bio-fuels is a cheaper alternative to sugarcane. Additionally, the cultivation and production of hemp is a simple process. The crop does not require a lot of water nor does it need any heavy investment of time and energy. The crop is produced in just a couple of months and the produce remains intact and well preserved for many months. This easy-to-implement cultivation of marijuana can be adopted only if the federal government passes a law to make marijuana legal.

The illegal trade of marijuana is the biggest reason behind the rampant crime and the ballooning of the drug cartels. These establishments earn billions of dollars each year because of the flawed drug system in the US. Despite all the protective measures and border patrolling, thousands of kilograms of marijuana are trafficked into the US. This hugely profitable industry cant’ survive without the support of some black sheep in the homeland security department. Bribery, corruption and murders are a common fare in this trade.

Most of these drug cartels have links with the enemies of the US. Afghanistan, being one of the biggest exporters of Marijuana, is practically under the control of Taliban, especially in those areas where hemp and poppy is grown. They use the money from its trafficking in activities against the US interests in the region. Similarly, South American governments use drug money to launch anti-US propaganda. The legalization of Marijuana would put an end to these unholy alliances and will give a better advantage to the state department to deal with the rogue nations.

The biggest victim of this whole episode of ban on marijuana trade is the medical community. As mentioned earlier, medical and scientific community use marijuana on an extensive scale. They need it for the extraction of new medicines or for the treatment of terminally ill patients, among other uses. Due to its illegal status, they face difficulties in obtaining marijuana and face a lot of questioning by the drug enforcement agencies.

The illegal status of Marijuana has also given way to some rogue professionals in the medical community that prescribe marijuana to their patients to be used as a drug. These doctors, though very few in number, are maligning the medical community. They would not be able to do so had marijuana been a legal recreational drug in the US.

The financial jeopardy and worsening economic situation in the US is not capable of accommodating hundreds of thousands of detainees who were found in possession of marijuana. The legal process involved in these cases is time consuming and billions of dollars of federal and state money is used on these non-issues. The legal status of marijuana would eradicate the need for any lengthy or even simple court proceedings and would thus prove as an effective cost saving measure.

There is also a possibility that the legalization of marijuana would create an economic opportunity.  Simply put, the government can earn billions in taxes on legal marijuana (Earleywine, 2007). The example of Netherlands can be followed where marijuana is available at designated shops and special cafes. These cafes cater to a large tourist base that flocks to the country from all over the world. Canadian city of Vancouver is also experiencing a surge in tourists to a couple of places that have an open marijuana policy. The government can regulate these places and impose restrictions on sales to minors. Netherlands has already increased the eligible age to 18 from 16. Government can also create special regulatory commissions that can oversee the performance of these places and can recommend any plans for improvement (McKinley, 2009).

Humans have changed their moral and social standards over the years. They now feel repulses by any restriction that is doing more harm than good. The illegal status of marijuana is giving rise to a semi-rebellion among American youth. Teenagers, in specific, are turning to marijuana as a status symbol for defiance. The illegal trade of marijuana is harming the US economy and benefiting our enemies.

Additionally, the whole fight over the pros and cons of marijuana is just a waste of time. Americans are wary of their financial troubles and are least interested in discussing the hazards of a substance that is widely used and accepted. Additionally, they do not see any adverse reactions of using marijuana and the find the whole exercise to be a disgrace to the American nation and its sense of personal freedoms. Conclusively, the paper has discussed some of the significant aspects of legalization of marijuana. It is hoped that the paper will be beneficial for students, teachers, and professionals in better understanding of the topic.


Beare, Margaret E. (2003). Critical Reflections on Transnational Organized Crime, Money Laundering, and Corruption. University of Toronto Press

Deitch, Robert. (2003). Hemp – American History Revisited the Plant with a Divided History. Algora Publishing

Earleywine, Mitchell. (2007). Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition. Oxford University Press, USA

Finkel, Madelon Lubin. (2007). Truth, Lies, and Public Health: How we are affected When Science and Politics Collide. Praeger

Gerber, Rudolph J. (2004). Legalizing Marijuana: Drug Policy Reform and Prohibition Politics. Praeger Publishers

McKinley, Jesse. (2009). Marijuana Advocates Point to Signs of Change, New York Times. Accessed July 26, 2009 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/us/20marijuana.html

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