Legalizing Marijuana

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To the AIDS or cancer patient, marijuana is the plant that fights nausea and appetite loss. To the nutritionist, its seed is second only to the soybean in nutritional value and is a source of cooking oil and vitamins. To the paper or cloth manufacturer, it is the plant that provided much of our paper and clothing for hundreds of years and produces four times more fiber per acre than trees. To the environmentalist, it is the plant that could greatly slow deforestation, restore robbed nutrients by other crops, and help prevent erosion. According to Lonnelle Aikman, “Preliminary findings show the drug may prove effective against glaucoma and asthma, and control such side nausea in cancer treatment”(158). Unfortunately, to most people in this country, it is a useless plant when it comes to economic or medical value. I concretely believe that marijuana should be legalized in the United States, primarily for the use of medicinal purposes. In technical terms, hemp, cannabis, or for the average American, marijuana, it is used only for recreational purposes. I think marijuana is a plant that could save many lives if it was made legal. My goal is to reverse prejudices, relieve ignorance, and inform people of the known and potential therapeutic uses of this remarkable plant.

As of today the nation stands behind three basic ideas of what to do with marijuana; legalize marijuana, make it legal only as a prescription drug, or keep it as it is, illegal. People who are pro-marijuana, argue that marijuana is considerably less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, the most frequently used legal drugs. Furthermore marijuana has never directly caused anyone’s death. People who side with the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes believe that the ends justify the means. But the people who want to keep it illegal think that the medical uses do not outweigh the harmful side effects.

Before deciding whether marijuana should be legal or illegal, one needs to know some basic facts. Lester Grinspoon, M.D. and James B. Bakalar note “most botanists agree that there are three species of marijuana; Cannabis sativa, the most widespread of the three, is tall, gangly, and loosely branched, growing as high as twenty feet; Cannabis indica is shorter, about three or four feet in height, pyramidal in shape and densely branched; Cannabis ruderalis is about two feet high with few or no branches” (1). They also say “Cannabis has become one of the most widespread and diversified of plants. It grows as weed and cultivated plant all over the world in a variety of climates and soils” (1). Marijuana was first cultivated in China around 4000 B.C. It was mainly used as a sedative and analgesic, but today it is commonly used for the “high” or the euphoric feeling it causes. The most active ingredient in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinal commonly referred to as THC, which wasn’t discovered until the 1960s. Marijuana is illegal today because of the Marijuana Stamp Tax Act passed in 1937. This act prohibited the use, sale, and growing of marijuana. It was made illegal because no one understood why smoking marijuana made people feel the way they did, and because it was associated with Indians and other so called “immoral people.” Today marijuana is illegal because research has shown some intoxicating effects. Such as hallucination, anxiety, depression, extreme variability of mood, paranoia and schizophrenia lasting up to six hours. Raphael Mechoulam says, “Although cannabis causes initial restlessness, excitement, and sometimes boisterous, impulsive behavior, pacing and dancing, the main picture is of reduced physical activity apart from speech” (316). Physical effects include reddening of the eyes, dryness of the mouth and throat, a moderate increase in heart rate, tightness in the chest, drowsiness, unsteadiness, and uncoordinated muscular contractions. Marijuana buffers the central nervous system, but is not known to produce a considerable amount of tar in the lungs. Although marijuana has not been proven to be physically addictive, its use can be psychologically addictive. These are the negative effects of marijuana, and the primary reasons why domestic people, doctors, and politicians want to keep marijuana illegal.

Supporters of legalizing marijuana state that some legal drugs are just as bad. For example, alcohol has many of the same side effects of marijuana. Alcohol buffers the central nervous system and is known to kill brain cells. A joint of marijuana is known to produce more tar than a cigarette, but on the average marijuana users do not consume enough marijuana to surpass the tar build up of a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. June Crown and

W.D.M. Paton state that “Further, one should realize that different cannabis smokers select different levels of intoxication” (18). In addition, both alcohol and cigarettes have been proven to be chemically addictive and yet they are legal.

As of late 1990, there were about twelve people who had permission to smoke marijuana for its medical value. Are these the only people who can benefit from marijuana? Not according to Harvard researchers who surveyed 2,430 oncologists; of the 1,035 who responded nearly 50% said that they had suggested smoking marijuana to at least one of their patients, despite the fact that it is illegal, and that they would prescribe marijuana if it were legalized. When Kenny and Barbara Jenks, of Panama City, Florida, developed AIDS, the only thing that made them hungry and decreased their nausea were several hits of marijuana each day. Neither of them had ever been marijuana smokers before, but everything their doctor prescribed for them failed. In March of 1990, twelve police officers put

a battering ram through the door of their mobile home, took their two 10-inch marijuana plants, and arrested the couple. The Jenks retaliated, and nine months later became two of a handful of legal marijuana smokers in the United States. For the last ten years the government has sparingly dispensed marijuana to a minute portion of the population to receive it legally on an experimental basis for the treatment of glaucoma and nausea related to cancer chemotherapy. At the peak of the Drug Wars in the late 1980s the Department of Health and Human Services began receiving dozens of applications from AIDS patients, for whom marijuana’s hunger inducing effects was the only thing that separated them from life and death. As they lost weight and strength, they found it more and more difficult to sustain the will to live. Instead of seeing the demand, Health and Human Services quickly shut down the program this past year, only allowing the select group already benefiting from marijuana to continue. Helping people in need wasn’t worth endangering the reputation of the War on Drugs. They thought that the use of marijuana, even as a medicine

would send the wrong message to people.

Although there is much talk about the legalization of drugs among the state government there is very little talk about it on the national level. Instead of legalizing it the government has tried to come up with alternatives to marijuana use. They now offer a drug called Marinol, a spherical brown pill containing an artificial version of one of marijuana’s working ingredients. Marinol is produced solely by Unimed Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. The pill sells for about five dollars a tablet, and was sanctioned in 1985 to battle the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy. In the book, Marijuana, the Forbidden Medicine, it states that ” retching (dry heaves) may last for hours or even days after each treatment, followed by days and even weeks of nausea. Patients may break bones or rupture the esophagus while vomiting. Furthermore, many patients eat almost nothing because they cannot stand the sight or smell of food” (25). In the past year the FDA approved it as a h!

unger stimulant for AIDS patients suffering from the enormous weight loss of this “wasting away syndrome.” Some patients lose up to thirty pounds in a single month.

Marinol works because it duplicates delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that gives people a “high.” But, due to the fact that a person is taking the dosage of the THC in one concentrated amount, and not at intervals like smoking marijuana, it hits a person like a brick. Besides, it may not even contain the medicine that suffering people need and want. Since there was a sudden need for a marijuana substitute, THC was the most

researched, so synthetic THC is what was approved by the FDA. In contrast, patients do not want to get high necessarily, they just want relief. When people hear the phrase, “legalization of marijuana,” they only think of the people smoking it for a “high,” not

for using it as a medicine. People should not smoke marijuana for recreational purposes, rather for the medical

value. It should be used by those people whose last alternative for relief is marijuana. These people who are ill

should not be punished by suffering. Prescription drugs are not to be taken unless prescribed by a doctor. So in fact,

we are not legalizing a drug, only introducing a new weapon for fighting illnesses.

I hope to have alleviated some of the hostilities towards marijuana. Its uses go far beyond just getting “high.” It can

be used to make paper, therefore saving many trees, clothes, and most importantly for medicine. Although I do not condone smoking marijuana as a recreational drug, I feel that its positive aspects would greatly assist us in the present as well as the future.

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