Not Legalizing Marijuana

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Aaron Ruhl

Professor Codd

Rhetoric 1301

October 20, 2006

                   Marijuana should not be legalized or decriminalized

       Lower grades in school, increased high school drop out rate, addiction, increased

risk of head, neck, and lung cancers, and the increased risk of causing serious automobile

accidents. All of these conditions have been shown to be associated with an illegal drug

that many would claim to be harmless. This drug is marijuana, often known as weed or

pot. Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the United States and many people

are making the case that the government should catch up with the times and legalize or at

least decriminalize marijuana. Legalizing the drug would put it on par with other legal

drugs like tobacco and alcohol. Presumably it would be taxed and controlled by the

government like these other drugs are. Decriminalizing it on the other hand would merely

remove the punishment for possession of marijuana for personal use.

       The United States government should not legalize or decriminalize marijuana

because the drug truly is dangerous and addictive. This is despite the fact that the average

user believes both that the drug is harmless and that he or she cannot become addicted.

Studies have shown the contrary is true however. According to the Office of National

Drug Control Policy, marijuana is in fact addictive. Interestingly, it is more addictive than

it used to be. THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces the „high‟, is found in much

greater quantities today than in the marijuana smoked decades ago. Thus, users today are

at much higher risk of becoming addicted than users in the 60s and 70s. (6)
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        The other assumption, that marijuana is harmless, is also not true. Smokers of

marijuana are found to have an increased risk of lung infections. Also, the smoke from

marijuana “contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons (causes of

lung cancer) than does tobacco smoke.” (ONDCP, 4) Thus it is likely that someone who

smokes marijuana only 5 times a week is doing equal damage to their lungs as someone

who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. (DEA, 3) Marijuana is not only harmful

physically but mentally as well. A study by Brook and Balka found that students who

used marijuana are more likely to drop out of high school. Another found that “Heavy

marijuana use … was associated with deficits in mathematical skills and verbal

expression in the Iowa Tests of Educational Development and selective impairments in

memory retrieval processes in Buschke's Test.” (Block and Ghoneim, Abstract) Finally,

marijuana has been shown to be a gateway drug. That is, it leads to use of other drugs

such as cocaine, LSD, and heroin that are much more dangerous. Early users of

marijuana are “8 times more likely to have used cocaine” and “15 time more likely to

have used heroin.” (ONDCP, 11) Thus, in reality marijuana is far from the harmless drug

it is often made out to be.

       It might be argued that if an individual takes these risks into consideration but

decides that it is still worth it, the government shouldn‟t prevent this person from making

that choice. However, marijuana is not just harmful to the individual using the drug, but

also puts the wellbeing of society is at risk as well. First, those under the influence of

marijuana pose a possible threat to society. A study of drivers pulled over for reckless

driving in the State of Tennessee found that: “33 percent of all subjects who were not

under the influence of alcohol and who were tested for drugs at the scene of their arrest
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tested positive for marijuana.” (ONDCP, 4) In another study it was found that just as

many fatal trucks accidents were caused by marijuana as by alcohol. (DEA) Marijuana

users are also more likely to be delinquents. (ONDCP, 5) Finally, marijuana hurts society

“in terms of lost employee productivity [and] public health care costs.” (ONDCP, 5) The

government‟s job is to protect society, thus keeping marijuana illegal makes sence.

        It is often also argued that if marijuana for personal use was legalized that the

number of users and number of addicts would not rise. This is not true. A look at failed

attempts in history gives ample evidence. In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court decided

that the state could not prevent adults from possessing marijuana for personal use. By

1988, the state‟s teenagers (who still could not use the drug legally) used the drug at

twice the national average. (DEA, 6) The Netherlands had a similar experience. They are

famous for allowing marijuana use, but the negative effects are less widely known. “For

the age group 18-20, the increase is from 15 percent in 1984 to 44 percent in 1996.”

(DEA, 6) Also, we can gain incite into the effects of legalization by comparing current

rates of legal and illegal drugs. The 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

found that 109 million Americans used alcohol once a month, 66 million American used

tobacco once a month, and only 15.9 million American used illegal drugs once a month.

(DEA, 6) From this we can see that legalization will likely increase the use of marijuana

to levels closer to alcohol and tobacco. Finally, we can see the differences in uses

between legal and illegal drugs by looking at the United States‟ prohibition of alcohol.

Consumption fell to 30% of pre-prohibition levels. (Miron and Zwiebel, 242) This is

further evidence that if we legalize or decriminalize marijuana, the number and frequency

of its use will increase.
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       Another argument for the decriminalization of marijuana is that we are losing the

war on drugs and that the money could be better spent elsewhere. However, illegal drug

use in America is only two-thirds its rate from the 1970s. (DEA, 1) Currently only 5% of

American use illegal drugs. The number of marijuana users has been slowly yet steadily

coming down in recent years. In 2002, 14.6 percent of eighth graders had used marijuana

in the past 12 months, down from 18.3 percent in 1996. Although progress may be slow,

it is still progress, meaning that the war on drugs is indeed working. The last thing our

country needs to do now is to send the opposite message out by legalizing or

decriminalizing marijuana. Complete success in the drug war will probably always elude

us, but that does not mean the money spent is not worth it.

       Economic benefits of placing a tax on marijuana are often touted as a reason for

legalizing marijuana. The theory is that since legalization will likely lower the price of

the drug, the government could levy a tax on it to keep the price at current levels. The

problem with this is that there will likely still be a black market selling marijuana at a

lower price, avoiding the tax. Second, even though the government has a tax on alcohol

and receives revenue from it, this does not nearly cover the amount of social cost that

alcohol places on the country. From accidents to decreased worker productivity, the

United States is definitely on the losing side. The same is likely to be true for marijuana

should it be legalized and taxed.

       I have shown that many of the arguments used to justify legalizing or

decriminalizing marijuana do not actually hold water. There is one left however that I

have until now left untouched. That is the argument that we as individuals have the right
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to get high. They argue that we should be allowed to do harm to our bodies if we feel it is

worth the risk. However, I have shown that legalizing marijuana will do more harm to

this country than good. We as society must decide what we value more: the freedom to

harm ourselves and others, or do we value the saved lives, stronger economy, and the

lack of side effects on society that would certainly increase. My stance on the subject is

that in a country where 95% of the population does not use illegal drugs, it is not logical

to legalize or decriminalize them.
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                                     Works Cited

Block, Robert I., M. M. Ghoneim. “Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use on Human

   Cognition.” Psychopharmacology. 110 (1991) 219-228

Brook, Judith S., Elinor B. Balka. “The Risks for Late Adolescence of Early Adolescent

   Marijuana Use.” American Journal of Public Health. 89.10 (1999) 1549-1554

Miron, Jeffrey A., Jeffrey Zwiebel. “Alcohol consumption during prohibition.” American

   Economic Review. 81 (1991) 242-247

United States. United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.

   Exposing the Myth of Smoked Medical Marijuana. 12 Oct. 2006

United States. United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.

   Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization. May 2003. 12 Oct. 2006

United States. Office of National Drug Control Policy. What Americans Need to Know

   About Marijuana. 12 Oct. 2006

Zhang, Z, Hal Morgenstern, Margaret R. Spitz, Donald P. Tashkin, Guo-Pei Yu, James R.
   Marshall, T. C. Hsu and Stimson P. Schantz. “Marijuana Use and Increased Risk of
   Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers
   & Prevention 8 (1999): 1071-1078

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