Of all the arguments we’ve had in the past year, and of all the political positions Americans have been divided against, nothing has had a longer history or amount of contention than that of the drug war. Marijuana, particularly, has had a long and aggressive saga that the American people have never seemed to have much unity about.
Having studied the past, and the current arguments for and against the recreational legalization of the drug, one would be able to show precisely why the drug was made criminal in the first place, and why it continues to be to this day.
Marijuana has been a part of human culture for millennia. The plant has been grown and used for a plethora of activities for nearly 8000 years, including tea and bath salts; it’s a fairly recent occurrence that marijuana was thought to be dangerous.
Even in early America, the drug was used as an herbal supplement, and was generally thought of as a ‘cure-all’ or ‘miracle drug,’ as said by Martin Booth in Cannabis: A History. This all changed in the early 1900’s as a result of various factors.
A single man had a lasting impact on public perception of Cannabis. In the early 1930’s, with the assistance of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, the head of the newly established Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), Harry J. Anslinger destroyed the reputation of the then thought-to-be-harmless ‘reefer.’
Anslinger had wanted to build the status of the recently created FBN, which he had already begun to do through increased scrutiny of cocaine and opioids. Having been the ambitious man that he was, Anslinger ran a massive, xenophobic, smear campaign against reefer, stating that Mexicans, as well as several other racial groups, when under the influence of the drug, “gained a thirst for white blood.”
Hearst, who had a strong investment in the timber industry, was afraid that hemp would soon provide serious competition for traditional paper. It was through this incentive, as well as Hearst’s own hatred towards Mexican people, that one of the most blatant instances of yellow journalism in American history transpired.
Anslinger and Hearst were ultimately successful in their campaign, as congress illegalized the herb in 1937. Continued demonization and countless “wars on drugs” certainly haven’t helped with the public perception of it, either.
While there is a lack of evidence that marijuana has any harmful properties, and although its status as a Schedule I drug on the DEA’s drug scheduling list remains intact, very few Americans actually understand why public perception of ‘pot’ is what it is.
Due to the current political climate in the country, and the Republican Party’s position on the status of the substance, one might assume that a majority of the country is against legalization, but this is not the case. According to the most recent Gallup polls, roughly 60% of Americans support legalization of recreational marijuana, and by party affiliation, the number has increased by 29% among Democrats and 22% among Republicans in the last 10 years.
Despite the general public opinion about legalization increasing greatly within the last decade, there are still groups that are vehemently against the supposed ‘dangerous drug.’ John Hawkins, a journalist for townhall.com and an anti-marijuana activist, cited addiction, a lack of FDA regulation, its status as a Schedule I drug, and its potentially harmful effect on mental and physical health as reasons against legalization.
There are more than a few problems with Hawkins’s claims. While marijuana has not had a vast amount of significant medical testing, we have done enough research about the substance to know that it lacks any addictive properties, that its medical benefits outweigh other health concerns, that it has limited lasting effects on mental health, and it has no effect on physical health.
Hawkins believes that, “marijuana is even more toxic than cigarette smoke.” While this is a common talking point amongst anti-marijuana activists, there is no evidence to suggest this is the case; likewise, no study has ever claimed that marijuana has any addictive qualities.
Hawkins also stated that, “marijuana may even be worse than cigarettes. At least cigarettes don’t peel points off your IQ.” Upon close examination of the sources Hawkins provided, some lasting mental issues such as difficulty with concentration and increased anxiety are associated with heavy use of the substance in teenagers and young adults; however, in adults aged 25 and higher, any lasting consequences are nonexistent.
Medical marijuana is used to treat a variety of medical illnesses, with resounding levels of success. Another argument against legalization is that medicinal marijuana, if it became more readily available, could steal costs from major pharmaceutical companies, according to The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham.
Having seen the effects of medicinal marijuana (sans THC, the chemical component that causes someone to become “high”) firsthand, as my sister suffers from epilepsy, I can attest to what the drug can do when properly administered. This being said, anti-marijuana activists such as Hawkins bring up a good point, as many properties of the drug are still unknown.
As stated earlier, the FDA has put diminutive effort into research for the substance. Although there is overwhelming potential for the drug, it is clear that there is tremendous distrust in private studies of the effects, and that more government based investigation would help to shed light for people on both sides of the argument.
Regardless of one’s own position on the status of the legalization of drugs like marijuana, I would strongly recommend that one look at the evidence, that before we make any decisions regarding marijuana, we simply listen to what the experts have to say, and make an informed assessment.