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Legalization of Marijuana in the Terms of Criminal Justice

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The debate over the legalization of marijuana rages on. The facts are clear. Marijuana is now known to be effective in the treatment of several diseases and medical marijuana is legal and available from dispensaries in over twenty-five states. These states have seen increased tax revenue through the sale of legal marijuana and there have been no reported serious drawbacks to legalization. Jails are overcrowded with people whose only crime was possessing a natural plant that has medicinal purposes. Legalizing marijuana will decrease crime and put many of the drug dealers out of business. Many states who recognize the benefits of marijuana legalization are already preparing how to sell and market the drug legally after this November's vote. They recognize the failed measures of alcohol prohibition and the consequences of overwhelming the legal system unnecessarily with marijuana infractions. They also recognize the benefits of increased tax revenues as a result of legalization. All efforts to curb marijuana use have failed and it is well known that the fact that the drug is still illegal in many states, people continue to use it. Decriminalization of marijuana is in effect in many states and carrying a small amount now carries a penalty of not more than a fine. Legalization has garnered support from many state organizations and initiatives that are looking forward to a successful effort to legalize the drug. If this trend towards legalization continues, it is imminent that marijuana will eventually be legal in every state in America. This paper will analyze the history, pros and cons of the drug, benefits and drawbacks of marijuana legalization and the outlook for the future

Legalization of Marijuana

The history of marijuana goes back twelve thousand years but there has never been more interest in the natural substance than right now. After discovering the medical uses of the drug, marijuana for medicinal purposes is now legal in over twenty states and the push for recreational legalization has taken major strides. It is a hot social and political topic for a drug that grows as a weed naturally in the environment and has been used by people for centuries. Now that the focus has shifted to complete legalization, it is only a matter of time before marijuana is legal and regulated across the country. States like Colorado and Washington already have legalized pot for recreational use and it has had a positive effect. Schools are being built with the tax revenue from marijuana sales, employment opportunities have increased and crime has decreased (Barker, 2019). The plan would be similar to how alcohol is regulated; heavily taxed with revenues going to improve schools, roads and medical research.

History of marijuana

A recent report indicates that marijuana has been used for medicinal and spiritual purposes with roots in Asia before making its way west. It has been legal in many regions of the world for most of its history so it seems odd to many historians that it has received such a negative image in the United States (Ingraham, 2012). Vikings and other medieval civilizations used the drug for tooth pain and other ailments. The idea that marijuana is bad is a total anomaly to much of the rest of the world.

The plant was discovered in Central Asia in the Mongolia and Siberian regions and is known as one of the world's oldest cultivated crops. Burned seeds have been found in ancient burial grounds from over 3000 years ago. Before that in ancient China, the drug was used for medicinal purposes as an anesthetic before surgery. Farmers brought the drug to Korea and it eventually made its way to India where it was one of the “kingdom of herbs” because of its ability to relieve anxiety (Ingraham, 2012). Over the next few centuries, cannabis found its way across the Middle East, Africa and Russia before reaching South America in the nineteenth century. It did not arrive in the United States until the beginning of the twentieth century when Mexican immigrants arrived in the southwest during the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Much of the fear about marijuana is derived form the fact that its first users in America were associated with poverty and crime. The drug became illegal nationwide in 1937 when the Drug Enforcement Agency enforced the regulation. The drug made its way underground for decades with minimum publicity until the 1950's when the drug culture of the beatnik’s had a foothold on American society (Ingraham, 2012). This evolved into the hippie era of the 1960's when marijuana began to be used frequently in cities like San Francisco and New York, the site of the famous concert Woodstock, where the use of marijuana in the United States was on display for the world to see.

Today, after all the advances in discovering medical uses for the drug and the legalization efforts, the Federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance with no accepted medical uses, no safe level of use and the high potential for addiction. Even though it has been proved that marijuana has medicinal purposes, is not physically addictive and nobody has ever been reported to die from marijuana use, the government still classifies the drug inconsistent with these findings. The legalization advocates hope that will soon change.

Positive effects of marijuana

The chemicals that have medicinal value that are found in marijuana are cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol which can be made into a synthetic form so the patient does not run the risk of harm from smoking. Marijuana can be used to treat and prevent glaucoma, which increase pressure in the eyeball, damages the optic nerve and causes loss of vision. Marijuana decreases the pressure inside the eye and according to the National Eye Institute, 'Studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana lowered intraocular pressure in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma' (Barker, 2019). This may slow the progression of the disease and prevent blindness.

Believe it or not, a study in 2012 done by the American Medical Association proves that smoking marijuana does not harm the lungs and even increases lung capacity. This was after testing the lung function of over 5000 study participants over the course of 20 years. The tobacco smokers lost significant lung function while marijuana smokers actually showed improved lung function. (Barker, 2019) Marijuana also has been proved to prevent epileptic seizures. A 2003 study showed that seizures were controlled when the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, binds to the brain cells responsible for controlling excitability and regulating relaxation. A serious seizure disorder called Dravet Syndrome has been controlled by medical marijuana. Cannabidiol has also been found to help cancer from spreading according to a report in 2007 by researchers at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. It stops cancer by stopping the ID-1 gene that is responsible for the spread of the disease. Other studies have been done that have shown cannabis to even destroy cancer cells.

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One of the main reasons that patients use marijuana is to relieve anxiety and suppress the pain and nausea of chemotherapy. It has also shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease by blocking the enzyme that causes plaque on the brain which leads to the disease. For those with multiple sclerosis, patients found that marijuana reduced their muscle pain and they experienced more ease of mobility. THC binds to the muscle tissue and nerves to relieve pain and muscle spasms. There have even been breakthroughs with the treatment for Hepatitis C with marijuana treatment. Inflammatory bowel disease is an affliction that has few remedies. Marijuana provides a remedy by improving intestine function and immune responses. (Mosley, 2018) If you have arthritis, marijuana helps to reduce pain and inflammation while it helps with sleep. Marijuana improves appetite and that is well known but what people don't realize is the positive effect of the drug in keeping weight down. There have also been major strides in the treatment of lupus for those suffering with this terrible disease because marijuana improves the immune system. There has always been the discussion that marijuana has a particular effect to improve creativity because of the dopamine it releases in the brain giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently. Marijuana also helps with Crohn's disease and soothes the shaking for people with Parkinson's disease. It also helps people, especially military personnel; recover from the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is a disease, which so many veterans suffer from after experiencing the violence of war. It alleviates fear and anxiety and this is even a treatment that the government recognizes and they have approved a proposal to implement the remedy. Marijuana also protects the brain after concussion, stroke or brain trauma. It helps people sleep better and reduces nightmares. It can even help people reduce their alcohol intake. As you can see, there are many medical benefits to marijuana and it is time for the federal classification of this drug to catch up to the twenty-first century.

Negative effects of marijuana

Marijuana is a tricky drug, alternately demonized as a gateway drug and praised for its medical promise. While the juries remain out on both sides of the coin, one thing is clear: its use is on the rise. According to the US Department of Human Health and Services, the number of people in the United States who admit to smoking pot climbed from 14.4 million in 2007 to over 18 million in 2011 (Mosley, 2018). This increase may in part be due to the lack of strong evidence supporting the suspected risks of cannabis use. Marijuana smoke has carcinogens and tar just as tobacco smoke does but specific data linking marijuana to lung damage is not available. A recent long-term study that seemed to link chronic marijuana use to lower IQ was challenged by another analysis that pointed to socioeconomic status as a contributing factor. Cannabis use increases in teenagers as marijuana’s perceived risks decline and parents are understandably anxious to get to the bottom of the matter. In 2012, a study at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) calculated that even smoking a single joint every day for 20 years might not be harmful, though most participants smoked two or three joints each month (McCarthy, 2016). There is some evidence to suggest that people under the influence of marijuana exhibit increased risk-taking and impaired decision-making and score worse on memory tasks and residual effects have been detected days or even weeks after use. Some studies also link years of regular marijuana use to deficits in memory, learning, and concentration (Mosley, 2018). While data supporting the harmful effects of marijuana on its own are weak, some researchers are more worried about the drug in conjunction with other substances, such as tobacco and alcohol. Some studies suggest, for example, that marijuana may lead to other drugs but there is no conclusive evidence that its infamous tag as a “gateway drug” is valid (Mosley, 2018). It is true that marijuana may not mix well with prescription drugs, as cannabis causes the liver to metabolize drugs slower raising the risk of drug toxicity. Despite these concerns, it’s unlikely that the consequences of cannabis use are severe, given the amount of research that has focused on the subject.

Benefits of marijuana legalization

Colorado’s successful experiment in marijuana legalization is bringing in millions of dollars of revenue per month while simultaneously benefiting schools and contributing to a drop in crime rates (Barker, 2019). Colorado reached over $50 million dollars in recreational cannabis sales in June of 2015 breaking the state’s previous record. Based on the state’s various taxes on marijuana sales, Colorado has earned over $60 million dollars in marijuana tax revenue so far this year. Along with legalization, Colorado voters approved a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales that is only to be used for school construction. Colorado schools have earned $13.6 million in just the first five months of 2015, a sharp increase over 2014, when the tax generated a total of $13.3 million for the whole year (Barker, 2019).

Tax revenues for Colorado schools and infrastructure are not the only benefit of legalization for the state. A study released by the Drug Policy Alliance showed that legalization has led to a decrease in crime. In the first 11 months of 2014, the rate of violent crime fell 2.2 percent compared with the same period in 2013. In the same time frame, burglaries in Colorado’s capital, Denver, decreased by 9.5 percent and overall property crime decreased by 8.9 percent (Barker, 2019). Traffic fatalities have also decreased and the unemployment rate has dropped. It is obvious that marijuana legalization has helped the state of Colorado as it is helping other states, which have voted to legalize the drug.

Drawbacks of marijuana legalization

Testing for contaminants is an important phase of marijuana legalization. Until more tests are done to detect mold and other contaminants, there will be more to do in this phase of the process. States, which have legalized marijuana, are receiving complaints from neighboring states regarding bringing people transporting the drug across borders (McCarthy, 2016). Legal states also have limited space for legal consumption and that is a problem that has to be solved. There are still issues that need to be solved but there has been major progress.

Outlook for the future

As with so many other political issues, the speed at which states legalize marijuana is going to be affected by the rate at which donors are willing to pour money into elections and lobbying. In 2014, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson proved that there is a Republican with deep pockets willing to spend big to fight against legalization. In Florida’s midterm election, voters considered an amendment to legalize medical marijuana, and Adelson shelled out at least $5.5 million to defeat the measure. It failed by a 2% margin, just shy of the 60% required to pass. Two other factors will be key to determining if the above map proves accurate: whether the federal government continues to keep its distance from state experiments with legalization (which remain illegal under federal law), and whether states with existing legal markets encounter any major problems. In Colorado, for example, parties are gearing up for a political fight over edibles, which have led to children who accidentally ingested them being hospitalized. One of those groups is Smart Colorado, which includes parents concerned about the pace at which marijuana laws have been liberalized. According to the new report, legal weed yielded $2.7 billion in retail and wholesale sales in 2014 (Kessler, 2019).

There are many misconceptions about marijuana existent in the modern world. People have continued to ignore health benefits linked to this substance citing their unproven beliefs. Owing to its ability to stop seizures, nausea, and stress in individuals, governments should highly consider marijuana legalization. Its legalization will also help state governments reduce expenses that result from maintaining suspects convicted of marijuana possession and consumption, while also stimulating the community’s economy.


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