Marijuana Law Reform Essay, Research Paper
A huge amount of Americans are currently being arrested and sentenced for defying an unjustly created law. These Americans suffer from overly harsh penalties and may even be sentenced to death just for relaxing in ways similar to how many Americans drink a beer to relax. The current excuse from government officials for keeping marijuana illegal is that it leads to the use of harder drugs, which is a lie. Something needs to be done to protect otherwise innocent Americans from being persecuted under an unjust law.
Marijuana has been primarily cultivated in America for its fiber content for about four hundred years, and its cultivation had continued as an agricultural staple up until the turn of the twentieth century. It wasn t until the 1920 s and 30 s that marijuana came to be recognized for its intoxicating effects as a drug. Throughout the twenties and thirties, marijuana use was primarily associated with Mexican-American immigrant workers, and African-American jazz musicians. Marijuana s new use as a drug became the turning point where marijuana was no longer a cash crop, but instead became known as The Devil s Weed .
In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was formed in order to combat the new terror swarming America, and in conjunction with Hollywood and tabloid newspapers, misinformation about marijuana was spread nationwide. Exaggerated accounts of violent crime caused by marijuana became popular, such as one bulletin by the FBN that reported a marijuana user becomes a fiend with savage or caveman tendencies. His sex desires are aroused and some of the most horrible crimes result. He hears light and sees sound. To get away from it he suddenly becomes violent and may kill (NORML) Most real and accurate accounts of marijuana use are quite different than the ones portrayed by the FBN. A sense of euphoria, relaxation, and laziness is what tends to happen to a marijuana user, rather than turning into an insane, violent, and manic fiend, which the FBN portrayed.
In the time leading up to federal prohibition of marijuana, 27 states passed laws that made marijuana illegal, with most states basing their information on propaganda from the FBN and ill informed media. The prohibition of marijuana amongst these 27 states paved the way to federal prohibition of marijuana.
On April 14th, 1937, an act to criminalize marijuana was introduced to Congress by Congressman Robert L. Daughton of North Carolina in collaboration with the commissioner of the FBN, Harry Anslinger. After the introduction of the bill, Congress held two hearings to debate the pros and cons of marijuana prohibition, which totaled up to just one hour. To support the bill, Anslinger told of accounts similar to the exaggerated stories found in tabloid newspapers. Anslinger even testified under oath, This drug is entirely the monster-Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured. (NORML) The other person that spoke in support of the bill was Clinton Hester, the Assistant General Counsel for the Department of the Treasury. Hester went on to affirm that the eventual effect on the user is deadly, even though Clinton Hester was not a scientist or doctor. To sum up the side supporting the prohibition of marijuana, members of Congress based their decision on exaggerated accounts from Anslinger and tabloid media, as well as accepting testimony from someone that worked in the Treasury Department instead of a doctor or someone in the scientific community. All of these sources seem to be awfully questionable and should not have been used to decide a law that would have long lasting effects in America.
In contrast to the side arguing in support of the bill, there was only one opponent speaking against the prohibition of marijuana, the American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. William C. Woodward represented the AMA when he testified that there is no evidence of marijuana being a dangerous drug, as well as bringing into question how Congress could go about passing legislation based on outrageous accounts from newspapers while at the same time ignoring the fact that no data from the Bureau of Prisons supported the FBN s position. Woodward was also aware of marijuana s possible therapeutic and medical benefits, but when he tried to use this evidence to argue his point of not criminalizing marijuana, Congress did not take his testimony into account.
After only one hearing, the Ways and Means committee passed the bill criminalizing marijuana, and the House of Representatives did the same, after only debating the bill for ninety seconds. During those ninety seconds, someone asked for a description of the bill, and speaker Sam Rayburn replied, I don t know. It has something to do with a thing called marijuana. I think it s a narcotic of some kind. After that statement, a member of the Ways and Means Committee falsely stated that one of the representatives from the American Medical Association supported the bill(NORML). Based on inaccurate information and a foggy idea of what the law was about, the House of Representatives passed the bill without a recorded vote.
After just a brief hearing on the bill, the Senate passed their version of the bill mimicking the same quickness and ease with surprisingly overwhelming approval. Shortly after passing in both the House and Senate, Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed the legislation into law on August 2, 1937 and began the criminal prohibition of marijuana.
Despite the fact that the passing of laws making marijuana illegal was quick and basically unjustified, marijuana is still one of the most popular recreational drugs in America today. In spite of marijuana s illegality for over sixty years, its use as a recreational drug is only being surpassed by tobacco and alcohol. Nationwide, Marijuana s use is so prevalent that according to government figures, nearly 70 million Americans have smoked marijuana at some time of their lives. Of these, 18 million have smoked marijuana within the last year, and ten million are regular marijuana smokers (NORML). If all of these one-time marijuana smokers, or even the regulars, were to be busted by the cops, the judicial system would have a terrible mess on their hands. Clearly a large amount of otherwise law-abiding Americans are marijuana smokers, whom should not have to hide in fear from police, despite responsibly using marijuana in their own homes. Another study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that 57 percent of illicit or illegal drug users claim marijuana is the ONLY illegal drug they use, and the number raises to 77 percent if hashish (a refined form of marijuana) is included. Clearly a large amount of America s so called problem would go away if marijuana was legalized.
Law enforcement agencies have tried to make marijuana users seem like criminals and deviants of society when the only difference between marijuana smokers and non-smokers is the use of marijuana. Law enforcement is wasting time and resources cracking down on marijuana users, which would otherwise be law-abiding citizens.
Marijuana prohibition causes more harm than it does good. This year, Kaiser Permanente concluded that no link existed between regular marijuana smoking and mortality and emphasized that marijuana prohibition posed the only significant health hazard to the user and advocated that medical guidelines regarding marijuana s prudent use be established, akin to the common-sense guidelines that apply to alcohol use (Kaiser Permanente) In the most recent year with government arrest statistics (1995), six hundred thousand Americans were charged with marijuana violations, which equates to one marijuana arrest every 45 seconds. In addition, that six hundred thousand arrests is the highest number ever recorded since the introduction of marijuana prohibition. It seems fairly obvious that the current laws are not working to deter marijuana use.
Marijuana sentences are far to harsh as well as having punishments that tend to not fit the crime they are associated with. State penalties for marijuana vary from state to state, but usually tend to have a large financial fine in addition to having a bad social impact for those who are arrested and sentenced. In most states, incarceration and/or a significant fine are dealt to anyone with even the smallest amount of marijuana, and in many states the offender s drivers license will be taken away, despite wether or not the offender was driving, in a car, or neither. Even if someone charged with marijuana violations avoids incarceration they may be subject to probation, random drug testing, mandatory drug counseling, loss of child custody, removal from public housing, expensive legal fees, or a loss of an occupational license (NORML).
Federal laws are just as severe as state laws if not more so, in fact you might even be sentenced to death from a federal marijuana conviction. Federal law doesn t make much of a distinction between drugs, because if you are found guilty of possessing only a marijuana cigarette you could be punished by a fine of up to ten thousand dollars, and a year in prison, which is the same punishment you would receive for possession of either heroin or cocaine. Currently, large-scale marijuana cultivators and traffickers can be sentenced to death under federal law. During 1997 there was a bill introduced by former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (an admitted former marijuana smoker) that would make a mandatory life sentence for someone trafficking only fifty grams of marijuana, but under the same law if someone is convicted for their second time they would be sentenced to death. It puts a whole new light on the marijuana debate when you come to realize that someone can be sentenced to death for marijuana.
Entitlements are currently denied to people convicted of federal marijuana charges. This includes denial of food stamps, welfare, financial aid for schooling, or even Medicare. While the terrible marijuana smokers can t get any benefits, murderers, rapists and robbers can still receive welfare, student aid, and Medicare, quite ironic when you think about it.
While black and Hispanic Americans only make up twenty percent of marijuana smokers nationwide, they comprised fifty five percent of the marijuana offenders sentenced under federal law in 1995 (NORML). In 1994, forty nine percent of Californians arrested for marijuana offence were black or Hispanic, and in New York seventy one percent of the people arrested for misdemeanor marijuana charges were non-white (NORML). It is clear that Marijuana laws have also led to disproportionate arrests of minorities in America.
Isn t marijuana a gateway drug, or doesn t it lead to the use of harder drugs? This is a question that many anti marijuana advocates try to promote. There are about forty million people in America that have smoked marijuana at one point during their life, but where are the tens of millions of heroin users? Amsterdam, Holland provides one example of how marijuana does not lead to use of harder drugs, after the decriminalization of marijuana, the use of marijuana slightly increased for a short time and then marijuana and heroin use both went to lower usage levels than before marijuana was decriminalized.
One reason that anti drug advocates do not want marijuana legalized is because they have been decieved into believing the gateway theory, which basically suggests that marijuana is a first step into the use of harder drugs, and if someone starts using marijuana then that same person is most likely going to begin using harder drugs. In a recent and flawed study, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) determined that marijuana users are eighty five times more likely than non marijuana users to try cocaine, these results seem quite alarming at first, but there is a major problem with their study. Their results came from comparing marijuana users that have never used cocaine with cocaine users that have never used marijuana. The study is flawed because it only shows that most people that have used cocaine have also tried marijuana. They had failed to show however that most marijuana users 83 percent have never used cocaine (Myth of Gateway). Rather than saying that marijuana is a gateway drug, the statistics show that most marijuana users do not use other drugs, so perhaps marijuana closes the gates instead of opening them.
Since the seventies marijuana and cocaine use have experienced usage patterns that varied widely. During the seventies marijuana use increased greatly to the all time high during 1979, when about sixty percent of high school seniors said that they had used marijuana at least once. During the eighties however marijuana use had dropped while cocaine use surged up. After marijuana s decrease in use during the eighties, it picked back up again as cocaine use decreased. Due to the constant change of usage for both marijuana and cocaine, it is easy to see that there is no link between marijuana use and cocaine use, which gateway theorists would lead you to believe. Even if marijuana use was to decrease due to prohibition, it would not mean that there would necessarily lead to a decrease in cocaine use.
I hope it has become clearer that something needs to be done. Marijuana needs to be legalized both federally and from state to state in order to keep this crime against Americans from continuing to happen.