Marijuana Controversy Essay, Research Paper
Specific issues, such as the controversy surrounding the use of marijuana have throughout recorded history increasingly been looked at from different points of view. Our beliefs concerning the non-medical use of drugs, more specifically marijuana, have largely been dependent on what type of information is available for us, and whom we are receiving it from. The beginning of the marijuana controversy throughout North America, in reality, did not even surface until the early 1920s. In 1922, Emily Murphy, Canada s first female judge and respected figure, generated awareness when she wrote, The Black Candle , Canada s first book on drug abuse. Since then, attitudes concerning the use of marijuana have been constantly changing, and thus have created ongoing arguments between two opposing forces within North American culture. Through an assessment of the material provided, this paper will focus on and explain how attitudes towards the use of marijuana have evolved over time.
In her article, Murphy includes a variety of evidence concerning the use of marijuana. Her evidence consists of information provided by doctors, authority figures, fictitious literature, and writers who chose to express their feelings towards either marijuana or hashish. The conclusive evidence reported by her sources basically says that marijuana produces trance like symptoms , a staggering walk , acute mania , paranoia , a tendency to commit violent crimes , and that it can also cause death. This type of evidence, which was basically the only evidence available at this time, surely would have been believable coming from a judge, thus creating fear throughout society. However, at this stage in time there had not been any scientific experiments performed on the side effects of marijuana, and, as a matter of fact, the first experiment was not conducted, in reality, until 1939. It has also been suggested that the extreme side effects, mentioned in Murphy s book, as well as many others, could have been attributed to indulging too heavily in the drug, thus qualifying as an overdose. Nonetheless, and most importantly, public opinion throughout the early part of the 20th century would have been in favour of Murphy s view, in other words, marijuana was regarded as dangerous.
Murphy s book is somewhat skeptical to some of us today; however, it was taken to be very serious throughout the early part of the 20th century. What may have partially influenced her decision to write a chapter on the use of marijuana was, most likely, the problems involving the Chinese and opium in Vancouver. Opium was quite common from the mid to late 19th century throughout Canada. It was sold in the form of laudanum, and people used it for medical and non-medical purposes. Towards the end of the 19th century there were many Chinese people immigrating into British Columbia to work on the railroads, and had brought their opium habits along with them. Prior to the surfacing of Chinese immigrants, the use of laudanum was common, and up until then, acceptable in the non-medical sense as well. Unpredictably, opium users increasingly began to acquire a bad reputation and were seen as having a disease of the will, owing to the fact that the Chinese used it and were considered to be racially inferior. In 1907, racism eventually led to riots aiming to stop immigration into Vancouver, and causing millions of dollars in damages throughout Chinatown.
Upon arrival, the government official hired to assess the damages done to Chinatown was presented with requests to compensate opium factories, in which authorities had no idea about. This ultimately led to the prohibition of opium and all of its derivatives in 1911, and a halt in Chinese immigration from 1923 to 1946. The racial attitudes towards the Chinese throughout the early part of the 20th century were views held by the majority and, most likely, Emily Murphy as well.
In The Black Candle Murphy refers to the convention held at The Hague in 1912, when Italy suggested a study of marijuana, claiming that its use would increase as the opium traffic was suppressed. Information suggesting a climbing usage of another drug would have certainly caused concern with Murphy as well as with the public. Another issue that may have generated concern with Murphy is the issue of marijuana moving towards the north as the 1920s approached. Inglis discusses the growing necessity of hemp in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. In 1900 the department of agriculture imported experimental quantities of superior varieties of hemp seed from the East, to see how they would grow in America. It grew very well in the Eastern and upper Southern States, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. During WWI the government encouraged farmers to grow as much hemp as they possibly could, and by the end of the war they had almost fulfilled the countries entire requirements. By this time marijuana had started spreading north, and Murphy certainly must have been informed about this and was, most likely, influenced by the information. She refers to marijuana as being banned in the States of California, Wyoming, and Missouri, which implies that she was concerned about it spreading to Canada. All of these issues, understandably, would have generated enough motivation to write a book concerning the non-medical use of drugs.
Throughout the 1920s marijuana began to acquire a bad reputation, partly because of the stories coming out of Egypt where hashish was still getting blamed for the addiction rate. Murphy basically confirms the fact that she had been influenced by these stories in her search for information. She talks about hashish as being the drug of the Assassins , she supplies excerpts from The Count of Monte Cristo and the Arabian Nights , all of which she refers to in an obvious, although shared by many, racial tone. These stories are really quite harmless, however, when Murphy read them she was obviously thinking about the racial differences involved in the stories. Now, instead of the victims being the Chinese, they were the Indians, Mexicans, Arabs, and Persians who were being held responsible for the new menace enveloping Canada.
Similarly, although much later, marijuana was prohibited in the United States, 1937 to be exact, and much in the same fashion as it was in Canada. Harry Anslinger, the Chief of the new Bureau of Narcotics, under the wing of the Treasury Department in Washington, had been determined, if not more, than was Emily Murphy. Supposedly, as a child he had heard cries coming from a women because she needed her opium fix and could not get it, and he had been affected by the shrill cries ever since, ultimately developing a strong hatred for drugs. Contrary to Anslinger s strategy, the Treasury Department originally wanted to unify the States in an agreement that they would all be under, understandably, to sort out the confusion regarding different laws and penalties in each State. In 1932 the narcotics bureau put forward a draft narcotics law stating that they wanted the drug prohibited except for medical purposes. This was unsatisfactory to Anslinger, considering his deep hatred for drugs. Accordingly, he decided immediately to prepare a brochure of propaganda regarding the use of marijuana and the harmful side effects it wrought. Anslinger, in one of his hate filled articles, wrote that those who are accustomed to habitual use of the drug are said eventually to develop a delirious rage after its administration during which they are temporarily, at least, irresponsible, and prone to commit violent crimes; and that prolonged use was said to produce mental deterioration . Again, the latter comment was conceived before any scientific studies of marijuana had been done, and therefore, Anslinger was either making his own information up or actually conducting research and believing what he had found, as was the case with Murphy. Although marijuana was highly unknown at this time, Anslinger s campaign certainly would have generated awareness throughout America, as did Murphy with the Canadian public as well.
Eventually, after numerous campaigns against the use of marijuana, Anslinger had finally, as he must have felt, succeeded in prohibiting marijuana in 1937. However, to Anslinger s misfortune, in 1939 Fiorella La Guardia, the Mayor of New York city, with the assistance of the New York Academy of Medicine, set up a medical committee to perform scientific tests of marijuana in controlled conditions. The findings of the tests reported that marijuana had no short-term side effects, and that generally the subjects were of a friendly, sociable character . The scientific evidence provided by the La Guardia Report generated a new breed of public awareness at this stage. The government increasingly became aware of the fact that marijuana was not a harmful drug, and furthermore, that the attempts to ban it seemed senseless to them. However, by 1956, without disturbing public opinion, Anslinger changed the direction of his campaign by saying that marijuana, if used over a long period, leads to heroine addiction. By the 1960s, when it was becoming obvious that the campaign to stop the use of marijuana was not working, State legislatures, influenced by Anslinger s advice, decided to intensify enforcement, and to increase penalties.
After several years nothing had changed, and in fact, by the 1960s, the use of marijuana was on the rise in the United States. Arrests increasingly got worse, and by 1966 there were 15,000 arrests in that year alone. People were beginning to accept the fact that marijuana was a harmless drug and disbelieving Anslinger s supposed expertise. The border between California and Mexico, in particular, was easily breached often by the owners of the 80,000 cars, which, by the late 1960s, were passing into Mexico and back into California every weekend. Police officers increasingly became wearisome about raiding hippy camps, and the homes of the G.I.s, who had brought the habit back with them from Vietnam. The State even left the decisions up to the Universities regarding whether or not they wanted to discipline their students for possession. In 1973 Oregon even turned possession of small quantities of marijuana into a violation comparable to a parking offence. Throughout this period, the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes, seemed, in reality, to be quite acceptable amongst the government and society.
Today, throughout the US, the controversy seems to be on the rise again, and much of the same evidence used by Murphy and Ansligner is surfacing as well. The information supplied by the US Department of Justice, for example, says that, Twelve to seventeen year olds who smoke marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than those who do not , and go on to say that, sixty percent of adolescents who use marijuana before age 15 will later use cocaine. Marijuana is also on schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies it as one of the most dangerous drugs along with heroine, whilst cocaine remains on schedule 2. The marijuana available on the streets today is 25 times more potent than it was in the 1960s, making it even more addictive, according to the policy makers. Furthermore, marijuana produces premature cancer, coordination and perception impairment, a number of mental disorders including depression, hostility and increased aggressiveness, general apathy, memory loss, reproductive disabilities, and impairment to the immune system, again, according to the policy makers . On the other hand, marijuana is being used for cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma patients throughout Canada and a few States today.
It seems as though the direction of our views, regarding the non-medical use of marijuana, have been repeating themselves. Before the 1920s marijuana was generally accepted in most places, for use in making hemp fabrics, or simply for ritual purposes. Throughout the early part of the 20th century it began to acquire a sinister reputation, unfortunately, based on racist ideals. As the century progressed and tests proved that marijuana was not a harmful drug people increasingly began taking it since it was no longer seen as a threat. Towards the end of the 20th century, we have started seeing The War on Drugs basically explode in the US. This year alone, the US government spent over 30 million dollars on a Marijuana Eradication program, and over 17.8 billion dollars on total drug prevention enforcement programs. However, Canada seems to be moving further away from the US in drug policy strategies, in which may or may not be a good sign. The ethics of drugs and regulation is a very tough topic; we do not know for sure if marijuana is good or bad, that is to say, we do not know the long-term effects of it. Recently, there have not been any tests done on the long term effects of marijuana which, in turn, would generate an awareness as to whether or not it would, in fact, cause cancer. Most importantly, taking drugs depends largely on what type of context a person is using them in, like, for example, if they use them to feel better around other people, it could be regarded as an addiction, or if they use them to better themselves through personal meditation, it could be regarded as a sign of spiritual growth from within, and of course if they use them in moderation as well. Any drug can be bad for a person if they are abused and used in the wrong way. So, who knows what the future will bring forward, perhaps society may, very well indeed, begin seeing marijuana as harmless again, we really do not know. What we do now is that policy makers and doctors need to start getting their facts right, that is to say, by basing their facts on pure conjecture will destroy and weaken everything that surrounds us building a culture on lies is like living amongst robots. I do not want to live amongst robots, and I am utterly sure that no other rational being would want to either.