Anti-Legalization Thesis Essay, Research Paper
Legalization: Wrong for America
“Drugs enslave and take the individual’s rights to knowledge and a clear conscience away.”
Throughout history, various drugs have played a pivotal role in a vast array of cultural practices, both religious and recreational. The Native Americans used to ingest peyote to aid them on their “spirit quests”. The ancient Incas freely chewed cocaine leaves to help relieve the altitude sickness that would sometimes plague them. Black slaves that worked on plantations in the south smoked marijuana to help make their backbreaking work in the field go quicker. In almost every historical culture, drugs in one form or another are used and accepted.
What is it that is so enticing surrounding the use of drugs? More then just incredible physical sensations the user experiences, the “idea of changing who you are and how you think ” (personal communication, April 2, 2001) is very tantalizing for some. For many people, especially in present-day cultures where life is a great deal more complex then it was in the past, drugs are sometimes used as a sort of “magical gateway” to escape the harsh truths of reality. The use of drugs for this reason can be either a good or bad thing, depending on the society and situation the user lives in. For example, more then a “feel good” drug, it was a necessity that the Incas chewed coca leaves in order to counteract the extreme elevation sickness that is common among groups that live at such exceptional altitudes (Smith, 1992, p. 74). Similarly, the black slaves, who had to endure an incredibly difficult and physically demanding life, smoked marijuana to escape the reality of being nothing more then mindless drones with nothing to look forward to; not even hope of liberation in the foreseeable future. It was one of their only sources of gratification and happiness in an otherwise hopeless and futile existence.
Although many drug users in present American society use drugs to escape from reality as well, their reasons are not as compelling as those given by the Incas who needed to use cocaine, or the black slaves who virtually had no hope of changing their servant lifestyle. Unlike these cultures, America is a society that grants its inhabitants a great deal of economic and social freedom through autonomy. Consequently, all Americans have the ability to succeed and make a decent living, provided they work hard and do well in school. Some, however, are unable to adequately fulfill this principle and may become discouraged or even quit . It is during this time that people are most vulnerable to the temptations of drugs, using them as sources to temporarily escape the hardships encountered in life (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). This course of action is not very practical because, at one point or another, the drug user will have to face the reality that in order for one to survive, one must have a steady flow of income, which means work is essential.
Temporarily avoiding life s problems does not solve them. On the contrary, avoiding problems creates larger, more serious troubles, which is why many drug users have dropped traditional society in favor of the underground culture , where income can be made quickly through illegal activities and traditional societal problems are much less pronounced (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). In a culture where opportunities for success are abundant but people still use drugs as an escape rather then for religious or medicinal purposes, prohibition should justly ensue.
One such outlawed drug, marijuana, is not only one of the most widespread used drugs of all time, it also is a very safe drug when compared to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which, unlike marijuana, can lead to a variety of physiological maladies such as stroke and even death(http://www.esb.utexas.edu/tchumley/bio302/ecp/drugsnbiochem/main.html). But does the fact that a drug is simply “safe” enough validation for it to be allowed in a given society? Marijuana has been deemed illegal in many countries, including America. Much has been done recently to try and challenge the prohibition of marijuana in the United States, but the law has remained unchanged since 1977 (Smith, 1992). Though there are many reasons, some of them incredibly convincing, that do indeed advocate the legalization of marijuana, there are many more contrary reasons that support the continuation of cannabis prohibition. It will be proved through this paper that the legalization of marijuana will inevitably lead to the deterioration of many aspects of society, including but not limited to, an increase in violence and crime, a drop in education, a decrease in the natural ambition of the population, and a m lange of other social and personal pathologies.
In the Netherlands, there exists a very interesting city that has fully decriminalized the use and sale of marijuana. This city, Amsterdam, has laws that make it completely legal for one to purchase marijuana from a “coffee shop” (though the shop does indeed sell coffee, it would be more aptly named a “marijuana shop”). The legislative basis for this extreme drug policy lies in the Opium Act, as amended in 1976 (Leuw & Marshall, 1994).
Great numbers of events led up to the ratification of the Opium Act including a student riot in 1966 in which excessive force by the police was used. The police brutality outraged the entire city, which in turn forced the police to adopt a more relaxed stance on all social issues, ranging from the peace movement to drug use. This led to a policy of de-emphasizing marijuana possession arrests. Later, the Dutch government appointed a Working Party on Drugs (WPD) whose job it was to assess the drug problem in Amsterdam and make various decisions regarding drug law. Throughout the 4 years between its formation and the ratification of the Opium Act, the WPD concluded that drugs should fall into one of two “schedules”. Schedule I drugs would include drugs that presented “unacceptable risks” such as heroin, crack, ect. Schedule II drugs included marijuana and hashish; those drugs deemed to be “safe” for decriminalization (Leuw & Marshall, 1994). Thus, marijuana has been decriminalized in Amsterdam for over 25 years. The fact that cannabis has been legalized in Amsterdam for so many years serves as an excellent illustration of what will happen to a society that changes from a traditionally, strict drug law system to one that takes a very lax and lenient stance.
When one argues against the legalization of a drug, one must prove how that drug affects individuals in such a way that it would ultimately be detrimental to an entire society. Marijuana is derived from the cannabis sativa plant and, when smoked, provides sensations of intoxication and pleasure. The active chemical in marijuana that provokes these euphoric feelings is a compound called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (Smith, 1992). Different strains of marijuana contain different levels of THC, with the percent of THC directly proportional to the absolute potency of the drug (ie. The more THC there is, the stronger the effects will be). The actual psychological effects of smoking marijuana include, among other effects, intense feelings of euphoria, an unquenchable hunger for food (known to users as “the munchies”), a lowered level of ambition and drive, and a decreased awareness of time (http://www.acde.org). Fatigue, bloodshot eyes, dry mouth (”cotton mouth”), and difficulties in operating machinery (driving a car) include some of the physiological effects of marijuana usage (http://www.acde.org). These sensations can last anywhere between two and six hours after the initial “hit”, depending on the potency of the drug (http://www.acde.org).
If marijuana were ever to be legalized in America, society would undoubtedly see a dramatic increase in the number of accidents and casualties resulting from operating machinery when “high”, especially on the road. A drug that not only makes one less aware of one’s surroundings, but also has a duration of two to six hours is especially dangerous. With alcohol, most people are still able to drive efficiently after one or two drinks. Just one “joint” of marijuana however, is enough for a group of people to get “high”. Consequently, after one smokes a “joint”, he/she should be technically bounded to the home for six hours until the effects of the drug fully wear off or else endanger the lives of others by picking up the keys and driving somewhere. In one study conducted in Memphis, TN, researchers found that, out of 150 reckless drivers who were tested for drugs at the arrest scene, 33 percent tested positive for marijuana, while 14 percent tested positive for both marijuana and alcohol (http://184.108.40.206/marijbroch/Marijteenstxt.html#1). In 1976, California experimented by decriminalizing marijuana. Within the first six months, arrests for driving under the influence of cannabis rose 46 percent for adults and 71.4 percent for juveniles (Rogues, 1995). Decriminalizing marijuana in Alaska and Oregon in the 1970s resulted in the doubling of use (Rogues, 1995). Though there is no evidence that legalizing drugs will reduce these misdeeds, there is evidence that suggests it would worsen the problem. Also, data has shown that while smoking marijuana, people show the same lack of coordination on standard “drunk driver” tests as do people who have had too much to drink (http://220.127.116.11/marijbroch/Marijteenstxt.html#8). When students were asked about driving under the influence of marijuana, they responded by saying “Driving high feels good, but its really easy to lose track of whats going on. I always have to make myself concentrate but I can only do that for so long before my mind starts drifting away most of the close calls I’ve had driving were when I was stoned I don’t care what anyone else says, you drive worse high because your attention span decreases.” (2001)
The reason there aren’t a great deal of accidents in Amsterdam lies in the fact that most of the population either walks or bikes to their destination, with very few Amsterdamians actually owning a car (Leuw & Marshall, 1994). Other then the occasional stumble, there really is no danger in walking around town “high”. Because America is so spread out however, automobiles are an absolute necessity. Thus, it would be unfair to equate the legalization of marijuana in Amsterdam with the potential legalization of marijuana in America. Simply the fact that the layouts of the two regions are so extensively different and the fact that America is extremely auto-centric should be enough evidence against legalization in America. If, however, marijuana is legalized in America, the government would have to set up an organization (which would inevitably raise taxes) that would closely monitor driving because there would undoubtedly be more accidents. Is it really worth paying more money and risking your own life for a simple “high”?
Due to a lack of research, it is unknown, at least in the eyes of scientists, whether or not marijuana is truly physically addictive (http://www.csus.edu/hlth/adc/marhealth.html). There have been, however, documented reports and accounts of people having trouble quitting (Leuw & Marshall, 1994). This promotes the idea that marijuana could be psychologically addictive. According to one study, marijuana use by teenagers who have had serious antisocial problems can quickly lead to dependence on the drug (http://18.104.22.168/MarijBroch/parentref.html#4). From interviews, users found that quitting is “fuckin hard as hell its not so much that I’m physically dependent on it, but that I just love the feeling it gives me so much, its hard to force yourself not to want to be high.” (2001). While not everyone who uses marijuana becomes addicted, it is quite common that a user, at some time or another, will begin to seek out and take the drug compulsively. That person is then said to be dependent on the drug or addicted to it (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). In 1995, 165,000 people entering drug treatment programs reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse, showing they needed help to stop using (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). Some heavy users of marijuana have even shown signs of physical dependence, although it is “still unknown whether or not [it] is actually physically addictive” (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). It has been observed that when they do not use the drug, they develop a variety of withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, weight loss, and shaky hands (http://www.iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/students/Marques/PROHIB.HTM). Clearly, more research must be done in order to concretely prove that marijuana is indeed physically addictive.
Prolonged usage of marijuana can result in a state called “burn-out” where young people who have smoked marijuana over long periods become dull, slow moving and inattentive (http://www.csus.edu/hlth/adc/marhealth.html). This state of “burn-out” not only increases the risk of poor academic performance, but also has been proven to breed apathy and decreased motivation. Research also indicates that students have trouble remembering what they have learned while under the influence of marijuana (http://www.csus.edu/hlth/adc/marhealth.html). When students were questioned about their memory after smoking marijuana, they replied by saying “from the time I [originally smoked] until I start coming down from my high, I can’t remember a thing. We could have a really deep conversation about something ridiculous and, hours later, I’d have no clue whatever we talked about.” (2001) Furthermore, marijuana impairs thinking, reading comprehension and verbal and mathematical skills (http://www.acde.org). Getting the proper education is difficult enough for most people. Does it really make sense then, to give students the opportunity to further impede their academic progression with the legalization of a substance that would be nothing but detrimental to their overall success in school?
When students were asked if using marijuana decreased their ambition to attend class, to participate in extracurricular activities, et., they responded by saying “Its terrible! When I’ve been smoking, I don’t care about anything. No joke! Its so easy just to say ‘fuck it’, about work, about school, about everything.”(2001). It is a well-known fact that the use of marijuana can lead to lowered ambition. Furthermore, an “amotivational syndrome” can develop in heavy, chronic marijuana users. This syndrome is characterized by decreased drive and ambition, shortened attention span, poor judgment, high distractibility, impaired communication skills, and diminished effectiveness in interpersonal situations (http://www.acde.org). The legalization of marijuana would undoubtedly create a much larger user base, thus also decreasing the overall ambition of the American people. In this sense, the aftermath of marijuana legalization in America would be quite similar to Amsterdam, with the streets flooded with high school dropouts, beggars, pickpockets, drug dealers, and other men of the “black market” trade, much more so then there are now.
It has been a popular pro-legalization tactic to assert that the legalization of marijuana would actually lower the crime rate because it would consequently put many drug dealers out of business while also reducing prison populations and creating a source of perpetual revenue (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). Although legalization could indeed result in a lowered crime rate, this would only be due to the fact that most of the once illegal activity would then become lawful after legalization. But would legalization necessarily reduce other drug-related crime like robbery, rape, and assault? Presumably legalization would reduce the cost of marijuana and thus addicts might commit fewer crimes to pay for their habits (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). But, because marijuana would be extremely cheap under legalization, less expensive cannabis would feed their habit better, thus allowing for a greater amount of consumption. This however, would mean more side effects such as paranoia, decreased ambition, and possibly violence (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). Suggestions that redefining the law can somehow eliminate crime are spurious. Simply by changing the definition of what a crime is does not in any way decrease the overall ubiquity of the crime.
The extent to which individuals commit “drug-related crimes only” is overstated. Most incarcerated “drug” offenders violated other laws as well. It was found that only 2 percent (700) of those in federal prisons were convicted of pure drug possession (Tonry & Wilson, 1990). They generally committed other violent crimes to earn a sentence. However, 70 percent of current inmates were on illegal drugs when arrested and, if drugs become cheaper, violent crime could reasonably be expected to increase (Tonry & Wilson, 1990).
In Amsterdam, the legalization of marijuana has resulted in an increase in crime as well as a rise in addiction to other drugs like heroin and cocaine (Leuw & Marshall, 1994). The city currently has over 7000 addicts; a number that still grows with each passing day (Leuw & Marshall, 1994). With so many drug users in such a concentrated area, crime is inevitably going to ensue. These addicts have been blamed for 80% of all property crime in Amsterdam, while giving the city a burglary rate which is twice that of Newark, New Jersey, a city that has one of America’s highest crime rates (Leuw & Marshall, 1994). Furthermore, since the Opium Act was amended, shootings rose an astonishing 40 percent, car thefts increased 62 percent, and hold-ups rose 69 percent (Leuw & Marshall, 1994). Legalization in America would likely follow a similar trend as that in Amsterdam.
The claim that legalization provides an opportunity to tax new products and thus increase overall revenue is misleading. For example, total tax revenue from the sale of alcohol is $13.1 billion a year, but alcohol extracts over $100 billion a year in social costs such as health care and lost productivity (http:// www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov). There is no evidence to demonstrate neither that taxing marijuana would bolster revenues any more than do alcohol and tobacco, nor would the revenue from such taxation offset the social and medical costs these illicit drugs would impose (http:// www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov). The pro-drug lobby argues that legalization will save on enforcement costs. However, the elimination of drug enforcement would provide little funding for other uses because the actual amount of money allocated to drug enforcement agencies is insignificant compared to other government expenditures (The US government actually spends less the 0.2% of its budget on drug enforcement agencies) (http:// www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov).
Without question, drug abuse in our society has been a major cause of crime and social disruption. The drug problem has been so enormous that many in America, misguided by frustration, are listening to the beguiling arguments to legalize or decriminalize drugs.
The solution to the drug problem is not to repeal drug laws. The solution requires commitment to a balanced strategy of drug education, prevention, treatment and law enforcement. Research information and data clearly show the problem is not marijuana prohibition, but marijuana use. When cannabis is cheap, plentiful and legal, more people will use it. It is a frightening scenario that envisions more of our citizens, juveniles and adults, using this mind-altering substance that not only adversely affects their own behavior and health, but also endangers innocent people.
Do we really want to make it more difficult then it already is to attain a proper education? Would we truly want to live in a society that is deprived of ambition and motivation a country full of “stoners”? Is it more beneficial to legalize marijuana, and then deal with all the crime, all the weed-related accidents, all the broken dreams from a motivation-less society or would it be better to simply maintain prohibition? The choice seems rather simple. With all the statistics and examples against legalization, it is clear that prohibition of marijuana should be permanently sustained.