November 28th, 2012
Argument Essay: The Decriminalization of Marijuana
Although some states have decriminalized marijuana for medical and non-medical use, marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance on the federal level. Schedule I is the same class as drugs such as heroin and cocaine. This is an issue to the country because a lot of tax payer dollars go towards arresting and prosecuting marijuana related offenses. That money could be used in better way, such as helping to lower the national debt, instead of being used to prohibit the use of a drug that is relatively harmless. The prohibition of marijuana causes a lot more harm than the use of marijuana itself. Misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession carry up to 1000 dollars in fines and up to 1 year in jail. Whereas felony charges of marijuana possession can incur up to 5000 dollars in fines and up to 5 years in prison. Convicted marijuana users are no longer eligible for financial student aid, welfare, and many other government funded programs. The criminalization of marijuana also hampers police work by preventing them from focusing on more important crimes. These, among other reasons are why the criminalization of marijuana is an issue of national significance.
Among the proponents for the decriminalization of marijuana, there is the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. The commission presented a report to Congress and the public entitled “Marijuana, A signal of Misunderstanding” which preferred adopting other methods of discouraging marijuana use instead of marijuana prohibition. The commission’s report stated that there is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from use of marijuana. It recommended the implementation of a discouragement policy against heavy marijuana use. The recommendation says that private possession of marijuana should no longer be criminalized, whereas public possession of small amounts would be contraband subject to summary seizure and forfeiture. Public possession and distribution of larger amounts would be punishable by a fine, and disorderly conduct or driving under the influence would be punishable by jail time and a fine, similar to modern policies regarding alcohol use. The commission’s report was for the most part ignored or condemned by Congress.
The people lobbying to keeping marijuana illegal include police unions, private prison corporations, alcohol and beer corporations, pharmaceutical corporations, and prison guard unions. These groups raise money and lobby the government in order to keep marijuana illegal. Each of these groups has ulterior motives for wanting to keep marijuana illegal instead of the safety of the United States’ citizens. Police Unions have become dependent on federal drug war grants to finance their budget, and if marijuana was decriminalized the police departments would have to cut spending and possibly lay off workers. Private prison corporations make millions of dollars by incarcerating people who have been imprisoned for marijuana related crimes. Prison companies have spent a lot of money to help bankroll pro drug war politicians, helping them get into office. Prison guard unions also have an interest in keeping marijuana illegal just like the private prison companies do. Without having people in prison because of marijuana use, many prison guards would be unneeded as the amount of people in prison drops. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent one million dollars to help defeat a measure that would have reduced sentences and parole times for nonviolent drug offenders. Alcohol and beer companies have a business orientated reason for wanting to keep marijuana illegal also. Marijuana is a comparable good to beer or alcohol, and, as such, would take away some of the business of beer and alcohol companies. Pharmaceutical corporations want to keep marijuana illegal and lobby to do so because marijuana could be used as a replacement to some medicines, such as aspirin. These lobbying groups are getting rich off the war against marijuana and that is the reason why they want to continue marijuana’s illegality. Pharmaceutical corporations are one of the biggest opponents to marijuana decriminalization and spend millions to billions of dollars each year to help keep marijuana illegal. In addition to the groups profiting from the war against marijuana, there are other advocates against marijuana decriminalization. These people mainly include the elderly. People who grew up during the 1920s have a negative stigma associated with marijuana use due to anti marijuana propaganda. During that time period, the propaganda depicted marijuana users as insane and inferred that marijuana use could induce someone into committing murder. These accounts used in propaganda films were for the most part fabricated, but they still had the effect of causing people to be against marijuana to this day.
The United States should decriminalize marijuana. The criminalization of marijuana use and possession is unconstitutional and needs to be abolished. Decriminalizing marijuana would free up police resources to deal with more serious crimes and will not lead to greater marijuana use. Whereas, the criminalization of marijuana causes more harm to the person guilty of marijuana use than the amount of harm the marijuana use causes to the person. Criminalization laws prohibiting marijuana do not prevent people from using marijuana and only causes more tax payer dollars to be wasted. Decriminalizing marijuana would prevent the waste of a lot of tax payer money and free up police resources for more important crimes. Sixty thousand individuals are in jail or prison for marijuana related offenses at a cost to taxpayers of one and a quarter billion dollars per year. Tax payers spend around ten billion dollars arresting and prosecuting individuals for marijuana offenses each year. Between the years 1967-1985, the state of California, which had decriminalized the personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, saved nearly one billion dollars. The police arrest more Americans per year on marijuana charges than all of the arrests on people performing violent crimes, such as rape, assault, and murder. Decriminalizing marijuana would allow the police to focus more of their resources on capturing criminals that have committed more grave crimes.
Far more harm is caused by the criminal prohibition of marijuana than by the use of marijuana itself. According to the British medical journal, the long term smoking of cannabis is not exceptionally harmful to your health. The harm caused can be compared to alcohol use or the smoking of tobacco. According to a 1999 federally commissioned report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM), “Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications.” Whereas the harm caused by being convicted of marijuana possession or use can far more greatly affect a person’s life. If a person was to be arrested for marijuana possession, then, depending on the amount, he or she could face anywhere from one to five years in jail or prison and up to five thousand dollars in fines. This person would no longer be eligible for government funded programs and this individual would have a more difficult time with finding a job because of his or her criminal record.
Government studies have concluded that marijuana decriminalization has had virtually no effect on marijuana use. In states that have enacted such a policy, such as California, people’s beliefs about marijuana use remained unchanged. This leads to the conclusion that the decriminalizing of marijuana would not increase the amount of people that would use marijuana. On the contrary, states that have maintained the strictest criminal penalties for marijuana have had the biggest increases in marijuana use. Criminal laws prohibiting marijuana use do not deter marijuana use. Marijuana use has remained consistent despite the level of enforcement against marijuana users or the legality of the substance itself. Marijuana users think that their using would go undetected by the police, so the fear of arrest is usually not a factor in a person’s decision of whether or not to use marijuana.
If I had to craft an argument for a discourse community that opposes my position, I would use all of the previous studies, reports, and research to help prove my position. If the discourse community opposes the decriminalization of marijuana based on legitimate care for the citizens of the United States, I would show that there are many studies that have been done to prove that marijuana is relatively harmless. In some cases, such as those involving the use of medical marijuana, marijuana is actually considered to be helpful. It can be used to relieve pain, like aspirin or other pain killers, and it can also be used to promote appetites in cases like chemotherapy, where the patient often loses his or her appetite. There have been studies supporting marijuana for medicinal uses and some states, like Michigan, have passed laws which permit the use of marijuana medically. If the discourse community that opposes my position is only in opposition because of personal gain, I would have to show that that mindset is unconstitutional and is un-American. Even if they are profiting off of the war on marijuana, they shouldn’t continue to support it because it infringes on our rights as Americans. These rights are something that our forefathers died to protect. They were against their government telling their people what they could and could not do without a sufficient reason to do so. They were for freedom, and would be against anything that hampers or limits any citizen’s personal freedom.
REFERENCE: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM). 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 5.