Why is marijuana illegal? The stock replies include, but are not limited to: marijuana is detrimental to physical health; it creates gangs and in turn leads to violence; it’s not only socially unacceptable, but it negatively affects your social life; and finally it is a psychotic that alters your state of mind. Some of these points are less valid then the next, but digging a little bit deeper, there are several reasons, political and economical, that don’t factor into what first come to mind. Call them more substantial, call them under the radar, or better yet call them the real reasons. Those factors are politicians and the media. Whether or not they actually believe they are acting in the best interest of society, they reap the rewards of a mostly harmless drug. Ratings go up and elections are won. Marijuana earns a notorious reputation because it is illegal; rather than a notorious reputation has caused it to be illegal. Someone has to be winning in the criminalization of marijuana, and it is not the people.
The combination of the media and politicians has helped strike fear into Americans about illegal drug use, for personal gain. Politicians, presidents of the United States of America in particular, have used strong anti-drug policies to help win election and reelection. They capitalized on the media’s misrepresentation of a growing drug problem in America. Author of The Culture of Fear, Barry Glassner goes into detail about how drugs, marijuana included, are being shafted by political motif, and being taken out of context to make sure they remain an ‘evil’ in the public eye. Starting in the 1970’s, the “War on Drugs” has been an economical disaster, and yet marijuana remains illegal. Paulo Freire, author of The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education, talks about the ineffectiveness of current teaching methods, which can be related to the marginally successful Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program funded by the “War on Drugs”. Karl Marx relates in The Communist Manifesto that in a capitalistic society, the upper class will eventually be overthrown by the lower class for not accommodating them, a cycle due to repeat itself. Americans embrace capitalism, with marijuana growers, sellers, and users acing oppression. The skyrocketing multibillion dollar marijuana industry would not be so profitable to criminals, if those criminals wouldn’t have to be breaking the law to grow their product. An underground revolution, marijuana is grown with very high frequency due to the demand for the product. It is an unregulated black market that promotes gang warfare because of how profitable marijuana is.
Every president from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush has had a strong policy against drugs; that’s seven presidents all building upon what Richard Nixon started with his coined phrase, ‘The War on Drugs’. Barry Glassner in the chapter “Smack is Back” from The Culture of Fear details how these presidents may have taken a harsh point of view on drugs for personal gain, rather than because they thought them to be socially detrimental, physically harmful, etc. Glassner points out, “Unlike almost every other hazard, illicit drugs have no interest group to defend them. So they are safe fodder for winning elections and ratings” (131). To support this claim, Glassner reminds us how Bill Clinton helped himself out in his reelection campaign of 1996. Bob Dole, Clinton’s opposition, claimed Clinton was too soft on drugs in an attempt to find a soft spot in the incumbent president’s armor. Whether Clinton felt more money truly was needed for the “War on Drugs” is irrelevant, he proposed $700 million the next week after Dole’s claims (137), ending the debate whether he was soft on drugs and appeasing the critical public eye.
President Clinton very well might have proposed more money to appease the people, and is that such a bad thing? When the public view on drugs is being altered by a media that produces statistics and anecdotes that are taken out of context, it most certainly is. For example, in March of 1997, the television network ABC ran a whole month of programs that all had anti-drug related themes in them. That is, not every episode, but each program had at least one episode that had strong anti-drug themes. Also, their news programs took a swing into left field, or possibly right, by reporting more frequently on drug issues, inflating the situation. Glassner agrees with critics of ABC who were “pointing out that intensive scare campaigns usually fail to dissuade young people from taking drugs and may even backfire, [critics] also criticized
Freire describes the growing distance between teacher and pupil in The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education. He believes that students are not truly learning about the real world, or how to apply themselves in it, “the teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and unpredictable” (1). The argument evolves to the point that education should be reformed to allow for individual thought and critical analysis, rather than the basic memorization of facts, “for apart from inquiry… individuals cannot truly be human” (1). How does this relate to the “War on Drugs”? Part of this war, is the education of kids on the dangers of drug abuse and in the states we have DARE. This program has never been proven to be effective, and is ‘taught’ in the same manner of education that Freire is referring to. This ‘Banking’ concept of education involves an ‘educator’ placing biased and out of context statistics into children when they are young, in the hopes that it will deter them from using. Surely, this should have been effective, especially considering the amount of time and money poured into the project. What is not accounted for is the act of rebellion for the sake of rebellion. An eleven-year old kid ‘educated’ on drugs in elementary school gets into high school and finds out that not everything they learned in DARE was completely true. So they experiment, or perhaps they would have experimented regardless of all the money being poured into preventing them from doing so. Either way, kids are going to use marijuana regardless if there is a DARE program in place. Telling kids the truth about marijuana, whether in the media or from drug education, would be a much better preventative measure. What if that does not work, and kids continue to use, or use at a higher frequency? What should be the course of action then? Why not make marijuana less accessible for kids? Why not prevent rebellion, by making nothing to rebel against?
Karl Marx, known widely for his criticism of capitalism and praise of communism in The Communist Manifesto, describes two groups of people, the Bourgeois and the Proletariat. The former encompasses the upper class, the wealthy, and the owners of corporations. The Latter includes the working class, the ones prone to rebel against the Bourgeois if their needs are not being met. In the United States, marijuana users are not having their needs met, considering they are continually being thrown into jail for making a life choice. There were approximately 50 thousand known users of marijuana in 1937, the year it earned an illegal status. There are now over 50 million users, or people who have used before, in the United States, a 100 thousand percent increase that led Dr. Perry Kendall to claim, “whether the drug is criminalized or decriminalized does not affect the rates of smoking cannabis” (The Union: The Business of Getting High). In fact, this statistic would even suggest that prohibition causes more users. Regardless, this is an insurmountable portion of the country, and if there has not been a Marxist uprising yet, there is one growing. Speaking of growing, marijuana has become a huge business, especially considering its illegal. Marijuana is a multibillion dollar industry, and the demand is high, and when the demand is high; hippies, stoners and potheads are not the only ones getting higher. Supply has to increase and be provided from somewhere, because whether it’s illegal or not, there is money to be made. So that’s exactly what happens, and one of the most notorious for harboring grow-ops (grow systems of marijuana plants in houses) is in Canada’s western province, British Columbia. Estimates are in that in B.C. alone, the revenue was $7 billion for 2006.
Does this mean the government needs to fight back with more money and fight fire with fire? Well that certainly worked in Iraq, depending on what you consider ‘working’ is. The clear answer here is to legalize and decriminalize marijuana. That multibillion dollar industry would now be taxed and regulated. Cigarettes and beer are harder for kids today to get than marijuana, and that’s because marijuana is unregulated. But with legalization, it gets put into the same category as tobacco and alcohol, where it rightfully deserves to be. Marx might argue that we are being subjected to taxes by a government, and Freire may argue that the drug education program would still be one-dimensional, but I do not think they could argue that this would be progress.
What about those basic stock replies: marijuana is physically, socially and psychologically damaging? Physically, let’s compare it to a few other legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco causes 430,000 deaths a year, by far the most in America. The second highest legal drug killer on the list is alcohol at 85,000 a year. Caffeine and Aspirin both can each be attributed to around 5,000 to 10,000 deaths. These figures are from the documentary The Union: The Business Behind Getting High, and in this documentary, they ask people off the street how many deaths a year that they think can be directly attributed to marijuana. Guesses ranged from a conservative 20,000 to a whopping 300,000. They were all very surprised to find the real number to be none. Dr. Lester Grinspoon says “In 10,000 years of its use, there are no deaths of cannabis use, anywhere; you can’t find one.” The culture of fear, as Barry Glassner phrases it in his book, creates a veil around what people think they know about drugs, and what’s actually fact. The harmful physical effects of marijuana, or lack thereof, is astonishing, but only because that’s not how the government or the media portrays the drug.
What about psychological? Since it is a psychotic, ‘it has to mess with your head’ is a common misconception about marijuana. There are more kids in addiction clinics for marijuana than for any other substance, but 3% of these adolescents voluntarily seek treatment. Given the choice between jail time and treatment, most chose, and continue to choose treatment. This ‘option’ leads to heavily inflated figures for marijuana, especially since it’s the most popular illegal drug among teenagers, therefore it only makes sense there is a correlation into treatment centers. Physical addictiveness is out of the question, as Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard stated “marijuana was ranked the least addictive of all drugs, including coffee,” however habitual tendencies remain a cause for concern, and that is psychological. But what does habit forming actually mean? Can’t anything become habit forming, from eating ice cream to playing video games? Habits become destructive when the habit itself is destructive, and this leads to the argument against marijuana, on the grounds that it is a socially destructive substance.
From gang warfare to couch-potato syndrome, the public assumes marijuana destroys society. However, gangs that deal marijuana only have a profitable product to distribute because the drug is illegal. The counter claim on gangs argues that if it is not marijuana that they’re dealing, then they would just sell something else just as illegal as marijuana; like ecstasy or cocaine. Is that not a social issue then, and not an issue with marijuana? If marijuana is not the cause why don’t we take that substance away from gangs? If you answered ‘it still makes you lazy’ then there’s more to come. The same argument can be applied to laziness. There are lazy people who smoke marijuana, but there are also lazy people who do not. A correlation between the two does not necessarily mean that pot turns people lazy, but maybe it means that lazy people tend to smoke pot. Both applications of the relationship of laziness and marijuana validate the correlation, but neither should be assumed correct without studies. What about research? Where are all the irrefutable statistics that show marijuana to be harmful to individuals and to society? If it were to be legalized, these studies would have a reason to be funded, and yet, to this day, marijuana use, growth and distribution remain illegal.
With corrupt politicians seeking reelection, media twisting the public eye to improve ratings, a poorly executed and misguided “War on Drugs”, and a social revolution already started; it only makes sense to legalize marijuana. The physical effects are minimal, certainly less than even a ‘harmless’ drug like caffeine. The psychological effects are unproven, and it is so far proven to be non-addictive. The negative social effects do not exist and are merely a misinterpretation of society; god forbid there’s something wrong with us. It must be the marijuana. Most of the adverse effects of the drug will dissolve if legalization is enacted, and the effects that remain a problem are going to be here whether it is legal or not. The time has come to take a harder look at marijuana and decide whether people should be deemed criminals for inhaling a plant, or be given the freedom to choose that plant to fill their lungs at their own peril.
Freire, Paulo. The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education. New York City: Continuum Books, 193. 1-6. Print.
Glassner, Barry. The Culture of Fear. New York: Basic Books, 1999. 129-51. Print.
Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Signet Classics, 1848. Print.
“The Union: The Business Behind Getting High.” Netflix. Web. 22 May 2010.