Essay by Sabeena Ahmed, to complete the requirements of a third-year University of
Toronto sociology course.
This document was obtained from:
THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA
I. INTRODUCTION TO THE NATURE OF THE MARIJUANA PROBLEM
Marijuana is a recreationally smoked drug that comes from the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis sativa plant. At the present time, marijuana is illegal to consume and cultivate, yet marijuana is the mostly widely used illicit drug in Canada. Recent national Health and Welfare data indicate that more than half of all Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24 have used marijuana. These may be very conservative estimates because many users are unwilling to admit consumption (Boyd 79).
Marijuana has always been around prior to its criminalization in the early part of this
century. Marijuana control began in 1923. Marijuana was criminalized with a simple
declaration from the House of Commons that "there is a new drug on the schedule" with
no debate over adding it to the list of illegal drugs under the criminal code in Canada. At
this time when it was made illegal, marijuana was believed to be connected with
madness and promiscuity. For the next 40 years, there was little use of marijuana, but
little was known about its acute effects. From the 1920's to the 1960's marijuana was
sporadically used by small and marginal groups, like the Mexican migrants and jazz
musicians in the 1930's (Boyd 10). Despite the lack of public interest in the drug , the
Narcotics Control Act of 1961 increased maximum penalties for marijuana from 14 years
to life imprisonment. A few years later marijuana became popular in Canada and its use
escalated into a "marijuana boom" world-over in the 1960s with the hippie movement.
Since then marijuana has been of concern to the public and the government because of
the dramatic increase in its use. At this time, the House of Commons was not
concerned with the health effects of marijuana, but the "sexual experimentation" among
the young people and the social and cultural implications. They spoke of marijuana use
leading to the "demoralization, eroding of the moral fiber of young people, and of a
threatening new morality" and marijuana users were perceived as people who
challenged society's values. However, concern over the increased drug use during the
1960s marijuana boom also produced the best research on the nature of the drug.
Shortly after, prime minister Trudeau appointed the Le Dain Commission in 1969 to
investigate the "non-medical use of the drug." Their final report was finished in 1973 with
recommendations that marijuana possession no longer be a criminal offense, convinced
that health and social risks posed by consumption did not justify its criminalization. The
Le Dain Commission's recommendations were disregarded and since then the Canadian
government has adopted a get tough (and spend money) policy on marijuana use. Since
then use has also escalated (ibid. 80).
THE WAY MARIJUANA IS TREATED TODAY AND THE NEED FOR REFORM
Marijuana use was not seen as a problem when it was first added to the list prohibited "narcotics" in 1923. The situation changed in the 1960s when in Canada, and in other Western countries, marijuana use increased and members of "all strata of society" experimented with it and exposed themselves to criminal sanction (Erickson 1). With the increased use of marijuana, particularly amongst the younger genre of the population, many people who were "otherwise law-abiding citizens" apart from the use of an illegal drug, received criminal records for simply using or possessing marijuana. At this time, the 1960s provided the world with an influx of research on the nature of marijuana use, its harmful properties, and its addictive qualities, if any. Research from the 60s and present research generally support the idea that marijuana is a soft drug that is treated far too severely under the present law. For instance, even though some of the harsh provisions of the narcotic drug law of the 1920s have been removed (e.g. whipping, no appeal from conviction, deportation of convicted aliens), other provisions have not been removed (e.g. special search warrants, lengthy terms of imprisonment, mandatory minimum prison sentences). And anyone who consumes or distributes it is liable to serve a jail sentence of anywhere between 7 years and life imprisonment (ibid. 1).
The problem with the current treatment of marijuana under the Narcotics Control Act
is that it treats marijuana the same way that other narcotics, like heroin are treated. The
researcher does not support, from the literature and studies looked at, the idea that
marijuana is "like heroin" in any other way besides its legal definition as a "narcotic." For
instance, its addictive properties are minimal compared to heroin. In addition, the
government recently approved the passing of Bill C-7 which slightly reduces the
penalties for marijuana use (Magner 5), however, still does not address the issues linked
with marijuana consumption. Much of the research tends to support the idea that
Canadian narcotic drug laws remains amongst one of the harshest of the Western
democratic countries, with respect to its treatment of marijuana under the law. It is in
the researcher's opinion that the present Canadian law tends to "overcriminalize"
(Erickson 12) marijuana and alternative policies dealing with the legislation of marijuana
need to be considered that deal with the "marijuana problem" more realistically.
II. REVIEW OF LITERATURE
ISSUES SURROUNDING THE MARIJUANA PROBLEM AND REFORM
The researcher separates her investigation of the marijuana problem into three parts.
The first part deals with what the experience of marijuana - what happens to the user
and marijuana's effects. The second part deals with what the literature says about why
marijuana continues to be illegal. And the third part looks at why society should
decriminalize or legalize marijuana.
THE EXPERIENCE OF MARIJUANA
The government and law makers are unlikely to decriminalize marijuana based solely on its "pleasure-giving qualities" or because of a recognition of individual liberties and rights to use it as a recreational drug.
Thus, the researcher thought it was important to look at what the literature said on the "experience of marijuana" (i.e. its subjective experience, effect, addictiveness, harmfulness). If indeed the health risks associated with marijuana are low, perhaps legislators would consider reforming the present marijuana laws.
Cannabis is not physically addictive, although some users may become psychologically dependent. And very few become compulsive users (Gomme 334). It is impossible to become a "marijuanic." From the view point of those who use marijuana, it has three advantages. The experience of intoxication is quite mild and undramatic, and most users never get beyond occasional use. Even heavy use has no immediate after effects. "This distinguishes marijuana from tobacco, most of whose users smoke at least several cigarettes a day and many of whom are addicted, and from alcohol, whose morning after miseries" are not experienced with marijuana consumption. In addition, even with heavy, chronic marijuana users, they are likely to get hangovers and other from of physical suffering linked with the drug use. A sore throat is about the extent of discomfort a marijuana user is likely to experience (Kleiman 19).
The intoxication of marijuana is more subtle and complex than alcohol, many authors argue. Typical effects range from time distortion, enhanced response to taste, odor, sight, sound and texture, introspection and subjective disassociation, and feelings of great insight and creativity (Kleiman 18). Hellman (4) adds that marijuana is a "useful catalyst for specific optical and aural esthetic perception." He says that many advocates have written about marijuana as an aid to perception and creativeness and argues for the legalization of marijuana as a "catalyst to self awareness." He says that cannabis is very useful because it "activates trains of association [psychic areas] that would otherwise be inaccessible. It gives pleasure to the user without causing any harmful effects."
Marijuana does cause some physiological changes while under the influence (like increased heart rate and blood pressure, "munchies", reddening of the eye), however, research tends to support that these changes are not threatening to the user and are only temporary. Marijuana causes "tachycardia" (rapid heart action). It increases one's heart rate and blood pressure. This poses a threat to cardiovascular problemed people, otherwise such physiological changes pose no threat to the average healthy user (Jones and Lovinger 458). In one study, the investigators found the development of tolerance to tachycardia produced by smoking marijuana as a result of prolonged ingestion of THC. After several days of smoking marijuana, initially heart rate increased then rates dropped (ibid. 98). In another study, six young men smoked marijuana and pedaled a bicycle machine. These men were all experienced, regular users of marijuana, but not tobacco (between the ages of 21 - 27) and had abstained from use 24 hours before the experiment. Every subject at different times (1) smoked marijuana, (2) smoked a placebo, and (3) did not smoke - control condition. In each case, there was a rest period, a 15 minute exercise period, and 15 minute recovery period. During the rest period, the average marijuana pulse rate was 34% (26 beats) above the control. Five minutes after the exercise, the difference widened to as much as 51%. At the end of the recovery period, the marijuana heart rate remained 37% above the control heart rate. Under control conditions, the pulse rate returned to normal by the end of the recovery period. Despite the increase in the heart rate, marijuana showed no effect on pulmonary ventilation and oxygen consumption. It seems that because of marijuana, the only thing that happened was that the heart had to work harder while oxygen was delivered to it, reported the investigators (Jones and Lovinger 100). Another physiological change is the "munchies" which is a devouring of junk food to satisfy the body's glucose-craving often accompanied with smoking marijuana (ibid. 128). Again, this is only a temporary non-threatening change that occurs after smoking marijuana.
In addition, studies tend to show that there are no major withdrawal effects associated with quitting marijuana smoking. According to one study, cravings for cannabis were monitored daily over a first week of cessation and withdrawal effects were consistently recorded as "not at all", nor were there any self-reported problems, such as problems with sleep, cloudy or foggy thinking, or somatic symptoms like sweating, shaking, or nausea. Other tests found no differences in performance between chronic users and non-users on cognitive (Solowij et al. 2130).
Tests have also been done by scientists on macrophage effectiveness to consume dead candida albicans - an infectious, yeastlike fungus found in the body. They compared macrophages from marijuana smokers and non-smokers and found that there was no significant differences in cell size, volume of cellular and other material, or number of mulitnuclear macrophages (Jones and Lovinger 109). In another study by Tennant and his fellow army doctors (1971), they detected no liver enlargement, jaundice, or laboratory evidence of liver disease in any of the 31 hashish-smoking American soldiers tested in Germany. These patients had smoked very heavily for 6 to 15 months (ibid. 130).
More importantly, cannabis is not fatal and no one has directly died from it. "It is impossible, in my opinion, for a person to take a lethal overdose of cannabis," said Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School. He adds, "in the long period over which the drug has been used, there has not been a reliably documented instance of death from marijuana overdoes, and this is because the amount needed for intoxication (effective dose) is so much less than the amount needed to produce death (the lethal dose)" (ibid. 103). Moreover, Jones and Lovinger (109) say that the only health problem of marijuana smoking may be the sharing of joints because of the possibility of acquiring something contagious.
The National Institution on Drug Abuse both researches and is responsible for drug prevention and answers this concern by saying that society overemphasizes the damage of marijuana use. Words like "chromosome damage", "amotivational syndrome", and "cerebral atrophy" sound very scientific and frightening, however, there is little scientific or clinical proof that supports such claims of these problems emerging from marijuana use (Kleiman 13). While marijuana use is not entirely without danger, its effects have been greatly overstated in popular culture.
Main concerns expressed by the public are of the "noncannabinoid constituents of the smoke and the risks of operating machinery or automobiles" while under the influence, however, these are concerns even with
alcohol consumption (Gomme 334). The researcher feels that the literature agrees that
marijuana is of low risk to public health, especially in comparison to legal drugs like
alcohol and tobacco, where death is a definite possibility and the probability of getting a
cancerous disease like lung cancer or liver disease is very high.
WHY IS MARIJUANA ILLEGAL?
According to Erickson (149), the present narcotic law criminalizing marijuana was not designed to protect the health of Canadians from obvious harm from the drug's use, but was rather a "historical accident" that linked cannabis with the opiates during the 1920's. The researcher accepts this view for how cannabis came to be illegal, but also considers what other literature has to say about why marijuana has remained illegal.
Marijuana is considered to be used "just for fun" and is therefore in conflict with "powerful vestiges of the Protestant ethic" which emphasizes self-control , hard work, rationality, order, moderation, and future-oriented planning. Marijuana use goes against this ethic and is seen as an intoxicant in society that satisfies hedonistic desires (Hellman 5).
Kleiman (17) argues that there is a cultural significance behind banning marijuana use because it is a symbol of "youthful rebellion," closely associated with its widespread use in the 1960s by the young hippie culture. Its use is widespread amongst minors and its use is seen as defiance of parental or legal authority. In addition, marijuana's suppression of aggression may make its use, particularly by male adolescents of society, as a threat to cultural norms (ex. machismo).
Black (A25) agrees with Kleiman and Hellman and criticizes Canadian law for safeguarding traditions that have kept a drug like cannabis illegal when there are clearly more harmful drugs to be worried about. He thinks society's hang up with the drug is not the drug per se, but what it represents or who society associates its use with (e.g. the rebellious hippie culture of the 1960s). In Black's opinion, the fact that cannabis illegal is a "mindless convention" and a "moral victory" and begs of society to re-think some of its misconceptions and hang-ups about the drug.
Literature tends to support the idea of marijuana being illegal more because of
traditions, conventions , or moral concerns, not health ones. Thus, perhaps, policy
makers should also consider alternative ethical and moral concerns, as well as
non-moral issues surrounding the marijuana question.
SHOULD MARIJUANA LAWS BE REFORMED?
If marijuana criminalization is a "mindless convention" and a "moral victory" (Black
A25) then it is important to understand some of the population misconceptions people
have about the drug and concerns the public might address if a policy of legalization or
decriminalization was seriously considered by the Canadian government. In addition, the
researcher considers some moral reasons, medical or scientific reasons, and finally
social and economic reasons found in the literature that are in support of reforming the
present Canadian Narcotics Control Act, the law governing all cannabis substances.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT DRUG ABUSE
The enslavement hypothesis assumes that once a person consumes a drug they are
overwhelmed by the power of the drug that they are permanently addicted after a couple
of doses (Gomme 317). In reality, most users are only occasional users of marijuana
and continue to be so for years of smoking marijuana. It is also generally supported
that marijuana is not addictive, so users can consume as much as they need without
abusing the drug significantly to cause great harm to themselves. Also, most marijuana
smokers do not smoke as much as tobacco smokers because a person may only need
one joint at a time to get a high that will last for some time and also because of the cost
involved. Present Black Market prices make marijuana more costly than tobacco.
Marijuana users frequently "grow out" of marijuana use and there has been no
documented withdrawal effects from quitting marijuana use. It can be argued, then that it
is virtually impossible to become a chronic user of marijuana, regardless of using the
drug frequently or even daily (Ray and Ksir 321).
Another erroneous belief is that the chemical ingredients in or the building up of tolerance to soft drugs like marijuana and hashish compels consumers to increase their drug use and experiment with more potent substances, like cocaine or heroin. The gateway or stepping-stone hypothesis rests on the observation that heroin addicts usually report having consumed alcohol and marijuana before using narcotics. The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that many Canadians have used marijuana but very few use heroin. "If marijuana smoking were a physiological cause of heroin use, many more Canadians would be using it (Gomme 318).
Goode (375) rejects this hypothesis and argues that criminalization does not decrease drug abuse either, and in fact decriminalization or criminalization may have no significant effect on the level of drug abuse in a given society. He explains what does have an effect on the level of drug abuse is "hassle factors" that either deter people all together from using harsh, illicit drugs, or make their use of such drugs strictly experimental . For example, the fear of getting addicted or potentially causing harm to oneself may be a more compelling deterrent over the system's threat of sanction should a person experiment with a hard drug. Goode, who is very concerned over the number of drug-related deaths already present within a system of criminalization, says that if anything decriminalization would allow for safer drugs and better addiction services, decreasing the number of deaths and the number of hard-core addicts.
Makkai and McAllister (419) explain that legalization may actually reduce the user's contacts with users of other types of illicit drugs so that the user never experiments with harder drugs. In addition, tobacco and alcohol can easily be accused of being gateway drugs, yet they are legal. Like with marijuana, the vast majority of alcohol and tobacco users do not use hard drugs. Thies and Register (392) argue from a study they conducted that decriminalization of marijuana may actually reduce the use of hard drugs, like cocaine, because it will be cheaper to consume more marijuana in a legalized market.
Elsner (269) adds that the opposite to the gateway or stepping stone hypothesis is
the "Filter Theory." Legalization and the free availability of marijuana may actually filter
off some adolescents who would otherwise be likely to use narcotics. For example, while
10% of Canadian youth use marijuana regularly, only 2% of Holland's youth do (Boyd
Another fear is that if marijuana was legalized its use might escalate nation-wide. Makkai and McAllister (419) reject this idea and explain that legalization would have no effect on drug levels because drug use is cyclical and just depends on the values and norms of the society at any given time. From studying countries that have policies of decriminalization, Thies and Register (393) observe that places that have decriminalized marijuana "do not suffer epidemics of marijuana use." Drug usage fell in Holland after it decriminalized marijuana in 1976. And when marijuana was decriminalized in Oregon in 1973, current use increased, but it also increased nation-wide at this time. In addition, when Oregon abolished criminal penalties for marijuana use, implementing civil fines of up to $100 (like traffic tickets), marijuana use was lower than that of either California or Washington and marijuana did not increase by "leaps and bounds" as a result of decriminalization (Ray and Ksir 318).
Cannabis is decriminalized to a certain extent in the Netherlands. with the Dutch policy of "normalization." The government of the Netherlands has allowed for the undistributed sale in "coffee shops" where the use of alcohol and "hard drugs" is not allowed. The government has normalized the "recreative use" and domestication of use. In public areas, there is passive acceptance by the general public, however, ironically, little cannabis is actually used. According to Van de Wijngaart (126), what the Dutch policy indicates is that "de facto decriminalization of cannabis does not produce more cannabis use and appears to be more successful."
In fact as a result of the failure of other country's policies, an estimated 30% of drug users in Amsterdam are foreigners from countries like Germany, Italy, and England who are escaping the repressive policies of their home country (Skog and Waahlberg 57). [ refer to appendix 1]
Law-enforcement agents and the media frequently cry out that drug use is a major cause of crime, implying that people steal and rob to finance their addictions. Gomme (318) says that research suggests that "the relationship between acquisitive crime and drug abuse is dramatically overstated and that many users of illegal substances who also steal and rob did these things before they became involved with drugs."
Thus, marijuana use does not necessarily create crime. Decriminalization or legalization may even decrease crime. Erickson (44) talks about artificially decreasing the crime rate because less users will be charged with criminal offenses due to "cannabis crimes." She argues that the law makes "cannabis criminals" out of otherwise law-abiding citizens. Benjamin and Miller (174) say that legalization would also remove the backbone of organized crime causing it to decrease in importance because it would create competition that would drive the prices down causing people to switch to the legal market. Cheaper prices would also make less necessary to finance a cheaper habit.
Overall, the researcher finds that the literature comes to an agreement when it comes to some of the misconceptions that people may have about marijuana being permitted to be used as a recreational drug. Marijuana decriminalization or legalization does not enslave the individual user to experiment with higher doses and become addicted. Furthermore, it does not cause an increase in hard drug use. Nor does it cause a nation-wide increase in drug use or crime. In fact, research on countries that have policies of decriminalization in place tend to support the idea that is anything marijuana "filters" (Elsner 269) use, contrary to popular misconceptions.
A MORAL DILEMMA
As scientists are not 100% sure about the long term consequences of marijuana use and thus far it seems to be relatively safe, it is still important to consider reasons to legalize or decriminalize marijuana even if it did pose some threats to a person's health. The researcher looks at moral and ethical considerations of why marijuana should be decriminalized or legalized.
Society has no warrant to interfere with the liberty
of individuals to do as he/she likes simply to protect
him/her from harm to him/herself... The marijuana laws
are unconstitutional. (Hellman 3).
"Should the government have the right to invade our medicine cabinet?" (Sweet D6). Regardless of whether marijuana is dangerous or not, society should in the words of Pierre Elliot Trudeau learn to keep its noses out of the private bedrooms of its citizens. John Stuart Mill adds to this idea by saying that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his/her will is to prevent harm to others. "His own good whether physical or moral is not a sufficient warrant" (ibid. 6). If marijuana use has any harmful consequences at all, they effect the user directly. Some of the believed harmful effects of marijuana use are that marijuana leads to idleness, dropping out, underachievement, and rejection of the work ethic, none of which directly harm society. Dr. Thomas Szazs adds that in an open society, it is none of the government's business what drug he puts in to his body because the harm to the individual is irrelevant to the criminal law (ibid. 6).
Ventrelli (239) rejects the present system of criminalization because it violates peoples' rights, especially when drugs with similar, if not worse, qualities are readily available over the counter. To Ventrelli, criminalization is illogical because it stigmatizes users with a criminal record while people using alcohol and tobacco get nothing.
Erickson (222) is angered by the law's intervention in its citizen's civil rights. The law creates "cannabis criminals" and imposes criminal records on mostly young people because they constitute the majority of users. The law imposes criminal records on these young people thereby limiting their life chances just for puffing on a joint that is not hurting anyone. Marijuana use is considered a victimless crime . If marijuana use was at least decriminalized, it would increase public faith in the law and in the criminal justice system by eliminating some unenforceable laws around which there is little consensus (Gomme 349).
The researcher feels that the current criminalization of marijuana is a "moral victory"
(Black A25) that is in badly need of reform. What is obvious is despite whether one is in
support of a policy of legalization or decriminalization, the laws should at least be
decriminalized because it is creating "cannabis criminals" (Erickson 222) and
stigmatizing a large sector of society that are committing victimless "crimes" and who
are otherwise law-abiding citizens of society.
The fact that marijuana is none of the government's concern to be legislating in a society that emphasizes individual freedoms while it may be a good reason to legalize it, is highly unlikely to be a strong enough argument in Parliament to bring about badly needed reform anytime soon. Perhaps something more compelling that the researcher considered is the benefits to society if it legalizes marijuana because of its medical potential and beneficial qualities as a natural resource. If the government relaxed its restrictions on research, society may begin to realize the potential chemical manipulation of the cannibinol properties in marijuana. It has the potential of being a very medically useful substance.
Presently, THC (a derivative of marijuana) and synthetic THC has been used or proposed for medical purposes. For example, Marinol is a drug used to counteract nausea that accompanies chemotherapy in cancer treatment and it decreases pressure for glaucoma patients to control "the spasticity characteristic of multiple sclerosis and sometimes found in paraplegia and quadriplegia, and to treat chronic pain form a variety of underlying diseases" (Kleiman 163). The government has approved THC and synthetic derivatives for medical use, however, it has not approved use of the unprocessed plant. The researcher believes that the reasons for this are social and political, not medical and therefore need to be re-evaluated because the researcher is dissastified with the status of cannabis and THC for therapy and medical use.
Marijuana has traditionally been a folk medicine of different cultures. The first recorded Chinese medical use of cannabis began in 200 BC. when physician Haotha used it and mixed it with wine as an aesthetic in surgery. In almost 2700 BC. it was advocated as a sedative when emperor and pharmacist Shen Nung used it for constipation. It was also used to calm restless patients and sometimes to treat menorhagia (Jones and Lovinger 433).
Doctor Solomon Snyder, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Johns Hopskins School of Medicine, and Doctor Grinspoon, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School argue that cannabis has been used extensively "with apparent success to treat a variety of ailments, " from migraines and excessive menstrual bleeding to ulcers, epilepsy and even tooth decay. Oral doses of THC can and have also been used to combat the war on cancer and chemotherapy. In one study, oral doses of THC alleviated the cancer pains in patients, while causing drowsiness (Jones and Lovinger 435). It is also used as an anti-nausea agent for cancer patients (Fackelmann 88). Marinol, a synthetic THC pill, has also been used to combat weight loss in AIDS patients. It is effective for weight gain (Stone 268). Marijuana is also effective in helping patients withdraw from the use of addictive drugs and in treating various psychiatric illnesses. More recent studies have reported that marijuana smoking may prevent glaucoma by decreasing the fluid pressure in the eyes (Hellman 6). Fackelmann (88) explains that besides recreation, many people suffering from glaucoma turn to marijuana to help restore their vision. Smoking has obvious advantages over swallowing a pill because the timelag from swallowing a pill to getting its effects is long and variable. If the cannibinol properties travel throughout the lungs, it hits the bloodstream within 10 to 15 seconds. It may even be better to use water pipes, which cool hot gasses and filter out "particulates and coal tars" without absorbing THC or other active ingredients (Kleiman 166).
In December of 1992, neuroscientists found that there was a marijuana-mimicking compound that resembled the active ingredient in marijuana located in the human brain. They found that nerve cells manufacture compounds that resemble opiate. They mapped the structure of one of the opiate receptors - a protein on the nerve surface that recognizes and binds opiates, thus allowing those drugs to produce their mind-altering effects when they are consumed by the body. These reports raised questions in the minds of neuroscientists about why the healthy brain produces chemicals that resemble marijuana and opium. "It seems unlikely that humans had a specialized receptor just waiting for plant-derived THC to show up" (Fackelmann 88). Medical potential is still get to be discovered. Some suggestions are that cannabis may play a role in eating disorders such as anorexia and excessive eating. For instance, regular users of marijuana say that the drug leads to a feeling known as "the munchies." Scientists know THC can, in fact trigger glucose craving. Therefore, it may be involved in appetite control. In addition, THC binds to brain receptors and once activated, the receptor works with the cell and there are "a cascade of biochemical reactions producing a feeling of euphoria." Fackelman (89) explains that these receptors may have survived evolution not because humans were under danger, but because of stress. The "feel-good chemicals" have the potential of influencing human behaviour for medical purposes Scientists speculate that such internal compounds help humans cope with stress and pain. Trying to find out how these brain-made substances work at the molecular level may provide scientists with the knowledge in the future about how to develop better painkillers and stress relievers "(ibid. 89).
The medical use of marijuana is still under investigation. However, there is a huge
area that still needs to be discovered. The researcher feels that the government can
open new doors for medical advances by legalizing for the medical uses of the
unprocessed plant for research. Potential benefits may be realized for the medical
community, and thus, society.
LEGAL DRUGS KILL PEOPLE
Widely marketed and very profitable nonmedical drugs, while legal, are lethal. Multinational tobacco companies such s Rothmans, Imperial, and Macdonald produce millions of cigarettes containing the highly addictive drug nicotine. The Canadian Medical Association and other scientific bodies estimate that cigarette smoking kills at least 35,000 Canadians yearly (Gomme 407). Similarly, it is estimated that the number of alcohol-related deaths range between 3,000 - 15,000 (ibid. 334).
Boyd (13) agrees with Gomme and argues that the drugs that are actually killing people are legal ones (which are rarely described as drugs). Legal drugs are pushed on the consumer through ads that link their consumption to glamourous and exciting lifestyles. Society worries about domestic pushers of marijuana, while it sits comfortably watching these ads knowing that death is less likely from illegal marijuana use than from these legal drugs that are widely used.
From the literature read, the researcher has found no documented cases of deaths
caused by marijuana in addition to no definite adverse effects linked to the chronic use
of cannabis. Thus, if drugs like alcohol and tobacco are legal, yet they are also lethal, it
seems hypocritical to at least not decriminalize a less harmful soft drug like marijuana.
[refer to appendix 2]
THE LEGAL COSTS OF CREATING "CANNABIS CRIMINALS"
People convicted of marijuana-related offenses are fine and imprisoned. The are also at a disadvantage of having a criminal record, which includes dealing with a social stigma, potential job loss or lack of job opportunities, employer discrimination, and passport restrictions. In addition, governments that control illicit substance use through punitive means face the "ugly reality" of prison funding and overcrowding of criminals whose only offense was smoking pot. Governments end up spending billions of dollars on law-enforcement, education, and treatment programs (Gomme 319).
Erickson (42) in a study of people convicted of a marijuana-related offense coined the term "cannabis criminals" to differentiate people who commit cannabis crimes to any other crime. These "criminals" are mostly young people and students in school who are otherwise law-abiding citizens of society who apart from the use of cannabis are no different from any non-cannabis using youth. "Marijuana laws make criminals out of our children" (Jones and Lovinger 461). The marijuana laws also waste tax payers money while trying to make "criminals out of our children." If marijuana was at legalized, it would save a lot of unnecessary money spent on law enforcement of a non-threatening drug. Gomme (327) estimates that the government spends approximately $4 billion on such law enforcement. That money could be used for more essential services.
Virtually any prohibition also creates a Black Market. Legalization would also
eliminate black market costs in illicit revenue enforcement expenditures, violence and
corruption, and in the process may even yield revenues for the government (Kleiman
DECREASE IN CRIME
Opponents of decriminalization and legalization policies charge that these policies have the potential of increasing the level of crime. Decriminalization and legalization would also decrease the crime rate because current drug users would no longer be labeled as criminals if marijuana was legal. FBI reports in 1990 indicate that the number of arrests for marijuana possession was 300,000 (Goode 377).
Benjamin and Miller (175) explain that a policy of legalization would both generate revenues and decrease crime because it would create competition that would drive the prices of drugs down, making them more affordable and also reducing the need to commit crimes to support such a habit. They (174) add that it would also "remove the backbone of organized crime profits" because they would no longer prosper under a policy of free availability "causing organized crime to decrease in importance."
In general, legalization would free up a lot of unnecessary expenditure that is spent
on trying to control cannabis today. It would save the courts time and reduce
overcrowding in the jails. Decriminalization alone could achieve the same results,
however, in addition to saving money, legalization also has the potential of generating a
tremendous amount of money that could be channeled into anything, even drug
prevention programs or addiction clinics for harsher drugs. Decriminalization is one
policy, but while saving money the government could also generate billions of dollars.
This will be looked at in more detail in the "economic reality" section.
THE ECONOMIC REALITY
The economic reality is that huge amounts of money can be realized by tapping into the illicit drug trade. As Courtwright (42) explains, "if you can't beat it, join it" because people will always find a way to get around the system with a zero-tolerance on drug use policy. For example, they may resort to domestic cultivation as opposed to importing cannabis. Cannabis use has always been around and it is unlikely to go away through any "get tough and spend money policy." Thus, why not deal with the reality and make money in the process.
Cannabis is also a fiber-type known as hemp. It can very useful as a resource in industry for making clothes and other products. George Washington, himself, grew cannabis on his plantation and it was an important crop in American colonies used to make rope, twine, paper and canvas. The word "canvas" comes from "cannabis" (Jones and Lovinger 2). Cannabis as a fiber type alone would be a very lucrative business. Prior to World War II, it was used in the US to make an excellent quality rope (Boyd 81).
Because the law prohibits the use of many psychoactive substances, the Black Market for illicit drugs is both "expansive and lucrative."The huge profits involved compel organized crime groups to manufacture, import, and distribute illegal drugs. Enormous Black Market proceeds ensure the continuation of the drug trade "not only through illegal and violent tactics, but also through widespread graft and corruption." Gomme (320) also notes that because of the large drug profits involved, political movements all over the world are purchasing weapons with money generated by the drug trade. Arms, for example, purchased with drug money have supported terrorist activity and have caused political instability and military destabilization in many countries around the world (ibid. 320). Thus, the government should seriously consider getting a part of the colossal marijuana market. Estimates of drug-trade profits are difficult to calculate. Nonetheless there is little doubt that the profits are enormous. In 1980, the RCMP estimated worldwide drug sales to be in the $320 billion range. More recent estimates put the profit margin at the $1 trillion level. It is not surprising that Colombian drug kingpins once offered to pay off their country's national debt ($13 billion U.S.) in return for immunity from prosecution and from extradition to the U.S. (Gomme 342). Canada customs, which captures approximately 80% of the drugs seized in Canada, witnessed the value of confiscated cannabis, heroin, cocaine rise from $100 million in 1984 to $387 million in 1988 (ibid. 344). Thus, there are huge amounts of money to be realized by the Canadian government. Mark-ups on drugs from processing to marketing in the West are dramatic. In 1988, 10 kg of opium in Asia sold for about $1500. Refined into 1kg of heroin, its value increased to $11,500. Smuggled into Canada, the funds generated by its sale to distributors totaled about $225,000. Cut and sold on the street, the value of the heroin eventually rose as high as $15 million (Gomme 342). Similarly, the marijuana market would be just as successful. . Caputo and Ostrum (483) say that with marijuana total revenue equals total cost because production costs are almost insignificant ($1/pound). It would be easy for the government to tap into the marijuana market especially because the current street value of marijuana is dramatically overpriced. In addition, the funds generated for a marijuana market could be redirected to drug treatment, education, and prevention programs (Courtwright 44).
Overall, many misconceptions surrounding the use of marijuana pose as obstacles to
current law reform. These misconceptions are at the heart of the marijuana problem.
However, these can be overcome because the literature does provide the answers for
many of these concerns - people just need to be made aware of these findings.
Regardless of what position one takes on the marijuana policy reform problem, what the
literature explains is that marijuana at least needs to be decriminalized because it is
creating criminals (Erickson's "cannabis criminals") out of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
In addition, from a moral and medical standpoint reform needs to take place. Moreover,
from a social and economic standpoint, marijuana is a social fact and huge amounts of
money can be realized without causing significant havoc in society if the government
gives reform a chance.
It is in the researcher's opinion that much of the Canadian "knowledge" about marijuana comes from biased samples, and oversensationalized media reports. Certain types of drug users are more likely to receive more publicity. In addition, most of the information on drugs comes from those who are arrested, who die of overdoses, whose addiction is visible, and who engage in crime. In reality, these people may constitute only a fraction of typical users. "The well-behaved cannabis user, by virtue of the fact that they can use drugs while continuing to be successful in the other areas of their lives, may go about their business unobserved" (Gomme 318).
Men in the Rastafarian religion in Jamaica smoke marijuana heavily. In one study, 30 chronic smokers were compared to 30 non-smokers, all labouring class men. An association between smoking and the functioning of the lungs was found. Jamaican men who smoked had a greater risk of "functional hypoxia" (deficiency of oxygen in bodily tissues) because smokers tended to score lower on tests of respiratory functioning, though not significantly lower. The investigators of this study suggested that smoking might be responsible for these differences because normally marijuana smokers consumed their ganga with tobacco in home-rolled cigarettes. This was a typical problem in many of the studies. Where the investigators found physiological problems in marijuana smokers, most smoked cigarettes (Jones and Lovinger 20). Therefore, studies that isolated marijuana's effects on the body independent from cigarette smoking were rare. This observation suggests two things. Either people conducting studies on the physiological effects of marijuana need to find participants who only smoke marijuana. Or these studies may reflect a reality that most marijuana smokers also smoke cigarettes and are therefore at the risk of getting lung cancer, like any other tobacco smoker. As Jones and Lovinger explain (458), heavy, prolonged cannabis smoking in combination with tobacco has produced tissue changes in some human smokers, as well as in tests of animals. Proof that marijuana alone deteriorates the lungs comes from patients seeking medical attention for respiratory troubles and who experience this on top of tobacco smoking. Thus, while some studies have been attempted, the direct effect of marijuana on the body is lacking in the literature from studies looked at.
Long-range studies of marijuana are scarce. Most of the studies observe the acute effects of marijuana use. Several issues need to be considered. Kleiman (13) emphasized the issue of long latency periods of effects not yet showing up in the research, but that would become more apparent if marijuana was legalized. He adds that the fat solubility of THC, which causes it to enter and remain in the body's fatty tissues, including the brain cells, for many days, is an area of concern and should be monitored over time. This issue should not be, but has been, overlooked in the literature.
Another problem is that because marijuana is illegal in Canada, generally the government has been reluctant to invest resources into the funding of something that is illegal. The irony is that what gets funded gets researched. Hence, reports on public opinion of marijuana in Canada and on levels of use were scarce and /or weak containing small samples. Thus, most of the really significant information was based on literature from other countries or from the United States and lacked a Canadian focus.
Moreover, no society in the world has a policy of free availability or legalization in the
completely unregulated sense. For instance, while marijuana and hashish may remain
illegal in the Netherlands, their use and small-scale sales are permitted. In fact,
cannabis products may be purchased off menus in coffeehouses throughout Holland,
and it is also available through youth centers. In other words, through the use of
"prosecutorial discretion", marijuana and hashish laws "remain on the books" but are not
enforced by the Dutch authorities (Elsner 269).
IV. RECOMMENDATIONS TO HELP SOLVE THE MARIJUANA PROBLEM
Marijuana use has always been around, and thus far, the harsh prohibition policies
that have been used to deter and eradicate use have been ineffective. In evaluating the
marijuana problem the researcher considers two crucial questions. How much does
society pay to keep marijuana illegal? And secondly, what would be the costs to society
if marijuana was to become legal? It is in considering these questions that the
researcher considers two solutions to the marijuana problem. Generally, the researcher
has found that the literature tends to support the idea that Canadian drug laws treat
marijuana too harshly and this has proven to be both costly and ineffective. The
researcher attempts to design a more realistic policy in two phases. One is a
recommendation for the present law reform in the short term and the other is a
recommendation for reform of the law in the long run.
SHORT-TERM LAW REFORM (Phase 1)
Goode (372) explains the problem inherent in the Canadian law is that not all drugs are the same and that different drugs require different sets of laws to control them. According to Goode, marijuana is a "social fact" and government efforts have been ineffective in eradicating the widespread use of marijuana. The literature tends to support the idea that marijuana is a soft drug with no significant harmful properties or long term effects. In addition, its use is very widespread amongst the younger genre of the population and these people are all at risk of being labeled as criminals if their use is detected. Health and Welfare Canada say that over 50% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 have used marijuana. In addition, research indicates that this widespread use is not any more threatening, and if anything less threatening, than alcohol and tobacco (legal, but lethal drugs). In the researcher's opinion it is illogical to impose criminal sanctions, while legitimizing the use of alcohol and tobacco, on marijuana use when first it is a victimless crime, and second, there are no significant adverse health effects. The costs of keeping this illogical policy in place far outweigh its benefits. Laws governing the use of marijuana at least need to be decriminalized because the law is making criminals out of people for committing fairly harmless activities that do not endanger society and wastes tax money, court time, and jail space trying to enforce these laws.
Ideally the researcher tends to support a policy of legalization, similar to that of the Dutch policy permitting the recreational use of soft drugs, like marijuana. However, unlike the Dutch policy, the researcher tends to support a policy of legalization with the government actively involved in its distribution and control. The Dutch policy does not allow for the government to generate tax revenue from the sale of marijuana. The only obstacle to this policy is public support.
` What Makkai and McAllister's (417) study clearly indicate in their study of public opinion and the legal status of marijuana in Australia, is that there is a definite correlation between increased tolerance of marijuana with exposure to it (Exposure Theory). The researcher believes that getting public support is essential before implementing any new legislation, since laws generally tend to support public opinion. If a law is imposed without public support people will not adhere to the new policy or find the system illegitimate and governments run the risk of being run out of the office. A major obstacle in getting public support of marijuana is that the media influences a lot of public misconceptions and that very few Canadians, while they may have experimented with it, have never been exposed to any policy other than a policy of criminalization that totally prohibits the recreational use of marijuana. The researcher is going to apply the logic behind Makkai and McAllister's Exposure Theory when designing a realistic policy reform for marijuana.
As Makkai and McAllister's findings indicate, there is a definite relationship between the public's tolerance of marijuana and policies allowing the use of marijuana and their exposure to the drug. Generally, they found that people who had more exposure to marijuana were also likely to support a policy of legalization over decriminalization or criminalization. Hence, the researcher feels that it is important for the government to
impose a policy of decriminalization as an initial stage to bring about changes. This will
set the foundation for phase 2 - legalization. The reason why the government should
introduce decriminalization before "full-blown" legalization is because a sudden shift to
legalization from criminalization will anger opponents of legalization in the public and
this sudden shift may have a psychological persuasive in causing the experimentation of
marijuana in a population that once considered it harmful and illegal to escalate
dramatically, even if it is only temporary. A sudden shift to legalization may cause the
public to lose confidence in the government even if they are not affected by the new
legislation, but a gradual shift will give the public a little exposure to marijuana and a
chance to become educated about it before they ignorantly reject a policy of legalization.
Thus, removing it as an offense punishable as a criminal offense is the first phase in
badly needed reform of the Narcotics Control Act governing the use of marijuana. In
addition, because the long-term adverse affects of marijuana are unknown and have not
been commented on it the literature, this will allow the government to monitor marijuana
use and even conduct studies on its effects before implementing a policy of legalization.
Another major problem is that the government is not willing to fund research on a drug
that is illegal. However, under a policy of decriminalization, the public will gain exposure
to the drug and will most likely be in support of research on marijuana to see if
legalization would be a good next policy step. If it is not a good policy then
"recrimalization" may have to be reconsidered. It is far more costly (in terms of public
support and even lives) to go from a crimalization to legalization to crimalization again.
However, if it is done in phases that go from criminalization to decriminalization to either
legalization or criminalization, it is far easier to reverse.
LONG-TERM LAW REFORM (Phase 2)
An obvious question here, is why is it better policy to legalize marijuana over decriminalizing it?
Decriminalization by definition means that marijuana is legal to have and use, but not to sell or buy. It seems illogical to ignore the seepage of marijuana into the system and have a thriving illicit market selling it to these users and condone small-quantity possession, yet at the same time make it illegal to buy. It is like sending the public a mixed message - a person can have it, but he or she cannot buy it because it is illegal in society. Under decriminalization, marijuana is still not freely purchased and an illicit market still exists. Kleiman (177) explains, "a rational marijuana trafficker ought to fear legalization, but should regard decriminalization as a good thing." Thus, while decriminalization decreases enforcement costs, society still has illicit market problems and the costs to control the illicit market still exist. Conversely, it is also unrealistic to have a market with free availability of marijuana consumption and cultivation and assume that nothing needs to be controlled, because marijuana is still a drug. As a realistic policy alternative, the researcher tends to support the eventual policy of controlled legalization to safeguard against some of the havoc that could be created from an open, unregulated policy of legalization.
Prohibition worsens the drug epidemic by forcing the prices to be so high that more crimes are committed to fund the habit (Gomme 342). Legalization would reduce the power of organized crime and the Black Market, and both generate (i.e. taxes from drug sales) and save money (i.e. reduce the number of people in jail and the backlogging of court cases). It is a far more logical policy. While cannabis can be grown all over the world, certain locations have been more favourable than others. Mexico, the Orient, Colombia, and Jamaica produce a plant that contains a higher THC concentration. Traditionally, cannabis grown in Canada has been less desirable because the THC level are too low. However, hydroponic technology is making it possible to produce a better-quality product in Canada (Gomme 333).
The government would easily be able to tap into the drug market by dropping the
street prices of marijuana to grab a corner of the marijuana market. It would create
competition with the illicit market by introducing cheaper prices and ensure that
customers were getting the "real stuff" not contaminated with impurities or laced with
strange materials. This would make the drugs more affordable and switch the clientele
to the government (Benjamin and Miller 174). Alcohol is a $7 billion industry in Canada
and profits generated by marijuana may be similar if not more because production costs
are almost insignificant (Gomme 327). Caputo and Ostrum (483) explain that with
marijuana total revenue practically equals its profits because production costs are on
average about $1/pound to manufacture. Marijuana, unlike tobacco, does not need to be
processed and rolled with a filter, so its production costs are almost insignificant. They
estimate that if the government was to tap into the marijuana market, a legalized
marijuana market (with lower prices) could generate between $5.05 - $6.45 billion
dollars [U.S.] in tax revenue a year. The marijuana market is the nation's leading
"multi-billion dollar cash crop" and has the potential to become a colossal market if the
government tapped into it. Marijuana is to easy to produce and this already because it
is so easy to produce farmers tend to overproduce compared to the expected demand
for marijuana. Marijuana is easily grown and thus far, marijuana shortages are rare.
Thus, it is a good business to get into and prices are already so unnecessarily high that
the government would easily be able to drop the price the get into the market and
prosper (Kleiman 90).
There are various restrictions that would have to be placed on marijuana to limit the
harms that might come from its increased availability. Research on the harmful effects of
marijuana is not yet conclusive about its long-term adverse effects, therefore, there are
always populations of special concern that need to be considered when implementing a
new policy (e.g. children, people with health problems, pregnant women). Thus, like in
any market, government regulations will have to be created and adhered to by the public
and people involved in the market. In addition, regulations will also help to sooth some
of the public concerns that might emerge if the legalization of marijuana was going to be
FORBIDDING SALE TO MINORS/ RESTRICTIONS ON USERS
The possible harm to the developing nervous system and mind of the child is an area
of concern. Thus far, there are no serious long-terms effects, but this is still of concern
to the public. Since laws often reflect public opinion, these concerns will have to be
adhered to. There needs to be regulations enforced for a "smoking age" to ban sales to
minors. If marijuana were to be legalized, a minimum age to purchase marijuana would
have to be implemented. A realistic minimum age would be the age of 18 because that
is the peak year in which marijuana is experimented with. Most of the users are between
the ages of 18 and 24, so this age restriction realistically deals with the problem at hand
- that is, the high use amongst the youth. Nonetheless marijuana is still used amongst
"minors" (i.e. people under the age of 18). The government would have to allow for a
certain amount of seepage, similar to the sale of alcohol and tobacco, to minors and
give these minors insignificant fines to pay if their use is detected. In addition, police
would have the discretion of charging or not charging a person if they are under the
age, or smoking in an unprohibited area (Kleiman 170).
Government should also regulate to install a maximum potency level for marijuana, similar to a "THC-ceiling" because it is possible to get marijuana that has a THC content similar to hashish and can therefore cause hallucinations. This will probably not drive people to the Black Market because most of the THC content of marijuana bought on the streets is very low anyway and most users are unaware of the THC content before they purchase the drugs anyway. Nonetheless, this will need to be implemented because the technology to cultivate a better strand of THC if not yet available, may become available by the time marijuana is legalized in Canada. In addition, although scientific research does not show a difference on the physiological
effects of marijuana and hashish on the body, until this is proven conclusively, it is not
worth it health-wise to play with high contents of THC, when lower doses do the job just
as well. Also, one does not want to see a hallucinating person get behind the wheel.
Legislative control of the actual cultivation will also help to safeguard against impurities
and laced cannabis from getting into the market.
REQUIRING HEALTH WARNING ON PACKAGES
If marijuana is sold publicly, it is important that the government have warning labels
included on the packaging. In one study, milk samples of nursing mothers who smoked
marijuana daily were taken and analyzed for traces of THC in a North Carolina
laboratory. The milk did contain THC. Later, the mothers allowed for their infants' feces
to be analyzed, and for their own blood and milk sampled one hour after smoking. The
milk had 8 times as much THC as the mothers' blood plasma. Mario Perez-Reyes, M.D.
and Monroe E. Wall said that the "findings indicate that THC concentrated and secreted
in human milk is absorbed by the nursing baby. Because of the effects on infants of
chronic exposure to THC and its metabolites are unknown, nursing mothers should
abstain from the use of marijuana." However, the infants were reported as developing
normal. The only known effect, which was not considered significant, was that women
who smoked marijuana during pregnancy had babies of lower birth weight (Jones and
Lovinger 79). Nonetheless, even though the effects on growing children and fetal
development are unknown, it is important to have warning labels that marijuana could
cause harm to a developing fetus or baby. In addition, marijuana speeds up the heart
rate. Although this is not problematic for people with a normal circulatory system, people
who suffer from cardiovascular or breathing problems are at risk and they should be
forewarned. Also, marijuana smoking in combination with tobacco could generate the
same problems as tobacco smoking alone. Many people combine the two and should be
warned about the health risks of doing so. Moreover, these are all populations at
potential risk and they should be warned via. warning labels (Kleiman 9).
SANCTIONS AGAINST RECKLESS BEHAVIOUR UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Marijuana actually suppresses aggression, unlike alcohol. Nonetheless, very potent
forms of it can cause hallucinations. While the government may have imposed a THC
ceiling, more potent forms of marijuana will be available in the Black Market and should
these people get behind the wheel they need will be liable to reckless driving charges,
similar to those imposed on people who drink and drive (Jones and Lovinger 377).
RESTRICTIONS ON MARKETING, AND TIME AND PLACE OF USE
Marijuana sale need to be taxed. Its sale also needs to be controlled. A suggestion might be that the government should introduce licensing, similar to that of alcohol with a Liquor License Board of Canada and the hours of operation of these distributors need to be regulated. Nonetheless, even the open sale of marijuana, the Black Market is unlikely to disappear completely. So long as its existence goes unnoticed and is not threatening, the government will just have to ignore it. If the Black Market becomes problematic depending on the type of activity done, the government will have to take certain action, maybe even impose criminal penalties. It just depends on the type of activity. Secondly, the government should impose bans on the use of marijuana in some public places. For example, in Amsterdam, marijuana is allowed to be smoked in "coffee houses" and these coffee houses even have a "marijuana menu." The government may allow for a similar sort of system or innovate one on its own. The researcher tends to support the Dutch system because it is unfair to have "second-hand marijuana smoke" imposed on members of the public that do not smoke. Unrestricted use of marijuana anywhere in public may anger the public because it has a very distinct smell and may repulse non-users, bother users who are pregnant or who have adverse health conditions, and/or even expose minors to chances of experimentation (Boyd 83).
The researcher has drafted this policy of a controlled legalization as an alternative to the present policy of criminalization. It is by no means perfect, but has attempted to solve some of the issues surrounding the marijuana problem. Nonetheless, it is worthy of consideration in an area of law that is in bad need of reform.
V. CONCLUSION AND FINAL THOUGHTS
The war on drugs with a prohibition policy in place has not been totally unsuccessful, it just may not be the best policy given marijuana's widespread use. People, even under criminalization, have continued using marijuana and have always found a way around the system (e.g. home cultivation as opposed to importing marijuana). In addition, there seems to be more harm done by the law than by the drug. The Narcotics Control Act, even with Bill C-7 that reduces the penalties of marijuana offenses, still treats cannabis as a criminal offense. The current law is too harsh and illegitimately imposes criminal sanctions on a harmless, victimless crime. Erickson's investigation of how the law turns innocent users into "cannabis criminals" while legitimizing the use of alcohol and tobacco, both legal and lethal drugs, confirms this. Conversely, there are clear benefits with alternative policies like decriminalization or legalization. The question remains how will marijuana markets change if enforcement is increased. How will marijuana markets change if the current policy is left alone? And how will marijuana markets change if enforcement is decreased?
Governments should stop dreaming of a drug free society and wake up to the
situational reality. Whether the government adopts a policy of decriminalization or
legalization, there needs to be more tolerance of a drug that is widely used and will likely
remain to be widely used, because thus far enforcement has been ineffective in
eradicating marijuana use and increased enforcement or slightly decreased
enforcement (e.g. Bill C7) is unlikely to make a difference. Furthermore, there are no
longer any good reasons to keep marijuana illegal. It is a relatively harmless drug with
excellent potential in medical advances and generating billions of dollars. The problem
with reforming the present marijuana law is inertia. The government is reluctant to
change the law because of appearing to promote the use of drugs to a public that is
generally intolerant to its use because of its minimal exposure to the drug. However,
marijuana is not a very dangerous drug and the costs of controlling it far outweigh the
value of keeping it illegal. Inertia does not provide an adequate reason for safeguarding
the status quo and society needs to look at alternative policies - starting with
decriminalization. It is high time that the government reform the laws that prohibit
marijuana use and adopt a more realistic, softer policy for a relatively soft drug.
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CANNABIS USE AMONG STUDENTS IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS
(13 -18 Years) in THE NETHERLANDS and THE UNITED STATES
13-14 years 15-16 years 17 - 18 years
Male Female Male Female Male and Female
US NL US NL US NL US NL US NL
lifetime: 15% 3% 14% 2% 40% 12% 30% 9% 44% 18%
last mo: 5% 2% 5% 1% 17% 7% 13% 4% 17%
Source: Elsner, Michael C. "The Sociology of Reefer Madness; The Criminalizationof
Marijuana in the US." The Journal of Drug Issues. vol. 23(2). 1993.
CANADA'S DRUG TAKERS:
USERS, COSTS, AND ATTRIBUTABLE DEATHS
Annual No. Cost per wk. Possibility of Drug Related
of Users for ave. user Overdose Death Deaths per year
Alcohol 16000000 $10 - $100 yes 3000 - 15000
Amphetamines <100000 $100 - $500 yes <100
Cocaine 300000 - 500000 $10 - $5500 yes <100
Heroin <100000 $50 - $5500 yes <100
LSD <100000 <$20 no <10
Marijuana 1500000 - 2500000 $10 - $100 no <10
Tobacco 6000000 - 8000000 $30 - $100 no 350000
Tranquillizers 1500000 - 2500000 $0 - $20 no
Source: Gomme, Ian McDermid. The Shadow Line; Deviance and Crime in Canada. Toronto: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich Canada. 1993.