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Its shocking to some, but not to others! Marijuana is a substance that has
become very much a part of American culture, nearly 65 million Americans have
either used it occasionally or regularly. The use of marijuana hit mainstream
America about thirty years ago and it has been accepted by a large segment of
society ever since. The debate on whether this substance should be legalized
or not remains a very hot topic today. Despite government efforts to isolate
and eliminate its use, it is clear that the use of marijuana is still very
There is an obvious problem concerning marijuana today. Governments on all
three levels: local, state, and federal are trying desperately to find an
appropriate policy involving marijuana. National polls show that more than
70% of the American people, from both ends of the political spectrum, support
controlled access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite fierce
opposition from the federal government, voters in California and Arizona
passed ballot initiatives in the fall of 1996 favoring the legalization of
medicinal marijuana. If support for marijuana at least as a medicinal remedy
is so high, then why have only a few states taken steps to change their
policy? There are several reasons why marijuana remains illegal. Mainly, it
is a political issue kicked around by certain special interest groups. Some
of these groups perceive marijuana as a threat to the home, tearing families
apart and causing them to abandon traditional values. However these groups
usually are not legitimate areas of legislation. The more powerful groups
have other, more practical reasons for keeping marijuana illegal. Among the
most powerful of these groups are the combined law
enforcement-judiciary-penal systems. This group sees the elimination of
marijuana laws as a threat to their jobs. Add to this group defense lawyers,
who stand to make millions of dollars defending marijuana offenders.
Consciously or not, they support anti-marijuana laws. Another interest group
includes the scientists whose marijuana research is funded by the government.
If marijuana were legalized, they would lose millions of dollars in research
grants intended to prove the detrimental effects of the substance. Two other
unrelated but very influential groups are the liquor lobby and pharmaceutical
companies. Their spending is usually very secretive and not publicized very
much. Legalization of a competing product that can be produced with relative
ease by anyone with access to a plot of land would cut deeply into their
profits. And the drug companies want control, rather than just a ban, for
they know the medicinal benefits of marijuana . Therefore the major reason
marijuana continues to remain illegal, is that special interest groups are
blocking legislation by extensive lobbying. Clearly it is seen that many
people support its use, at least for medical reasons.
It is obvious that the current policy for marijuana is not working very
efficiently. The government spends billions of dollars every year to stop its
use. This leads to the opening of a very extensive black market for
marijuana, because the drug is still in high demand. With the black market
comes all the crime and violent acts that create a new problem of
overcrowding prison populations. In effect, the government does not really
solve the marijuana problem; instead it just creates a new one in its place.
The present policy on marijuana is that it is classified as a Schedule I drug
in the Controlled Substances Act. This law established criteria for
determining which substances should be controlled, mechanisms for reducing
the availability of controlled drugs, and a structure of penalties for
illegal distribution and possession of controlled drugs. The criteria for
Schedule I substances are: The drug or other substance has a high potential
for abuse, is not currently accepted for use in medical treatment in the
United States, has not been proven safe for use under medical supervision.
Along with marijuana, hashish, and THC, drugs listed in Schedule 1 are
heroin, LSD, mescaline, peyote, and many other hallucinogens. This makes it
illegal for anyone to buy, sell, grow, or possess any amount of marijuana
anywhere in the United States. State laws vary in terms of penalties issued.
Under New York State Law, a first possession of up to twenty-five grams of
marijuana in private results in a $100 fine. If there is a second possession
of the same amount, the fine is increased to $200. The cultivation of
marijuana results in a $1000 fine and up to one-year imprisonment. The same
applies to the sale of marijuana. There are harsher penalties issued if the
offender is convicted of possession, cultivation, or sale of marijuana in
public. Possession of marijuana in public results in a $500 fine and up to
three months imprisonment. Cultivation results in up to one-year imprisonment
and a $1000 fine. Sale of marijuana in public can result in a four-year
imprisonment. Penalties become harsher depending upon the amount of marijuana
in possession, cultivation, or sale. The apex is reached at a fifteen-year
imprisonment with the possession, cultivation, or sale of over ten pounds of
marijuana or more.
Source and Ingredients
Marijuana is defined as the mixture of leaves, stems, and flowering tops of
the hemp plant, in the genus Cannabis. There are three species: Cannabis
sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The hemp plant now grows
wild throughout most of the world and can be cultivated in any area with a
hot season. Some 421 chemicals in 18 different chemical classes have been
detected in the hemp plant. It synthesizes at least 61 distinct substances
called cannabinoids that are not found in any other genus of plants. The most
significant of these substances is 1-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, an oily,
water-insoluble liquid. In popular writing it is often called simply THC. The
THC content of marijuana generally varies from 0.5% to 6%. Patterns of Use
There are many different cannabis preparations that are widely used to obtain
effects. Cannabis may be either smoked or taken by mouth. However the same
dose of THC is about three times as effective when smoked as when ingested.
In the United States marijuana is usually smoked in the form of a hand-rolled
cigarette (“joint” or “reefer”), but it is also smoked in a variety of pipes.
Until the 1960’s the pattern in the United States was one of intermittent use
of marijuana on social occasions by a relatively small number of young
adults, together with regular use by some jazz musicians, urban minority
groups, and Mexican Americans in the Southwest. In the following years,
however, marijuana use increased sharply. By 1979, 68% of young adults 18 to
25 had tried marijuana at least once, 35% had used it in the month just
before the survey, and about 2/3 of current users reported using it five or
more times per month. About 9% of users reported use on a daily basis. The
use of marijuana also increased sharply in other countries throughout the
Psychological and Physiological Effects
THC produces its actions primarily on the nervous system and on the heart
and blood vessels. The effects depend on the dose, the route of
administration, and on the degree of tolerance that has developed. Because
individuals vary in the way they inhale the smoke and because marijuana
varies in THC content, the amount of active THC that reaches the bloodstream
during smoking varies greatly . Generally, smoking a marijuana cigarette with
a 2% THC content (equivalent to about 20 mg taken orally) produces changes in
mood, mental abilities, coordination, blood pressure, and pulse. The most
common result is the state commonly referred to as a “high”, including an
increased sense of well being (euphoria), relaxation, and sleepiness.
Short-term memory is impaired, and the capacity to carry out goal-directed
problems requiring multiple and mental steps is reduced. Users may experience
feelings of strangeness and unreality. Sights and sounds may take on new
qualities. The sense of time is often altered to that minutes may seem like
hours. Balance and stability are impaired even with low doses, as are complex
behaviors (perception, information processing) involved in driving. Low
doses also produce increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and a
reddening of the eyes due to dilation of conjunctival vessels. Higher doses
can produce hallucinations, delusions, and unrealistic suspiciousness and
feeling of persecution. Anxiety increases, and a state of panic may occur.
Thinking becomes confused and disorganized. Because the onset of the drug
effect is rapid when marijuana is smoked, most users learn to avoid overdose
by taking only as many inhalations as are required to produce the desired
“high”. Smoking high doses of marijuana or hashish over long periods of time
produces severe bronchitis, and the “tar” produced when marijuana is smoked
is more potent than the “tar” from tobacco in causing cancer in animals.
Medical Uses The pharmacological effects of the hemp plant have been known
since ancient times. A Chinese pharmacopoeia compiled nearly 2,000 years ago
recommended it for treating a number of disorders, and it was used in India
before the 10th century AD. There are no currently approved uses for
marijuana in the United States, except for two states California and Arizona,
which have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Clinical research has
shown that THC is effective in reducing the nausea that cancer patients
experience when they are treated with chemotherapy. Marijuana is also
believed to stimulate appetite. In asthma patients, several studies have
shown that THC acts as a bronchodilator and reserves bronchial constriction.
In treating epilepsy, marijuana is used to prevent both grande mal and other
epileptic seizures in some patients. Marijuana also limits the muscle pain
and spastically caused by multiple sclerosis and it relieves tremor and
unsteady gait. Lastly, marijuana has been clinically shown to be effective in
relieving muscle spasm and spasticity.
History of Marijuana Laws
The hemp plant was once a widely cultivated plant in the New World by
settlers. It has been known for centuries that the fiber from the hemp plant
is very useful in making ropes. Therefore the cultivation of the hemp plant
was encouraged and much needed. The Virginia Assembly, urging farmers to grow
the crop for its fiber passed the first law concerning the hemp plant in
1619. There was virtually no significant legislation passed concerning the
hemp plant until the 1900’s. It was at this time when American attitudes
towards Mexicans became hostile. Marijuana obtained a foul reputation when
Mexican peasants crossed the border into Texas. It was widely used by Mexican
peasants as an intoxicant. The Texas police claimed that marijuana caused
these Mexican settlers to commit violent crimes. Therefore in 1914, the first
ban on possession of marijuana was passed in El Paso, Texas. Many other
states followed Texas, and in 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act.
This law made the possession of marijuana illegal anywhere in the United
States. During the McCarthy era, the Boggs Acts were passed to define
mandatory minimums for the possession of marijuana. Congress moved to an even
stronger position in 1956 by lengthening these mandatory minimum sentences.
Anti-marijuana feelings continued to grow, and state laws often imposed
stricter penalties than the federal penalties. In the 1960’s, however, a
strange phenomenon began to occur. For the first time in history, marijuana
use began to rise amongst the white middle class. Many mandatory sentences
were repealed. This was seen in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and
Control Act of 1970. Most of the states followed the federal government, and
the possession of marijuana was decriminalized. However in the 1980’s the
government once again changed its mind, with the passage of the Anti-Abuse
Act of 1986, which once again imposed mandatory minimum sentences for a wide
range of drug offenses. The last major piece of legislation passed by the
federal government (not state governments) was in 1996, which stated that any
American convicted of a marijuana felony may no longer receive federal
welfare or food stamps.
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