Marijuana is a psychoactive product derived from the hemp plant (cannabis indica and cannabis sativa ). Also known variously as cannabis, ganja, weed, grass, pot and many other monikers, it is one of the strongest naturally-produced psychotropic drugs there is, with over 150 million users the world over. It is the most frequently used prohibited drug in the country, with almost 17 million Americans reporting past-month use.
The use of marijuana as a psychoactive substance has been recorded from as far back as 600 B.C. However, the hemp plant itself has been used as a farming crop for much longer, possibly between the Neolithic and Chalcolithic period, around 9,000 – 11,500 years ago. The plant is believed to be indigenous to Central Asia, although it is now found in almost every corner of the globe.
While marijuana has been present in North America for several centuries, massive quantities emerged and began to be traded commercially in the United States at the start of the 20th century at the onset on the Mexican Revolution when a number of Mexican immigrants who were fleeing across the border brought their hemp stockholding along. In fact, the term marijuana was popularized with their arrival, overtaking the then prevalent ‘Indian hemp’, among others.
II.What’s cooking, pot?
The primary psychoactive ingredient of the hemp plant is the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The THC, which is obtained from the leaves, oil and resins of the plant, activates the cannabinoid receptors in our nervous system, which facilitates the neurotransmission of the chemically generated stimulatory psychological and physiological effects to our brain.
There are multiple delivery methods of the THC to human users. Some of the most popular ones include:
Marijuana is a Schedule I (d. Hallucinogenic Substances, Code No: 7360) substance under the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Code of Federal Regulation Title 21 (Codified U.S.C. Controlled Substances Act, Section 1308.11), which places it alongside amphetamines (speed), bufotenin (found on the skin of poisonous toads and mushroom) and N-methyl-3-piperidyl benzilate (ingredient for military grade chemical weapons).
The DEA notes that,
“Drugs listed in Schedule I have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and, therefore, may not be prescribed, administered, or dispensed for medical use. In contrast, drugs listed in schedules II-V have some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered, or dispensed for medical use.”
It remains a source of great consternation among the pro-marijuana lobbies that it is classified under Schedule 1, despite the absence of even a single recorded case of death resulting from marijuana consumption, while the far more dangerous substances (statistically, medically and psychologically) such as codeine, opiates (morphine and heroin), methadone and cocaine are categorized under Schedule II (…substances, vegetable origin or chemical synthesis… produced directly or indirectly by extraction from substances of vegetable origin…
The criminalization of marijuana came into motion early in the twentieth century through a series of legal and extra-legal actions that began in 1906 with the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act and culminated on July 1, 1973, with the establishment of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Based on several decades’ worth of empirical evidence, there is a strong consensus among the scientific community that, used on its own, marijuana presents no danger to the user. It is not physically addictive (although psychological addiction reportedly accounts for 10% of marijuana users) and does not generate adverse physical effects even for long-term users. Essentially, it is safer than alcohol, cigarettes or trans fat.
Economically, hemp is considered as one of the most valuable and versatile plants for single-crop farming. It is a source of food, cooking oil, fiber (used by the wood, paper and fabric industry), building material, livestock feed, fuel, medicinal products and much more. The exceptionally fast growing hemp is also noted for its ecological efficiency (almost every part of the plant is useful) and resilience to natural pests.
All this of course brings into question why marijuana was criminalized, despite being a legal crop for 162 years. The federal government effectively banned marijuana with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act Of 1937. The Act, coinciding with the ‘Reefer Madness’ hysteria of the 30s, received the support of a majority of Americans, who were convinced that marijuana was an addictive drug that promotes a criminal lifestyle, causes health complications, perverts the natural order of society and possesses none of the claimed medical properties. There was a perception that its users were degenerates, criminals and immigrants, a perception that was shared by the majority of the legislators in Congress.
The campaign for marijuana’s banning was headed by the infamous Harry Jacob Anslinger, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (FBNDD), who was once quoted as saying that,
“Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind… most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes.”
Pro-marijuana lobbyists, however, conclude that the real reason for the criminalization of marijuana was an economic one. In his book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer explained that the invention of the decorticator machine presented a serious threat to the industrial empire of William Randolph Hearst (the timber and newspaper baron), the DuPont firm (which had invested heavily in the new nylon technology) and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon (Chairman of the Mellon Bank, who loaned enormous sums of money to finance DuPont’s nylon research). Anslinger, who was reportedly the husband of Mellon’s niece, Martha Kind Denniston, was roped in to head the offensive against the hemp industry.
The decorticator would’ve been able to harvest the hemp plant at 400% efficiency against existing timber processing technologies. Consequently, the hemp industry will be able to produce fibers for the paper and fabric industry at a phenomenally lower rate compared to the timber and cotton industry. Furthermore, the hemp plant grows exponentially faster than normal trees and cottons, while offering farmers added revenues from its leaves, flowers and seeds. It would’ve led to a swift downfall of Hearst, DuPont and Mellon’s business empires.
However, critics contend that the theory has no evidence behind it and is purely circumstantial. The alleged connection between Anslinger and Mellon remains unconfirmed, as there is no record that Martha Kind was the niece of Mellon.
Furthermore, DuPont’s main source of income was from its chemical and weapon plants, and the failure of one arm of its business would not have been as catastrophic as depicted. More importantly though, nylon and hemp fabrics are not natural competitors, as both targets different buying demographics.
The country is divided, if not by facts, by emotion and dogmatic beliefs on the subject of decriminalizing marijuana. Despite the small victories of the pro-marijuana lobbies in the last couple of decades, they appear to have reached a stalemate with their opponents.
The anti-marijuana lobbies are adamant in their belief that legalization of marijuana will herald the arrival of tsunami-like wave of drug-related crimes, social and health issues. Such a decision will be construed as tacit approval of the drug culture, and aggravate the already precarious moral slope that the youths of the nation are now perched on.
Additionally, many argue that marijuana is a gateway drug, a substance that will eventually drive a user to experiment with hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin. The decriminalization will inevitably open the floodgates to an irrepressible surge in recreational use of the drug, which will undoubtedly expose even non-users to danger. Bus drivers, machine operators, teachers and police officers, for instance, will all be exposed to the temptation of using. After all, for a substance that is supposedly less dangerous than cigarettes, what is there to stop someone from smoking a joint while on duty?
There is also evidence that marijuana causes dependence (if not outright addiction), respiratory, cognitive and motor impairment to long-term users. Several studies have also shown a link between chronic use and increased instances of mental illnesses. Of course, while some may argue that THC is not as dangerous as nicotine, the fact remains that smoke from a joint cause the same level of exposure to carcinogens as smoking a cigarette would.
Furthermore, the often cited tax windfall from legalization is misleading, as the resulting social and health care cost from a significant increase in user base would outstrip any estimate revenues, as can be observed from the cigarettes and alcohol industry, which contributes $39.5 billion in revenue in 2007, but costs the nation an estimated indirect cost of $385 billion.
May 3, 2005: Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona speaking about marijuana at the Office of National Drug Control Policy
“Marijuana is a serious drug problem in the United States. Continued use is affecting the mind of our nation's youth and can distort their priorities that they have for their lives and their future. Of all teenagers in drug treatment programs, more than half have a primary marijuana diagnosis. More teens are using marijuana at earlier ages. We really need to stop this trend. As parents, leaders and community members, we need to face this problem head on and teach our youths that marijuana is dangerous and addictive.”
Pro-marijuana lobbies charged that the entire case for the opposition to decriminalization is built on stereotypes, disinformation and questionable facts. The fact that the country legally permit the sales and consumption of two substances that kills 541,340 Americans last year (tobacco related, 430,700; alcohol related, 110,640) but criminalize a product that did not directly cause even a single death last year is reason enough to legalize marijuana. The travesty of the past 74 years must be halted, through a serious dialogue and eventually, legislative reforms.
Decriminalizing marijuana will decrease the pressure on the American criminal justice system, law enforcement and prison authorities, which handles in excess of 800,000 marijuana-related cases annually, and in the process, prevent the permanent tarring of a citizen’s record for the crime of carrying over 40 grams of the drug on their person. It will also provide the economy with an immediate stimulus from taxes, and generate a new economic activity (marijuana resale outlets).
No conclusive evidence has yet been presented to support claims that marijuana affects cognitive, motor or mental complications for heavy users of the drug. However, it has been proven that marijuana possesses a myriad of medical benefits, foremost for its painkilling properties, as well as its positive effect for a range of psychological disorders.
Another important consideration lays the concept of individual liberty. Do the government have the right prevent Americans from consuming marijuana, especially in the face of their continued tolerance of the eminently more dangerous cigarettes?
A final point of note lies in the decision of the Dutch and Portuguese government to legalize marijuana in 1976 and 2001, respectively. Their decisions have been vindicated many times over, and the prophesized social breakdown and explosive rise in crime rates were wildly off the mar.
October 17, 2010: Former Surgeon General of the United States, Joycelyn Elders, CNN Interview
“Marijuana has never really caused anyone to die. It’s not a toxic substance and I just think that we can use our resources so much better and I think we need to legalize marijuana for adults and tax it, so we can use the money for much better things. Make it such that you can’t smoke it around children… you can’t sell, it’s illegal to sell it to children… I just think that this is the thing that we should do rather than grabbing up young people, throwing them in prison. They lose their opportunity to ever get a federal scholarship and to me that’s just wrong… Marijuana is not addictive, physically addictive anyway. And the most addictive substance we got out there is nicotine… What I think is horrible about all of this, is that we criminalize young people. And we use so many of our excellent resources ... for things that aren’t really causing any problems.”
Presidential Candidates Formerly Known As Pot Smokers
Johnson believes that the ongoing war on drugs has been a costly failure. A prescription based model, similar to the ones used successfully in Holland and Portugal, should be explored on hard drugs such as heroin. If elected, Johnson has pledged to offer a full pardon for citizens convicted of non-violent marijuana crime.
Johnson is firmly behind the efforts to legalize medical marijuana and rejects the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. He admits to using recreational drugs while in college in the 1970s, as well as between 2005 and 2007 to help with the pain after a paragliding accident in Hawaii, falling fifty feet to the ground after his sail got tangled in a tree. Johnson: I think marijuana should be legalized. I think 90% of the drug problem today is prohibition related. I think that it’s crazy that half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts and the prisons is drug related, about $70 billion a year. I think it’s insane we’re arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country on drug related crime. And Stephen, when I say legalize marijuana, it’s never gonna be legal to smoke pot, do harm to others. It’s never gonna be legal for kids to smoke pot.
Colbert: Are you high right now?
May 10, 2010: Gary Johnson on The Colbert Report
“Well, I just think as a Republican, for me, serving as Governor of New Mexico, everything was a cost benefit analysis. Everything. And in that context, as Governor of New Mexico, I realize that half, and this is every single state in the country, our country, half of what we spent on law enforcement, the courts and the prison is drug related - about $70 billion a year. And what are we getting for the money we’re spending?
Well, we’re arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country. I point out that’s the population of New Mexico that gets arrested every single year. And we now have 2.3 million people behind bars in this country. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. I advocate legalizing marijuana. Control it, regulate it, tax it.
It’s never gonna be legal for kids to smoke pot, or buy pot. It’s never gonna be legal for somebody who smoke pot, become impaired, get behind the wheel of a car or do harm to others. We need to recognize that the violence on the border with Mexico, 28,000 deaths south of the border over the last four years, this is drug related, this is money and drugs.
We went through this when we prohibited alcohol. When we prohibited alcohol, Al Capone was the man of the day, right? As opposed to legalizing it, controlling it, taxing it. I think there are now 30 million Americans that have been subject to our criminal justice system that but for our drug laws, would otherwise be tax paying law abiding citizens.”
February 11, 2011: Johnson speaking with CBSNews’ Stephanie Condon
“And then for me as governor of New Mexico, everything was a cost-benefit analysis. There weren't any sacred cows –everything was a cost-benefit analysis. What are we spending money on and what are we getting for the money that we're spending? So in that sense, the drug war is absolutely a failure.”
April 22, 2011: Johnson on ABC News’ Topline
“And I have had a fairly recent experience having broken my back prior to this. In ’99 I broke my back and I used pain killers for about three weeks and it took me, I felt like it took me two months to get off of the pain killers. And by get off, the constipation that was associated with that, the insomnia that went along with that; I couldn’t sleep. And it made me realize that people that use these kinds of prescription pain meds, they use them their entire lives, it has to cut their lives short, it has to. It’s not healthy. And I found that using pain medication kind of masked one pain for another; it just traded the sensation of pain for something that was not right either, it wasn’t right.
So my paragliding accident, I found myself on the floor and I found myself taking pain medication and I have a friend coming over and here’s the diagnosis, here’s what I have to do. “Gary, would you like me to see if I can get you some marijuana?” And, “Yes, that would be great. That would be great. I think that would help me out considerably.” And it did.
As I’m lying there on the floor. And I don’t want to be, I don’t want to say that it was pain but it’s also this notion that I’m on the floor for weeks. I’m on the floor for weeks and how do you deal with that? And I just thought that marijuana really helped me deal with all of that. And then back to no pain- you know I never took any pain medication after that and the whole notion of- it took me three years to recover from that accident. I mean doctors were saying that this was it for me as far as an active lifestyle. And I’m as active as I’ve ever been today. So I feel myself to be fully recovered. I can’t stand in one position for hours on end without having an effect on my vertebrae on my spine but other than that I’m pretty okay.”
June 30, 2011: Johnson in an interview with The 420Times
“As President I believe pardoning those convicted under federal law would encourage the governors of the fifty states to likewise make it possible for a lot of good people to erase the blot of marijuana offenses from their records for state offenses.”
November 3, 2011, Press Release: Gary Johnson to Drug Policy Alliance: Pardon non-violent marijuana offenses — and remove marijuana from schedule I of the controlled substances act