Should marijuana be legalized?
My personal opinion on whether any behavior should be legal is typically determined by the impact of that behavior on other members of society. In general, I don’t care if someone owns a gun, as long as that ownership does not infringe upon another persons ability to live. Have all the guns you want, just don’t shoot other people. Drink all the alcohol you want, just don’t hit others with a car. Eat all the chicken you want, just don’t beat your neighbor with one. Marry anyone that you want, just don’t make me marry your crazy ex-boyfriend, or ex-girlfriend. I think people should be free to make their own decisions, and that they should then be made to live with the consequences of those decisions.
All of that being said, there are a number of things that trouble me about marijuana. According to Levinthal (2012), “In men, marijuana reduces the level of testosterone, reduces sperm count in the semen, and increases the percentage of abnormally formed sperm” (p 178). If someone wants to take the chance that their child will be born with an abnormality, that is their decision. But the general public should also not have the burden of supporting children born with disabilities because of these bad decisions. So from a legal perspective, you should be able to smoke marijuana or drink alcohol, but you should be held criminally liable if you give birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome or a birth defect due to your marijuana use. I also believe that just as the government has the obligation to regulate the use of alcohol or tobacco as it relates to public safety, the government should be able to regulate the use of marijuana as it relates to public safety. You can’t smoke on a plane because of the dangers to others from second hand smoke. You can’t operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol because of the depressant effects of the drug upon the reaction time of the driver. You can’t use alcohol under the age of 21 and you can’t use tobacco under the age of 18. I believe that the state does have a compelling interest in regulating the use of marijuana in similar situations. No, you should not be able to show up for work under the influence of marijuana. If that means that this drug will be in your system for up to 28 days, then people should be prepared to not participate in brain surgery or the operation of heavy machinery for those periods of time. I will say that a friend of mine who is a police officer and has not used marijuana has said on a number of occasions that he would rather tangle with someone under the influence of marijuana than someone under the influence of anything else, including legal alcohol. Marijuana users, in his opinion, are less violent, and pose less of a physical threat to public order.
I also think that the government actually had it right with the Harrison Act of 1914. The government has an accepted ability to levy taxes. We tax alcohol, tobacco, gasoline, and I think we should tax marijuana as well. Our great nation has a long and distinguished history of taxing things to control consumption. Tobacco taxes are significantly higher than taxes on anything else, typically because municipalities can pass such laws relatively easily. By making tobacco more expensive, the government is exerting a small amount of control over the use of it, by making it more expensive. The opportunity exists for this level of control over marijuana as well.
I am also seriously against the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug. In my opinion, there has been no scientific evidence that this particular drug is any more dangerous than the Schedule II drugs. The issue of marijuana being a “gateway drug” is concerning to me because similar claims can be made about tobacco and alcohol, but they are not similarly classified.
I will say that I was very surprised to read that, “[a]mong forty-five year-old Americans who have attained a least a high school education, approximately 75 percent have smoked marijuana at least once in their lives” (Levinthal, 2012, p. 182). As a 39 year old, I am quite surprised to see that 3 out of every 4 Americans my age have tried it at least once. When I look at my peers, without asking, I would daresay that is not an accurate estimate. I have never used marijuana, and I don’t think that my three closest friends have. I would guess that in a group of about 10 people I know my age, maybe 2 or 3 have. However, statistics being what they are, it is possible that there are social groups where that statistic would say that 4 out of 4 people have tried marijuana.
Levinthal, C. F. (2012). Drugs, behavior, and modern society. (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson College Div.