Understanding the Marijuana Debate

Originally reported on SensibleReason.com on November 9, 2013

Debate over the legalization of marijuana in the United States has long centered itself in daily conversations and discourse amongst politicians and American citizens alike. Those for legalization argue that it could provide additional tax revenue in a hurting economy, that limiting it intrudes on personal freedoms, and that legalizing the drug could make it safer, even though, if used in moderation, the drug is minimally harmful. However, those against legalization argue that marijuana paves the way for other, harder drug usage, causes physical damage to users and bystanders, and that legalization of the drug will make it easier to access for children. Regardless of your position, the debate is a tough one to follow, with politicians and advocates of their stance teeter-tottering back and forth on their positions and spewing out too many numbers and statistics for one to comprehend.

Recently a Gallup poll revealed that, for the first time in over 40 years, a majority of Americans support the legalization of marijuana: 52 percent. Yet, only two states — Colorado and Washington — have approved full marijuana usage in recreational settings. And only 19 more, including the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana use. Will the increasing popularity push more states to legalize the drug? Or will opponents stand their ground and prevent any bills from passing through? Before we will know we have to understand the ins and outs of each position in the marijuana debate.

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Gateway Drug Theory

Arguments Against Marijuana Legalization – Those against the legalization of marijuana argue that it is often used as a stepping stone to more drug experimentation, namely that of heroin, LSD, cocaine, or other harder drugs. This could be accidental — since marijuana can only be bought illegally on the streets, there are widely believed myths of a higher chance they could be laced with something else — or on purpose. The argument being, that marijuana users are emboldened by the “harmlessness” of the drug and search for bigger and better highs, pushing them to experiment with more dangerous drugs. Although they don’t necessary become addicted right away the “Gateway Drug” theory suggests,  that even just one hit can be fatal or that one hit can hook you for life. The social context of the drug also plays a part into  the gateway theory. Since users are forced to buy from street dealers, they have easier access to many of these harder drugs, creating a direct pathway and increasing the chance of addiction. Additionally, some fear that the legalization of marijuana will lead to the legalization of these other drugs.

Arguments For Marijuana Legalization – However, proponents for the legalization of marijuana cite studies that prove there is no correlation between marijuana use and the use of harder drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. They also argue that the legalization of marijuana would prevent some of the issues mentioned above. With legalization comes regulation, which could prevent marijuana from being allegedly laced with other drugs, taking it off the street market and separate it from its harder cousins.

Health Effects

Against – Although most studies performed on the effects of marijuana are very controversial,some studies link extended marijuana usage to several adverse health effects, such as brain damage, cancer, lung damage, depression, a motivational syndrome, and occasionally, death. In addition to the brain damage abuse of the drug has been shown to cause memory loss and difficulty in problem solving. Again, the issue of mixing drugs is brought up again here. Can anyone guarantee exactly what they’re getting when they buy weed off of the street? No. Marijuana could be laced with other drugs that have even more serious effects, and may, in bad enough cases, give them a severe enough high that results in death. While users may understand and accept these risks, opponents of marijuana legalization argue that it is not fair to the greater public. Legalization would lead to more widespread use and open up the dangers of secondhand smoke to innocent bystanders — this fact is especially jarring when we think of children being exposed to marijuana smoke and not being able to do anything about it.

An Initiative To Legalize Marijuana In California To Appear On Nov. Ballot

For – One of the more profound arguments for the legalization of marijuana in the health sector is the benefits it can have for a multitude of diseases, most notably in chemotherapy treatments. Studies at The Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California have found that cannabis, the main ingredient in marijuana, helps treat severe appetite suppression, weight loss, cachexia (“wasting syndrome”) due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and other wasting conditions, chronic pain, seizures, severe nausea and vomiting associated with cancer and chemotherapy, and several other diseases. Moreover, proponents of marijuana legalization argue that studies noting adverse effects of marijuana are inconclusive and contradictory. Of course, health effects will arise if you abuse the drug, but isn’t abuse of any substance a problem? Alcohol, tobacco… pizza? They argue for the same respect given to these potentially life-harming “goods:” encourage moderation, but promote legalization. Lastly, those for the legalization of marijuana argue that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) could help prevent these health risks by regulating the quality and safety of the drug. It’s already out there — why not make it safe?


Against – Opponents of marijuana legalization argue that if use of the drug were to become acceptable, it would increase crime rates and act as a danger to our society. Drunk driving is a major problem in our society, which leads us to believe that driving high would follow suit. The lapse in judgement caused by drug use could also lead to harder crimes such as rape or robbery. Furthermore, opponents argue, those who produce, sell, or use marijuana are already working against the law, showing that they are more likely to commit more serious crimes. If they are in prison, or at least reprimanded for their previous crimes, they aren’t able to or have less incentive to commit other crimes. Another argument within this category focuses on kids. Opponents argue that legalizing marijuana would increase access to the drug to children, much like we have seen through alcohol and tobacco sales.


For – Advocates for marijuana legalization say thatcriminalization of the drug traps one into a flawed system with just one drug bust, setting up the rest of their life as a criminal because of their record. Once you have a record, it’s harder to get jobs and get into schools, especially if there is a prison sentence attached, setting one up for failure and landing them a spot in the drug culture. Legalization would also decrease crimes within the drug community because with more marijuana and less risk on the market, prices would have to be lowered. Less people with serious addictions would have to resort to robbery and other crimes to generate the money needed to get their fix. With a supportive police force in place, instead of one that patronizes the drug, one might be more willing to call the police or a lawyer to solve drug disputes instead of resorting to cycles of retaliatory violence.  Advocates also argue that with the legalization of marijuana, all police and court resources would be free to focus on more serious crimes, such as terrorism, harder drugs, rape, murder, etc.,.


Against – Some of those in the crusade against marijuana legalization consider use of the drug as simply morally wrong. Since many religions and moral codes advise against the use of intoxicating substances, they believe that marijuana should not be legalized for fear of an increase in usage. They argue that legalization of the drug will also send a signal to teenagers that the drug is okay, has no adverse health effects, and is generally accepted by society.

For – Proponents of the legalization of marijuana ask, who are you to tell me what is moral? They argue that restricting the drug intrudes on personal freedom, and that even if the drug is shown to be harmful, it is up to every person to decide their fate.

Economically Stimulating

For – Additional tax revenue is a key proponent in the fight for the legalization of marijuana. Much like alcohol and cigarettes, an enormous amount of money could be raised for the failing economy through government taxation. The legalization of marijuana would also create many more jobs as the market opened to competition and more thought and regulation had to go into the production and transportation process. Aside from recreational drug use, cannabis also has several industrial and commercial uses, including construction and thermal insulation materials, paper, composites, insect repellant and more. This would create even more jobs as well as more consumer goods ready for export, again aiding the now struggling economy. Millions of dollars could also be refocused from the ongoing War on Drugs to other parts of our society that are hurting.

While both sides make impassioned  points, it’s hard to tell which argument is more convincing. Regardless, the issue is heating up as more and more states are legalizing medical marijuana, with Colorado and Washington the lone states advocating for recreational marijuana use. Where do you stand on the issue? 


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