21st Century Prohibition Problems?
September 12, 2013

21st Century Prohibition Problems?

Many of us grew up with D.A.R.E. and the little logos of “Don’t Do Drugs” on pencils and rulers, but there are so many teenagers that try alcohol and drugs every day that the fight seems rather useless. And what is it that we are fighting exactly? Alcoholic drinks and tobacco are cultural staples, but marijuana (a plant like tobacco) is being fought over politically and socially on whether or not it should be legal. What is the difference between a plant that has nicotine and one that has tetrahydrocannabinol?

Tetrahydrocannabinol is a chemical in the Cannabis plant that has been researched and found to have medicinal properties such was pain relief, reduced nausea, and regulation of seizures. In 2000, a study found that “Tetrahydrocannabinol is a very safe drug. Laboratory animals (rats, mice, dogs, monkeys) can tolerate doses of up to 1000 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram). This would be equivalent to a 70 kg person swallowing 70 grams of the drug —about 5,000 times more than is required to produce a high.” With that high of an overdose threshold, it is practically impossible to intake enough marijuana, or even pure THC, to cause harm from overdosing. (The overdose limit for nicotine, on the other hand, is 50 mg/kg, and 5 to 8 g/kg for alcohol–multiply your mass in kg by the gram or milligram limit, and that’s how much alcohol or nicotine it’ll take to poison you).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite understanding the reason for today’s disagreements. Cannabis, in both its forms of industrial hemp and recreational/medical marijuana, has such a variety of uses and grounded proof that I can’t see how this could turn out to be a bad thing if it were legal. Even the Institute of Medicine couldn’t find a support for the “Gateway Theory,” or the idea that if you try marijuana, you’re more likely to try ‘harder’ drugs and be addicted. (What I find amusing is that these ‘harder’ drugs are heroin and cocaine, which are supposedly less dangerous.) Many have fears that marijuana will cause all kinds of medical problems and costs, or that it’ll make druggies of us all. Yet it’s impossible to overdose, there are less chances to get addicted to it than alcohol or nicotine, and the plant has multiple uses beyond recreational. (This can’t be said of drugs like heroin or the psychedelics.) In comparison to the track records of all the other substances in the world, I personally would fear weed the least.

Plus, there is what I call the ‘Prohibition Effect.’ Back in the 1920’s, bootlegging and Speak-Easy’s were the number one cause of crimes. Gangs increased ten-fold, and notorious men like Al Capone and the mafia were having a hay-day. On the flipside, more people were dying or having accidents from alcohol poisoning, drinking things that had more than just alcohol (if any of it), and the feuds that ensued between gangs and the police alike. It took fourteen years for Prohibition to be repealed, but it made a very clear point: totally banning something is much, much worse than economic regulation.

By making this versatile plant illegal in the US, the same type of situation is now panning out. The only market that provides marijuana is the black market and there are all the same kinds of risks that go along with it. More people die from the cartel and drug wars than marijuana substance abuse, and the honesty of what someone is paying for is compromised. If marijuana were to be legalized, the government will take away an enormous portion of black market profits, and will be able to monitor supplies for economic integrity. With so many wins to this proposed solution, why not do it…?

There are, of course, negatives to this interesting plant. Medically, it has different effects on people, sometimes even opposite between two different people. Synthetics are chemically unstable and have different, usually more negative consequences that the natural stuff, and combining it with other substances is just a plain bad idea. Using marijuana as a teenager isn’t exactly harmless either; developing bodies and brains are always more susceptible to side effects than an adult. Smoking anything causes lung problems, and that includes weed. Yet any and all substances have negatives, some worse than others. So, let’s add a little perspective here:

  • Alcohol is responsible for 1.8 million deaths worldwide and is proven to cause liver and cardiovascular diseases and several cancers. There have been literally no confirmed deaths attributed to marijuana overdose, and few marijuana-caused accidents.
  • Tobacco and nicotine have long been established as cancerous, plus the smoking causes tar build-up and many problems with the lungs.
  • Heroin and Cocaine as classified as Schedule 2 substances (meaning high risk of abuse and physical or psychological dependence, but have medical merits), yet have over twice the addiction rates compared to marijuana, which is classified as a schedule 1 substance. (high risk of abuse, no medical merit, no acceptable safety measures)

And the biggest kicker is, the reasons why marijuana has such a bad reputation isn’t because of what it does, but two legislative events—in 1950, industrial hemp (a strand of cannabis with lower THC, and a stronger and more durable alternative to trees for paper and cloth) was categorized with marijuana and therefore made illegal. In 1970, Dr. Roger O. Egeberg recommended that marijuana be placed in Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act, due to the lack of knowledge and information he could find about the plant’s beneficial effects. Neither of these events were grounded in present day, or even past, studies, but rather a preference for tree harvesting and fear of the unknown.

So I say, go ahead, make pot legal and then leave it up to the individual. If it’s totally ok for an adult to get wasted and ingest substances that are used as fuel and are cancerous, why isn’t getting high acceptable?

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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