Marijuana, or officially - cannabis, is a psychoactive drug that is obtained from hemp. People utilize marijuana as a psychoactive substance for at least 5,000 years. It was widely used in ancient India and East as a therapeutic, analgesic, anticonvulsant and antiemetic remedy. Nowadays, marijuana became popular due to the hippie movement of the 1960s, where it was frequently and widely used. This substance, although considered as a drug, does not have a strong effect on the condition of its users. Moreover, marijuana has many medical properties and is not as harmful to the human body as other drugs are, including alcohol and tobacco. Nowadays, people around the world are more and more often appealing their governments for the legalization of marijuana, and this process is being active in various countries. At the same time, the use of marijuana for medical purposes is legalized in 23 states of the United States, as well as in the capital of the country (Patierno, 2014). Moreover, in some states, it is legal to use marijuana for recreational purposes. Therefore, considering the positive effects of marijuana on human health and the fact that more harmful drugs are legally accepted, it should be legalized on the whole territory of the USA. Thus, this paper explores the statistics on death and crime rates in relation to cannabis, the medical features of it, compares it with tobacco effects on human health, reveals its level of addiction, and makes an attempt to determine how its legalization would influence the crime rates in the country. The discussion of the aspects mentioned above will demonstrate the positive sides of its legalization.
The Statistics of Death and Crime Rates
First of all, it should be noted that death from marijuana overdose is impossible. In the world, there are no registered cases of people’s dying from excessive exposure to marijuana. According to expert estimates, a lethal outcome is possible if a person smokes from 15 to 70 grams at once, depending on their physical condition (“Two Denver deaths tied to recreational marijuana use”, 2014). However, it is much more than any person can consume at one time. Nevertheless, there are registered a few deaths that are indirectly related to marijuana use. In one case, a boy jumped from the fourth floor after eating the marijuana cookies. In the other case, a man shot his wife after eating candy with marijuana and having taken a painkiller drug (“Two Denver deaths tied to recreational marijuana use”, 2014).
It should be also noted that marijuana, as a rule, is not the cause of crime. The vast majority of its users do not commit crimes, except, perhaps, its storage. For those people who are prone to commit crimes, marijuana consumption is not a determining factor. However, the situation with the number of arrested for marijuana-related violations is impressive. According to the FBI data, marijuana arrests take 49.5 percent of all drug arrests, which means one marijuana arrest every 42 seconds. Since 1996, in the USA, 12 million marijuana-related arrests have been conducted, and 749.825 of which were made in 2012 (“Persons arrested”, 2012). From those arrests made in 2012, 658.231 (42.4% of all drugs possession) were for the possession only and in small quantities (“Marijuana arrests by the numbers”, n.d.). The remaining 91,593 of cases presupposed selling or manufacturing (which is only 5.9% of all drugs sale/manufacturing) (“Marijuana arrests by the numbers”, n.d.).
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Marijuana for Medical Reasons and Stress Relief
As already mentioned, the use of cannabis for medical purposes is legalized in 23 states of the USA, as well as in Washington DC (Patierno, 2014). In Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York, medical marijuana is also legalized, but the patient registration programs have not been established yet. In Massachusetts, the program is enacted, but no statistical data has been obtained yet. Thus, in 19 states of the country, there are 1,137,069 legal medical marijuana patients (“Number of legal medical marijuana patients”, 2015).
Concerning its medical properties, the plant is utilized to treat glaucoma due to its ability to reduce the pressure in the eye and thereby slow the expansion of the disease. It also helps to control epileptic seizures. The cannabinoids in marijuana control the attacks by binding to the cells of the brain responsible for the sensitivity and adjusting the level of relaxation. What is more, cannabidiol stops cancer by "turning off" the gene called Id-1 (Johnson, 2009). A synthetic combination of THC and cannabidiol helps to keep the memory during age-related changes. Also, THC binds to receptors in nerves and muscles and relieves pain. It also treats inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease. Marijuana lowers people’s shivers that suffer from Parkinson and reduces pain and nausea after chemotherapy, as well as stimulates appetite. It eases the secondary effects that can occur after the treatment of hepatitis C and makes the treatment more effective (Johnson, 2009). Moreover, in small doses, marijuana even serves as a sedative. Stress is a growing anxiety and fear, and marijuana promotes relaxation and soothing. Particularly, it helps soldiers with post-traumatic stress. Thus, its medical properties cannot be underestimated. At the same time, a question arises: since the plant has so many positive effects on the human’s heath, why should its recreational use be banned? What is more, the rate of its harmfulness places it behind many other legalized substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
Comparison with Tobacco
Tobacco, contrary to marijuana, is legal almost everywhere in the world. However, according to the research made by the British medical journal - Lancet, cannabis has an overall harm score of 20 (eighth place) and is behind tobacco that has a score of 26 (sixth place). Thus, marijuana is less harmful than tobacco (“Drug harms in the UK: A multicriteria decision analysis”, 2010). In addition, the 2014 Surgeon General's report evaluates that more than 556,000 deaths each year in the United States are caused by smoking of cigarettes. However, these numbers can be underestimated because of the inability to count all cigarette-smoking related diseases (Carter et al., 2015). At the same time, the cases of death from marijuana have not been registered yet.
Smoking of marijuana in average volumes provides a minimal hazard for lungs, but it also contains a number of carcinogens and irritants like tobacco smoke. However, marijuana users consume less frequently than cigarette addicts, and as a result, the smoke is inhaled in fewer quantities. Consequently, the risk of lung disease is much lower. It should be also noted that there were no cases of lung cancer associated with marijuana in medical history. Moreover, even large volumes of marijuana intake do not increase the risk of lung cancer. As a result, heavy marijuana smokers, unlike the tobacco ones, do not show any propensity to lung diseases including emphysema. Furthermore, cannabis increases lungs’ capacity, which tobacco does not do, rather on the contrary.
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For decades, drug addiction has been one of the main arguments in the debate over the recreational use of marijuana and is being termed as a constant desire to use drugs. However, physical dependence on marijuana has not been proven conclusively. As in the case of alcohol, the recreational use of marijuana is periodical by many people and does not cause the development of significant social or mental disorders or addiction. If people experience withdrawal symptoms, those are quite mild (sleep disorder or indigestion). Moreover, most marijuana users smoke it only occasionally, from time to time. Very few Americans (less than 1%) smoke marijuana daily or almost daily (Johnson, 2009). A majority of people who use marijuana frequently and in large doses quit smoking on their will and without much difficulty.
However, it should be noted that marijuana users (as the users of other drug-associated substances) may develop a psychological dependence. As a rule, people like the feeling that they get when taking regular doses of a drug: a state of euphoria, emotional recovery, ease, and more. It is the desire to repeat this experience and bring a pleasant but brief sensation that leads to drug abuse. In the case of the recreational use of marijuana, this dependence is weaker than that of tobacco, alcohol or hard drugs and cannot be perceived as a decisive argument in the legalization debate.
In 2010, the United States made 780 000 arrests related to the distribution and consumption of marijuana, and nearly 40 thousand of people went to jail (Persons Arrested, 2012). As it was already mentioned, most of the arrests presupposed violations of the laws on smoking or keeping the small quantities of the plant. Thus, the legalization of marijuana will reduce the number of people arrested, and the taxpayers will save on their detention in prison. In addition, legalization can reduce interracial tension in the states: for example, in cases involving the proliferation and use of marijuana, black teens are detained nearly four times more than their white peers (“The war on marijuana in black and white”, 2013).
Also, the legalization indirectly affects the levels of other crimes: according to the Department of Public Safety of Colorado, from February 2013 to April 2014, the crime rate in the region has significantly declined. In Denver, homicide rates fell by 66 percent, sexual assault is down by 12 percent, motor vehicle theft is down from 1,314 incidents to 742 incidents in the quarter, and overall property crime fell by 14.6 percent compared to the same period in 2013 ( “Crime in the city and county of Denver based on UCR standards”, 2015).
In addition, marijuana being legally banned brings huge profits to international drug cartels. The legalization of marijuana will significantly affect the operation of the criminal organizations. The plant will become easily available, and the prices on it will significantly reduce. Thus, legalization will destroy the economic base of criminals and improve the situation in the global war on drugs.
In conclusion, the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana will bring many positive effects in many aspects, starting from health-related benefits to the government activities aimed at reducing crime and fighting the international drug syndicates. The lethal cases caused by the excessive exposure to marijuana have not been registered anywhere in the world. The vast majority of users of this soft drug do not commit crimes, except, perhaps, its storage. However, one marijuana arrest is made every 42 seconds, near 80% of which are due to its possession (“Persons arrested”, 2012). Accordingly, its legalization will significantly reduce the number of arrests, which, consequently, will save the government’s money on handling the cases as well as the money of the taxpayers used to feed and retain the convicted.
Moreover, marijuana is used to treat glaucoma, control epileptic seizures, stop cancer, keep the memory during age-related changes, relieve pain, treat inflammatory bowel diseases, reduce tremors in people with Parkinson's disease, and reduce nausea after chemotherapy among many others. Moreover, the soldiers use it to cope with post-traumatic stress. In 19 States of the United States, there are 1,137,069 legal medical marijuana patients whose condition is being relieved due to this plant (“Number of legal medical marijuana patients”, 2015).
In addition, the risk for marijuana smoker to develop lung diseases is much lower than that in tobacco smokers. More than 500 thousand deaths each year are caused by smoking of cigarettes in the USA, contrary to zero from marijuana. There is no physical dependence on marijuana. And, finally, due to the legalization of marijuana the crime rate will significantly decrease.