An oft brought up subject for today is about changing this country’s policy regarding marijuana. Legal marijuana use in the United States has become spotlighted with states such as California creating laws easing up on penalties for marijuana use and making marijuana use possible in certain regards. There is still great hesitation upon easing up on marijuana. Certain people still hold marijuana in the same regard as cocaine or heroin. They believe it should stay an illegal drug and those caught with it should receive strict penalties. These harsh penalties have been the policy of the nation for many years and have proven to be ineffective. Harsh marijuana policies have led to empowering drug dealers, prison overpopulation, wasting money in enforcing drug laws, and no real halting in the use of the drug.
When it comes to a new drug policy there are two choices: decriminalization and legalization. These two choices are very different. Decriminalization is the less radical option. It does not mean that people can freely smoke, but there will be less severe consequences. Decriminalization would mean no prison time or criminal record for first time offenders with no intent to sell. New York is a state with more relaxed drug laws as opposed to Pennsylvania. In New York, if you are caught with less than 25 grams for a first time offense you pay up to $100 and no misdemeanor or incarceration. It amounts to basically getting a parking ticket. In Pennsylvania if you are caught with less than 25 grams for the first time you would pay up to $500 in fines and have a misdemeanor and be incarcerated for up to 30 days. Legalization is exactly what it sounds like. There would be stores that would sell small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Decriminalization would be the best decision today because it would find a middle ground between marijuana opponents and advocates. Both decriminalization and legalization cut down on our rampant prison overpopulation.
The United States of America has a prison problem. The problem is not too few prisons, but insufficient laws. The United States has five percent of the world’s population yet it has a quarter of the prison population. This is by far the largest prison population in the world. We trail behind countries, such as China and Russia which are known for stern penal systems. This problem connects to marijuana in that a good portion of the prison population are in there because of charges pertaining to the drug. Last year 800,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges. These people are 90 percent of the time arrested for possession. That is they did not intend to sell but use. Most of the people in prison for marijuana charges are not dealing but consuming which is a nonviolent crime. Once in prison for this nonviolent crime they are given a record. Having a criminal record greatly impedes one’s chance at the job market. This will give them greater incentive to commit another crime. Policing marijuana may make more sense as a crime if the users were hurting themselves or putting others in danger. This would be true if marijuana was the deadly drug people make it out to be. The truth it is not nearly as dangerous as cocaine or heroin or in certain cases nicotine or alcohol.
Marijuana has negative effects on the body and mind. These effects include increased blood pressure and short term memory loss. Frequently using marijuana can have negative effects on a person. You must take into account frequently using most things will have a negative effect on some. Alcohol and tobacco are the cause for thousands of deaths each year yet they are legal for all adults. Marijuana has not shown to be as deadly as either of those. In the United States 75,000 deaths a year are linked to alcohol. A total of 390,000 deaths are attributed to tobacco each year in the United States. The deadly drugs cocaine and heroin kill around 2,000 people per year. The number of people killed by marijuana a year in the United States is a grand total of 0. More people have been killed by aspirin than by marijuana. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents the main causes of deaths in this country every year. They do not even have a category for those killed by marijuana. Marijuana is simply not as dangerous as many make it out to be. It should still not be abused or given to children, but it is not a deadly drug. It even has medical purposes. Marijuana has been documented as helping those with glaucoma. There is the theory that it is a gateway drug, but the jury is still out on that. No conclusive evidence states one way or another. The myths about marijuana do not hold up to the facts.
The negative perception of marijuana was made from paranoia instead of facts. It is time that a new, more sensible drug policy be made. A new policy that would cut down on jailing people for the victimless crime of smoking marijuana. This would help stop our prison overpopulation and cut off the black market. A revamped war on drugs would drastically help this country.
Jack Barnett is a fourth-year student majoring in history and political science. He can be reached at JB723722@wcupa.edu.