Monday, June 11, 2007

Pot Debate Caught in Smoky Haze

Monday's Frat Boy News Pause for the Cause

University of Oregon
(compiled by Matt Petryni, A letter to the editor of The Oregon Daily Emerald)

Arguments in favor and in opposition to the criminalization of cannabis are somewhat tired and repetitive.

But what is fascinating is the level to which a stigma concerning marijuana has penetrated the American culture.

Oregon was one of the first states to criminalize it in 1923. Fifty years later, in the 1970s, Oregon made possession of less than an ounce a misdemeanor - a form of decriminalization. Later, Oregon's libertarian spirit led it to solidify its place in cannabis decriminalization history, being one of only a handful of states to make marijuana legal for medicinal use.

It is difficult to explain with any accuracy the reason why over 60 percent of Americans continue to support the criminalization of cannabis. Some may support the law because it's the law, and they don't really care much more than that. The most common argument I've come across is that marijuana is bad for your health. This is, in many ways, true.

Cannabis smoke is cancerous, and the long-term effects of the drug's psychoactive chemical, delta-9thc, are a matter of medical debate. Some believe that it's responsible for permanent changes to brain chemistry.

So there may be long-term health consequences.

Yet this reasoning for criminalization quickly dissolves when you consider both alcohol and tobacco are legal. Given the serious health and safety risks posed by both alcohol and tobacco - which, studies have shown, are often more addictive and harmful than cannabis - it would seem that an obvious paradox exists here. Despite considerable research, I cannot find a logical argument for why this legal contradiction is reasonable. For those who do, please e-mail me (I'm begging you).

Some posit that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol and tobacco, or that it affects your long-term behavior more significantly, and some just submit that the Prohibition movement was on the right track.

Some regurgitate the "gateway drug" argument. This masterwork of reasoning rests basically on the proposition that using cannabis encourages use of more serious drugs. This reason, though, has its own problems. Would the drug even act as a "gateway" if it weren't illegal? In order for users to get a hold of the drug, they often have to find a sketchy personal acquaintance and interact with a cabal of small-time criminals.

I'm just saying, in order to have access to pot, one must, by definition, be a criminal. If the drug, however, were available at Rite-Aid, it would be interesting to see if users would as frequently go to people who participate in other criminal behaviors to find it. We should also examine the reason the drug was made illegal in the first place. There are a number of prominent theories to explain this.

One is that racism was at the heart of the depression-era campaign to criminalize the drug. The legal use of the Spanish word "marihuana", instead of the proper Latin "cannabis" or the English "hemp," is often referenced in support of this theory. The immigration of Mexicans into the United States after the 1910 Revolution triggered a form of xenophobia that resulted in our modern anti-cannabis laws. Some people believed that these immigrants brought marijuana with them.

This sounds familiar.

Another theory contends that proponents of criminalization were targeting industrial hemp, the source for products including building products, fabric and paper. There is little question that legalization of marijuana would probably result in stronger competition for the cotton and woodpulp industries from hemp products. This reason may, though, make more sense historically than it does now.

Industrial hemp is currently grown legally across the country, having very few psychoactive properties. Being that only psychoactive marijuana, and not industrial hemp, is targeted by drug laws, it is unlikely that our laws are any longer intended to do much more than stigmatize this industrial use.

We often ignore the culturally driven fears of cannabis. A good many people get trashed off alcohol every weekend, yet still we see cannabis as "incredibly dangerous." I can't say where this comes from. Perhaps it's simply a lack of accurate medical information. It may be the false assumption that it wouldn't have been made illegal if it were actually safer than alcohol. It could even be the lasting result of 1930s propaganda (i.e. "Reefer Madness") that led to criminalization.

The issue does offer us a lesson more generally: to know why our laws exist. The People should decide the laws, and to do so we must try to change the laws we can't really justify. For those of us who believe alcohol should remain legal, or who believe that the drinking age should be lowered (or are out there knowingly violating the drinking age), it is important for the cause of freedom that we try to figure out why cannabis shouldn't be legalized as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

why cannabis is illegal, its not about being stoned, per acre cannabis/hemp will grow 3 times more pulp per acre of forest, the second one is clothing, hemp clothes would impact the cotton industry, 3rd, the first model T ford was built to run on hemp oil, as would all our diesel engines today, this would impact the oil industry, lastly, smokers ask questions, drunk peolpe dont, check NWO and globalization, it all about control

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