Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sex, Drugs, and Rock n' Roll, Part 2: Legalizing Marijuana

Have we reached the tipping point for the decriminalization of marijuana yet? Now that Obama doesn't have to worry about being elected again, will he go with public opinion? What could make better sense than to decriminalize it, license it, and tax it?

A 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug with 18.1 million users in the United States.  It is estimated that 76% of 50 year old high school graduates have tried marijuana. It may be the largest cash crop in the US with a value in the billions of dollars.

Decriminalization of marijuana for personal use would:
  • Allow law enforcement officials to turn their attention toward preventing more serious crimes
  • Save state and federal governments the billions of dollars that are now spent to prosecute marijuana users
  • Empty out a lot of prison cells all over the country
  • Deprive gangs and organized crime of the income they now receive from growing and selling marijuana
  • Provide legal access to people who believe that marijuana helps with health issues
  • Allow recreational users access to a drug that is less dangerous than alcohol to both themselves and those around them
  • Provide the government with substantial tax revenue.

Prosecuting Marijuana Users

According to the Controlled Substance Act, Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy.

In 1965, right about the time we baby boomers were first becoming acquainted with the drug, 18,815 people were arrested for marijuana. By 2009, that number had risen to 858,408. There were 1,531,251 drug arrests in 2011.  Some involved other drugs, but 757,969 were for marijuana possession alone. Here is a chart that shows how arrests have grown over the years.

Each one of these arrests required the time and effort of police officers for the arrest and booking. Then each of them had to be prosecuted in court, requiring judges, juries, attorneys, court clerks, etc. I have no idea of the cost of this, but I imagine it is quite expensive.

Not only that, the federal government is going after the states that have recognized the cost of this prosecution of marijuana users and chosen to decriminalize it.

Costs of Sending Users and Dealers to Prison

The average cost for holding one inmate in any kind of jail or prison for one year is about $31,500. That amount is closer to $50,000 in many states.

In 2004, there were 11,630 inmates in federal prisons for marijuana charges and 33,186 in state prisons. That is 44,816 inmates at an average cost of $31,500 each. That comes to $1,411,704,000  per year!!! And don't forget, there are many more being held in local jails, too.

According to the US Penal Code, the sentence for possession of more than 1000 kilos of pot or more than 1000 plants is not less than ten years or more than life in prison with no possibility of early parole. For 100 or more kilos or 100 plants, it is not less than five years or more than 40 years with no possibility of early parole. For less than 50 kilos or 50 plants, the sentence is no more than five years and a $250,000 fine.

So, to follow through on this, each one of those big-time dealers cost us a minimum of $315,000 for his ten year sentence and up to maybe $1,575,000 if he was busted young and lived long. And those numbers do not consider inflation. No doubt these are some pretty serious dealers, but if marijuana was legal, they would be out of business.

Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business

For six years now, the news around the world has been talking about the numbers of deaths in Mexico supposedly caused by President Calderon's war against the drug cartels. I don't agree with blaming those deaths on the president, but that is beside the point. For years, Mexico has been asking the US to do something to halt the demand for the drugs north of the border. Without that demand for the illegal drugs, the cartels would be put out of business.

Two weeks ago, following Uruguay's lead, a bill was introduced in Mexico to legalize production, sale, and use of marijuana. Both countries are hoping to put the cartels out of business by killing the market for illegal pot. Of course, the US does more to support the cartels than the Mexican market could ever do.

As long as marijuana is illegal, those who choose to use it will be forced to associate with gangs and criminals who deal with must worse stuff. Decriminalizing or legalizing pot would make life very hard for these gangs.

Medical Marijuana

The first medical marijuana laws were passed in the 1970s, and now 30 states have laws recognizing marijuana's medical value. Unfortunately, federal law supersedes state law. This means that no matter how many states see the value of it, the federal government still can go into those states and bust providers and users.

Marijuana is used to treat nausea, loss of appetite, chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy, inflammation, migraines, and Crohn's Disease. It also eases pain and improves the quality of life for people with arthritis, cancer, AIDS, Glaucoma, Multiple Sclerosis, insomnia, and ADHD.

Pharmaceutical companies have developed drugs, Sativex and Marinol, that the government likes to call legal medical marijuana. Based on cannabis extracts or synthetic THC, these drugs are more expensive and less effective than the real thing and cause more side effects.

AIDS and chemotherapy for cancer cause nausea; marijuana helps by increasing appetite and insuring better nutrition. Marijuana helps to lower the intraocular eye pressure for Glaucoma sufferers. People with Peripheral Neuropathy find that marijuana relieves pain better than other drugs.

Why don't they just use regular drugs like everyone else? Many of those regular drugs are narcotic, are addictive, are dangerous, and can have bad side effects.

How does it work? The human body produces endocannabinoids that help to regulate the body's responses. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is also a cannabinoid, and it can bind to the body's cannabinoid receptors and produce the desired effects such as reducing pain and anxiety. This is also what makes us high. Some studies are showing that marijuana may also slow the development of certain cancers.

Recreational Use

Right after the election in which the voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana, I saw a younger (late 30s? early 40s?) guy on the news complaining that baby boomers, who apparently were responsible for these laws being passed,  just don't understand that the pot of today is nothing like the pot we may have tried in the 1960s.

The huge flaw in his argument is that he assumes that baby boomers outgrew marijuana somewhere along the way. I don't know anymore about north of the border, but I would guess that 75% of the retired boomers I know of here in Mexico still smoke pot fairly regularly. And, contrary to what they told us 50 years ago:
  • Smoking pot had no effect on our IQ scores and there has been no effect on global intelligence.
  • Death by overdose from smoking pot is practically impossible.
  • Memory is affected in very regular users, but that effect is very small.
  • There is no conclusive evidence that marijuana use leads to abuse of other drugs.
  • Unlike with alcohol, there is no link between being stoned and violence.
According to the Archives of Internal Medicine (2006), "...Observational studies failed to demonstrate a clear association between marijuana smoking and diagnosis of lung cancer. Therefore, we must conclude that no convincing evidence exists for association between marijuana smoking and lung cancer based on existing data."

The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society reported a meta-analysis of studies "failed to demonstrate a substantial, systemic, and detrimental effect of cannabis use on neuropsychological performance."

And in 1998, the World Health Organization said that "use of cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in western societies."

Legalized or Decriminalized

Although Amsterdam is the most well known, the idea is catching on in many countries around the world. The following have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana use: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. Uruguay is expected to follow by the end of the year. Additionally, medical marijuana is legal in Canada, Finland, and Israel.

Wikipedia has a map that shows marijuana laws by state in the US.

The US Economy on Marijuana

The law that Uruguay is about to pass (there is no substantial opposition to it) makes so much sense that I can't believe it has taken this long for someone to come up with it. It creates the National Cannabis Institute and grants it the power to license individuals and companies to produce marijuana for medical, recreational, and industrial use. The country will collect taxes and fees for every step along the way with a portion of the money going toward the fight against abuse of more serious drugs. The law also allows adults to possess almost 1.5 ounces and grow up to six plants at home.

If the US passed a similar law, it would, at the very least, eliminate the 1.5 trillion dollars it is spending to keep all of those people in prison. In addition to emptying the prisons, it would free the police to concentrate on more serious crime, clear the pressure on prosecutors and courts, keep families together, allow sick people the relief they need, and be more fair to those who prefer to relax with marijuana rather than alcohol. A tax on legalized marijuana would also add billions of dollars to government coffers.

Polls show that 60% of Americans think the government should back off on this, but those with the power to change the federal laws don't seem to get it. We have to make sure that they know we mean it. A lot of politicians were quite surprised by the recent elections, but the people let them know that they weren't willing to accept the way things have been going.

It is time for a change.  Contact your senators and congressional representatives.  Write to the president. Explain the issues to them. Explain the finances of it. Share this post with them. I'm happy to explain.


  1. I'm quite not a fan of any vices including drinking, smoking or drug usage. In the first place, what are we going to get from those, right? That's why, I'm advocating for a laws against it cause I've seen the effect of it and I don't like it.

  2. I already gave up my drinking, smoking and other vices right after my doctor advised me to undergo some physical therapy sessions. At first I had a hard time dealing with it but months passed and I’ve learned how to remove it from my system.

  3. I certainly never meant to imply that I use marijuana. I rarely even have an alcoholic drink. But I remember all the warnings from the 60s about what horrible things it was going to do to us, and I also know many people who have used it semi-regularly since then. The warnings were all lies, at least as far as my friends were concerned. But that is beside the point. The ill effects of marijuana usage will never catch up to all the problems caused by alcohol. And a huge amount of our tax dollars are being wasted to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate people who just want to smoke a joint and relax in the privacy of their homes.

  4. Some countries still don’t legalize the use of this plant. People should regulate their use of this plant to prevent serious health illness.

  5. I think there really needs to be updated legislation concerning marijuana's medical use. There really is a need to loosen some restraints on it, while also ensuring that only the real thing can be used for medical procedures. The artificial versions aren't really effective to use.

  6. It's still a thin line, in my opinion. While the government can finally regulate marijuana use, I think there will still be a handful of people who will try to bypass the standing rules in order to get the "better" blend. They'd probably use medical marijuana as a front to get to what they really want.