Why Marijuana Should Be Legalized

A couple of nights ago I received the following question from a fellow Christian on Twitter: “@Derek_Brent do you believe that we should smoke marijuana as Christians? Doesn’t the bible say to be alert?” While I won’t directly address that issue in this post, it did inspire me to write this blog post about why I believe marijuana should be legalized.  I will, in the future, address various issues regarding my stance on the use of marijuana as a Christian, but for now, I will simply stick to this topic.

First of all, I believe that all  persons, Christians or otherwise, regardless of your opinion on Cannabis as a drug, should  support the full legalization of Hemp (I go on to discuss my thoughts on marijuana as a drug later in this article as I develop its content).

“In all, more than 30 countries in Europe, Asia, and North America grow hemp, although most banned production for certain periods of time in the past. The United States is the only developed nation in which industrial hemp is not an established crop. Great Britain lifted its ban in 1993 and Germany followed suit in 1996.” (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/RL32725.pdf accessed 04/23/12).

Cannabis comes in a few varieties, and usually the versions which contain higher levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient which causes the psychoactive effect or “high,” are called Marijuana.  Hemp on the other hand, is only a cousin of cannabis, and is the name usually given to strains and parts of the plant which do not contain enough THC to get someone high, no matter how much of it they tried to smoke.  Hemp usually contains between 0.2 – 0.5%  THC content, and at most will contain 1% (though this is rare),  whereas even the weakest strains of marijuana that get a person even slightly high contain 10%. (“industrial hemp is generally defined as having less than 1.0% THC, and the normal range is under 0.5%.  These THC levels are so low that no one could get high from smoking it.” http://azhemp.org/Archive/Package/Legal/legal.html Accessed 04/24/12).

In 2001, the DEA clarified its stance on hemp under the federal law:

“‘Hemp’ and marijuana are actually separate parts of the species of plant known as cannabis. Under federal law, Congress defined marijuana to focus on those parts of the cannabis plant that are the source of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). THC is the hallucinogenic substance in marijuana that causes the psychoactive effect or ‘high.’ The marijuana portions of the cannabis plant include the flowering tops (buds), the leaves, and the resin of the cannabis plant. The remainder of the plant — stalks and sterilized seeds — is what some people refer to as ‘hemp.’ However, ‘hemp’ is not a term that is found in federal law.  

DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson stated that ‘many Americans do not know that hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant and that hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana.’

While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in the marijuana, all parts of the plant, including hemp, have been found to contain THC. The existence of THC in hemp is significant because THC, like marijuana, is a schedule I controlled substance. Federal law prohibits human consumption and possession of schedule I controlled substances. In addition, they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medical use.”  (http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/pressrel/pr100901.html   accessed 04/23/12).

While what Hutchinson said is true, that marijuana and hemp are both parts of the same plant, Cannabis Sativa, the strains that were bred and cultivated for use as industrial hemp are not able to be used for getting high with.

Two cannabinoids are preponderant in cannabis: THC, the psychoactive ingredient, and CBD, which is an antipsychoactive ingredient. Marijuana is high in the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, and low in the antipsychoactive cannabinoid, CBD. The reverse is true for industrial hemp; when hemp was or is bred for its desirable industrial qualities, the percentage of THC is minimal, while the percentage of CBD is high.

…[paragraph highlighting what was quoted earlier about < 0.5% – 1% THC content]

Moreover, hemp contains a relatively high percentage of another cannabinoid, CBD, that actually blocks the marijuana high.  Hemp, it turns out, is not only not marijuana; it could be called ‘antimarijuana.'” (http://azhemp.org/Archive/Package/Legal/legal.html accessed 04/24/12).

Hemp, as just stated, cannot get someone high, has 1,000’s of uses, and “the products that can be made from hemp number over 25,000” (!)  (http://www.naihc.org/hemp_information/hemp_facts.html accessed on 04/24/12).

It is a far superior paper product, because it is stronger than wood pulp paper, doesn’t require toxic chemicals to produce, will last much longer, and it does not require nearly the amount of time to grow hemp to maturity that it takes for a tree to grow to maturity.  we are talking only months for hemp to fully mature, whereas trees take  from years to decades to mature.  Hemp can grow in any agronomic system, in any climate, and requires no herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, or insecticides to grow well. Hemp is its own fertilizer, its own herbicide (it is a weed), and its own pesticide. Hemp plants only need 10-13 inches of water, 1/3 of the amount which cotton requires, to grow to 8-12 feet in 3-4 months (http://www.hemphasis.net/Environment/environment.htm accessed 04/24/12).

“The Library of Congress found that, ‘While the hemp paper in volumes 300-400 years old is still strong, 97% of the books, printed between 1900 and 1937 on tree paper, will be useable for less than 50 years.’ Hemp paper can be recycled 7 to 8 times, compared with only 3 times for wood pulp paper” (http://www.hemphasis.net/Paper/paper_files/hempvtree.htm accessed 04/23/12).

By using Hemp for paper rather than tearing down forests to make wood pulp paper, we could greatly reduce if not fully eliminate our deforestation problem (http://www.hemphasis.net/Environment/environment.htm ; http://www.sdearthtimes.com/et0796/et0796s7.html both accessed 04/24/12).  Besides, paper, Hemp makes a very strong and durable plastic. Henry Ford experimented with it for the building of car bodies.  Rudolph Diesel (inventor of the Diesel engine) designed his engine to run on hemp oil   When used to make clothing Hemp fibers are longer, stronger, more absorbent and more mildew-resistant than cotton. (http://www.naihc.org/hemp_information/hemp_facts.html accessed 04/24/12).

“Why use the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the fields?” –Henry Ford (http://www.hempfarm.org/ Accessed 04/24/12).

When consumed, Hemp seed is of great nutritional value.  a list of the benefits include:

* All 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) our bodies cannot produce.

* A high protein percentage of the simple proteins that strengthen immunity and fend off toxins.

* Eating hemp seeds in any form could aid, if not heal, people suffering from immune deficiency diseases. This conclusion is supported by the fact that hemp seed has been used to treat nutritional deficiencies brought on by tuberculosis, a severe nutrition blocking disease that causes the body to waste away.

* Nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acid, with more essential fatty acid than flax or any other nut or seed oil.

* A perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid and Omega-3 Linolenic Acid – for cardiovascular health and general strengthening of the immune system.

* A superior vegetarian source of protein considered easily digestible.

* A rich source of phytonutrients, the disease-protective element of plants with benefits protecting your immunity, bloodstream, tissues, cells, skin, organs and mitochondria.

* The richest known source of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids.

(all bulleted points gathered from http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2009/03/hemp-seed-nutritional-value-and-thoughts.html accessed 04/23/12).

There are many other benefits to Hemp.  For an entire website devoted to the industrial uses of Hemp, I suggest http://www.voteindustrialhemp.com/   or http://www.hempfarm.org/ (both accessed 04/24/12).  Regardless of your stance on Marijuana as a drug, the 25,000 – 50,000 industrial uses (depending upon which source, but either number is staggeringly impressive) of the Cannabis plant should make it legal to grow, and yet our Government keeps both Hemp and Marijuana illegal because they contains THC, even though the amount in Hemp strains is not enough to illicit any sort of high.

I can already hear some of you now, saying something to the effect of, “Yeah Derek, that is all fine and dandy, but Marijuana itself, the parts or strains of Cannabis with high concentrations of THC are still bad,  and even if we make Hemp legal again, we should still keep Marijuana illegal and out of the hands of our kids and away from the public.”  The second half of this type of statement shall be addressed later when we look at Marijuana Prohibition and what it has been successful at doing and what it has failed to do, but right now I want to address the first part of this, and point out that marijuana, that is the parts and strains of Cannabis which have higher concentrations of THC, is actually quite useful as well, wholly apart from its recreational uses.  Now we turn to the medicinal benefits of Marijuana

“Scientists have identified sixty six biologically active ingredients—cannabinoids—in marijuana; probably the most potent is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC” (http://www.livestrong.com/article/219707-how-does-marijuana-help-cancer-patients/ accessed -4/25/12).  This same article states a little later, “Researchers from California Pacific Medical Center have shown that cannabidiols—low-toxicity cannabinoids—could slow growth of aggressive human breast cancer cells in laboratory dishes and also together with THC could slow the growth of glioblastoma—very aggressive brain tumor—cells. Cannabidols have not yet been tested in animals or cancer patients, but THC is being tested in clinical trials for the treatment of glioblastoma.”

It helps slow cancer cell growth, as well as assisting cancer patients taking other anticancer drugs and chemo by relieving nausea and vomiting, and is helpful in increasing appetite and relieving pain, both symptoms being commonly present in cancer patients undergoing treatment.

It has also helped patients with seizures, migraines, glaucoma, MS, Tourette’s and OCD, ADD and ADHD (I personally used to self medicate with Marijuana for my ADHD,), IBS and Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, PMS, and countless other benefits (http://www.cannabissearch.com/medical_benefits/ Accessed on 4/23/12) (also see http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-503823_162-4844665.html accessed 04/23/12).

finally, there are no known deaths from marijuana use (http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/news/20030918/marijuana-smoking-doesnt-kill accessed 04/23/12).  In a study of its LD-50, a test that determines what amount of a particular substance is needed to be consumed in order to elicit death in 50% of the test subjects, it was discovered that we cannot determine an exact number for it!
“At present it is estimated that marijuana’s LD-50 is around 1:20,000 or 1:40,000.  In layman terms this means that in order to induce death a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette.  NIDA-supplied marijuana cigarettes weigh approximately .9 grams.  A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response.”  By comparison, another drug commonly taken for pain, Aspirin, has an LD-50 rating of 1:20 that means that if you took twenty times the standard dose (two aspirins) you could potentially induce a fatality, and would most certainly do severe damage to the digestive tract.  The same article goes on to say:

“Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects.  But marijuana is not such a substance.  There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality” (http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/mj_overdose.htm Accessed 04/23/12).

On the financial side, we spend billions of dollars each year fighting a drug war that we are not winning.  Statistics from recent years calculate that:

The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second”  ( originally found on http://www.drugsense.org/cms/wodclock accessed on 04/28/12 their source for this fact is http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/DrugProhibitionWP.pdf   also accessed 04/28/12).

the same report which yielded this statistic also stated that we would save approximately $8.7 Billion dollars from the legalization of Marijuana (http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/DrugProhibitionWP.pdf).

On the flip side of the money coin, in a report on “Marijuana Production in the United States” Jon Gettman states that Marijuana is by far the largest cash crop in the united states, bringing in an estimated $35.8 billion dollars(!).  This value exceeds the combined value of corn (23.3 billion) and wheat (7.5 billion) (http://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr2/MJCropReport_2006.pdf  accessed 04/28/12).  “‘The fact that marijuana is America’s No. 1 cash crop after more than three decades of governmental eradication efforts is the clearest illustration that our present marijuana laws are a complete failure,’ says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C., a group that focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use” (http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=2735017&page=1#.T5zBGtXwAXI  accessed 04/28/12).  I agree Marijuana Prohibition is not working.  Think about it:  That is $35.8 billion dollars that the Government doesn’t even touch, because it is an illegal drug market, and we spend almost $9 billion dollars fighting against it that could be better spent elsewhere, and if we were to legalize and tax marijuana the way we tax alcohol and tobacco, considering the taxation and standard income/sale taxation, we could bring in as much as $6.7 billion dollars  (http://petermoskos.com/readings/miron_2008.pdf  accessed 04/28/12).  So if we were to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana, we could free up over $15.4 billion dollars that could be spend on a myriad of other things.

If we have spent $8.7 billion dollars annually, ineffectively fighting against marijuana for 30 years now, and it is still the number one cash crop in our country (bringing in around $35 billion dollars a year) don’t you think we should wake up and realize that Marijuana prohibition is not working?  Don’t you think it is time we tried something different?

“Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug (15.2 million past-month users) according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). That year, marijuana was used by 75.6 percent of current illicit drug users (defined as having used the drug some time in the 30 days prior to taking the survey) and was the only drug used by 53.3 percent of them”  (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana-abuse/what-scope-marijuana-use-in-united-states accessed on 4/23/12).  Of significant note is the last statistic: over half of the people who had used marijuana in the month prior to taking the national survey had not used any other drug.  Kinda shoots down the “gateway” theory doesn’t it?  Besides, if we want to say that substances consumed in life before the consumption of other substances shows that there is a correlation, we could just as easily say that milk use is a gateway to alcohol use, but clearly that would be a ridiculous thing to say.

“Of course, the simplest refutation of the gateway theory is the basic fact that most marijuana users just don’t use other drugs. As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports:

More than 100 million Americans have tried marijuana; 14.4 million Americans are estimated to be “past-month” users. Yet there are only an estimated 2,075,000 “past-month” users of cocaine and 153,000 “past-month” users of heroin.

Clearly, people who use marijuana overwhelmingly do not move on to other drug use. That’s why the number of people who use marijuana will always be more than 10 times greater than the number of people who use cocaine, heroin, etc. The fact that marijuana users rarely become involved in other drug use is right here in front of us.” (http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy/2009/may/28/research_proves_marijuana_not_ga accessed 04/23/12).

Going back to the previous survey, considering that we have been fighting a “war on drugs” since 1972, and 15.2 million people had used marijuana in the past month when that survey was taken, it seems to me that this war on drugs we have been fighting for 30 years is not doing very much (other than waste BILLIONS of taxpayers money) to curb or fight drug use.

While I do want to stress that drug abuse is bad, I do not think prohibition is accomplishing what it is intended to accomplish.  If we want to stop our kids from using marijuana, prohibition is not doing it, since most teens for the past decade have said that it is easier for them to get pot than it is to acquire alcohol or tobacco.  (http://blog.norml.org/2009/08/28/study-says-its-easier-for-teens-to-buy-marijuana-than-beer/ accessed on 4/23/12).

This same article goes on to say:

“Ask any advocate of marijuana prohibition, including CASA’s head Joseph ‘Russian Roulette’ Califano, why they oppose legalization and you will almost always receive the same response: Keeping pot illegal keeps it out of the hands of children. Yet CASA’s own survey demonstrates once again that just the opposite is true. In fact, it’s legalization, regulation, and public education — coupled with the enforcement of age restrictions — that most effectively keeps mind-altering substances out of the hands of children.”

If we want to help keep our kids away from drugs, leaving the distribution of such drugs in the hands of the criminals and drug dealers (who don’t care a lick about your kid and only care about the profit those kids provide them), is not the right move.  By legalizing it, taxing it (remember, as much as $6.7 Billion dollars in tax revenue), and regulating it with strict age-restrictions, we can better control and regulate it.

When we as a nation have law enforcement agents/agencies (who profit from combating marijuana use) and the drug dealers they bust (who profit greatly from its sale and distribution) BOTH wanting marijuana to stay illegal, we should realize that prohibition is simply not the way to go.

When it comes to recreational use, the fear here is that upon legalization people will abuse it and misuse it, and become lazy, mindless, stupid, and potentially harmful to themselves and those around them in the process. It is also believed to be a gateway drug to other, harder, substances, but as we saw above, this last theory is simply not supported by the facts.

If you visit the website for Safer Choice, (http://www.saferchoice.org/content/view/24/53/ accessed on 04/23/12) you will discover that the harms of alcohol far outweigh those of marijuana, and yet alcohol is a legal substance.

“Alcohol-impaired driving crashes account for nearly 11,000 crash fatalities, or about one third of all crash fatalities in the United States” (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6039a4.htm?s_cid=mm6039a4_w accessed on 04/23/12).

That is only the deaths from drunk driving in the united states.  “The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report that shows that 2.5 million people around the world die [each] year from alcohol-related causes. The groups more affected are youth, children, and women” (http://stopalcoholdeaths.com/2011/02/reports-shows-25-million-people-die-alcoholrelated-deaths/ accessed on 04/23/12).

on its LD-50, “A 200-pound man would have to consume about 5-6 drinks per hour for 4 hours to reach the LD-50… For a 100 lb. man or woman drinking very quickly, it would only require about 8-10 drinks in an hour to reach the lethal level” (http://www.intoxikon.com/Pubs/Rutgers_Alcohol%20Overdose.pdf accessed 04/23/12).  While definitely difficult to do, this is not impossible, as shown by the many tragic deaths due to alcohol poisoning.  a Fox News report in 2008 stated that there were about 157 college-aged persons (18-23) drank themselves to death between 1999-2005, the most recent year with statistics at that time (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,377422,00.html accessed 04/29/12).  While not a large number, this is only counting those persons between 18-23, and it does illustrate that there is a risk of drinking too much alcohol.  Alcohol, therefore, has been proven to be a potentially lethal substance when abused, but as shown above, Marijuana is not lethal even when consumed in large doses (it is practically impossible to overdose on marijuana), and also unlike alcohol, marijuana use does not lead to violent behavior.  Quite the opposite is true; marijuana is linked with an increase in passivity and a decrease in violent behavior. “Duke Fisher, at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, in an unpublished study is quoted as saying: ‘I have never seen an example of an aggressive reaction to marijuana. In fact, I have found that quite the opposite seems to be true.'” (http://www.druglibrary.org/special/goode/mjsmokers9.htm accessed on 04/23/12).

There is so much more that can be said about Marijuana.  I could go on to talk about its perceived, potential, and actual health risks, the possibility of abuse, and how that looks in Marijuana users vs. Alcohol users, and a whole host of other areas such as the history of marijuana in the US, the history of marijuana prohibition, and many other aspects of this discussion, I shall save these for other posts as I have said quite a lot in this one already.

The fact is, marijuana is not as harmful as is commonly portrayed.  Sure, it can be abused with negative effects upon a person’s behavior and productivity, but the same can be said of alcohol, prescription drugs, food, video games, sex, and many other things.  The fact that some people can (and do) abuse something does not mean that the something in question is wrong or that it should be banned or otherwise made illegal.  The moderate use of Marijuana is not harmful or dangerous, despite the common perception perpetuated by politicians and their propaganda.  Many people at the end of a long day like to enjoy a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer, or a cocktail, or a cigar, or a round of videogames, or sexual intercourse, or a delicious meal, or personal conversation with close friends.  Many others enjoy smoking marijuana.   We all have things we enjoy doing to relax and enjoy life, and when done properly and in moderation, all of these things can greatly enhance our quality of life as well as our personal well being.

We need to wake up, and realize that fighting a losing drug war against a substance that has recreational, medicinal, and industrial uses is just plain stupid, not to mention a waste of billions of dollars that could be spent elsewhere.

If we simply want to make the dangerous substances illegal, we should be prosecuting and prohibiting alcohol and tobacco, and legalizing marijuana.  It is a safer, healthier, alternative that not only has many industrial benefits that would greatly profit our country, it also has medicinal qualities that have helped countless persons throughout recorded history.

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