Medical Marijuana Legalization

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Updated: Mar 27, 2019
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Marijuana legalization has become topic of relevance in the United States as recent changes in various state legislations fuel the controversial issue relating to its effects on society. With more than thirty states legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreationally uses, the once taboo topic has reemerged into the spot light for policy makers to consider the benefits and adverse effects of cannabis for state legislation. Although the legal status is changing nationwide, the uncertainties surrounding marijuana today stems from the political and racial factors that led to the national criminalization of marijuana in the twentieth-century. Despite this, public attitudes over marijuana legalization, specifically medical marijuana, have seen to highly favor the notion against this twentieth-century quest of marijuana prohibition and estimates that nearly three-quarters of Americans support medical marijuana legislations, according to Pew Research Center (Heimlich 2). The debate on medical marijuana legalization has come to legitimized itself through the modernization of technology and research efforts, ultimately suggesting the mostly positive impacts of marijuana advancing research concerning social and health epidemics, while revolutionizing modern medicine.

Marijuana has a long history of human uses that originates back to 400 BC from the practice of cannabis herbal medicine in ancient cultures. In the early 1800s, Sir William Broke O’Shaupgnessy found medicinal uses for cannabis extract for the initial purpose of lessoning stomach pains for people suffering from cholera (Bridgeman and Abazia 1). This discovery led to the utilization of cannabis as a patent medicine during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, commonly known as the United States Pharmacopoeia. However, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 created federal restrictions of cannabis usage and sales causing marijuana to drop from the United Sates Pharmacopoeia in 1942, with increasing legal penalties for possession from there on (Bridgeman and Abazia 2).

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Marijuana essentially went from being a useful herbal remedy to the enemy of the people overnight. Harry Anslinger, head of the U.S Treasure Department’s Narcotics Bureau from 1930 to 1962, capitalized on transforming marijuana from a low-grade drug to a narcotic “”as hellish as heroin”” (Gray 2). He infiltrated racially-influenced propaganda to allude to the dangers of marijuana by stating that, “”…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races”” adding that, “”…most are Negros, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negros, entertainers, and any others”” (Gray 3). Anslinger began using these notions to press public relation campaign to encourage the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and surely the movie Reefer Madness came out within the same year (Siff 40). Concurrently, lobbyist created by the monopolized pharmaceutical, oil and petrochemical industries began to supplement their own influences into anti-marijuana legislation by supporting Anslinger, for the purpose of eliminating opposing threats to their industries created by marijuana cultivation. In 1961, Anslinger was able to unify all existing treatise on drug control creating the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that made the cultivation of marijuana virtually illegal in all parts of the world (Mazzocco, “”True History of Marijuana””). This eventually led to the declaration of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 that categorized marijuana as Schedule I controlled substance, defining it to have no medicinal uses and a high potential for abuse within the United States (Bridgeman and Abazia 2). Beyond the criminalization of cannabis, these prohibition like legislation instilled a misinterpreted notion on the premise of marijuana’s effect, particularly it’s medicinal compounds, for many decades to come. Researcher and medical experts face the obstacle of overcoming the federal law and years of instituted adverse attitudes towards cannabis, forcing little to no research to help overthrow these faulty legislations.

As a result of marijuana becoming a heavily criticized drug, the restrictions on the attainment of marijuana for academic research continued to deepen the absence of formal rhetoric to prove or disprove the effects of cannabis. In the congressional hearing for the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, solitary medical expert, Dr. William Woodward of the American Medical Association, argued the lack of scientific evidence to disprove of marijuana’s medical properties or prove of marijuana’s alleged dangers (Gray 4). Soon after the passage of the act, Anslinger and lobbying organization worked to defund or discredit research that contradicted their views on the dangers of cannabis. The American Journal of Psychiatry preventively attacked the New York Academy of Medicine in an article solicited by Anslinger for producing a report in 1944 concluding that marijuana was only a mild intoxicant (Siff 38). As a result of Anslinger’s anti-marijuana rhetoric that eliminated the competition of hemp paper from William Randolph Hearst’s tree paper production, Hearst’s publication company continued to push Anslinger’s ideals in virtually all forms of media. The demonizing rhetoric continued to discredit medical experts and academic studies for the purpose of inciting their own political agenda. A report from the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse was published in 1972 titled “”Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding””, highlighting importance of refining legislation that was largely ignored by Nixon and other government officials as they continue the “”War on Drugs””. This turn of events effectively highlights the low-level of cooperation between politicians and research experts on such topics that were once so important to the agricultural premise of American’s vast cannabis cultivation industry. Not only that, the influence of major corporations in government politics has created great dangers in eliminating the possibility of legally obtaining cannabis for medical purposes; as it once was used for before. As a result of history, we continue to find the obstacle of federal law restricting citizens of the medicinal benefits of cannabis today.

The innovation of medical research and ideals on the liberalization of cannabis has resurfaced with that last thirty years, as states like California began to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and legalize it for medicinal uses. Public opinions have been changing as well. Pew Research published multiple statistical studies observing the support of medical marijuana legislation across different demographics, age groups, and political affiliations. The report concludes that medical marijuana support is broadcasted across almost all groups of people, including senior conservatives and is on a trend to continue to grow encouragement (Heimlich 4). With the increasing number of US states that have passed recreational and medical marijuana laws, “”two-thirds of the adult population in the United States now have legal-access cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes”” (Albright and Johnson 2). Looking forward, the support across essentially every demographic foreshadows an urgent need to rapidly advance our understanding of this drug and its effects. Archaic ideologies on the effects of marijuana have become a thing of the past in the minds of Americans, yet these same beliefs are still interpreted within federal law today.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana has also been increasing footing within the medical community. Researcher and Professor at the Harvard Medical School, Peter Grinspoon, suggests to physicians to open their minds to the usefulness of CBD to relieve patients of insomnia, anxiety, pain, and epilepsy (Peter 4). The evolution of medical research over the past few decades have been able to support Grinspoon claims of medicinal usefulness of marijuana as well provide a logical understanding on the principle the medical marijuana, its compounds, as well as its likely effects on the mind and body. Ground-breaking research has become available to observe the effects of CBD, a medicinal chemical compound of marijuana, on the severe drug-resistant seizures for Dravet syndrome; a rare genetic epileptic disorder that develops in the child’s first year of life. A multiplicity of researchers in the Cannabidiol in Dravet Syndrome Study Group combined their expertise in medical research to conduct a trial to compare a cannabidiol oral solution and a placebo on a sample of patients with Dravet syndrome and then assessed their epileptic activity. They found that cannabidiol resulted in a greater reduction in seizures as the CBD-treated convulsive seizures decreased from 12.4 to 5.9 percentage points. At the same time, 5% of patients became seizure-free, as compared to 0% with the placebo (Devinsky et al. 3). The impact of this study can be far-reaching for others who suffer from other forms of epileptic disorders and further develops the evidence of the medical properties of marijuana, debunking the claim that marijuana is a Schedule I drug with no medical values.

The argument proposed by the conflicting side of medical marijuana legislation is the relation of marijuana and its adverse effects on adolescents. While these are important aspects to consider as adolescent marijuana usage is found to have unfavorable results on their developmental health, studies find that medical marijuana legislation intended for adult use has little to no effect on illegal adolescent recreational use. The Department of Emergency Medicine addresses the issue how the drug appeals to the youth and compare trends in adolescent marijuana use in states with and without the legalization of medical marijuana. In the sample of students, they found that there are no statistically significant differences in marijuana use after policy change (Choo et al. 3). Further supporting this finding, the article “”Medical Marijuana Laws and Adolescent Marijuana Use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: Results from Annual, Repeated Cross-Sectional Surveys””, identifies the health concerns of adolescence use of marijuana and researches the question of whether the relationship between US state medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use creates a correlation with each other. It concludes that while adolescent use is higher in states that passed such laws, the passage of medical marijuana laws does not increase adolescent use of marijuana and significantly highlights that, “”state-level risk factors other than medical marijuana laws could contribute to both marijuana’s use and the passage of medical marijuana laws…”” (Hasin et al. 1). Medical marijuana legislation is significant to provide a leeway for those suffering from illnesses that are treatable with cannabis as well as showcase a great importance on the topic of medical marijuana as policymakers question the adverse effects of medical marijuana. While medical marijuana is administered to adolescence in some cases, such as the example provided of children suffering from Dravet syndrome, the drug is extracted in a form suitable for consumption with low levels of THC and high levels of CBD. Nevertheless, the recreational use of marijuana by adolescence is shown by the studies to have little to no correlation to state medical-marijuana legislation. This notion further provides evidence convincing policy-makers and government official to continuously push for the advocacy of medical cannabis nationwide.

Medical marijuana has single-handily been able to revolutionize modern medicine in the twenty-first century. The array of different uses for this drug have been implemented into an assortment of different principles of medicine, as well as introduce solutions dealing with the health epidemic of more serious and addictive drugs. Amanda Reiman, who is an internationally recognized cannabis expert and public health researcher, conducted study with peer researchers and reviewers to find an alternative to heavy pain medications that may lead to prescription drug-abuse. The study collected data from 2897 medical cannabis patients who reported to have used opioid-based pain medication within the last six months. The participants reported that cannabis was effective in providing pain relief, noting that ninety-seven percent strongly agreed/agreed that they do not need to take as many opioid medications for pain when they also use cannabis. Shockingly, eighty-one percent also agreed that taking cannabis by its self without opioids was more effective. This study suggests a strong possibility in decreasing the chances of addiction to opioid-based drugs with cannabis use as a supplement or a substitute to the medication. While this study further supports the medicinal values of cannabis, it provides a gateway to combat a more serious problem of opioid-base medication drug abuse. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, prescription painkillers misuse currently effects an estimated 3.3 million users with an estimated of 2 million Americans misusing prescription pain relievers for the first time in the past year (“”Misuse of Prescription Drugs””). The use of cannabis to lessen to the risk of abuse with opioid-based pain medication has not only been proven to be effective, but also provides a solution to combat an issue that plagues America also well as open the pathway towards the possibility of cannabis aiding a variety of health epidemics facing people all over the world.

Getting the federal government to acknowledge marijuana’s medical value would be a momentous step in the right direction. The Drug Enforcement Administration would then have to relax some of the restrictions on the drug, allowing for a symbolic shift of marijuana from the strictest possible category. The number of people arrested with marijuana law violations for possession in 2017 were 599,282 people who then faced harsh federal penalties of a Schedule I drug (“”Drug War Statistics””). Additionally, millions of tax dollars are wasted each year continuing this war on drugs while keeping these people in prisons for excessive criminal offences. If the federal government were to adopt legislation ending the legitimacy of marijuana being a Schedule I substance and unify efforts to legalize medical marijuana, they would yield annually a tax revenue of forty-seven billion from the taxation of the illegal drug (“”Drug War Statistics””). Policy-makers must now take on the task of adopting these notions into legislation to protect the interests of the general public and properly testify on the issues of the medicinal value of cannabis as well as the drug’s social and health benefit on the population.

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Medical Marijuana Legalization. (2019, Mar 27). Retrieved from