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Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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The debate over marijuana and it being legalized is on ongoing debate. Many do not see the harm in using this drug. Others see it as a very harmful and dangerous substance. Either way, the use or possession of marijuana in the United States is illegal, and the penalties for the law breakers can be very severe. Much talk and legislation has been passed in order to make marijuana available for medicinal uses to cancer and AIDS patients. This has only happened in a select number of states. Others want the United States to consider legalizing marijuana not just for medicinal uses but for recreational use also. There are valid arguments from each sides of the issue. The purpose of this paper is to review scholarship new and old on the controversial and very debatable issue of marijuana legalization whether for medicinal or recreational purposes.
In the first piece of scholarship, "The Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth," the article discusses the effects of marijuana. The article discusses if marijuana was legalized and how it affects people negatively. The article also discusses how marijuana is the most commonly abused substance among adolescents. If marijuana was just made available to adults, then the abuse of marijuana would not cease amongst adolescents. "For example, tobacco and alcohol products, both legal for adults 18 and 21 years of age, respectively, are the psychoactive substances most widely abused by adolescents" (1825). It is very easy for underage people to get a hold of substances that are not yet legal for them to purchase.
The article also explains how marijuana is classified by the United States government. "Marijuana is currently classified by the US Drug Enforcement Agency as a schedule I drug, which means that it has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks accepted safety for use under supervision by a physician" (1825). Marijuana is considered by many to have very negative effects on a person. "Consequences of acute and long-term marijuana users are well known and include negative effects on short-term memory, concentration, attention span, motivation, and problem solving" (1825). These negative effects also are correlated with interference in learning, negative effects on coordination, judgments, reaction time, and tracking ability. These effects can be seen as very serious and possibly deathly problems with marijuana.
The next piece of scholarship comes from a book titled Informing America's Policy on Illegal Drugs and the chapter that it comes from is titled "Determinants and Consequences of Drug Use." The scholarship deals with the facts on individual and social risk factors that are associated with drug use. It states that drugs have many risk factors that have a negative effect on the individual and whom they may associate with. The basic definition of a risk factor would be one that says the uses of drugs would increase likelihood that individuals will develop a negative behavior or health related condition. Other factors that may be relevant are the social issues of drug use. "A large literature provides a wealth of information on the risk factors associated with drug use: children growing up with addicted parents are more likely to use and abuse…" (47).
Other conditions that can occur from drug abuse may be drug dependence. Some individuals may also be at a higher risk of becoming drug users due to inherited traits. "While not definitive, a mounting body of evidence suggests that the genetic pathways are related to the adverse consequences of drug-taking and possibly initiation and continuation of use" (48-9). There is evidence that alcoholics' children are at a much higher risk than ones who are raised by nonalcoholic parents. The chapter's overall consensus seems to be that there are many factors that can contribute to a person's drug use.
The next article "Reefer Madness- the Federal Response to California's Medical-Marijuana Law," is written by George J. Annas. Annas deals with marijuana and its positive affects as a medicinal drug. Marijuana is a very unique drug because of its safety and its high usage. This makes it interesting that it is an illegal drug in the United States. "More than 65 million Americans have tired marijuana, the use of which is not associated with increased mortality" (435). Marijuana has been a controversial topic for many years and now physicians are becoming more and more actively involved in the debate. A big debate is to change the classification of marijuana from a Schedule I drug, which is illegal, to a schedule II drug and made available by prescription without the usual requirement of controlled clinical trials. The term schedule I drug is seen in many articles such as the first article "Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth." States such as Massachusetts and California have dealt with legislation to make marijuana available as a prescription drug.
Since Congress passed the Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug, attempts to reassign it from illegal to being available with a prescription. The main differences between a Schedule I drug and a Schedule II drug deals with it having currently accepted medical use and is safe to use. It is considered safe because there have been no known deaths from the use or overuse of marijuana. "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man" (438). A smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette. That would be nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response (438).
Lastly, Annas talks about the opposing view of having marijuana legalizes for medicinal use. It is said that legalizing marijuana for medicinal use would send the "wrong message" to children, who would then use the drug as a "gateway drug" to get hooked onto more harmful substances. An argument against that it would send the "wrong message" is one that says if you hurry up and get cancer, you, too, can get high. The second argument is in response to that marijuana is a gateway drug. "A 1994 survey found that 17 percent of current marijuana users said they had tired cocaine and only 0.2 percent of those who had not used marijuana had tried cocaine; another is that 83 percent of pot smokes, or five out of six, never try cocaine" (439). Many people do not want to make marijuana legal for everyone. They want people who need marijuana to deal with their conditions to have it readily available. Available treatments should not be kept away from suffering patients when the drug is not lethal. "Making marijuana a Schedule II drug does not make it widely acceptable or available any more than classifying medicinal cocaine as a Schedule II drug made it acceptable or available" (439). Annas believes that marijuana should be made legal for suffering patients. He also thinks the negative possibilities of marijuana use totally outweigh the negative effects of marijuana use. This article is a great article to read if someone were to be indifferent about the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The author Erich Goode looks at marijuana use and its users being linked with other drug usage. In Goode's "Multiple Drug Use Among Marijuana Smokes," he conducts a study amongst two hundred marijuana smokers. The purpose of this study was to find if there is a direct connection between marijuana use and multiple drug use. "Among the 204 respondents, the use of drugs other than marijuana was more characteristic than it was exceptional. Two-thirds of the respondents had taken at least one drug other than marijuana or hashish at least once" (52). This study shows that marijuana use could be seen as causing people to experiment with other drugs, but then it also leaves the conclusion that only certain types of marijuana users would try to experiments with dangerous drugs. Annas' article states statistics that marijuana is less of a gateway drug than Goode's study shows. This shows that it is very hard to conclude by a small study whether or not marijuana can be linked to other drug usage. This is a good article that shows how a study that took place many years ago can be very different from current studies of marijuana use.
Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter's article "Interpreting Dutch Cannabis Policy: Reasoning by Analogy in the Legalization Debate," looks at the United States policies as well as the Dutch policies on marijuana. The Dutch have a different view on the use of marijuana than the United States does. "The Dutch depenalization and subsequent de facto legalization of cannabis since 1976 is used here to highlight the strengths and limitations of reasoning by analogy as a guide for projecting the effects of relaxing drug prohibitions" (47). The Dutch legalized marijuana in 1976 while the United States drug policy is committed to being very harsh on law breakers. "U.S. drug policy is heavily committed to a punishment-based approach" (47). About 400,000 individuals are incarcerated for violation of drug laws (47). This article shows how the United States has a harsh drug policy in comparison to other countries and why it might be a problem. The United States spends a good amount of their budget on dealing with drugs and incarnating people who use drugs. The article has a great deal of information that allows the reader to comprehend just how much different the United States policies are than most countries.
In the book Legalizing Drugs by Doug Bandow, the chapter titled "Drugs Should be Legalized," deals with why some drugs should be legalized. Bandow gives five reasons why criminal sanctions are bad policy against drug use. He argues first that drug use hinders people's freedom to use drugs that do not directly harm others and that are not any more dangerous than legal drugs. His second reason is that criminalizing drug users does not reduce drug use amongst individuals. Third, Bandow states that "Sanctions increase the danger of drug use by forcing users into an illicit market" (16). Fourth, making drugs illegal creates a criminal underground that allows children to have a good economic opportunity that is not available in other places. Last, Bandow states that "Drug prohibition cause the bulk of murders and property crime major urban areas by creating a black market characterized by warring suppliers, who charge inflated prices to users, who in turn steal to pay for their habits" (16). Bandow takes a more radical looks at the legalization of drugs than most people do, but he makes very good points to back up his argument.
"Individual Rights, Drug Policy, and the Worst-Case Scenario," was written by Daniel Shapiro and focuses on the legalization of drugs. Shapiro starts off his article by stating that "there is no standard meaning for drug legalization" (41). The legalization of a drug would include the freedom to sell and manufacture in a legal market (41). Shapiro believes that a way to have a legalized drug would be to restrict the sale of these drugs to people who have acquired a license to distribute them. Mainly doctors and pharmacists would be the ones would obtain these licenses. He also believes that the legalization of some drugs could be dangerous because they are very harmful to the body and highly addictive. Shapiro's argument is similar to Bandow's in such that they both see ways to have drugs legalized without too many problems resulting from that. The article brings up some very good points.
This last article by R.C. Knight, J.P. Sheposh, and J.B. Bryson titled "College Student Marijuana Use and Societal Alienation," deals with the relationship between marijuana use and two forms of alienation. Reports by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, shows a strong relationship between marijuana use and social values, attitudes, and life styles that expressed opposition to authorities (28). Researchers have found that marijuana users are more hostile towards rules and values than non-users. "The user rejects society as presently structured, but not himself." (28) This article is very interesting in the way it looks at marijuana use and the sociological aspects of the people whom are users.
Annas, George J. "Reefer Madness-the Federal Response to California's Medical-Marijuana Law." The New England Journal of Medicine 337.6 (1997). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 13310441. 9 Feb. 2005 <http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/>.
Bandow, Doug. "Drugs Should Be Legalized." Legalizing Drugs. Bender, David, Bruno Leone, Scott Barbour, Brenda Stalcup, and Karin L. Swisher editors. San Diego: Greenhaven P, 1996. 15-24.
Goode, Erich. "Multiple Drug Use Among Marijuana Smokers." Social Problems (1969) 17.1: 48-64.
Knight, R.C., J.P. Sheposh, and J.B. Bryson. "College Student Marijuana Use and Societal Alienation." Journal of Health and Social Behavior (1974): 28-35
"Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth." Pediatrics 113.6 (2004): 1825-26.
MacCoun, Robert, and Peter Reuter. "Interpreting Dutch Cannabis Policy: Reasoning by Analogy in the Legalization Debate." Science 278.5335: 47-52.
Manski, Charles F., John V. Pepper, and Carol V. Petrie. Informing America's Policy on Illegal Drugs. National Academy P: Washington, D.C., 2001.
Sharpiro, Daniel. "Individual Rights, Drug Policy, and the Worst-Case Scenario." Criminal Justice Ethics (2003): 41-45.
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