Society is gradually becoming more liberal – or libertine – in many ways, and one of the latest trends is the gradual legalization of marijuana in one state after another. This past election, voters approved marijuana for legal (recreational) use in Colorado and Washington. Marijuana has been legalized for recreational or medicinal use in 13 states, with more states to consider it soon. 15 million Americans are regular users of marijuana, a little over 5% of of the population. It seems problematic to criticize its legalization from a logical perspective considering alcohol, another psychoactive substance, is legal. If it is acceptable to legalize alcohol, why not marijuana? Libertarians particularly have a problem with the distinction, which seems inconsistent and arguably a restraint upon freedom.
Legalizing marijuana is not so black and white of a decision as its supporters claim. Marijuana legalization proponents claim that marijuana is not dangerous like alcohol. The facts reveal otherwise. 15 percent of shock-trauma patients who were injured in car accidents had marijuana in their blood, and another 17 percent had both marijuana and alcohol in their blood. 33% of fatally injured drivers who were tested for drug use had drugs in their system; 3,952 drivers total in 2009. Marijuana is the second most commonly found psychoactive substance among drivers after alcohol. In 2009, 376,000 emergency room visits nationwide involved marijuana.
There is a strong correlation between marijuana use and crime. 60% of those arrested across the U.S. test positive for marijuana. This isn't just crime related to drug use, there is a positive correlation between chronic marijuana use and increased risk of violent behavior. In fact, there is a stronger correlation between property crimes and frequent marijuana use than there is with alcohol use or other illegal drug use, particularly among teenagers. A study of postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana had 55% more accidents, 85% more injuries and a 75% increase in being absent from work.
Alcohol contains one substance only, ethanol, whereas marijuana contains more than 400 known chemicals. It has 50% to 70% more cancer-causing substances than tobacco. THC, the main chemical in marijuana, damages the immune system. What should frighten even proponents is that marijuana use diminishes mental function. THC disrupts nerve cells in the brain affecting memory. Any marijuana user can tell you it causes paranoia. Exacerbating this is that marijuana is much stronger now than it was in the hippie era. It used to be grown with THC levels of less than 1%. Now those levels are at 9.6% and increasing.
Another myth put out by marijuana proponents is that it is not addictive. One in six teenagers who tries it will become addicted. Even worse, marijuana is a gateway drug; 99.9% of cocaine users began by first using a substance like marijuana. When the high fades, drug users must increase their dosage or switch to something stronger in order to maintain the euphoria. Marijuana is frequently dipped in PHP, a powerful hallucinogen, which can cause severe physical reactions like seizures, coma and death.
Even if the government legalizes marijuana, there are consequences in the private sector for those who use it. Many employers prohibit the use of marijuana, and since traces of the drug stay in the body for quite awhile after usage, many marijuana users in the states that have legalized it may lose their jobs. Marijuana remains in urine for up to 30 days and in hair for up to 90 days.
Legalization proponents point to the enormous amount of money the government has spent on the “War on Drugs,” which has done little to decrease illegal drug use. However, if society is no longer deterred from using drugs, the numbers of drug users will increase, and we will see those costs reflected elsewhere: increased drugged driving crashes, treatment costs and lower productivity. Robert DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health and former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, characterizes it this way, “Legalization of marijuana would solve the marijuana problem the way legalizing speeding would solve the speeding problem: it would remove the legal inhibition of a dangerous behavior, and thereby encourage the behavior.”
Another myth is that the government is wasting money locking up marijuana users. No one in jail for marijuana is actually serving time for using the drug; they were arrested for a more serious offense and were permitted to plead guilty to the lesser charge in order to reduce their sentence.
Who does not have compassion for the terminally ill elderly person slowly dying a painful death, whose pain could be greatly eased by marijuana? The problem is medical legalization is not only benefiting those in medical need of it; in states where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal use, 94% of those using it do not suffer from a debilitating illness, but are simply regular users. This is a result of more dishonesty by legalization proponents.
Sometimes it may be best just to cut our losses. As society learned from Prohibition, it is probably too late to shut the door on the legalization of alcohol. Perhaps there is some opiate of the masses that is necessary for a balanced society; the benefits to those who drink alcohol in moderation outweigh the negatives of those who abuse it. But it may not be too late to prevent the floodgates from opening the slippery slope of drug legalization. Just like those who oppose marijuana legalization are accused of being hypocritical, what about those who would legalize marijuana but not methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin?
A free society does not mean that every action must be legal. Free society is governed by the harm principle; the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to others. Yet why do we accept that certain things cause harm to others, but not other things? For example, society – through a handful of judges in black robes - has arbitrarily decided that killing a baby in the womb by abortion is not a crime that must be prohibited. Whereas the situation of someone defending themselves with a gun in many cases is considered to be a crime. A persuasive argument can be made that marijuana use causes harm to others. While it may not be as strong or as black and white of an argument as others, the thousands of lives that are saved as a result may be enough to persuade some free thinkers.
If marijuana is legalized everywhere, there will be an escalation of the types of problems currently associated with alcohol abuse. “Freedom” for some will come at a cost of freedom to others, who may lose their lives in car accidents or their wallets as their insurance goes up to pay for the treatment costs and insurance of addicts. While it is true there is some hypocrisy when it comes to legalizing alcohol but not marijuana, it is irresponsible to hide the truth about the dangers of marijuana and the consequences of legalizing it. Even if one comes down on the side of legalizing marijuana for philosophical reasons, the costs it will bring to society cannot be ignored.