Home > F. Politics & the Velvet Revolution, West Virginia > Legal but Discouraged: Marijuana

Legal but Discouraged: Marijuana

File:La Roche Jagu chanvre 1.JPG

One of the greater political triumphs in recent memory is the tobacco settlement (officially known as the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement-MSA–entered into in 1998), which established a mechanism to deal with harmful substances, the use of which is deeply ingrained in a society. At the heart of the MSA is an exchange: the participating states agreed to exempt tobacco companies from private tort liability in exchange for the companies agreeing to curtail or stop certain marketing practices and pay in perpetuity certain amounts to the states to compensate them for the medical costs of caring for people with tobacco-related illnesses.

Could this agreement be a model for dealing with other personal vices, whether banned or legal but heavily regulated? In a few days, voters in three states (California, Colorado, and Washington) will be deciding ballot initiatives that legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Seventeen states have already legalized the medical use of marijuana, though none currently permit recreational use. Let’s look at possible applications of a legal-but-discouraged status to the use of the drug.

Also known as hemp, marijuana has a Jekyll-and-Hyde reputation. One of the oldest materials known to humanity, hemp can be used to make, among other things, rope, clothing, paper, biofuels, and biodegradable plastics. Hemp oil has shown anti-inflammatory properties in medical use, and hemp seeds can be eaten, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into hemp milk (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking. The fresh leaves can also be consumed in salads. Hemp seed can even be used as fish bait!

The difference between hemp and marijuana (Mj) is that marijuana contains, among other psychotropic compounds, tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), a compound that has analgesic effects and can relax people and alter their vision, sight, and hearing. Mj shows depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogenic effects in people, with an emphasis on hallucination.

* Medical uses: Well-documented benefits: Mj a) relieves nausea and vomiting, b) stimulates appetite in AIDS patients and people receiving chemotherapy, c) helps relieve the effects of glaucoma, and d) helps to relieve pain generally. Less-well-documented benefits: Mj can be used to treat a range of diseases that includes multiple sclerosis, depression, and Alzheimer’s.

File:Rational scale to assess the harm of drugs (mean physical harm and mean dependence).svg

Now we come to a nub of the problem: how dangerous is marijuana consumption? For adults, occasional consumption does not seem to harm the user. For adolescents and young adults, persistent, dependent Mj use does appear to harm the developing brain, at least as documented in a 35-year study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. (And readers should note the chart at right, which indicates that in general, Mj use lies towards the less toxic end of the spectrum.)

What should we do about all of this? Here are some suggestions:

1) Write a clear definition of the difference between hemp and marijuana into federal law and legalize hemp production, trade, and use. The benefits in lower food, clothing, and paper (and book!) costs alone would do much to help the U.S. economy (especially in rural areas and states such as West Virginia).

2) Keep the sale of marijuana to people under age 27 illegal. In view of the possible harmful effects on growing brains, the sale of Mj to adolescents should remain illegal. Teenagers caught smoking Mj should be sent to drug court.

3) Legalize the use of marijuana for people 27 and older. Smoking in public venues such as restaurants and bars would remain illegal, as would driving with intoxicating amounts of THC in the blood.

4) De-glamorize the use of Mj, especially among the young. Impose a sales tax on Mj to generate funds for anti-use media campaigns targeted at teenagers and young adults.

5) Impose a significant federal tax aimed at placing the cost of Mj out of reach of the poor and young.

There are no perfect solutions, and surely some teenagers would gain access to Mj no matter how stiff the penalties. But the question has to be: would the number of such adolescents be greater or smaller than under current law? RT is inclined to think that fewer youngsters would have (or want) access to the drug, the poor because of cost, the wealthy because of De-glamorization. And the quality of the product would improve through legal crop and production inspection. Adulterants such as boot polish, chalk, and turpentine would to a large degree disappear.

And there are other benefits to consider: 1) the money now spent on Mj eradication could be spent on other criminal justice needs; 2) the number of inmates in U.S. prisons would fall, perhaps significantly; 3) the economies of West Virginia and other states where Mj grows readily would be strengthened and diversified; and 4) a significant blow would be dealt to the funding of organized crime  All of this sounds like a big step in the right direction, and here is a link to NORML, which has been one of the leaders in the fight for legalization in the U.S. for some time. (& p.s., RT has never been, and does not plan to become, a user of Mj).     RT

Images: Upper image: Labyrinth at Chateau de la Roche Jagu; WikiCmns; CC3.0 Unported; author: Barbetorte. Lower image: WikiCmns, Public Domain.

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