Marijuana Should Never have Been Illegal

The Evil that Men Do

I don’t use any recreational drug nor do I ever intend to. My ideas are fairly radical in that I think all recreational drugs should be legal. I think the highly addictive drugs should be restricted to behind the counter at the pharmacy and perhaps an upper limit imposed on how much you can buy per month. I think compounds and substances that can credibly be classified as poisons (arsenic, strychnine, etc.) should be illegal to buy or possess without filling out some paperwork.

Since I am a devotee of scientific evidence, all of the above opinions can be changed and have changed over the years.

All that said, I am going to narrowly focus on marijuana. Marijuana prohibition became a cancer on our society that metastasized year after year, destroying more and more people for no good reason. The reason I am horrified by the criminalization of marijuana is precisely because I am devoted to evidence. There is very little evidence that marijuana is harmful to either individuals or to society. There is a huge amount of evidence that criminalization is causing widespread death and devastation.

Whatever the reason it was classified along with heroin, it is not because it is a dangerous drug. It is not because it is addictive. It is not because it is poisonous and will kill you — there is no known lethal dose. It will not make you violent. It makes you relaxed and friendly much like the early stages of alcohol use.

A glass of wine will warm and cheer you. A bottle of beer can enhance enjoyment of many activities, but everyone knows drinking to excess can lead to addiction, physical damage, violence and crime, even death from alcohol poisoning. Yet a drug called alcohol can be purchased at any grocery store. So can cigarettes, which cause physical damage leading to death and are highly addictive.

None of that is the case with marijuana. So what makes marijuana so special? Why is it illegal to the extent that it is classified with ecstasy, which has a well-documented lethal dose?

Marijuana is not physically addicting. It is sometimes psychologically addicting to the point that if the user is deprived, they will be unhappy. Its loss will be a psychological wrench. This author feels exactly the same way about coffee. If I were suddenly deprived of it, I would be miserable. However, there won’t be any life-threatening convulsions (as with withdrawal from heroin) or any other symptoms of physical addiction other than a manageable headache.

With marijuana withdrawal, there isn’t even the headache.

So why is marijuana illegal?

Marijuana first started to get government attention in the 1930s. Frustrated by the inability to keep alcohol illegal (alcohol was criminalized between 1919 and 1933) perhaps the guardians of moral purity cast around for other mind-altering substances that didn’t have wealthy and politically powerful defenders.

Marijuana was cheaper than alcohol because it literally grows anywhere like, well, a weed. It was very popular among Mexican immigrants and African-Americans. In the 1930s there could not possibly be two less powerful groups of people.

In the 1950s marijuana, in some states, was heavily targeted for prohibition and law enforcement. Possession and sale could bring stiff mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Then came the counterculture of the 1960s. Marijuana was still popular with Blacks and Mexicans but it also became popular with young white people. In the 1960s Blacks and Mexicans were invisible. Society, for the most part, considered them beneath notice. The white hippies were not. Now there were three groups using marijuana who were not wealthy and had no political power. In 1973 Richard Nixon reorganized a handful of federal agencies and created the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In 1975 the Supreme Court ruled that it was not cruel and unusual punishment to sentence someone to 20 years in prison for sale and possession of marijuana. They were wrong. While it may not have been unusual, it was blindingly, mountainously and viciously cruel.

Today the cancer of marijuana prohibition seems to be going into remission. The legalization for recreational use in California may have been the tipping point. That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, lives continue to be ended or destroyed — not by marijuana, the drug is harmless — but by the fact of its illegality.

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