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Will Marijuana Prohibition Save the World?
Proponents and opponents of marijuana prohibition argue a lot. Most arguments stem from different perceptions of the truth. They each try to estimate the advantages and disadvantages of pitting prohibition against freedom. Several ideas underlie the arguments for keeping marijuana illegal.
The assumptions of marijuana prohibitionists are worth examining.
- Marijuana is addictive in the way that heroin is addictive. We commonly read that 1 in 10 regular users of marijuana become addicted. In fact, one estimate suggested that 9% became dependent, and the statistic took on a life of its own. One of the most common symptoms of this dependence is time lost to using, recovering from, or obtaining the plant. (The question is worded so that any of these three count toward the symptom.) People who are high all the time would qualify, and that’s probably a troublesome way to live. It’s unlikely that they lost time recovering from the plant’s effects, as there is no real marijuana hangover. But those who went on a long search for it also would appear to have this symptom. Because marijuana is illegal, it’s harder to get than alcohol. So someone who chose to use marijuana instead of alcohol might be more likely to get this symptom. A long search is a product of prohibition, not the plant. If this is dependence, it seems to arise from laws, not some pharmacological process.
If you told an opiate addict that these were signs of withdrawal, you’d likely get a swift kick in response. If this is addiction, it’s certainly not like serious drug problems.– Mitch EarleywineAnother key symptom of this dependence is withdrawal. For over five millennia there was no marijuana withdrawal. Then a few researchers developed a marijuana withdrawal scale. Key signs of this withdrawal were things like marijuana craving, a loss of appetite, and strange dreams. These signs likely don’t fit most peoples’ stereotypes of withdrawal. If you told an opiate addict that these were signs of withdrawal, you’d likely get a swift kick in response. If this is addiction, it’s certainly not like serious drug problems. Few turn to a life of crime to support a marijuana habit. Few find themselves in the emergency room because of an overdose. Disturbing tales of financial ruin and lethal health troubles don’t seem to apply here.
- Citizens need protection from themselves. Prohibitionists often assert that it’s okay to take away liberty if citizens benefit in the long run. Thus, making marijuana illegal should be appropriate because it prevents whatever negative consequences marijuana is supposed to create. But many activities that are markedly more dangerous remain legal. Playing sports leads to brain injuries. Bad diets lead to heart disease and cancer. Shall we prohibit rugby and red meat, too? In fact, doing so would probably have a bigger impact than marijuana prohibition. The country would save a great deal of money, and we’d protect citizens from themselves. But if this sounds a little disturbing to you, you’re in good company.
- Prohibition is the only way to avoid negative consequences. Although marijuana does not cause lung cancer, frequent users do report respiratory problems like wheezing, tightness in the chest, and frequent coughing. These symptoms don’t justify putting anyone in jail, but it would be great to keep the hacking and huffing to a minimum. Human ingenuity came to the rescue with new vaporizer technology. The vaporizer runs hot air past the plant, creating a fine mist filled with cannabinoids but no respiratory irritants. After switching to the vaporizer, users lost their respiratory symptoms and improved their lung function in only a month. And it cost the justice system nothing. No police officers lost a single minute of the time they could devote to battling serious crime. Could we sidestep other potential consequences of marijuana with inventiveness instead of punishments?
- The underground market can’t reach children. We all want to keep psychoactive substances out of the hands of teens. But dealers don’t card customers. Note that liquor stores kick underage kids out their doors almost every day. If they don’t, they’ll lose their licenses and valuable income. But the underground market has no restrictions. Which would you prefer for protecting your kids from possession?
After switching to the vaporizer, users lost their respiratory symptoms and improved their lung function in only a month. And it cost the justice system nothing.– Mitch Earleywine
No one wants to see people develop marijuana problems, but prohibition has costs. The rationale for prohibition rests on assumptions. It’s worth it for us to question those assumptions.