Top 10 Reasons Medical Marijuana Should Be Illegal
Marijuana is a funny drug. Classified alongside Narcotics as a Schedule I drug in the USA some other countries take a softer line on possession and use (although not, necessarily, on dealing). Despite a Supreme Court ruling stating that the federal government has the right to legislate on the legality or otherwise of cannabis use some US states do take a softer line with sale and possession being legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
From the 60s on it was seen, by some sectors of society, as a perfectly acceptable thing to do. American Presidents and British Prime Ministers, amongst others, have admitted either to smoking ‘weed’ or ‘pot’ or at least to being around people who did. There is a prevailing opinion amongst liberals that marijuana is not dangerous and that occasional use will do no harm. Still others, often further to the right in their political views (but not always) believe that it is a dangerous hallucinogenic that can cause short term issues and long term problems both personally and societally.
In recent years there have been a number of groups that claim that marijuana use is therapeutic for certain medical conditions. So convincing have they been that some US states permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
The majority of Americans believe that marijuana use should not be criminalized but a significant number still agree with the federal government that it should continue to be a controlled substance. We set out 10 of the most compelling reasons why it should be illegal.
Legalizing Marijuana For Medical Purposes Grants It A Quasi Legal Status That Will Encourage And Legitimize Recreational Use
At the current point in time the federal government, basing their position against a significant background of scientific knowledge and in depth research has decided that there is no medical benefit to marijuana use (see below).
Marijuana is, however, a very popular illegal high, used by many Americans of all classes and sectors of society to relax, destress and enjoy the hallucinogenic side effects of the drug. Because many middle aged Americans used the drug in their younger years they see no harm in others enjoying it.
The result of this is that marijuana use, while illegal, is already tolerated and viewed as harmless by a large number of people. Against this background some people who would otherwise hesitate to get involved in drug use will feel the effects of peer pressure and end up experimenting. This pressure will be felt even more if the drug is no longer completely illegal but is given a quasi-legal status. Such a status will serve only to increase the levels of peer pressure that is placed on vulnerable youngsters to experiment with the drug because ‘it’s not really illegal’. In fact the argument that marijuana is ‘safe because it is used as a medicine for cancer and other diseases’ is often used by young people as an argument to justify their use of marijuana.
Legalizing Marijuana Use Would Lead To More People Using It Not Less
Laws and changes to legislation are often enacted with the very best of intentions but without regard to the principle of the law of unintended consequences. Ie changing one aspect of a system can alter the way people react and end up causing problems that were never anticipated.
Using marijuana results in costs to society; while many campaigners for legalization choose to state that these costs related to law enforcement the reality is that the majority of the costs are related to the effects of marijuana use itself (treatment, medical, societal etc). Marijuana is the main non alcoholic cause of substance abuse in the US with about 15.2 million users of which 4.2 million have a substance dependency. (This is equivalent to two thirds of all substance addicts in the US).
Many people like to draw parallels between alcohol and marijuana but for the purposes of this point the best comparison is gambling. When gambling became legal it was promoted by the authorities (it was, after all a revenue raising activity) which meant that less attention and support was given to those who engaged in illegal gambling. As a result the incidence of illegal gambling has increased with the legal channels acting as a gateway to the more lucrative, exciting illegal activities.
There is no evidence that legalizing marijuana in any way shape or form would act in a similar way, acting as a gateway to illegal use. Of course there would be a thriving legal market but more potent substances would be made available ‘under the table’. As a result it highly likely that legalizing marijuana for medical use would lead to an increase in users and a concomitant increase in the number of American addicts.
Users Of Medical Marijuana May Be Dishonestly ‘Gaming’ The System
Wherever a popular recreational drug is dispensed legally, for whatever reason, there will be people who try to twist the system for their own benefit. Studies on the use of methadone, an opiate provided on prescription to treat heroin addiction in the UK showed that of the 167 methadone related deaths over half of them related to prescription methadone that had been sold on the black market.
Concerns have been raised that a similar effect could be seen with the diversion of medical marijuana to the black market in the US. A 2011 study sampled over 1700 medical marijuana patients in California. The report suggested that some medical users ‘gamed the system’ by exaggerating symptoms or needs to obtain medical marijuana for recreational purposes. Further work remains to be done in this area but it must surely be uncontentious that medical marijuana is likely to find its way onto the black market eventually.
Of course many proponents of medical marijuana use (or legalized recreational use) posit that legalization (at one or both levels) will help eliminate the black market all together. That simply is not true. Following legalization in Colorado analysts noticed some surprising things. Firstly the number of people registering as medical users claiming to be suffering from ‘pain’ (which is hard to verify objectively) rose as medical marijuana is exempt from taxes, testing regimes and other costs which apply to recreational weed. Secondly the black market has continued to thrive as it is able to by-pass taxes and tests and so undercut the price structures of the legal market
Modern Marijuana Is Dangerous And Very Different To That Smoked By The ‘Hippie Generation’
It is very tempting for people who lived through the ‘hippie generation’ to dismiss cannabis as a relatively harmless substance. People who smoked it will point to the fact that it did them no harm, that they matured into successful adults while those who did not might think it something undesirable but not really in the same league as ‘hard’ drugs. That may have been true in the 60s and 70s but it is manifestly not true today. The marijuana sold on the streets and in medical dispensaries is a very different drug. Nevertheless societal attitudes to marijuana are still very much driven by the impact and effects of the older form of the drug.
The main ingredient the ‘magic’ so to speak is a substance known as THC. The amount of THC in any one batch of marijuana depends, to a great extent on the type of plant used to create it and where and how it was grown with the buds of the ‘female’ plants providing the most potent cannabis of all. Analysis of the cannabis on sale today compared with that smoked many years ago shows that modern cannabis is up to 7 times stronger than the older forms. This is probably due to the fact that strains have been bred selectively to increase potency and because preparations are now more likely to be made using the more potent parts of the plant.
Pharmaceutical Extracts Are Available – There Is No Need To Smoke Weed
When people started to claim that marijuana had medical benefits and helped alleviate symptoms of some diseases particularly pain and nausea which can be difficult to treat effectively, research was undertake to find out exactly what substances within the plant were responsible for the effect. This research has led to the developments of certain pharmaceutical extracts based on the plant. Several different drugs are available Cesamet (used to treat vomiting caused by chemotherapy) and Marinol (to treat AIDS related weight loss) in the US and Sativex (used to treat pain) in Canada, New Zealand and some European countries. Cesamet and Marinol are THC based while Sativex combines THC with another substance called cannabidiol.
These pharmaceutical extracts cause relatively few side effects and are not likely to prove of interest to an underground, black market. As these are available there is no need to legalize marijuana itself for medical use together with all the other problems that are likely to arise out of it. Any claims by the ‘patient’ community to require marijuana in ‘pure’ form are therefore exposed for what they are – a desire to see an unpleasant and dangerous habit made legal as opposed to a crusade for patients’ rights.
Marijuana Is Extremely Dangerous For AIDS Patients
Many AIDS sufferers believe that therapeutic marijuana use is beneficial to the management of their condition. Cannabis, they claim, helps them manage not just nausea but the pain caused by AIDS and helps stimulate their appetite by bringing on the ‘munchies’ (hunger is a side effect of smoking marijuana). Some even claim that it helps halt the progression of the disease.
Sadly the relief these sufferers claim to experience (to the extent it is not a placebo effect for those who have not previously smoked or preventing withdrawal symptoms for those who did prior to AIDS diagnosis) is only short term in its effect. Studies into the impact of marijuana use have shown that smoking on a regular basis can help weaken the immune system, preventing it from fighting attacks by bacteria, viruses, fungi and from inhibiting tumor growth. This is bad enough for healthy people but for those suffering from AIDS it can prove fatal. Studies also suggest that far from halting the progression of AIDS and AIDS related diseases smoking marijuana can actually accelerate it. Not only that but HIV positive smokers may find they develop AIDS before they otherwise would have. So yes it might alleviate nausea but at great cost.
Marijuana Use Has No Established Benefit For Glaucoma Sufferers
Glaucoma is a disease that causes vision loss as a result of high pressure within the eyeball. The proponents of the use of medical marijuana often point to the fact that its use helps to lower pressure within the eyeball which is of benefit to glaucoma patients.
This claim, however, only tells part of the story. If something can help to treat one of the leading causes of blindness amongst Americans it is worthy of study but the American Glaucoma Society disagrees with the use of marijuana as a treatment. While they acknowledge that smoking marijuana can have some beneficial effect on intraocular pressure they note that it is only effective for a short period of time after smoking and does not alter the long term course of the disease. They also note the potential for marijuana to cause long term health and mental problems. They do agree that there may be benefit to researching the effect of cannabis extracts but believe that the negative impacts of smoking weed outweigh the extremely short term benefits.
Marijuana Use Can Make Sick People Sicker
As already mentioned smoking marijuana can have a devastating impact on people who are suffering from AIDS, weakening their immune system to such an extent that they become vulnerable to infection from pneumonia, Kaposi’s Sarcoma and other opportunistic infections (see above).
It is not, however, just people who suffer from AIDS who will notice negative health impacts from using marijuana. Regular use (medical or recreational) is connected to the development of illnesses of the respiratory system including lung cancer.
One of the most common justifications for the use of medical marijuana is to control nausea and vomiting. For many users, however, it ceases to be effective with overuse. Smoking just one joint a day (a not atypical dosage) can lead to users developing a condition of persistent vomiting not dissimilar to morning sickness in pregnant women.
These are yet more reasons to show that many of the people who anecdotally claim medical marijuana is of benefit to them are not, whether knowingly or unknowingly, being completely accurate.
There Is No Evidence That Medical Marijuana Is Safe Or Effective
We have long acknowledged the dangers of tobacco smoke (like medical marijuana it was once touted as a healthy thing to use) but many people persist in believing that marijuana is safe. It is not, there is no evidence to prove that any level of use is either beneficial or even safe. Indeed smoking marijuana exposes the body to many of the toxins seen in cigarette smoke (including four times the amount of tar). Marijuana has even been shown to cause temporary sterility and birth defects when smoked during pregnancy.
People who smoke marijuana put themselves at increased risk of stroke or heart attack with the heart rate doubling or tripling in the hours after smoking. Marijuana can also interfere with blood sugar levels making it particularly dangerous for diabetics.
While proponents of the use of medical and recreational marijuana state that it can be beneficial for the treatment of some mental health disorders including panic attacks this could not be further from the truth. Marijuana use has been shown to be a factor in the development of a number of serious mental health disorders, not least paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. It can also trigger bipolar episodes and schizophrenia. While researchers are not quite certain what causes some people to develop these serious disorders after using marijuana they think there may be an element of genetic susceptibility. The strength of marijuana used and the age at which someone starts to smoke also play a part.
Even if users do not go on to develop these mental health problems they will notice a short term impact on their ability to make sound judgment, their memory (it can be compromised for up to six weeks after use), ability to learn and perception of risks. Use of marijuana can also cause people to become demotivated and withdrawn from normal life. The description ‘stoned’ was coined for a reason, smoking weed makes people appear stupid and encourages them to do stupid things. The impact of this on society is clear, not only in terms of the costs to health services but also because marijuana use is implicated in a frightening number of traffic accidents. In 2010 a study of 24,000 fatal incidents showed that marijuana use was a factor in 12% of them, three times more than in 2000. As more and more states legalize marijuana use (whether for medical or recreational purposes) this percentage is likely to increase.
Marijuana Is An Addictive Drug
People who use marijuana like to point to the fact that it is not addictive and that it is, therefore, safe. This is not, however, the case, while most users are able to control what they smoke and when some people do go on to become addicted to marijuana. Classic symptoms of addiction include an inability to self regulate the rate at which they use, becoming irritable if they are unable to access their marijuana, base their life around marijuana use and use in spite of any negative social or health consequences. Addicted users will experience withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, loss of appetite, mood swings and aggressiveness. With marijuana strains today proving to be stronger than those in the past such addictions and withdrawal problems will only increase.
In some ways medical marijuana users are more at risk of developing an addiction because they convince themselves that they need to use the drug to manage symptoms of a disease even in spite of medical evidence that it will cause them long term harm (see above).
It is frightening to think that one in three Americans have tried marijuana in one form or another. Make no mistake marijuana is not an inoffensive substance that causes little or no problems in users. It is a dangerous substance that can cause long term emotional and physical effects in its users. It is a gateway drug that can lead users to try even more dangerous substances. It encourages otherwise law abiding individuals to engage in criminal activity. Even in states that have legalized its use marijuana is a thriving and popular product on the black market.
It is often claimed that legalizing the use of marijuana, even if just for medical uses, would close this black market and allow the authorities greater regulation of use and the opportunity to obtain revenue from taxes on marijuana. Sadly if we look at the example of the two ‘legal’ drugs, alcohol and tobacco, it is noteworthy that the tax revenues are insufficient to cover the costs the use of these drugs causes society. Alcohol costs the US approximately $185 billion every year but the revenue from taxes is only a fraction of that total – about $14.5 billion. Legalizing marijuana, even just for medical uses would increase the number of users and the cost of use for society.
Despite the claims of medical users that it helps to alleviate their symptoms of pain and nausea this benefit is not seen when tested in clinical trials. There is a danger, as with any controlled substance, that medical marijuana users will divert their tax payer funded weed to others for personal profit.
The medical evidence does not back up the claims made by those who use marijuana to treat symptoms. It is likely that at least some users will be claiming a medical benefit to normalize and enable their drug habit. Others may honestly believe that they obtain a medical benefit from marijuana but such benefits are likely to be either short term or evidence of a placebo effect.
Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is an extremely bad idea and one that we oppose wholeheartedly.