Ethical Issues with Legalization of Marijuana

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Donna Lowe
SOC 120 Introduction to Ethics &Social Responsibility
Prof. Donna Falloon
May 16, 2011

Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America behind only alcohol and tobacco, and is estimated that nearly 80 million Americans use it at least one occasion.   According to government surveys, some 20 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year, and more than 11 million do so regularly despite harsh laws against its use. Being used for medicinal purposes or simply for recreational, there are not only laws to consider when the topic of legalization comes up but also ethical concerns as well. For this paper I will outline some of the uses for this drug and some of the benefits of its use. I will apply the classical theory of utilitarianism to resolve the issue of legalization while also using the perspective of ethical egoism that this issue brings up and include my own view of these theories concerning the legalization of marijuana.

Many people believe that marijuana is a gateway drug with extremely harmful side effects.   On the contrary, this is a severe misconception, as Marijuana research over nearly half a century has proven that there are no harmful side effects, nor is there any possibility of health problems or death related to recreational or medicinal marijuana use. The technical term to use would be cannabis; however the word marijuana has been used since the 1920’s. While its use is most widely known as a recreational drug, its use for medicinal purpose has been used as far back as the 1970’s. In an article from the The Palm Beach Post, (1972) scientists even then stated that the use of marijuana could be beneficial to patients who suffered from high blood pressure, depression and glaucoma. Marijuana has been used for recreation. Dronabinol, which contains cannabis, is used to treat anorexia in appetite loss associated with AIDS and for cancer chemotherapy induced nausea. It is also helpful to reduce intraocular pressure in glaucoma.(Mosby)

Using marijuana for medical purposes or just for personal use still raises a big issue in the United States because in almost every state its illegal and the punishment can be severe. “ A particular drug—for example, marijuana (also called hashish and bhang)—may be accepted as an appropriate adjunct to sociability in one society, used as an invaluable ingredient in religious contemplation in another, and banned by law as dangerous in a third”(Sills,1968). Since the use is illegal I bring the point of ethics to the matter. Utilitarianism is a classical theory that argues that, given a set of choices, the act we should choose is that which produces the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice. The theory also suggests that there is an obvious solution that is fair, and it may be one that appeals to common sense as well (Moser, 2010). Jeremy Bentham is considered the founder of utilitarian thought and stated that that human beings resolve their ethical questions in light of maximizing the amount of pleasure they experience while minimizing the amount of pain. He considered ethically good conduct as that which expands an individual's as well as a community's liberty by adding to the sum total of its pleasure (what later was termed maximizing the "Greatest Happiness Factor" [GHF]).  Conduct is unethical, then, because it limits an individual's as well as a community's liberty and general welfare by subtracting from the GHF. So if we are to use the utilitarianism theory in regards to the legalization of marijuana, then one could argue that those who are opposed are not being ethical since they are not taking into consideration the greatest happiness factor for those who like to use the drug. While the debate on the damage that use of marijuana may cause, it would medically be useful to those in need so we are still being unethical from a utilitarian standpoint regardless of the fact that the drug is currently...
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