Recreational Marijuana Legalization
Marijuana legalization is a unique issue currently gaining momentum in America. Over 25 million Americans have used marijuana in the past year, 100 million have tried the drug at least once, and 14 million use regularly (“About Marijuana”). The growth, sale, possession, and consumption of marijuana for any reason are against federal law. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults over the age of 21, and sixteen additional states and Washington D. C. have legalized medical marijuana (“Pot Legalization Could Save”). However, all of these states are acting illegally according to federal law. Marijuana legalization is a complex issue that could upend cultural tradition, affect the economy, potentially affect crime and individual health, and challenge the balance of state and federal powers. The government’s purpose as stated in the Preamble of the Constitution is “to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…”. The constitutionality of marijuana criminalization thus depends on its effectiveness in promoting these goals. Three central areas to consider in the debate for or against legalization are the medical risks, the social effects, and the economic effects.
The medical effects of marijuana have been fairly well studied. It is important to compare the medical risks of marijuana use versus use of drugs that are commonly and legally used and abused, such as tobacco and alcohol, as well as to distinguish between use and abuse. Smoking marijuana is widely presumed to have adverse effects on lung health. Smoking marijuana leads to the inhalation of up to three times as much tar as smoking cigarettes, probably because marijuana users inhale differently, breathing more deeply and waiting longer to exhale. Marijuana smoke can also contain up to 70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco smoke (Dohney). However, few marijuana users smoke as frequently as tobacco users. A study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at marijuana smokers who averaged one joint per day for seven years and found no adverse effects on lung function (Dohney). In another study, called the CARDIA study (Coronary Artery Risk Developments in Young Adults), occasional and moderate marijuana users actually had increased lung capacity over tobacco smokers and non-smokers. For those who smoked marijuana 20 or more times per month, lung capacity dipped back to normal non-smoking levels, but only the most chronic marijuana smokers experienced lung capacity below an average non-smoker (Szalavitz, “Lung Damage”). Studies have thus far failed to link marijuana smoking and lung cancer. Although marijuana smoke is carcinogenic, THC (the active drug in the marijuana plant) also has anti-inflammatory and tumor-inhibiting properties, decreasing the risk of lung disease (Szalavitz, “Lung Damage”). Based on these conclusions, marijuana use is much less dangerous than tobacco use from a pulmonary standpoint. Additionally, many marijuana users ingest THC by inhaling vapor, eating it in baked goods, drinking it after simmering, or by swallowing concentrated capsules. These methods are increasing in popularity and don’t cause the same exposure to carcinogenic smoke (Dohney).
Reduction in brain function is another commonly cited negative health effect of marijuana use. Judgment, coordination, attentiveness, reaction time, perception, and other mental functions can be altered while under the influence of marijuana. The assumption of such a statement is often that performing activities such as driving while high on marijuana is dangerous, but that assumption has not been emphatically confirmed in the consistent and extensive array of studies on drugged driving. Marijuana users are typically aware of slowed reaction time and...
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