March 1, 2015
The Legalization of Marijuana – Is There a Basis for a Common Ground? There appear to be no unilaterally satisfactory answers to the U.S. citizenry’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. However, there are likewise no such answers with respect to the use of tobacco and alcohol, and yet the latter substances have been accorded legal status by every state throughout most of the country’s history despite having well-established mind-altering and addictive qualities.
At present twenty-three states have legalized the use of marijuana to some degree. Interestingly, and ironically, these state statutes violate federal law because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) considers marijuana to be one of the most dangerous drugs in the United States. More specifically, by designating the substance as a so-called “Schedule I” drug, the DEA deems that marijuana users risk a “high potential of abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence.” Schedule 1 drugs, which include such substances as heroin, LSD and certain methamphetamines (e.g. Ecstasy), are also considered to have “no currently accepted medical use.” The Schedule I classification came into being with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) by Congress in 1970, at which time criteria were created for five schedules of drugs. The CSA, which was largely passed in response to a significant increase in illegal drug use during the 1960’s, called for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) and later the DEA (which was established in 1973) to be responsible for managing the content of the five schedules on an ongoing basis. It bears mention that the debate regarding the legalization of marijuana is not just a 21st century phenomenon in the United States. In 1944 the New York Academy of Medicine researched the impacts
of marijuana use and issued its findings in a tome which came to be known as the La Guardia Report. The Report concluded that marijuana was less dangerous than previously believed, stating that its use “did not did not induce violence, insanity or sex crimes, or lead to addiction or other drug use.” (Frontline)
Furthermore, even as the CSA legislation was being formulated in 1970, there was open debate as to whether marijuana should be legalized in some form, let alone ascribed the severity of a Schedule I designation. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, which was established in 1970 and chaired by Raymond Shafer, the then Republican governor of Pennsylvania, actually called for a limited legalization of marijuana at the time. In reporting on behalf of the Commission, Shafer told Congress that the “actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.” (Wikipedia) And yet, contemporaneously, the CSA was passed with marijuana being accorded the harsh Schedule I designation.
With the prominence of the debate surging over the last decade, and unprecedented steps being taken by various states with respect to limited or even full legalization of marijuana, it seems appropriate to explore whether there is a middle ground which could be established which would permit the scope of the debate to be reduced, and in so doing liberate public and private resources to be directed towards other beneficial societal purposes. In that vein, the remainder of this paper will examine the current “pros and cons” of the legalization argument and then conclude with a two-step course of action which strikes a middle ground between the platforms of the debate participants while opening the door for society to reap immediate benefits from the compromise. We will first review the arguments against legalization, as they generally continue to hold sway over the debate in the U.S. based upon the current breadth and degree of decriminalization statutes....
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