Editorial Essay : Legalization of Marijuana

There is a continuous debate regarding marijuana law reform in the United States. As the debate involves not only the state governments and the federal government, but also the public, it becomes clear that the issue under consideration is really an acute one. Many state governments have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes. What they have done is legal. However, the federal government refuses to recognize the laws that legalize marijuana. Public support for these laws should be strong enough to persuade the federal government of the need to legalize medical marijuana. Recent polls demonstrate that more than half of the country is in favour of legalizing marijuana (“Marijuana Legalization and Regulation”). The Drug Policy Alliance and other supporters of marijuana law reform hope to remove marijuana from the criminal justice system and to regulate it like alcohol and tobacco. For many people diagnosed with serious medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, sclerosis, muscle spasms, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, arthritis, medical marijuana is the best option to  relieve pain and reduce suffering (“Marijuana Legalization and Regulation”). What is more important is that marijuana is able to treat the key symptoms of many medical conditions without producing any side effects. According to experts of marijuana laws, “President Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws, but his rhetoric on broader criminal justice issues has been largely unfriendly” (The Drug Policy Alliance, Official Website). Thesis statement: Medical marijuana should be legalized across the United States both at the state and federal levels because this drug has many medical benefits. The legalization of medical marijuana contributes to the improvement of medical marijuana programs, provides the proper protection of patients’ rights and facilitates access to the medication. However, the legalization of marijuana for recreational use is a bad idea because of the lack of control over the dosage, which can lead to negative outcomes. 

Marijuana is defined as a drug produced from the leaves of a cannabis plant. Legalization of marijuana means that the use of this drug will be lawful across the country and possession of this drug will not lead to arrests, prosecution or criminal charges. 

Marijuana should be legalized at the state and federal levels because this drug has many medical benefits which allow patients to improve their health. For example, marijuana can decrease arterial blood pressure leading to reduction of progression of many diseases, including glaucoma. In addition, marijuana has positive effects on the lungs contributing to the increased lung capacity (Hill 2474). Marijuana also helps to prevent epileptic seizures through regulation of relaxation and ensuring control over anxiety. These medical benefits are provided by two powerful active chemicals in marijuana, including cannabidiol (CBD) which has a strong impact on the brain, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which serves the role of pain reliever (Hill 2474).

The legalization of marijuana will cause considerable changes in the health care industry because this drug can be used as additional component in various treatment options. Medical marijuana programs will need to be improved to provide the proper protection of patients’ rights and facilitate access to medicine. It is clear that “physicians should educate patients about medical marijuana to ensure that it is used appropriately and that patients will benefit from its use” (Hill 2474). Fundamentally, all types of marijuana-based medications should be controlled by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through a well-developed regulatory process. This process ensures that all patients are protected and medications are available, based on the established standards. The proper directions for the usage of the medication should be approved, while any risk and benefit profiles need to be determined in the properly regulated clinical trials. Hence, the legalization of marijuana at the state and federal levels requires effective preparatory procedures that will enhance  the delivery of medical marijuana programs. Among the states that have passed the laws legalizing marijuana for medical purposes are Alaska, California, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Washington and others. These states have removed all types of state-level criminal penalties imposed on the use of marijuana, its possession and cultivation of the plants for medical uses (“Marijuana Legalization and Regulation”). Those  patients who have the official documentation from health care practitioners are able to have access to the medical use of marijuana. Additionally, these states have passed the law that ensures a confidential patient registry procedure that provides special identification cards to patients with severe medical conditions. Undoubtedly, these strategies contribute to the improvement of medical marijuana programs signed by State Departments of Health. According to recent study, “a nationwide roll-out of medical marijuana would save taxpayers close to $1.1 billion each year on Medicaid prescriptions because medical marijuana use correlates with a decline in prescription drug usage” (Miller). In the big scheme of things, this fact means that new laws will be beneficial to the society in general.

Furthermore, the legalization of marijuana continued research on the medical benefits of this drug, making it possible to address the needs of a larger number of patients with serious medical conditions. It is known that the interest in the study of the medical benefits of marijuana has increased due to the growing public support of the laws that legalize marijuana. Recent research studies have gained public attention for the reasons that many members of the scientific and medical communities support the use of the drug for medical purposes (Hill 2474).  Conceptually, the process of distribution of medical marijuana to patients with various medical conditions requires substantial scientific support in a rational, ethical manner which guarantees health and safety of patients. According to researchers, due to the development of new technologies, many challenges associated with the research work on the benefits of marijuana are addressed in a proper way (Hill 2474).

Although, the issue of the legalization of medical marijuana is supported by many state governments (26 states and the District of Columbia), there are still many governments that oppose passing laws that legalize this drug for medical purposes. There are different reasons for their opposition to the adoption of pro-marijuana laws. Some of them support the views of the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Physicians (ACP) which “have rejected the use of state legislative enactments to determine whether a medication should be made available to patients” (Barthwell et al. 2). The Institute of Medicine has also opposed the implementation of this strategy, calling for conducting further research studies on the development of marijuana-based medications. Researchers assume that “rigorous research is needed to better understand the significance of different cannabinoid formulations and ratios, methods of administration, and dose‐response relationships” (Barthwell et al. 2). In fact, the opposing viewpoints are based on the availability of the scientific evidence that shows a wide range of effects of marijuana -based medication, some of which are disturbing to the patients diagnosed with serious medical conditions, because they have negative impact on cognitive skills or lead to impairment of the lung function. There is a need for a better understanding of these negative impacts, especially in relation to chronic medical usage.

At the same time, the federal government continues to oppose medical marijuana permitting laws, although the conditions for the establishment of state marijuana regimes are provided. This position of the federal government creates certain legal challenges  and complexities in the context of the American drug policy implementation. Paul Waldman considers, “the Attorney General Jeff Sessions initiate some kind of new War on Weed, one that results in lots of splashy headlines, dramatic video of state-licensed businesses being shut down and thoughtful debates about the proper balance between federal and state power” (Waldman). The federal government has placed marijuana and other controlled substances in a schedule because of the potential of these drugs for abuse. Marijuana is classified as a highly addictive drug. It is apparent that this drug has no any medical value, as defined by the federal government. As a result, the punishment for everyone who is found guilty is severe. It is not a secret that possession of this drug leads to sentencing up to 3 years in jail.

Nevertheless, it becomes clear that these assumptions lack statistical data and reliable factual information on the negative effects of medical marijuana. It is necessary to refer to the historical data which provides evidence on the  use of marijuana for medical purposes. Historically, marijuana has been recognized as an effective painkiller. Thousands of year ago, marijuana was used in medicine in China, Taiwan, Egypt, India, Greece and other countries. Ancient doctors recognized the usage of the plant for its multiple psychoactive properties which helped to treat various diseases. Without any doubt, the risks and benefits of marijuana should be assessed in order to determine the effectiveness of the drug, but it is wrong to oppose the adoption of the laws that legalize marijuana-based medications. Currently, “eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana sales, but medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and District of Columbia” (Miller). This fact means that both recreational and medical purposes of the use of this drug should be assessed by health care professionals, scientists, politicians and other interested groups to draw an adequate final decision. The federal government should consider that many opinion polls demonstrate that marijuana legalization is supported by majority across the country. As found by Paul Waldman, “A CBS poll out today shows that 61 percent of Americans favor full legalization, the highest number the poll has recorded, while a Quinnipiac poll puts the number at 60 percent, with an incredible 94 percent saying people ought to be able to get it if their doctors prescribe it (CBS put that figure at 88 percent)” (Waldman). The statistical data may be assessed by everyone as persuasive. It stands to reason, more and more state governments come out in favour of medical marijuana legalization. What is needed is a new federal law that would support the removal of the drug from Schedule 1. Marijuana cannot be put in the same category as  heroin and other drugs because its effects are less adverse to human health. It is necessary to appeal to common sense as states cannot handle this controversial issue without any federal interference. Generally speaking, it is expected that in many other states, lawmakers are intended to propose bills aimed at the legalization of marijuana both for recreational and medical usage (Waldman).

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use can lead to adverse outcomes because of the effects of high-dose consumption of this drug. Some examples are traffic accidents while driving under the influence of marijuana, injuries caused by the lack of concentration and even fatal outcomes caused by over-dosage. In recent study, researchers investigated the effects of marijuana compared with alcohol on driving. They found that the use of high dose of marijuana leads to an increased risk of accidents. Moreover, researchers suggest that “the risk from driving under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone” (Sewell et al. 185). The lack of control over the dosage leads to negative outcomes. 

Thus , it is necessary to conclude that the legalization of marijuana is still one of the acute controversial issues faced by our society. Although many state governments have passed the laws that permit the use of medical marijuana, the federal government does not support this idea. It would seem the state governments and federal government require some assistance to arrive at a consensus. This assistance can be provided by the general public because public opinion plays an important  role in any democratic country. In actual fact, public opinion can direct and inspire the policy implementation, especially if it addresses the needs of  seriously ill patients. Looking ahead, this issue could be resolved in the nearest future. We should implement joint actions, such as strikes and demonstrations at the national level, to legalize medical marijuana across the United States and prevent the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. 

Works Cited

Barthwell, Andrea G., Baxter, Louis, E., Cermak, Timmen, et.al. “The Role of the Physician in “Medical” Marijuana,” Available from:<http://www.asam.org/docs/publicy-policy-statements/1role_of_phys_in_med_mj_9-10.pdf?sfvrsn=0>

Hill, Kevin P. “Medical Marijuana for Treatment Chronic Pain and other Medical Psychiatric Problems,” JAMA, 313. 24 (2015): 2474-2483.

Miller, Blair. “Study: Nationwide medical marijuana program would save more than $1B in tax money, lives too,” Web. 21 April 2017. Available from:<http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/marijuana/study-nationwide-medical-marijuana-program-would-save-more-than-1b-in-tax-money-lives-too>

“Marijuana Legalization and Regulation,” The Drug Policy Alliance, Official Website, Web. 2017.  Available from: http://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana-legalization-and-regulation

Sewell, R. A., Poling, J., Sofuogly, M. “The effect of cannabis compared with alcohol on driving,” Am J. Addict, 18(3): 185-193.

Waldman, Paul. “Will Jeff Sessions launch a War on Weed? If so, it could accelerate marijuana legalization,” The Washington Post, Web. 20 April 2017. Available from:<https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2017/04/20/will-jeff-sessions-launch-a-war-on-weed-if-so-it-could-accelerate-marijuana-legalization/?utm_term=.65f0578f250c>

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