By Sam Groves | Opinion Editor & Branden Swartz | News Editor
Following the recent complete legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, many people across the United States are calling for widespread legalization of marijuana. Despite the nation being divided over the issue, there are several arguments against the legalization of marijuana.
The most blatant, and tired, argument against marijuana legalization is that it is a gateway drug. This argument also attacks tobacco and alcohol, as they can also be considered gateway drugs.
While most of this argument is simply hypothesis, it still holds some weight. A 2012 study conducted by the Yale University School of Medicine showed that men and women ages 18 to 25 who had used marijuana were 2.5 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs. Additionally, men who previously drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes were 25 percent more likely to abuse prescription opioids.
Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are readily available enough to cause a sort of “gateway sequence,” which may lead an addict to experimentation with harder drugs later on.
Another problem that arises with the legalization of marijuana is driving regulation. Driving a vehicle while high is clearly dangerous, both to the driver and to those around them. Marijuana cannot be easily detected by police with breathalyzers; rather, it requires a more in-depth test. Australia implemented a system in 2005 that swabbed the mouth in order to try and find evidence of cannabis consumption, but this system has since been regarded as a failure.
At this point the medical community remains divided on marijuana. The establishment opinion, still held by the National Institutes of Health, the British National Health Service and the World Health Organization, is that prolonged use of cannabis will harm the body, impairing mental function and injuring the respiratory system.
Furthermore, according to the Institute of Psychiatry in London, the long-term heavy usage of marijuana can cause psychosis, which includes symptoms like delusions, hallucinations and the development of various other mental disorders such as schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder.
Meanwhile, proponents of marijuana legalization often claim that it doesn’t cause any harmful effects. It’s not a completely unfounded claim. More recent studies do suggest that responsible marijuana use may be benign, or at least less harmful than originally believed.
But until a consensus is reached, we should not be so hasty in legalizing a drug that may cause real harm, both to an individual and to a society.
It is especially prudent to hesitate before we legalize marijuana when the experiments in Colorado and Washington are taken into account. Here are two testing grounds that, given time, will provide us with invaluable information regarding what legalized marijuana will look like here in the U.S. Given this, why shouldn’t the U.S. wait until these experiments have played out? Why make a decision this important when we know we’ll be much more informed 10 years from now?
Until then, a strong and compelling alternative to legalization is decriminalization. Under decriminalization, marijuana possession, use and manufacture would not be considered legal, but nor would it be considered a criminal offense. Consequently, the standard penalties for possession, use and manufacture would be scaled back dramatically.
The headlining country for decriminalization is Portugal. After Portugal decriminalized marijuana in 2001, their drug usage rates among teenagers declined greatly, and many of their heroin and other addicts sought out medical treatment.
With decriminalization in the U. S., serious punishments for possessing small amounts of drugs will be replaced with fines, reducing conviction rates drastically.
This is a good thing. Because after all, none of this is to say that there’s nothing wrong with the current U.S. system. The way things are right now, people sit in jail for years just because they smoked marijuana. This represents a profound injustice. But while legalization is a radical and reactionary response to a bad situation, decriminalization is a moderate response that remedies this situation while causing none of the unnecessary damage that a careless move towards legalization might.