Being Reasonable about Marijuana

4947162511_0f28127b2e_oA century of poor policy, enacted by racist legislators, still blocks modern research.

By Benjamin Hayward

By the time Charlotte Figi was three years old, she was suffering from over 300 seizures per week. Today she is seven, and after trying medication after medication, she has finally found one that reduces the number of seizures to less than a handful per year. That medication is marijuana.

Until international pressure, led by the United States, mounted against it at the International Opium Convention in 1922, marijuana had been used as medicine throughout the world for over three millennia. In ancient Egypt, it was used to relieve the pain of hemorrhoids; the Greeks used it to dress wounds and expel tapeworms; ancient Indians used it to treat insomnia, headaches, and gastrointestinal disorders; and medieval Arabic physicians prescribed it as a diuretic, antiepileptic, and anti-inflammatory, among other uses. Today, medical marijuana is a $2-billion-a-year industry in the United States, where it is primarily prescribed to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy, chronic pain, and epilepsy.

Marijuana’s efficacy in treating other ailments remains largely unproven for the simple reason that criminalization has made research into this subject challenging. When it comes to considering the medical uses of illegal drugs, questions of their efficacy should be left to qualified and diligent researchers; but lawmakers have for decades refused to do so, stopping up their ears to any suggestion that such substances might have medicinal benefits. Are illegal drugs like marijuana really so dangerous to society that we cannot risk looking into their potential as medicine? Public perception is obviously shifting, but until the laws change, how can researchers test a drug’s effectiveness within the bounds of criminalization? The legislation of drugs is a situation where science should influence policy, not the other way around.

Poor Policy

Is having 1 out of every 300 citizens in prison for drug-related offenses, as is the case in the United States, really worth the advantages of drug prohibition? It is now widely considered that criminalization is a worse problem than many drugs themselves. The U.S. has an incarceration rate roughly equal to that of North Korea, and over half of prisoners are in jail for drug-related offenses. The War on Drugs has been a failure. By 2012, Gil Kerlikowske, Barack Obama’s ‘drug tsar’, admitted that, “It’s very clear we can’t arrest our way out of this problem.” At the root of the problem is the systemic racism inherent in America’s War on Drugs.

Black Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population and approximately the same percentage of all U.S. drug users, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union, they account for over 35 percent of all drug arrests, 55 percent of all convictions for drug possession, and 74 percent of all people imprisoned for drug possession. These are Americans whose children will be raised without them, who will never again vote in many States, and who will forever struggle to return to normal society due to their criminal record.

Not only is the racism inherent in the War on Drugs perpetrated unconsciously by police and jurors who judge criminals more harshly based on their skin color, but the laws of drug prohibition were …

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