Why Marijuana Should Be Legalised
This is the first of a two-part series on the Marijuana debate
As human beings it’s in our nature to not want to change. We are fond of comfort zones. We like things to remain just as they are so that we feel safe and warm. As soon as we sense that new information is about to enter our frame of reference we often choose to ignore it rather than have it threaten the belief systems that have served us so well over the course of our lives. We scurry back to those mental green zones that we have built in our minds and sit behind the sandbags until the idea has passed.
For those of us who can muster the courage to wander out past the gate and open our minds to new ideas; to new ways of thinking, there lies the prospect of progress. Of evolution. After all, isn’t that why we are here? To grow. To move forward. One subject that I have recently put in my personal ‘cross-hairs’ is the subject of Marijuana, and whether it still makes sense for it to be illegal. Having spent the last months wading through every TED talk, documentary and online article that I can find on the subject, I’d like to report a profound change in my thinking on the subject. I would like to report that I have found the courage to change my mind. Marijuana should be legalised. In fact I find it a gross injustice that it isn’t already.
For most of my life I was rusted onto the idea that all drugs were bad for you. I made no distinction between them. I lumped them all into the same swill bucket of deviant behaviour and looked down my nose at anyone who admitted to taking them. After all, they were illegal, and in my young, impressionable, not-yet-fully formed mind, I believed that the role of government was to legislate for the greater good of the people it represented. If drugs were illegal then there was probably a very good reason for this.
Within the confines of that same young mind Marijuana was as bad as any other drug. I was told that if it didn’t kill me then it would play the role of white gloved attendant opening the gate to harder drugs that eventually would. I had no reason to challenge this message; after all, as an adolescent transitioning to young adult, I had bigger fish to fry. The evils of Marijuana somehow became hard-nosed peer-reviewed fact in my thinking, and I had not the mental alacrity nor the strength of character to challenge the authority that informed me.
I swallowed the message whole and it went down easily. The way I imagine a briny sardine slides down the gullet of a Fur seal after it has waved to the crowd with one flipper. If at any point over the course of my adult life did I stumble upon a balanced, well constructed point of view that promoted the benefits of Marijuana or torpedoed the logic under-pinning it’s illegality, the anti-bodies in my Christian bloodstream sought out and summarily executed these free-radical thoughts. The green shoots of a change in thinking were stamped thin under the sole of a steel-capped sandal. Oh how things have changed.
One of the most important personal break-throughs I’ve made in recent years is the realisation that I have sovereignty over my own mind. Rather than have it simply be a repository for what I see and hear, I have the right to choose what goes into it, and more importantly, what stays. I have actively sort to cultivate my ability to think critically. In creating this website I have sort to make it an art-form. As a parent it is the skill I most desire for my children. Without it we are drones; defenceless and destined to never participate. Never to create.
The act of thinking critically requires us to examine something that for the most part has little to do with the stories we are told and accept as truth – evidence. What follows is a collection of the evidence that led to me changing my mind on the subject of Marijuana. It is an account of my reasoning. In it I make claims and site data without reference to it’s source. I make no apology for this. This is not a scientific paper, rather the musings of a 40 something writer shocked by the extent of his own conditioning. If fact checking is your thing, go for it. Google awaits.
Central to my about-face on Marijuana is it’s harm. It has none. There is absolutely no medical evidence that indicates that Marijuana has any negative physiological or psychological impact on us. Zero. Nada. Nothing. No one in the history of recorded medicine has ever died from using Marijuana. No one has gone into cardiac arrest after eating it. No one has had a grand mal seizure after vaporising it. No one has contracted lung or throat cancer from smoking it. Even the ‘it causes schizophrenia myth’ has been debunked. It turns out that the worst thing that can happen to you when your high on pot is fall asleep in the middle of an episode of Game of Thrones.
Don’t believe me? Just google Dr Sanjay Gupta. He is the chief medical correspondent for CNN and for the longest time was one of the most outspoken Marijuana prohibitionists in the United States. He also happens to be a Neurologist. Well, an interesting thing happened to Dr Gupta about two years ago – he changed his mind. Thats right, he went from publicly warning viewers of CNN, one of the most widely syndicated news networks in the world, about the dangers of Marijuana, to just as publicly (he bravely announced his ‘volte-face’ on live television) retracting his previous medical opinion in favour of one that seeks to promote the medicinal benefits of the drug. Not because he was sensing a shift in the attitudes of Americans about Marijuana, but because he started reading the research.
This declaration two years ago seems to have been a tipping point in the debate about Marijuana in the United States. Things have moved rapidly since. In August 2013 CNN aired ‘Weed’, the first of three documentaries on Marijuana. What was different about this program was that it sort to assess the drug based purely on it’s medical profile. Here for the first time was a medical Doctor, a Neurologist, interviewing non-partisan scientists and researchers about the affects of Marijuana consumption. It was provocative not just because of it’s subject material, but because the limited research that had been done up until then (it’s tough to do serious scientific research on an illegal drug without permission) indicated that there were positive medical benefits associated to the plant.
In March 2014 ‘Weed 2’ was aired. It was a follow up to the first documentary and for the anti-prohibition movement, came at the perfect time, intersecting the Marijuana revolution that was burning white hot across mainstream America. Four days after it aired, Rick Doblin, a Boston researcher and one of the world’s leading minds on the medical uses of Marijuana, received a letter from the US federal government approving his application for funding for research on the drug. His original application had been submitted seven years earlier. This was the Rosa Parks moment in the Marijuana debate.
It can be tricky being on the right side of science but on the wrong side of ideology. The decision to approve and fund medical research into Marijuana meant that scientists and researchers, hitherto occupied by the stigma of what this research might do to their careers, were now free to legitimately pursue research projects into the uses of the plant. No longer would there be a need for ‘backyard’ science. The pot pioneers that had been studying the plant under the cover of darkness could now ‘come in from the cold.’
Now that the shackles have been taken off, the benefits of Marijuana as a medical treatment are mounting up. The research done to date indicates that it can be used to treat a diverse range of ailments; from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to Alzheimer’s. In fact, the list of diseases and illness for which there is now clinical proof that Marijuana has a discernible positive effect for sufferers includes AIDS/HIV, Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Asthma, Cancer, Epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease, suffers of chronic pain, Glaucoma and Multiple Sclerosis.
Scientists have found that patients who treat their ailments with medical Marijuana eat better, sleep better and have a better quality of life. Marijuana lowers eye pressure in sufferers of Glaucoma. It helps prevent muscle spasms and stiffness in sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis. It has been shown to reduce the frequency of seizures that epileptic suffers experience by up to 50%. Tell that to a parent who has to watch their acutely epileptic 5 year old spasm 20 times a day. Marijuana advocacy is coming from those that need it the most.
The more the evidence stacks up the more Marijuana prohibition looks like a crime against humanity rather than a crime against society. Legislators are starting to listen. There are now 23 states in the US where medical Marijuana has been legalised. Many of these states have also decriminalised cannabis possession laws, while four of them, Colorado,Washington State, Alaska, and Washington DC, have legalised the use of Marijuana for recreational purposes.
The other states are watching closely, not because of any delayed sense of fair-mindedness or desire to improve the lives of their constituents, but because of the money. The millions of dollars of tax revenue that they stand to gain if they invoke similar legislation. It’s the money that is getting the attention of the politicians above anything else. In the first year full year after Marijuana was legalised, the state government of Colorado took in $53 Million in tax revenue from the it’s sales. That’s enough to send 3,400 Colorado students to University for free. $2 Million of that tax revenue went to local governments, while $7 Million was spent on building new schools. Colorado’s economy is currently one of the strongest in the US.
What about the social cost? Doesn’t this negate the benefit of the extra tax income for the state of Colorado? No. Serious crime actually went down in Denver last year. Not only is crime down but the black market for Marijuana, the traditional source, is eroding. 60% of the total demand for Marijuana is being met by licensed distributors and sellers, while the other 40% is being fulfilled by black-market dealers. This is only because the licensed sellers can’t get enough. Analysts predict that as soon as demand can be met by legitimate supply, the black-market for Marijuana in Colorado will all but disappear. Not possible? Try to remember the last time you saw someone selling homemade beer on a street corner?
Beer; now there’s a segue. In a world in which Marijuana remains largely illegal, governments don’t appear to be too concerned about the hundreds of thousands of their citizens that drink themselves to a slow death each year. The human cost of alcohol is as breathtaking as the potential benefit of Marijuana. How did we get to this place? Why is this hypocrisy so obvious yet our willingness to use our voices to reshape public policy so stunted? We have fallen down the rabbit whole and spent years bumping around in the darkness looking for the way out, when all we have to do is follow the light.
One can’t point the bone at alcohol without pointing it at the greatest killer of all. The grand Mufti of drugs; Tobacco. The thing I find most amusing about tobacco, and particularly cigarettes, is that there is no longer any debate about the dangers of smoking. There is no discourse on the subject; no alternative point of view. The fact that it kills is unequivocal. Every toothless gum or set of tar-pit lungs I see on a packet of cigarettes is yet another reminder of just how outdated Marijuana legislation is. Meanwhile an estimated 5 million people die each year from smoking related cancers. That’s a holocaust every year.
So where does all this leave us? Where is the Marijuana debate going? What is likely to happen in the years ahead? I for one believe it is on the road to full legalisation. Besides the 23 states in the US that have already legalised medical marijuana and the 4 that have gone all the way, another 7 are scheduled to vote on ballots proposing the full legalisation of Marijuana in 2016, the highest profile of these being California. Progress is not just confined to the US. Countries like the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica (no surprise there), Canada, Spain, The Netherlands, India, Argentina; all of them are in the process of reviewing Marijuana laws. In the case of Uruguay, consider it reviewed. In August of 2014 it became the first country in the world to fully legalise weed.
There are many complicated issues in the world but this is not one of them. The case for the legalisation of Marijuana is as compelling as you’ll find. I am not advocating it’s use, just the power of thought. The power that a single synapse has when it fires, sending an electric impulse hurtling down a nerve ending into the brain, from which emerges, like a butterfly, a thought. The thought is a question and the question is Why? Why is the ambassador of critical thinking. It is it’s emissary. On the subject of Marijuana I encourage you to use it. I encourage you to think and read and consider. And if, due to the nature of your enquires, you find yourself with an altered opinion on the subject, then let me say congratulations, not for choosing Marijuana, but for having the courage to leave the shore.