Policy Measures to Stop Legalizing Marijuana in the US: An Uncharted Territory

Series on public policy as a topic begins with this report. The purpose of this report is to share a perspective on the effect of Marijuana legalization in some states in the US. Marijuana is still categorized under Schedule A drug which includes heavy-duty drugs like Cocaine, Heroin etc.  A more detailed commentary on this at a later date. Refer to the full report under research section. 

Purpose

The purpose of this report is to highlight and document research on effects of Marijuana usage including but not limited to its cognitive effects on the human mind. The report relies on secondary research in identifying the effect of legalizing Marijuana for the medical and recreational purpose by analyzing data of states in the US wherein Marijuana is legalized as well as analyze scientific evidence of cognitive effects of Marijuana. Analyze and critique arguments favoring pro-Marijuana legalization especially for the recreational purpose and recommend policy measures for stopping the legalization of Marijuana usage in the US for the medical and recreational purpose.

The Debate:

Legalizing Marijuana in the US for recreational purpose is highly debated within the US. Those in favor of Marijuana legalization, argue that inadequate medical evidence is published linking harmful effects of usage of Marijuana. Other reasons quoted include restriction of illegal channels for selling Marijuana, which might bring down supply and price; confusing medical benefits with recreational usage, increase in tax revenues through the sale of Marijuana and increase in law enforcement cost due to imprisonment of offenders selling Marijuana. Those against legalization argue social costs to society, the proliferation of drug abuse including other highly potent drugs among youth, severe impact on the physical and mental health of users of Marijuana and their loved ones and the potential rise in fatalities through accidents, especially among regular Marijuana users. The paper analyses effects of Marijuana as well as its impact of legalization on society to come out with arguments against its legalization for recreational purpose.

Origins of Cannabis

Cannabis, also known as marijuana among other names, is a preparation of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or medicine. Cannabis is from Cannabis sativa, a plant found in the northern hemisphere, a species of the Cannabaceae family, has usually, two types of flowers, male or female, and some plants have both. Male flowers grow in elongated clusters along the leaves, turn yellow, and die after blossoming while female flowers from which Cannabis is prepared to grow in spike-like clusters and remain dark green for a month after blossoming until the seed ripens. Hashish, a more potent drug is derived from the resin of the cannabis flowers. The addictive potency of Cannabis is due to psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is much lower in bits of hemp another variety of Cannabis sativa. The
Nishant Malhotra

leaves of Cannabis Sativa are used to prepare Marijuana while the two parts of the marijuana plant’s stiff, fibrous stalk — the hurd and the bast — can be used to make many products. The bast provides fibers, also called hemp, are woven to create a canvas, which has been used to make ship sails for centuries. The hurd provides pulp to make paper, oil to make paints and varnishes, and seed for food. Marijuana plants produce a high-protein, high-carbohydrate seed which is used in granola and cereals. Hemp oil and seed contain only trace amounts of psychoactive chemicals. In the U.S., owning hemp products, such as hemp rope or a hemp shirt, is legal.

Marijuana legalization history in the US

In November 2000 Colorado voters passed Amendment 20, which permitted a qualifying patient and/or caregiver of a patient to have up to 2 ounces of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants for medical purposes. 7To get Marijuana for medical purposes, a patient needs doctor’s prescription to purchase the drug. The proliferation of Marijuana use for medical purpose led to increased tolerance towards drug usage. “In November of 2012, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use. Amendment 64 allows people 21 years or older to grow up to six plants, possess/use 1 ounce or less and give an ounce or less of marijuana if not for payment. Amendment 64 permits marijuana retail stores, marijuana cultivation sites, marijuana edible factories and marijuana testing sites.”

Marijuana Usage in the United States

In the US, under Controlled Substance Act (CSA), drugs, substances, and certain chemicals are classified into five (5) distinct categories or schedules depending upon the drug’s acceptable medical use and its abuse or dependency potential. Schedule 1 drugs are the most potent with no acceptable medical use and high potential abuse. Marijuana is classified under Schedule 1 Drugs along with other drugs like Cocaine, Heroin, LSD, Ecstasy to name a few.

Marijuana is the most widely abused drug in the world and in the US. Marijuana is the leading cause of substance dependence other than alcohol in the U.S. According to an article published by CNBC, there were 129 million alcohol users by end of 2014 in the US closely followed by tobacco with 70.9 million users and Marijuana with 15.2 million users. In 2012, marijuana usage accounted for 4.3 million of the 7.3 million people aged 12 or older classified with dependence on or abuse of an illicit drug. This means that about two-thirds of Americans suffering from any substance use disorder are suffering from marijuana abuse or marijuana dependence.2. In national surveys, 48 percent of Americans say they have tried it, and 6.5 percent of high school seniors admit to daily use. Popular opinion of legalization of marijuana has increased a lot over the past decade with a 25 % increase among U.S. adults who are in favor of legalization i.e. 57% compared to 32% over the previous decade with an increase in support among members of Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 36-51 and 52-70 in 2016, respectively).3 Although California was the first state which legalized Marijuana use for medical purposes in 1996 and 24 states in the US have legalized for the medical purpose however recreational marijuana use is fully legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. The issue of legalizing Marijuana for recreational purposes is highly sensitive and hotly debated in the US. Republicans, in general, are opposing legalizing Marijuana while the majority of Democrats favor legalizing Marijuana.

Strategies for advocating legalization of Marijuana usage in the US Issue Analysis: Arguments against legalizing of Recreational Marijuana

a. Upward shift in demand curve

Pro-Marijuana Legalization enthusiasts argue that the price of Marijuana and supply through restrict official agents will bring down the use of Marijuana in the US but evidence points to the contrary.

Let’s analyze through supply and demand curve at the micro level with a well-documented example of Colorado. The graph illustrates the demand-supply curve of usage of Marijuana after legalizing Marijuana. The supply curve will shift to the right as the supply increases due to multiple channels of disbursement while the demand will also increase due to change in consumer preference.

The upward shift in demand curve

Legalizing Marijuana will aid in the proliferation of drug use among teenagers by increasing supply as well as giving them a justifiable reason for its consumption. As seen from the graph the price might increase, remain same or usually go down. The case of Colorado where Marijuana is legalized shows that marijuana rate among Colorado teens is 50% above the national average and an increase in the number of fatal cars crashes from 2007 to 2011 for drivers testing positive for marijuana rose sharply while fatal car accidents reduced. In 2012, Colorado average was 42% higher than the national average with increased use of Marijuana between ages 18 to 25 years. 6There was an increased use of Marijuana on campus in Colorado with 51% reported possession of Marijuana and 37% reported being under its influence during school hours.

NeuroCognitive effect of recreational Marijuana usage

There is enough NeuroCognitive evidence to support the negative effects of usage of Marijuana on the development of the brain, which further refutes claims by pro-marijuana supporters of limited NeuroCognitive scientific evidence. The change in behavior and awareness of usage of Marijuana can be understood from the primary psychoactive compound called THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) mimics the structure of molecules called endocannabinoids that the human body produces naturally. Endocannabinoids act on a group of cell-surface molecules called cannabinoid receptors that help to regulate appetite, mood, and memory. Because of its shape, THC fits into these receptors, too. When THC strikes specific cannabinoid receptors, it triggers domino chains of interacting molecules in neurons that culminate in both unusually raised and abnormally low levels of various neurotransmitters (the molecules that brain cells use to communicate with one another). The result is the well-known “high” of marijuana. Suddenly, the mundane seems hilarious, and ordinary foods taste delicious. 4People generally feel merry, relaxed and introspective, although undesirable effects—such as paranoia and irritability—are common as well.

According to an academic paper “Considering Cannabis: The effects of regular cannabis use on Neurocognition in adolescents and younger adults”, research illustrates negative cognitive effects of Marijuana particularly on developing an adolescent brain. Medical studies have reported inefficient brain activation patterns in younger users with abnormal performance in attention control, spatial working memory, and verbal working memory. 5Scientists from Western University published research, which proves that Marijuana not only severely impairs memory function but also worsens depression in some parts of the brain.

Increase in potency variant of Cannabis Sativa Plant

Further recently more creative growing techniques for the Cannabis sativa plant—from which marijuana is prepared—have dramatically increased the drug’s potency. With legalization and commercialization of Marijuana higher octane, the drug will be grown which is fuelling Marijuana addiction among the youth today. Other major arguments against legalization would be a failure of tests to measure the intoxication level of Marijuana among people compared to that of alcohol which can be accurately measured. It will be very difficult to enact laws forbidding drivers from driving under Marijuana substance use but new tests are being conducted to measure marijuana levels among drivers.

Social Cost to Society

The social cost of legalizing Marijuana far outweighs any potential economic benefits. Marijuana serves as a carrot to entice teenagers to become potential substance abusers to migrate to more potent drugs like

Heroin, LSD, and Cocaine. Repeated use of drugs leads to loss of vision, low levels of concentration resulting in loss of productivity apart from the inability to do mundane tasks, ill health, rehabilitation and immeasurable misery to loved ones. Intake of Marijuana causes increased fatalities in traffic accidents due to impaired driving. 2Following graphs show the research conducted in Colorado including pre and post commercialization of Marijuana use in the figure.

Source: National Highway Transportation Safety Administration

Rampant use of Marijuana leads to impaired vision leading to increased traffic accidents and fatalities, which puts others at increased risk apart from the increase in fatalities of drivers. It also increases the legal cost of prosecuting those guilty of violating traffic laws with increased cost to taxpayers through an increase in surveillance by law enforcement, legal fees, and imprisonment of those found guilty. Moreover, less than 1% of offenders imprisoned in the US have charges related to either use or smuggling of Marijuana refuting charges that legalization of Marijuana would cut a significant cost associated with law enforcement. On the contrary, it will offset the increased cost of surveillance by law enforcement post Marijuana legalization across states in the US. Canada is one of the few countries, which has legalized Marijuana across some states but legalizing Marijuana in the US is a game changer since the US is global opinion maker and cultural influence around the world.

A policy change towards legalization of Marijuana would lead the world into unchartered waters for the bad encouraging other countries to follow suit and giving an excuse to teenagers around the world justifying Marijuana usage. In terms of economics, the small social cost is far greater than small social benefit by enacting legalization of Marijuana especially for the recreational purpose and would have unheard consequences in ameliorating social values and culture in the US.

Policy Measures

One of the most important policy measures is to maintain status quo of Marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug in the US. It is prudent that no more states legalize Marijuana for medical purposes since this is the first step towards legalizing Marijuana for recreational purposes, which is very evident from states in the US. The medical use of Marijuana is very limited and best under controlled conditions especially those admitted to hospitals while its potential harmful cognitive aspects well documented and enunciated in this paper.

Usage of Marijuana is highly prevalent in teenagers and of 18-25 years ago. It is very important to implement strict guidelines prohibiting Marijuana use on school and universities while conducting seminars and online training to give education highlighting potential demerits of usage of Marijuana. It would be more judicious to make courses highlighting the harmful effect of Marijuana is schools to dissuade children from its usage. Enact strict laws and penalties for deterring people from driving after smoking Marijuana. Increased lobbying and media advertisements highlighting research from those states which have already legalized Marijuana use of the potential pitfalls in after the similar strategy in other states. Using national and local celebrities to encourage a holistic life by advertising use of drug-free life especially among teenagers and youngsters with target market segment of 18 to 25 years will help in reducing early Marijuana usage among the teenager. The future of any country is the youth and best way to build a holistic nation is to inculcate judicious values among children, which serve as a catalyst to build a great nation…a nation built to last…last till eternity…AND legalizing Marijuana is not a holistic policy for the betterment of mankind…

References

  1. Wikipedia

  2. http://www.cnbc.com/id/36267223

  3. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/12/support-for-marijuana-legalization-continues5.
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  4. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-safe-recreational-marijuana/

  5. http://www.aol.com/article/news/2016/10/07/smoking-marijuana-lowers-iq-in-teens/21576768/?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00001357

  6. The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado. The Impact Volume 2/ August 2014