Freedom From Reefer Madness
Lizzy Jaramillo (Liberalism)
We’ve come a long way since the “Reefer Madness” propaganda film of 1936. It was supposed to scare poor and unsuspecting American high school students from being lured in by creepy drug pushers into trying marijuana. It was said marijuana would instantly turn innocent school children into crazed criminals who would be capable of everything from hit and run car accidents to rape and murder – all due to marijuana “Madness”.
Contrastingly, today we are in renaissance of marijuana acceptance and legalisation for both medical and recreational use. 10 states, and counting, in America now have legalized recreational use and 33 states having legalized its medical use. Canada has followed suit in passing nationwide legislation allowing its citizens to toke up without fear of punishment. Indeed, North America, through their sweeping legislative actions, is at the forefront of this movement that has deep implications on its people. The legalization of marijuana not only has proven medical benefits but we are now seeing that it also has economic benefits, lifts the burden from the justice system, and disproves many of the psychological and criminal myths as shown within “Reefer Madness”. Unfortunately, however, many still fear marijuana and hold propaganda as fact. As an American living in the Britain, I think that the UK (and most parts of Europe) are further behind in this movement and unfortunately many here still hold antiquated fears in relation to this wonderful plant.
Colorado and Washington State were the first two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012. Using these two examples as case studies may be a valuable way to dispel some of the myths.
The whole premise of “Reefer Madness” was to show that school-aged children could be lured by dealers into trying this “drug”. And once tried they are hooked. Exposure and access to legal marijuana has simply dispelled this myth within adolescents. A report by the Washington Department of Health polled students from 6th to 12th grade between 2006 (during times of prohibition) and 2016 (post-legalization). The study actually found that marijuana usage decreased among this demographic post-legalization.
With legalization comes regulation, and growing up along with marijuana prohibition I found it much more difficult to acquire alcohol than it was to find marijuana. I think it is a thing of beauty that you can walk into a dispensary and be advised as to the exact THC content in your product of choice by knowledgeable connoisseurs, without stigmatization. Long gone are the days of meeting a dealer without knowledge of the product, the potential effects, or the health benefits. American teenagers of today, and future, will not hold marijuana as “taboo” and perhaps in turn will learn to have a healthy relationship with it.
While unlicensed distribution of marijuana to other states where prohibition is still in force has increased, this is to be expected, as demand for marijuana has always existed. And it will continue to exist even in places where it is criminalized and punishment is severe. It is interesting to note that other types of crime have decreased in States where recreational use has been legalized. In the last 5 years since legalization in Colorado and Washington we have seen a sharp decrease in violent crime. In Colorado violent crime has decreased 10%! Whether this is attributed to the more passive effects of “passing the peace pipe” or whether it is attributed to the curtailing of the black market (and their aggressive competitive practices towards other dealers) is yet to be seen, but it should have a positive effect.
Since the 1980’s the United States has seen the percentage of its incarcerated population skyrocket and coincide with the commencement of the “War on Drugs” (and the privatization of prisons). The US is the most incarcerated country in the world. In the USA, as of 2014, about 50% of federal prison offenders are drug offenders and of that population 21.6% are incarcerated due to marijuana related crimes. Drug arrests give residents of over-policed communities criminal records, which in turn reduce employment prospects and increase the likelihood of longer sentences for future offenses. While legalization does nothing to help rebuild the reputation of the many who have been previously arrested and incarcerated, it does prevent future lives from being ruined for simply possessing marijuana.
In 2016 alone, 600,000 people were arrested on marijuana related charges in America. Not only are hundreds of thousands sent to private prisons owned by corporations with billions in turnover but their lives and reputations are potentially ruined. Is that really a just punishment for a substance far less harmful than alcohol and certainly morphine? Is this what our justice system is for?
The economic benefits of legalization are indisputable and I propose that they should be immediately considered in the UK to help our economic woes from the NHS to public education. Colorado is seen as the Silicon Valley for the production of marijuana and the new legal market has already created an economic boom. The state of Colorado is currently ranked the number 1 economy in the United States (not New York or California). New businesses are flocking to legalized states on the forefront of this movement to become pioneers in this industry -- a gold rush if you will. This in turn leads to an increase in jobs and employability in these states. Furthermore, the sale of marijuana is not without regulation and substantial taxation has already been generated. In 2014, Colorado received $76 million in tax revenues due to the legal sale of marijuana and $35 million was allocated directly to fund the state’s educational system. Conversely, other states use the lottery programs or gambling to fund educational programs. At least marijuana has proven medicinal health benefits unlike gambling that serves no medical benefit.
Marijuana has been proven to be an effective medicine to help ailments from chronic pain, spasticity, epileptic seizures, anxiety, and many more debilitating diseases. Studies have even shown that it may even slow the progression of Alzheimer's. Countless scores of cancer patients have professed how marijuana has helped them ease their suffering and indeed the anxiety and depression that accompanies a cancer diagnosis. Marijuana is a much safer alternative to opioids as a method of alleviating chronic pain as no one has ever died from an overdose of weed.
Its therapeutic benefits are not just limited to adults and the dying. Interestingly the case that brought about the legalization (albeit in limited circumstances) of medicinal marijuana in the UK was the case of a 12-year-old Billy Caldwell. Racked with severe epilepsy his courageous mother declared at the UK border that she brought in a prescription of CBD oil from Canada for her boy’s treatment (CPD oil is a component found in marijuana proven to aid in pain relief). Billy has been treated with CBD oil since 2016 and has been seizure free for almost a year until his return to the UK where his medication was confiscated. Within 24 hours he began suffering seizures that could amount to almost 100 seizures a day without treatment. CBD oil has been, and is the only, treatment that worked for Billy. Unfortunately, Billy has had to suffer again due to England’s stance against medicinal marijuana, however, his case raised awareness about marijuana’s very real medicinal uses and now the UK has finally allowed it in limited circumstances. It is a step in the right direction but how many more people need to suffer before they can have access to the treatment that they need? Make no doubt that marijuana is a very important medicine with therapeutic benefits.
A medicinal study put out in 2016 showed an on average reduction of 25% in opioid deaths in states with legalised medical marijuana compared to those where it still illegal. As indicated above, one of the most common uses of marijuana is for chronic pain and so is the basis of opioid prescriptions. In the US there are far more doctors being endorsed by pharmaceutical companies, to prescribe name brand medications like Oxycodone, to patients then there are street dealers pushing weed upon teenagers. 60% of all opioid deaths are attributed to people with a legal prescription. Even the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s website states that there have been absolutely no deaths due to an overdose in marijuana - yet one is entirely illegal.
As a fiscally conservative and socially liberal woman, I strongly advocate for the legalization of marijuana. It’s great for the economy, it brings a lot of jobs, and it brings new businesses and taxable revenue. Whilst it helps prevent criminality, aids countless with ranging medicinal conditions, it also genuinely helps our society by reconditioning ourselves to be kinder to each other. Those who smoke weed are just like those who enjoy a glass of wine or beer so there is a strong social argument that they shouldn’t be shunned. We are living through a marijuana renaissance but unfortunately it hasn’t reached a platform in many countries where it is still illegal and stigmatised, but eventually progress will be made. It will take time, headline stories, and most certainly economic necessity but progress will be made across the Western world.
Lizzy is a Peruvian-American lawyer currently living in the UK. Previously she’s worked on campaigns for the Democratic Party in America and was a debate champion at university.