Even though marijuana is banned by the international treaties and most national laws, the question whether marijuana should be legalized remains open. Marijuana abuse and dependence are highly prevalent in the United States. On one hand, this substance has important medical implications. On the other hand, the chronic and regular use of marijuana is associated with serious social problems and psychiatric disorders. The legalization of marijuana deals with a full set of related dilemmas, including those of whether it should be allowed for medical use only or recreational users as well, the users age and appropriate conditions of use – in private only or in public as well. Generally, marijuana legalization would create both good and bad effects for the society, and the magnitudes of those direct and indirect consequences are uncertain.
The potential increase in marijuana use as a result of legalization is one of the major arguments against the changes in the current legislation. On one hand, the use of mild drugs is a personal choice, and the government regulations can’t fully control it. On the other hand, the legalization of marijuana use can be perceived as a social approval, influencing the individual behaviors and increasing the risks of marijuana abuse prevalence. State medical marijuana laws are one of the most significant predictors for marijuana social and recreational use. There’s a direct relationship between the state laws and the social norms in particular groups. Therefore, legalization would inevitably contribute to transformation of societal norms and corresponding shifts in individual perceptions. Furthermore, there’s substantial amount of evidence that residents of states with medical marijuana use laws were more likely to suffer from marijuana abuse and addiction (Cerda et al., 2012, p. 24). Thus, the repressive and prohibitionist policies of the government can be saving citizens from the dangers of marijuana related diseases and injuries.
Along with the benefits resulting from the medical use of marijuana with its soothing, relaxing and appetite-boosting effects, it’s also associated with a wide range of negative implications, including those of psychiatric diseases, unemployment and withdrawal. The immediate effects of marijuana use can vary, depending on the amount and quality of the consumed substance, personal reactions and circumstances. Whereas there’s little to no evidence on the feelings caused by marijuana intoxication, there’s evidence that it is neither a stimulant nor a depressant. Unlike other drugs used for pleasure, marijuana is unique with its naturally occurring neurotransmitter. The multiple and complex interactions are oddly assorted and require further investigation, but the known effects of the psychoactive ingredients include focusing attention on sensory experience, impairing short-term memory and the ability to process complex information, enhancing appetite and making individuals more sensitive to humor. (Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer & Kleiman, 2012, p. 6). The one-time relaxing effect of those complex interactions might be harmless. However, the chronic and regular intakes can result in physical and psychological addiction, thus having long-lasting effects and drastic consequences for the addicts’ health and psycho-social wellbeing. Importantly, along with enhanced appetite and sense of humor, under certain circumstances, marijuana intake can result in anxiety and panic attacks. Furthermore, the legalization of marijuana can increase the amount of car accidents, violent crimes and even suicides. Therefore, the side effects and potential threats of marijuana use to individuals’ health and public order pose the question of whether the benefits of legalization outweigh the possible threats.
The major arguments in favor of marijuana legalization include the opportunities of improved control of production, distribution and access and tax money which could be officially raised. These initiatives are expected to take the criminal element out from the marijuana distribution patterns. Provided that all potential users would give preference to official distributors, the black market might gradually reduce and even disappear in the end. At the same time, understanding the scale of the market and the processes taking place in it would make it easier to control the negative consequences, establish the rehabilitation programs for the addicts and raising the public awareness of the potential threats and negative effects of marijuana use and especially abuse. The state-run monopoly on marijuana might help tightly control the quality, price, availability and access to substance. However, the state-run monopoly does not guarantee the absence of the black market. Under certain conditions, the black market can be bigger than the black market in other spheres, such as alcohol, as well as compared to the market in the pre-legalization period (Fisher, 2006, p. 48). In other words, legalization and total state control of the marijuana distribution might have reverse effects of easier access of the criminals to substance and following distribution on black market.
Even though the legalization of marijuana healthcare use might solve a number of problems through better control of quality and distribution, the changes in the current legislation might have the reverse effects at the same time. Thus, the legal approval might change the societal attitudes towards marijuana use, increasing the number of users and leading to more instances of abuse and addiction. Further research of the potential effects and hazards of marijuana use is necessary for making viable decisions as to this mild drug legalization and the following patterns for controlling its production and sales.
Caulkins, J., Hawken, A., Kilmer, B. & Kleiman, M. (2012) Marijuana legalization: What everyone needs to know. Oxford University Press: New York: NY.
Cerda, M. (2012). Medical marijuana laws in 50 states: investigating the relationship between state legalization of medical marijuana and marijuana use, abuse and dependence. Drug Alcohol Dep., 120(1 – 3): 22 – 27.
Fisher, G. (2006). Rethinking our war on drugs: Candid talk about controversial issues. Praeger Publishers: Boston, MA.