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For 47 years, marijuana has been considered a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA due to it’s potential to become addictive; however, there are many medical uses for marijuana. It can be used to treat things such as chronic migraines, epilepsy, cancer, and PTSD. It has also been proven to increase brain creativity. But where did it come from? The cannabis plant originated in Central Asia where its fibers were used for cloth and rope. Its medical usage came about in the 1830s when Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor, discovered that cannabis extracts helped lessen stomach pain and vomiting in those suffering from cholera. It was not until much later that scientists discovered that THC was the source of these effects. THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is a cannabinoid. “Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that interact with receptors in the brain and body to create various effects.” (What Is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)?, 2017) This same THC is responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects of its recreational use. This recreational use is not seen in the United States until the early 1900’s. Mexicans immigrating to the United States during the Mexican Revolution introduced the practice of recreationally smoking marijuana to the American people. By 1931, the Great Depression brought about – parallel to Prohibitions view on intoxicants – a fear of the “evil weed” and 29 states had outlawed the use of marijuana. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was the first federal law to criminalize marijuana on a national level. This act placed a tax on the possession, sale, and transfer of any cannabis products outside of industrial uses. In 1970, President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 as part of the War on Drugs. This act repealed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug alongside drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, and heroin. 26 years later, in 1996, under the Compassionate Use Act, California became the first of 29 states to legalize the medical use of cannabis. By 2016, the recreational use of marijuana became legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. It is still, however, illegal under federal law.
In the state of Pennsylvania, possession of 30 grams or less of non-medical marijuana results in 30 days incarceration and up to a $500 fine. At the federal level, however, possession of any amount leads to a years sentence and up to a $1,000 fine. Federal law has no concern for whether the possessed marijuana is for medical use or not. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 574,641 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2015. By this point, only 14 states had legalized medical marijuana. Economically, the incarceration of these almost 600,000 people cost taxpayers as much as $19,200,000,000. But what if this number was turned around?
Many people do not consider the economic benefits of marijuana. Marijuana can have a huge impact on tax revenue. For example, “in 2015, Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes and fee on medical and recreational marijuana. Sales in the state totaled over $996 million. Sales in North America grew 30%, to $6.7 billion, in 2016, and is projected to increase to $20.1 billion by 2021, according to Arcview Market Research.” (The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Weed, 2017). The legalization of marijuana can also create many new jobs. “A RCG Economics and Marijuana Policy Group study on Nevada says that legalizing recreational marijuana in the state could support over 41,000 jobs till 2024 and generate over $1.7 billion in labor income.” (The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Weed, 2017). This revenue and job market comes from the many uses of marijuana.
While the biggest use is still that of recreational, marijuana has many medical and industrial uses. According to an April 2017 poll by MaristPoll, “22% of American adults use marijuana [~54,510,216 people], and 63% of this group say they use it regularly.” While this poll doesn’t explicitly state, it can be assumed that these are recreational users. According to ProCon.org, there were about 1,246,170 medical users in 2016. These medical users used medical marijuana for many different things. Marijuana has been proven to help reduce nausea and vomiting, especially in cancer patients undergoing chemo. A 2009 study at Complutense University in Spain found that THC actually induced the death of brain cancer cells. A clinical review in 2015 concluded that marijuana can be an effective treatment for patients with chronic pain. While there is no solid evidence, preliminary studies have linked marijuana to the management of ADHD symptoms. All this aside, one of the most common medical uses is anxiety. “A 2014 study from Vanderbilt University found that smoking marijuana can increase the presence of naturally-occurring brain chemicals called endocannabinoids, which are reduced as a result of chronic stress.” (Marijuana and Anxiety: A Guide, 2017). In conjunction, marijuana can also be used to treat PTSD. Researchers believe that marijuana’s role in “memory extinction” can help patients forget the experiences that caused their PTSD. As someone who suffers from PTSD, I think something like medical marijuana could be very beneficial. Aside from the many medical uses, it can also be used in many industrial ways. One variety of marijuana, known as hemp, is grown specifically for industrial use. Various parts of the plant can be used to make things such as clothing, plastics, cosmetics, and many other products. Fabrics made from hemp are more economically and environmentally friendly, stronger, are hypo-allergenic, softer, and more UV resistant than other fabrics. These qualities make hemp clothing very helpful in developing countries, as well as the United States.
While marijuana does have many benefits, it is important to also look at any negative aspects. One major argument for this is that smoking marijuana can negatively affect the body. While this is true, marijuana can be ingested in many other ways. The rising fad of “vaping” is one of those ways. A vaporizer consistently heats the cannabis to a temperature that is high enough to extract the good stuff, but too low for the potentially harmful toxins that are released when the cannabis is smoked. The beneficial effects of marijuana can also be found in edible forms. “Edibles” are simply regular food items that contain cannabis. You may have heard the term “pot brownies;” they are considered an “edible.” Marijuana can also be ingested in pill form and as a topical treatment. These forms are all safer for the body than smoking cannabis alone.
Personally, I think marijuana should be legal on a federal level. for medical use. Not only is it extremely beneficial to those with illnesses such as cancer, PTSD, or chronic pain, but it also has the potential to boost our nation’s economy in amazing ways. While I understand that recreational use – smoking, that is – can be harmful, the government could simply legalize only medical use of marijuana. The money that goes back into the economy can be used to better our nation. It could be used to help fund the education system or to open a homeless shelter. Not to mention that the people who used to be disabled due to their illnesses can now enjoy their lives and can even contribute to society in ways they could not before.
The aforementioned benefits easily outweigh the potential negatives of legalizing medical marijuana. As displayed by its almost 190 years of history, marijuana is not going away any time soon; what is stopping us from utilizing its benefits. There are thousands of people who suffer from things like PTSD, chronic pain, or cancer that could be living normal lives with the help of medical marijuana. There are also thousands of dollars that could go back into our nations economy with the help of medical marijuana. That money could help fund schools, open homeless shelters, or even fix our roads. By legalizing medical marijuana on a federal level, the entire country could benefit.
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