Introduction to a Debate: 'Marijuana: Legalize, Decriminalize, or Leave the Status Quo in Place?'

Berkley Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 23.1, Spring 2018

11 Pages Posted: 2 May 2018

Date Written: May 1, 2018

Abstract

What someone thinks of marijuana can depend on who that person is. To a botanist, marijuana is a plant known as Cannabis sativa L that traces its lineage to the first quintile of the Holocene Epoch. To a chemist, marijuana is a source of the psychoactive substance Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). To a narcotics officer, marijuana is contraband. To students of public policy, marijuana is the focus of a debate that has raged for the last fifty years. This paper is an introduction to that debate and summarizes the position taken by each side.

At the center of that debate has been the issue whether marijuana has legitimate medical uses, is addictive, and is actually or potentially physically or psychologically harmful. Numerous studies and articles have examined each of those issues. Powerful arguments have been made for and against the liberalization of federal and state marijuana laws. The debate centers around three issues: (1) Does marijuana or one of its components (known as cannabinoids) have a legitimate medical use?; (2) Is marijuana or one of its components physically or psychologically harmful?; and (3) Is marijuana or one of its components physically or psychologically addictive?

Advocates for liberalization of the federal and state marijuana laws argue that marijuana has legitimate medical uses, particularly when smoked, to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, to increase appetite and decrease weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS, to address the neuropathic pain and spasticity afflicting victims of multiple sclerosis, to alleviate the chronic pain in adults that over-the-counter analgesics cannot assuage, and to help with sleep disturbances attributable to several different diseases. Marijuana, they add, is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Opponents of reform — in particular, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration — and highly respected medical organizations — the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the National Institute for Drug Abuse — maintain that today’s marijuana is not only more potent than your grandfather’s marijuana and is addictive, but it also has a number of adverse short- and long-term health effects, particularly for minors. Defenders of the status quo would also contend that there is no good reason to exempt marijuana from the approval process demanded by the drug safety laws.

Keywords: Marijuana, Cannabis, Debate Over Liberalization, Arguments for Liberalization, Arguments Against Liberalization

Suggested Citation

Larkin, Jr., Paul James, Introduction to a Debate: 'Marijuana: Legalize, Decriminalize, or Leave the Status Quo in Place?' (May 1, 2018). Berkley Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 23.1, Spring 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3171650

Paul James Larkin, Jr. (Contact Author)

The Heritage Foundation ( email )

214 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002-4999
United States
202-608-6190 (Phone)

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