Why We Need to Stop Criminalizing Marijuana

The prescription and use of medical marijuana is currently legal in 30 states, including our nation’s capital. It is also legal in some states to both grow and sell medical marijuana. Some states will only allow it to be cultivated, and others will allow it to be sold, but not grown. That still leaves 20 states where it’s completely illegal, in addition to federal laws against it. This means that, for those suffering in ways that only medical marijuana can relieve, their only access to treatment is through illegal sources, and entire communities, especially minority communities, are being decimated by the criminalization of marijuana. The way that marijuana is being treated in the majority of America’s legislature is both unethical and unnecessary, and here’s just four of the many reasons why.

Marijuana Can Save Lives

why-we-need-to-stop-criminalizing-marijuanaMedical Marijuana has the potential to save lives. For those suffering from uncontrollable seizures, specifically from the Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, their lives are severely inhibited. While some types of seizures are as small as freezing up, spacing out, or having a minor facial twitch, other seizures can be violent, to the point that even trying to restrain the patient is dangerous and painful to all parties involved. People suffering from these violent seizures have no control over their muscles in this state, meaning that they can’t hold back from using their full strength as their limbs flail and knock against walls, furniture, and people. Both types of seizures can be life-threatening when they come at unexpected moments, greatly inhibiting the patient’s ability to function on their own. Medical marijuana has actually reduced the seizures of those facing uncontrollable seizures that have not responded to other forms of treatment, making it their only source of relief. However, patients as young as two years old are able to get desperately-needed relief from the uncontrollable seizures associated with these syndromes from this medical marijuana treatment. While even the FDA has recently approved a cannabis-based oral medication for those two forms of epilepsy, these treatments are out of reach for those living in states where marijuana is still illegal. People facing conditions like this are already likely to have mounting medical bills, so uprooting their lives and quitting their jobs to move to another state is not a viable option for them, which means that their only resource is to buy illegally. Epilepsy patients aren’t the only ones facing this choice, however, as medical marijuana treatments are being developed that can actually slow the growth of cancer cells, and greatly reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. This leaves people facing critical and even terminal illnesses with the options of facing prison for possession or suffering needlessly without treatment.

The Criminalization Increases Addiction to Other Drugs

While many will say that marijuana is a gateway drug to worse substances, criminalizing it unnecessarily, especially in the medical field, can force otherwise law-abiding citizens into addiction and illegal substance abuse.  Opioids are extremely addictive and are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the US today. Despite this, doctors continue to prescribe opioid drugs as painkillers to surgery patients or those facing severe pain. For many, extreme painkillers are the only source of relief from otherwise debilitating chronic pain. For others, opioids are introduced as a brief treatment while in the hospital for surgical procedures and recovery. Both groups, however, are in extreme danger of addiction the moment opioids are introduced into their system, and there’s no reliable way to interpret who will be affected more than others. Once a patient is addicted, however, their body is dependent upon the drug and they are forced to either ensure their prescription is continuously renewed, or else obtain it by more illegal means that often are even more addicting than the original doses they were exposed to. All of this can be avoided, however. Marijuana has proven to be an effective painkiller, and it has none of the addictive side effects of opioids. Patients could be prescribed marijuana treatments for short-term treatments without fear of becoming dependent on their painkiller, and those suffering from chronic pain could find relief without resorting to illegal sources. Unfortunately, for those living in states that continue to criminalize marijuana, opioids continue to be prescribed and the opioid addiction crisis continues to rise.

Legalization Could Reduce Suicide Rates

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that anxiety is characterized as, “excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday tasks or events, or may be specific to certain objects or rituals.” The THC in marijuana can, in low doses, reduce the effects of anxiety. When taken at night when the body can best absorb it, marijuana oils and other forms can greatly reduce the often crippling effects of anxiety without the dangerous side effects of other medications. Other medications have been known to carry side effects of depression, which is why people being put on anti-anxiety medications have to be carefully monitored by their doctor for signs of suicidal thoughts and behavior when first put on. Marijuana, however, has been shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety without causing depression, even to the point that it can help treat depression as well. As anxiety and depression are often found together in a patient, treating only anxiety while worsening the depression in a patient can easily lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior. As marijuana can treat both, however, legalizing it as a viable anxiety treatment could save countless lives from suicide.

The Criminalization Targets Minority Communities

Minorities are particularly affected by the criminalization of marijuana on a number of fronts. In the first three months of 2018, 89% of roughly 4,000 people arrested for marijuana possession in NYC were black or Hispanic. However, black people are no more likely to smoke marijuana than white people, and the rates are actually up to 5% higher in white people than black in ages 18-25. This indicates that the arrests of black people possessing marijuana have less to do with the marijuana itself and more to do with the individual’s race. With the illegalization of marijuana, black people are then susceptible to being fined and even imprisoned for possession of just small amounts of marijuana because of racial prejudices. Marijuana arrests also make up more than half of total drug arrests, according to the Washington Post, and when the possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in Massachusetts in 2009, yearly marijuana possession arrests dropped from a little under 9,000 to a little over 1,000 in just that one year. This means that by ending the criminalization of marijuana, thousands of people who were targeted by race would no longer face charges for possession. It is also important to note that the black community is not the only group that suffers from the criminalization of marijuana. As previously mentioned, opioids are prescribed as painkillers, leading to addiction in many cases. Because of their increased likelihood of suffering from chronic pain, women are actually at higher risk of opioid addiction than men, something that would be reduced greatly if they were prescribed marijuana treatments instead. Impoverished communities also suffer more from the harsh criminal penalties placed on marijuana possession, as those communities are at greater risk for substance abuse and possession overall. When someone is penalized and jailed, they are significantly less likely to be able to find quality work, forcing them into a continued impoverished state. That poverty is then passed to their children, who are thereby put at greater risk for possession of drugs, and so the cycle continues.

The criminalization of marijuana negatively affects all sorts of communities and individuals that are already facing extreme hardship. Whether its patients failing to receive treatment for otherwise treatable conditions or minorities being forced into poverty cycles and excessive arrests, the war against marijuana is costing this country more and more every year. Until this is resolved, more will continue to suffer and even die from preventable causes.

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Meghan Belnap is a freelance writer who enjoys spending time with her family. She loves being in the outdoors and exploring new opportunities whenever they arise. Meghan finds happiness in researching new topics that help to expand her horizons. You can often find her buried in a good book or out looking for an adventure. You can connect with her on Facebook right here and Twitter right here.