S/AIts shocking to some, but not to others! Marijuana is a substance that hasbecome very much a part of American culture, nearly 65 million Americans haveeither used it occasionally or regularly. The use of marijuana hit mainstreamAmerica about thirty years ago and it has been accepted by a large segment ofsociety ever since. The debate on whether this substance should be legalizedor not remains a very hot topic today.
Despite government efforts to isolateand eliminate its use, it is clear that the use of marijuana is still verypopular. There is an obvious problem concerning marijuana today. Governments on allthree levels: local, state, and federal are trying desperately to find anappropriate policy involving marijuana. National polls show that more than70% of the American people, from both ends of the political spectrum, supportcontrolled access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite fierceopposition from the federal government, voters in California and Arizonapassed ballot initiatives in the fall of 1996 favoring the legalization ofmedicinal marijuana. If support for marijuana at least as a medicinal remedyis so high, then why have only a few states taken steps to change theirpolicy? There are several reasons why marijuana remains illegal. Mainly, itis a political issue kicked around by certain special interest groups.
Someof these groups perceive marijuana as a threat to the home, tearing familiesapart and causing them to abandon traditional values. However these groupsusually are not legitimate areas of legislation. The more powerful groupshave other, more practical reasons for keeping marijuana illegal. Among themost powerful of these groups are the combined lawenforcement-judiciary-penal systems. This group sees the elimination ofmarijuana laws as a threat to their jobs. Add to this group defense lawyers,who stand to make millions of dollars defending marijuana offenders.
Consciously or not, they support anti-marijuana laws. Another interest groupincludes the scientists whose marijuana research is funded by the government.If marijuana were legalized, they would lose millions of dollars in researchgrants intended to prove the detrimental effects of the substance. Two otherunrelated but very influential groups are the liquor lobby and pharmaceuticalcompanies. Their spending is usually very secretive and not publicized verymuch. Legalization of a competing product that can be produced with relativeease by anyone with access to a plot of land would cut deeply into theirprofits. And the drug companies want control, rather than just a ban, forthey know the medicinal benefits of marijuana . Therefore the major reasonmarijuana continues to remain illegal, is that special interest groups areblocking legislation by extensive lobbying.
Clearly it is seen that manypeople support its use, at least for medical reasons. It is obvious that the current policy for marijuana is not working veryefficiently. The government spends billions of dollars every year to stop itsuse. This leads to the opening of a very extensive black market formarijuana, because the drug is still in high demand.
With the black marketcomes all the crime and violent acts that create a new problem ofovercrowding prison populations. In effect, the government does not reallysolve the marijuana problem; instead it just creates a new one in its place.The present policy on marijuana is that it is classified as a Schedule I drugin the Controlled Substances Act. This law established criteria fordetermining which substances should be controlled, mechanisms for reducingthe availability of controlled drugs, and a structure of penalties forillegal distribution and possession of controlled drugs. The criteria forSchedule I substances are: The drug or other substance has a high potentialfor abuse, is not currently accepted for use in medical treatment in theUnited States, has not been proven safe for use under medical supervision.Along with marijuana, hashish, and THC, drugs listed in Schedule 1 areheroin, LSD, mescaline, peyote, and many other hallucinogens. This makes itillegal for anyone to buy, sell, grow, or possess any amount of marijuanaanywhere in the United States. State laws vary in terms of penalties issued.
Under New York State Law, a first possession of up to twenty-five grams ofmarijuana in private results in a $100 fine. If there is a second possessionof the same amount, the fine is increased to $200. The cultivation ofmarijuana results in a $1000 fine and up to one-year imprisonment. The sameapplies to the sale of marijuana.
There are harsher penalties issued if theoffender is convicted of possession, cultivation, or sale of marijuana inpublic. Possession of marijuana in public results in a $500 fine and up tothree months imprisonment. Cultivation results in up to one-year imprisonmentand a $1000 fine. Sale of marijuana in public can result in a four-yearimprisonment. Penalties become harsher depending upon the amount of marijuanain possession, cultivation, or sale. The apex is reached at a fifteen-yearimprisonment with the possession, cultivation, or sale of over ten pounds ofmarijuana or more. Source and Ingredients Marijuana is defined as the mixture of leaves, stems, and flowering tops ofthe hemp plant, in the genus Cannabis. There are three species: Cannabissativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.
The hemp plant now growswild throughout most of the world and can be cultivated in any area with ahot season. Some 421 chemicals in 18 different chemical classes have beendetected in the hemp plant. It synthesizes at least 61 distinct substancescalled cannabinoids that are not found in any other genus of plants. The mostsignificant of these substances is 1-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, an oily,water-insoluble liquid.
In popular writing it is often called simply THC. TheTHC content of marijuana generally varies from 0.5% to 6%. Patterns of UseThere are many different cannabis preparations that are widely used to obtaineffects. Cannabis may be either smoked or taken by mouth. However the samedose of THC is about three times as effective when smoked as when ingested.In the United States marijuana is usually smoked in the form of a hand-rolledcigarette (“joint” or “reefer”), but it is also smoked in a variety of pipes.
Until the 1960’s the pattern in the United States was one of intermittent useof marijuana on social occasions by a relatively small number of youngadults, together with regular use by some jazz musicians, urban minoritygroups, and Mexican Americans in the Southwest. In the following years,however, marijuana use increased sharply. By 1979, 68% of young adults 18 to25 had tried marijuana at least once, 35% had used it in the month justbefore the survey, and about 2/3 of current users reported using it five ormore times per month. About 9% of users reported use on a daily basis. Theuse of marijuana also increased sharply in other countries throughout theworld.
Psychological and Physiological EffectsTHC produces its actions primarily on the nervous system and on the heartand blood vessels. The effects depend on the dose, the route ofadministration, and on the degree of tolerance that has developed. Becauseindividuals vary in the way they inhale the smoke and because marijuanavaries in THC content, the amount of active THC that reaches the bloodstreamduring smoking varies greatly . Generally, smoking a marijuana cigarette witha 2% THC content (equivalent to about 20 mg taken orally) produces changes inmood, mental abilities, coordination, blood pressure, and pulse.
The mostcommon result is the state commonly referred to as a “high”, including anincreased sense of well being (euphoria), relaxation, and sleepiness.Short-term memory is impaired, and the capacity to carry out goal-directedproblems requiring multiple and mental steps is reduced. Users may experiencefeelings of strangeness and unreality. Sights and sounds may take on newqualities. The sense of time is often altered to that minutes may seem likehours. Balance and stability are impaired even with low doses, as are complexbehaviors (perception, information processing) involved in driving.
Lowdoses also produce increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and areddening of the eyes due to dilation of conjunctival vessels. Higher dosescan produce hallucinations, delusions, and unrealistic suspiciousness andfeeling of persecution. Anxiety increases, and a state of panic may occur.
Thinking becomes confused and disorganized. Because the onset of the drugeffect is rapid when marijuana is smoked, most users learn to avoid overdoseby taking only as many inhalations as are required to produce the desired”high”. Smoking high doses of marijuana or hashish over long periods of timeproduces severe bronchitis, and the “tar” produced when marijuana is smokedis more potent than the “tar” from tobacco in causing cancer in animals.Medical Uses The pharmacological effects of the hemp plant have been knownsince ancient times. A Chinese pharmacopoeia compiled nearly 2,000 years agorecommended it for treating a number of disorders, and it was used in Indiabefore the 10th century AD.
There are no currently approved uses formarijuana in the United States, except for two states California and Arizona,which have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Clinical research hasshown that THC is effective in reducing the nausea that cancer patientsexperience when they are treated with chemotherapy. Marijuana is alsobelieved to stimulate appetite. In asthma patients, several studies haveshown that THC acts as a bronchodilator and reserves bronchial constriction.In treating epilepsy, marijuana is used to prevent both grande mal and otherepileptic seizures in some patients. Marijuana also limits the muscle painand spastically caused by multiple sclerosis and it relieves tremor andunsteady gait.
Lastly, marijuana has been clinically shown to be effective inrelieving muscle spasm and spasticity. History of Marijuana Laws The hemp plant was once a widely cultivated plant in the New World bysettlers. It has been known for centuries that the fiber from the hemp plantis very useful in making ropes. Therefore the cultivation of the hemp plantwas encouraged and much needed. The Virginia Assembly, urging farmers to growthe crop for its fiber passed the first law concerning the hemp plant in1619. There was virtually no significant legislation passed concerning thehemp plant until the 1900’s.
It was at this time when American attitudestowards Mexicans became hostile. Marijuana obtained a foul reputation whenMexican peasants crossed the border into Texas. It was widely used by Mexicanpeasants as an intoxicant.
The Texas police claimed that marijuana causedthese Mexican settlers to commit violent crimes. Therefore in 1914, the firstban on possession of marijuana was passed in El Paso, Texas. Many otherstates followed Texas, and in 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act.This law made the possession of marijuana illegal anywhere in the UnitedStates. During the McCarthy era, the Boggs Acts were passed to definemandatory minimums for the possession of marijuana. Congress moved to an evenstronger position in 1956 by lengthening these mandatory minimum sentences.
Anti-marijuana feelings continued to grow, and state laws often imposedstricter penalties than the federal penalties. In the 1960’s, however, astrange phenomenon began to occur. For the first time in history, marijuanause began to rise amongst the white middle class. Many mandatory sentenceswere repealed. This was seen in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention andControl Act of 1970. Most of the states followed the federal government, andthe possession of marijuana was decriminalized. However in the 1980’s thegovernment once again changed its mind, with the passage of the Anti-AbuseAct of 1986, which once again imposed mandatory minimum sentences for a widerange of drug offenses. The last major piece of legislation passed by thefederal government (not state governments) was in 1996, which stated that anyAmerican convicted of a marijuana felony may no longer receive federalwelfare or food stamps.
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