Life in the USA
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug extracted from dried flowers and other parts of the plant Cannabis Sativa. It is also referred by several other names in broader sense which include hashish, cannabis, ganja among many others. For centuries marijuana has been used as a recreational drug in various parts of the world. It is estimated that 4% of world’s adult population (162 million) consume cannabis annually (World Drug Report, 2004).
According to WDR (World Drug Report) several drug products can be produced from cannabis, falling into three main categories: 1. ‘Herbal Cannabis’, the leaves and flower of the plant, referred by different names including marijuana, ganja to name a few. 2. ‘Cannabis Resin’, the pressed secretion of the plant, often called as hashish or charas. 3. Cannabis Oil. All three categories are consumed in US and around the world.
Cannabis Consumption Pattern in US: The legality of cannabis/marijuana usage around the world is subjective. In the US, as of now possession, use or sale of cannabis and any of it forms are illegal. However, in financial terms North America has the world’s largest market. It is estimated that North American cannabis market can value anywhere between US$ 10 billion to 60 billion. Some 11% of the US population over the age of 12 use cannabis annually, including 28% people aged 18-25 and over third of children in the final year of their high school. The US office of National Drug Policy estimates that these users consumed, on average 19 joints a month in 2000, for a total consumption of 1,000 metric tons of cannabis. While the number consumed per person seems very high, given that a large share of these are casual users, the actual consumption is low (WDR). However, in recent years the consumption of cannabis in US is growing based on cannabis seizures by the law.
Marijuana Legalization in US: The question of legalization of Marijuana in the US has come up in recent years. So far twelve US states have approved the use of medical marijuana, first starting with California with passing of proposition 215 in the year 1996. Pro-reform legislation process is in progress in Michigan, Minnesota and Rhodes Island. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to raid and harass cannabis dispensaries operating within these states. A bill H.R 5842, “Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” was introduced to prevent the DEA from raiding dispensaries and respecting the state laws. Its fate is currently unknown.
In general, the US demographic has a difference in opinion with regards to this issue; supporters as well as the non-supporters have their own set of perceptions.
The following paragraphs focuses briefly on pros and cons of Marijuana, the opinions vary from one source to another. It is extremely confusing to assume a particular position, since most of the claims made by either of the parties haven’t been proven scientifically, and lack of general agreement among experts let alone the general public makes it even tougher.
Health Factors: According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (1984), “Marijuana smoke has been found to contain more cancer-causing agents than is found in tobacco smoke.” On the contrary a recent study touted as the largest of its kind conducted by Dr. Tashkin, a pulmonologist from University of California at Los Angeles concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer. On the other hand, marijuana is considered to have medical values; it is used in treatment of AIDS, glaucoma, sclerosis and relieves nausea for patients undergoing chemotherapy. According to marijuana supporters who point out the recent statistics released by National Institute of Drug Abuse, 400,000 people die annually in US due to tobacco consumption and the same lists 2,000 deaths by caffeine and no deaths by marijuana. In all of the world history, there has never been a single death due to health problem caused by marijuana (www.legalizationofmarijuana.com).
The Office of National Drug Policy discards the idea of marijuana being a harmless drug. Kids are most vulnerable to its damaging effect, use of the drug causes significant health, safety, social, learning and behavioral problems. Research shows “youths with average grade of D or below were more than 4 times as likely to have used marijuana in the past year as youth who reported an average grade of A.” Studies also indicate that mathematical and logical abilities of a student are impaired at least up to 24 hours after consumption. The drug is also likely to cause much serious problems like depression and suicidal behavior among teenagers and young adults.
Impact of Marijuana in US Drug Arrests: The US war on drugs places high importance on marijuana. Since 1990’s about 5.9 million people were convicted on marijuana charges. In New York City alone, marijuana arrests increased ten folds from 5,100 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2002. Of those arrested 9 out of 10 were arrested solely for possession and not dealing. It is estimated that of all the marijuana arrests in US, only 6% were convicted of a felony. The US spends a whooping US$ 35 billion annually for drug wars and many question the effectiveness, since such large expenditure does not really translate much when it comes to prevention of illegal drug usage. Consequently many feel that US drug policies have to be revised.
Where to draw the line is certainly subjective; it is tough to say whether legalizing marijuana is good or bad for the society in general. The famous book, The Hasheesh Eater (1857) authored by American Fitz Hugh Ludlow, encompasses Ludlow’s life as a hashish addict. Initially Ludlow found hashish as boon to his creativity but later in his life thought hashish was “the very witch-plant of hell”. Ludlow in his final months writes, “Hasheesh is indeed an accursed drug, and the soul at last pays a most bitter price for all its ecstasies…”. He was thirty four when he passed away, needless to mention in an attempt to recover from his addiction and tuberculosis.
Too much of anything is dangerous be it aspirin or marijuana.
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