Domestic Marijuana Production and Regulation
Marijuana leaf or “cannabis” is a cultivatable herb capable of producing a euphoric psychological change in users, roughly comparable in its degree (if not in its specific effects) to the effects of drinking alcohol (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2005). It alters various aspects of mood and focus and has been used for thousands of years in cultural and religious rituals throughout the world (Brecher, 1972). The recreational use of marijuana is currently illegal in the United States, although California has authorized its use for certain medical purposes; several other states have decriminalized its recreational use without going so far as legalizing it.
Critics of contemporary U.S. law pertaining to marijuana use suggest that there is no logical basis for treating marijuana sale and use any differently from that associated with other substances consumed recreationally for their mood-altering effects, such as alcohol and tobacco. According to that view, marijuana should be produced, regulated, and taxed in the exact same manner as alcohol and tobacco. Proponents of criminal sanctions for marijuana use and possession maintain that it is a dangerous “gateway” drug that dramatically increases the likelihood of progression to more harmful drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, mainly because most users of hard drugs smoked marijuana first (Dershowitz, 2002).
Marijuana has been designated a controlled substance since 1970 and its possession, sale, and use are subject to criminal penalties in various degrees in every U.S. state. In the 1930s, the federal government initiated a public awareness campaign designed to publicize the supposed dangers of marijuana but its depiction was so exaggerated that the film produced for that purpose, Reefer Madness, eventually became a cult classic watched by marijuana users for its comedic rather than its informational value (Macionis, 2003).
Criminal penalties differ from state to state and range from sub-misdemeanor violations in some states for use or possession of small amounts to felony charges for any amount, with mandatory jail sentences, even for first-time offenders (DPA, 2008; SPS, 2003; Zalman, 2008). Under federal law, marijuana possession and use is strictly prohibited, which conflicts with many state laws, particularly those in California which has recognized a medicinal value of the drug and currently licenses authorized distributors to sell it to patients with prescriptions provided by licensed physicians.
At various times, federal law enforcement agencies have shut down state- (authorized distributors and prosecuted individuals involved in marijuana distribution, despite their full compliance with applicable state and local laws and regulatory authorities Dershowitz, 2002; DPA, 2008). Even states that have authorized or decriminalized simple possession strictly prohibit cultivation of the cannabis plant by private individuals as well as the sale (or transfer) of any quantity of marijuana, whether or not for profit (Schmalleger, 2008).
Government Paternalism and Prohibition:
In principle, all anti-drug legislation and efforts of governmental authorities to prohibit the recreational consumption of drugs is an exercise of governmental paternalism intended to protect citizens from the consequences of their own decisions and behavioral choices (Dershowitz, 2002; Taylor, 1989). From 1920 until 1933, the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment criminalized the manufacture, possession, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the United States. During that time, the law was routinely ignored and underground entertainment clubs known as “speakeasies” flourished throughout the largest American cities, more often than not with the tacit approval of local law enforcement in connection with bribes intended to eliminate their prosecution (Henslin, 2002; Schmalleger, 2008).
Prohibition in the U.S. was associated with several detrimental consequences, including the birth of extremely wealthy and powerful criminal organizations whose political influence corrupted law enforcement and political administration all the way to the top levels of state authority in several states, Chicago, Michigan, and New York, most notably. The black market demand for alcohol was so great that organized crime syndicates quickly became better equipped than local law enforcement and the great wealth attributable to the illegal profits from the sale of alcohol financed tremendously lucrative organizations were, by most accounts, directly responsible for the creation of modern organized crime in the U.S. By the time the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933, thousands of American citizens had died from consuming low quality or isopropyl alcohol masked by flavorful fruity beverages produced by criminals for greater profit.
Many more citizens and law enforcement agents alike died in violent clashes of organized criminal gangs who fought out turf wars in the streets and local businesses of many American cities or in efforts to apprehend those responsible for criminal enterprises profiting from black market alcohol (Brecher, 1972; Friedman, 2005).
The Advantages of Legalized Domestic Production:
Since 1933, alcohol has been both produced domestically as well as imported from abroad and tightly regulated by federal, state, and local authorities. Criminal laws strictly prohibit the operation of motor vehicles under the influence of alcohol, as well as its consumption by minors. Both of those aspects of regulation are examples of reasonable government paternalism, precisely because they are designed to ensure against harms cause to the general public by those under the influence of intoxicating substances.
Today, alcohol manufacture, sale, and distribution is not a source of income for criminal elements because its legalization has eliminated any profits associated with a black market.
By contrast, marijuana still represents a lucrative market for criminal elements in addition to undermining the security of U.S. borders by virtue of the connections between drug smugglers and potential terrorists organizations exploiting the smuggling routes established and perfected by drug smugglers (Larsen, 2007). The legalization of domestic marijuana cultivation, production, sales, and distribution pursuant to appropriate legislation and regulatory oversight would, in one fell swoop, eliminate the profits and dangers associated with the illegal marijuana market in exactly the same manner as the end of alcohol prohibition did in1933.
The Injustice of Unequal Regulation of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Marijuana:
In principle, one could reasonably argue that the recreational consumption of all harmful substances necessitates governmental prohibition. In that view, tobacco warrants much stricter legislation than either marijuana or alcohol, because according to current estimates, tobacco products account for more disease and preventable human deaths, both in the U.S. And worldwide, than all forms of drug abuse, alcoholism, obesity, criminal violence, and all forms of human disease (including HIV-AIDS) combined, (Dershowitz, 2002; DPA, 2008).
Like alcohol, marijuana use is also appropriately subject to legislation in connection with driving under its influence, because this is a reasonable public safety issue. Conversely, what is entirely illogical and unjustifiable is the disparate legal status of tobacco, which is produced, regulated, manufactured, and sold by corporate conglomerates at tremendous profit in spite its monumental cost to human health, and marijuana, which is associated, at most, with comparable health risks. In fact, marijuana is likely significantly less of a health risk, because whereas typical users of tobacco products consume them throughout the day and daily, the vast majority of marijuana users do so only infrequently, approximately in the same pattern that users of alcohol consume alcohol (Brecher, 1972; Macionis, 2003).
Appropriate and logically consistent marijuana laws would regulate domestic marijuana production to ensure its quality and relative safety in conjunction with taxing the product, just as is the case with both tobacco and alcohol products. Instead of dedicating valuable resources and law enforcement manpower to the detection, investigation, arrest, and prosecution of violators of marijuana laws, those resources would be redirected to necessary governmental law enforcement objectives.
Likewise, with prison population already exceeding maximum capacity and severely taxing the financial resources of most American states (Schmalleger, 2008), the elimination of criminal statutes prohibiting marijuana use and simple possession would decrease the strain associated with incarcerating offenders. Finally, instead of producing illicit profits to finance expanding criminal enterprises in the same manner as those created by alcohol prohibition in between 1920 and 1930, legal marijuana sales would provide substantial tax revenue roughly equivalent to that generated by the production and sale of alcohol and tobacco products in the U.S.
Like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana has been consumed in human societies for thousands of years, and likely since before recorded history. Also like alcohol and tobacco products, marijuana is associated with certain dangers that warrant appropriate government paternalism in the form of legislation prohibiting its use by minors, regulating its manufacture and sale to ensure its relative safety and quality, and preventing the use of any substances capable of altering human perception in connection with the operation of motor vehicles. However, there is no logical basis whatsoever for distinguishing between alcohol and marijuana in terms of criminal legislation, and both substances are considerably less harmful to human health in the manner of their typical consumption than tobacco products.
Instead of subjecting marijuana users to criminal prosecution, government authorities should simply apply the same approach to marijuana as has been traditionally applied to alcohol and tobacco. The Prohibition era of American history documented the futility of criminalizing relatively harmless private “vices,” particularly where criminal enterprises fill the void left by continuing demand in the face of governmental prohibition. Marijuana use is much more appropriately addressed by legalized production and sale pursuant to the same legislative and regulatory mechanisms currently applicable to alcohol and tobacco products in the United States.
Brecher, E.M. (1972). Licit and Illicit Drugs: The Consumers Union Report. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
Dershowitz, a. (2002). Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age. New York: Bantam Books.
Drug Policy Alliance. (2008). Medicinal Marijuana. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from the Drug Policy Alliance website, at http://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana/medical/
Friedman, a. (2005). A History of American Law. New York: Touchstone.
Gerrig, R.J., Zimbardo, R.G. (2005)
Psychology and Life 18th Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Henslin, J.M. (2002) Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Larsen, R. (2007) Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America. New York: Grand Central Publishing.
Macionis, J.J. (2003) Sociology 9th Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Schmalleger, F. (2007). Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century. Hoboken, NJ: Prentice Hall
Syracuse Post-Standard (2003). “Let Judges Be Judges: Mandatory Sentencing Laws Deny Judicial Branch’s Discretion” (July 10, 2003).
Taylor, R. (1989) Freedom, Anarchy, and the Law: An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Buffalo: Prometheus.
Zalman, M. (2008). Criminal Procedure: Constitution and Society, Fifth Edition.
Princeton, NJ: Pearson.
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