Opponents of recreational marijuana say that it is a dangerous and irresponsible drug. On the contrary, these critics are the ones being dangerous and irresponsible. Marijuana should be legalized, and saying otherwise is doing more harm than good.
Let’s start with the obvious: opposing medical marijuana makes no sense because of its obvious medical benefits. We have a well-publicized opioid epidemic in this country. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 1,000 people are treated every day for not using opioids as directed. Many people who become addicted to opioids initially started taking them as legally prescribed painkillers. Physicians and researchers are finding that marijuana is a promising pain-relieving alternative to opioids, without the same addictive power.
Beyond the medical argument, marijuana is much safer than certain legal substances, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol is connected to many acts of assault and domestic and sexual violence. A report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated that alcohol was a significant factor in 25 to 30 percent of violent crimes. Meanwhile, a study from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that marijuana may even decrease violent behavior. Smoking cigarettes is just downright awful for you; it’s basically just asking for lung cancer.
This is not to say that marijuana does not have negative effects as well. People should certainly not be driving or going to school or work high. However, there have been no reported deaths directly caused by a marijuana overdose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and there is no correlation between being high and violent behavior. So why should marijuana be illegal when alcohol and cigarettes are not?
The last argument made by critics is that marijuana is a gateway drug or springboard for youths to use harder drugs once they’ve determined marijuana is safe. However, the idea that marijuana has such an effect is a matter of perception rather than fact. This perception has been created and popularized by the critics themselves and, most importantly, by the government. Marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 Drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency. That puts it in the same category as heroin and ecstasy. That is preposterous. The government would have you believe that those drugs are the same as marijuana despite the wildly different effects. It was the government that made marijuana into a “gateway drug” by creating a false equivalency between it and other much more harmful drugs.
Perhaps the most famous anti-drug campaign was Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Quite frankly, this slogan is stupid. According to a recent Marist Poll, a majority of Americans have tried marijuana, so obviously Americans are not just saying no. It is time to actually start educating youth about the difference between marijuana and other drugs rather than simply teaching ignorant false equivalencies.
Ryan Steinberg is a freshman majoring in political science.