"Yes, We Cannabis!"
US Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, has introduced a bill calling for removing marijuana (cannabis sativa) from the federal list of controlled substances and eliminating all federal criminal penalties for possession and sale of the drug. (1) Rep. Barney Frank (D, MA) is co-sponsoring the bill.
Are Paul and Frank right? Marijuana, unlike cocaine and heroin, does not cause withdrawal symptoms, although some users become psychologically dependent on it. Long term heavy use can cause dementia and lung disease, but occasional use is virtually harmless. Unlike alcohol, "pot" does not make people more violent, so users are not a danger to others, unless they drive under the influence. In summary, marijuana is closer in its toxic effects to the legal drugs tobacco and alcohol than to other currently illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin. Moreover, it has the beneficial effect of reducing the side-effects of chemotherapy, and several states have permitted its use for medicinal purposes.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), about 11.5 million Americans smoke marijuana illegally every year. but only about 872,000 per year are arrested on marijuana charges, over 80% for possession alone. (2) About 41,000 Americans are in state and federal prisons for marijuana convictions, at a total cost of more than $1.2 billion annually. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also seeking the GOP presidential nomination, admitted using pot in the 1960's, but has not yet supported legalization. Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore also smoked the "weed" as young men, but Clinton did not inhale.
My conclusion is that this country is paying a very high price for trying unsuccessfully to ban a drug that is not very dangerous. If I were in Congress, I would support the Paul-Frank bill. I consider all forms of smoking dangerous and stupid, but believe that adult Americans should be permitted by law to do some pretty stupid and harmful things to themselves.
But will this bill help Ron Paul win the Republican presidential nomination? I would estimate that of the 11.5 million Americans who smoke marijuana, very few participate in Republican primaries or caucuses. So, if Rep. Paul thinks he has any chance of winning the nomination, he is already smoking something besides Virginia Slims.
Gerald S Glazer
(1) Reuters, June 25, 2011
(2) US Department of Justice statistics.