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Harmon Amakobe

Student , University of Delaware

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Why is cannabis illegal?

I am really curious as to why marijuana is illegal. When the topic of legalization comes up, most people that I meet fail to give compelling reasons other than the ones they received during anti-drug week in fifth grade; we are all adults now, and the mystery of why a seemingly harmless recreational drug is illegal is not solved by a conclusive "Just say no."

It is not physically addictive. But like any pleasure inducing activity, it can be mentally addictive; Facebook stalking shares this quality.

It cannot be resolved for use in a deadly poison (ie. opium and coniine). A documentary I watched a little while ago stated that one would have to smoke 1500 lbs of marijuana in 15 minutes in order to overdose, any human with that kind of lung capacity will have better things to do than seeking a deathly high.

It has very little long term effects. Alcohol has liver damage, tobacco has its lung cancer and the irritated "I'm going out for a smoke" habit. Campaigns claim that marijuana kills brain cells; but I've grown up among extremely intelligent people who have done nothing but smoke weed and read throughout their school careers, it must be killing off the bad brain cells.

It does not cause aggressiveness. The association between alcohol and bar fights is ubiquitous. However, how many fights have you heard about involving two people intoxicated with marijuana? If anything, cannabis should be used as a peacekeeper in riots; peace, love and unity would be the only thing coming out of the tear gas canisters.

All jokes aside, the question still remains. Why has this plant been prohibited? Was there really a legitimate reason to do so besides fulfilling a conservative right-wing's death wishes? If anyone can really give me some legitimate, non-contradictory and non-hypocritical reasoning I will be forever grateful.

"[Law is] a fickle mistress, subject always to the whims and prejudices of those who administered the laws."
- Frank Herbert

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    May 20 2012: According to Brian in family guy pot is illegal because William Randolph Hurst ran a smear campaign against it in the 1930's to protect his timber industry interests from hemp.
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      May 20 2012: I have seen that episode, enjoyed it immensely.
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      May 20 2012: Hahaha!!!! I love family guy! It is also a parody on society itself.
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    May 21 2012: Here 's a good question. If marijuana is illegal because of all those standard conspiracy theories(timber, cotton etc) that all seem to centre around the US. Why is it illegal in Australia and Europe? I think a big contributor was that they realised alchohol was bad for society but couldn't be controlled due to cultural expectations so they thought they would nip cannabis in the bud so to speak. Ban it before it was widely used so it won't be missed. Afterall the stuff you smoke and the stuff you make shirts out of are very different plants. On another note but related to your passage above. It is now widely accepted that long term use especially if started in adolescence causes permanent changes in the hippocampus. These changes show that marijuana is in fact physically addictive.
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      May 22 2012: Nip it in the bud... that is quite thought provoking and I thank you for that. I have never looked at it that way. Perhaps that is how it happened, protective parenting by the government so to speak. If that were the case, however, the popularity of this drug and the failure of the agencies to curb the black market effectively is proof that simple prohibition is bad parenting. Humans are naturally adventurous and when we are told no, our next natural question is "why?" followed by a sufficient personal foray into the scientific method; we learn how to test hypotheses early hehe..

      Also, the fact that they legalized many other seemingly worse things, and ran smear campaigns made them out to be hypocrites, and we all know from our teenage years that that is the strongest argument to use on your parents. I do like this hypothesis, though, I just think it stands to reason that a different approach could have been taken (and can still be taken). And as far as permanent changes, I do agree that any mind-altering substance/event/object has the capability to change one permanently. Everyone remembers their first time..er..having cake, it changes them mentally, permanently so, the physical changes due to that cake are a many and hard to track.

      The problem with cannabis is that it's hard to prove physical permanent change, studies are done but there is nothing conclusive. Imagine someone sitting in a nursing home unable to remember his daughter's, and you ask the attendant, "What happened to him?" and she replies "Oh, he used to smoke too much marijuana, now his hippocampus is permanently damaged." We rarely hear about such cases and yet the liver damage and lung cancer cases in tobacco and alcohol are apparent and easy to pinpoint.

      Thank you for your thoughts! They really made me think and I hope mine do the same for you.
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        May 22 2012: If my hypothesis above is correct, I agree it was a total failure. With regard to the hippocampus I assume we will hear more and more about it in future as the FMRI and PET scans used to identify the changes are relatively new procedures. I also agree that making it illegal is just a stimulus for teenagers. There are plenty of legal plants and fungi that are just as effective, but they lack the street cred because thay're not naughty.
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    May 20 2012: This is a good question. I have heard of theories that suggest the distrubution of Cannabis was initially from the governent and the government secretly funds the continuation of its distribution through some 3rd party. They also suggest that the continuation of the funding for the distribution of "illegal" Cannabis is used to suppress the minorities from uprising and becoming more prominent members in a white supremace society. The theory finally states that those days are over, though those laws that make it illegal are still implemented due to the fact that the distribution proceeded to leak into more prominent and majority ethnicities, so they saw that as a backfire to the initial plan. Today we still suffer from the repercussions of those "backfires".

    Though, that is just a theory I have heard. It seems pretty interesting though, and could use some investigation. There is probably some independent film/documentary about it.
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      May 20 2012: I have heard that a book by Jack Herer covers similar topics; if your theory is indeed the case, then this is a very unfair type of oppression. We should not have to suffer for such a backfire. However, I a wary about such theories about the government's involvement in these days, because as it stands, marijuana is currently the most popular recreational drug in the US. The government stands to make/save a lot of money through the legalization of the crop. Taxing it heavily (akin to the tobacco industry) and lessening the strain on the narcotic departments seeking cannabis seems like too much of a good thing for the government to covertly avoid.
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    May 26 2012: It is illegal because our societies are alreaedy having a terrible time managing the societal effects of other drugs like tobacco.
  • May 25 2012: I think it's a bad idea to attack the reasons for why it was originally made illegal. It's a bad logical argument, especially if you go for the "Hearst hated hemp" attack. It also sounds too conspiratorial for others.

    That being said, there are a lot of good arguments to be made for ending the ban, and not just for medicinal purposes:
    1) Limited deleterious effects. Personally, I haven't read the studies, but from what I understand, marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. Personally, I think Tobacco is a plague on the health of the country, so saying that it's better than tobacco is almost a null statement. But assuming there are medical studies that are favorable, parade them.

    2) Marijuana as a gateway drug: Some real studies should (or may have, I don't really know) be done about the reasons why Marijuana is considered to be a gateway drug. Is it that people who are committing illegal behavior are more likely to engage in other illegal behavior? Is it that when we say how absolutely horrible it is, that once kids try it and realize it's not the devil they've heard it is that they are more likely to not believe other "truths" they've been told?

    3) It creates a massive black market that supports the sale of marijuana. That black market ends up jailing huge percentages of our population. It seems to be almost identical to the troubles created by Prohibition... legalizing it did quite a lot to end that violence.

    4) Legalizing it, does not mean legalizing it for kids necessarily. Couple the smoking age to alcohol to begin with. It'll still happen with the youth, but it probably won't get worse than it already is.

    5) We have presidents admitting to having smoked pot. They don't think it's a big deal because they didn't get caught at the time... And they were still able to become president. It sends a really bad message about the laws of the country when our presidents admit to breaking them so casually.

    Note: I don't use Marijuana.
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    May 21 2012: Yellow Journalism also played a huge part in this. "Harry Anslinger got some additional help from William Randolf Hearst, owner of a huge chain of newspapers. Hearst had lots of reasons to help. First, he hated Mexicans. Second, he had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper in competition. Third, he had lost 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa, so he hated Mexicans. Fourth, telling lurid lies about Mexicans (and the devil marijuana weed causing violence) sold newspapers, making him rich."

    whether you believe fox news openly fibs in their broadcasting or not, Hearst was essentially the first fox news by doing just that via newspaper.

    Some samples from the San Francisco Examiner: "“Marihuana makes fiends of boys in thirty days — Hashish goads users to bloodlust.”
    "By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him….”
    now with today's research and common sense we know none of this is true, but in 1937 where information was scarce and your only source was saying this to be true can you blame people for believing it?

    hopes this helps :]
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    May 21 2012: http://www.drugwarrant.com/articles/why-is-marijuana-illegal/
    But to break it down in short... Racism, Greed, and Deception are the reasons why i believe marijuana is illegal till this day.
    The Mexican Connection:"...the fact that many Mexicans smoked marijuana and had brought the plant with them, and it was through this that California apparently passed the first state marijuana law, outlawing “preparations of hemp, or loco weed. However, one of the first state laws outlawing marijuana may have been influenced, not just by Mexicans using the drug, but, oddly enough, because of Mormons using it. Mormons who traveled to Mexico in 1910 came back to Salt Lake City with marijuana.”

    Satanic Jazz & Assassins (AKA Racism): "Again, racism was part of the charge against marijuana, as newspapers in 1934 editorialized: “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” "Two other fear-tactic rumors started to spread: one, that Mexicans, Blacks and other foreigners were snaring white children with marijuana; and two, the story of the “assassins." basically made people reefer smokers were assassins... yeah >_>

    Main Reason: Harry J. Anslinger "Anslinger immediately drew upon the themes of racism and violence to draw national attention to the problem he wanted to create. He also promoted and frequently read from “Gore Files” — wild reefer-madness-style exploitation tales of ax murderers on marijuana and sex and… Negroes."

    Some Anslinger qoutes for you,“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
    “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
    "“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
    Master deceiver of his time.
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    May 20 2012: Those in charge did not want the masses feeling good and not working hard.
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    Josh S

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    May 20 2012: It considered a gate way drug leading to other more dangerous drugs. I think it has more to do with the type of people who use marijuana now. We don't super successfull people ( aside from Hollywood and that sort) smoking weed all the time. Yes they may have tried it but they don't partake in it daily.
    Then we look to people who often do smoke it often, they are usually not as successful. Of course this is a huge generalization and there are many exceptions, but it is in general true.
    While there are no medical/ scientifically logical reasons to it being illegal, i think it has more to do with its social status in our society, and the way it is associated with other things, like other drugs.

    Again, i understand that there are successful marijuana users, i am simply stating the overall view that is held by many Americans
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      May 20 2012: I feel as if it is only seen as a gateway drug BECAUSE of the fact that it was illegal. Consider, if alcohol were illegal and people had to use shady, backdoor methods to acquire it, then they would find consequently shady, backdoor types of alcohol; which would in turn lead them to seek other shady, backdoor mind altering drugs. Marijuana in itself does not contain a substance that states "Do other drugs!" It is simply forced into an environment that exposes most people involved into surroundings that lead them to such behavior. This is increasingly becoming a problem as more people become involved in the cannabis culture.

      Also, naturally smoking marijuana every morning will not cause one to achieve their dreams, I do agree with you on that point. The point I was stating with my anecdote was simply that the use did not seem to affect the users long term.

      Thank you for your reply. :)
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        Josh S

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        May 20 2012: You make a great point on the example of if alcohol was illegal and i think that is very true. I understand that it doesnt really have any negative affects to one's body, especially when compared to other legal drugs which gives huge support to it being legalized.

        I think the main reason it isnt is simply because of its associations with other things; fair or not its the world we live in.
        This conversation actually opened me up to your arguments, thanks =)
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    May 20 2012: Hi Harmon,
    You might be interested in joining the already existing conversation on this issue: http://www.ted.com/conversations/11479/should_cannabis_be_legalized_a.html
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      May 20 2012: This question actually started as a reply to that thread, but I realized that the reply was in itself asking a different question. I apologize if it appears repetitive, but I am merely curious as to the motivations behind the current illegalization. I'm also targeting legalization for recreational purposes, not just medicinal; since there obviously some states which have legalized it as treatment for certain ailments.
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      May 20 2012: Religious aversion is one of the many "whims and prejudices" that could have caused such a law to be passed. A definite answer escapes me, however. While looking around, I found someone who answered the same question on Quora, stating:

      "Marijuana is illegal because it competes with the oil, pharmaceutical and legal drug industries. The laws against it appeared at the same time nylon, the first synthetic fiber, appeared on the market. The laws were written in secret by the Treasury Department (banking industry). In order to pass the first national law against the plant, testimony was given in Congress stating "black men were seducing white women" with the help of the plant. The initial campaign against it was based in racism."

      A very compelling answer, if this is truly the case why are we still living in the past?