Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States, and has frequently been subjected to heated controversy regarding its erratic legal nature. Its main psychoactive constituent, delta-9-tetrohydrocannibinol (THC), accounts for much of the surrounding controversy. Regardless of the plant’s rough legal edges, people derive profound medical and recreational value from it that simply cannot be understated.
The politics behind the drug reek of corruption. Following a lengthy revision as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana remains in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. The DEA has even had the audacity to claim that marijuana has “no accepted medical use,” despite it being legal for medicinal purposes in 25 states and Washington D.C. as of June 2016.
No accepted medical use, are you kidding? It has been consistently proven that marijuana is remarkably effective at suppressing nausea induced by undergoing chemotherapy and treating arthritis pain, or treating pain in general. And that’s barely scratching the surface (Welsh & Loria, 2014).
I have never been able to fathom the logic behind legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes in 25 states, legalizing it for recreational purposes in 4 states and D.C., yet keeping it illegal in the rest of the country and withholding it from patients with legitimately severe health conditions; patients who would prefer not to suffer through the added side-effects of the powerful drugs that are used to treat them. What is more, a drug such as alcohol, which has been legal since 1933, is responsible for nearly 88,000 deaths and a 2.5 million year reduction in potential life lost every year between 2006 and 2010 in the United States (“Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health,” 2016). Alcohol not only erodes personal and professional relationships, it also presents a much higher abuse potential than marijuana does on its own, and there hasn’t even been any marijuana-related recorded overdoses. So I will pose the question: does marijuana truly have no accepted medical use, or is the DEA up to something?
Not surprisingly, major pharmaceutical companies, or “Big Pharma” manufacturers, have an immense grasp on the DEA and legislators at Capitol Hill, and that is not a paranoid conspiracy. It is simply the only explanation that exists for why a select few states have legalized the plant for medicinal and/or recreational purposes while others have condemned it to its Schedule I status. Big Pharma runs the law as much as it does its very own market.
The pharmaceutical industry earns billions of dollars every year through its marketing and shared distribution of prescription drugs and state-of-the-art medical technology, and is present in the majority of the world. It’s no wonder that marijuana is illegal in dozens of countries. According to Mike Ludwig (2015), the global market for pharmaceuticals amassed a total of $1 trillion in 2014. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Roche, which are the top 3 distributors in the world, took in combined profits as high as 174.1 billion in 2013 and 182 billion in 2014. I am not an economist, so I cannot provide an exact reduction figure, but I can assume that federally legalizing marijuana would prove calamitous to these companies. They would lose an enormous cut of total revenue generated by prescription medications while smaller-scale companies at home and abroad would be forever driven out of business.
While Big Pharma swims in a pool of hundred dollar bills, the rates at which people die from opioid drug overdoses are growing. Nora D. Volkow, M.D. (2014) explains how, given their almost effortless accessibility, opioid pain prescriptions are among the most widely abused drugs in the United States, with a 131 million increase in prescriptions like Vicodin and oxycodone from 1991 to 2013. In addition, cases of emergency care involving the use of illegally obtained opioid analgesics increased by upwards of about 161,300 between 2004 and 2008.
So, what can we do? There’s nothing we can do except wait and hope for the best. The legalization of marijuana would never 100% eliminate the escalating drug crisis facing America right now, but it could at the very least mitigate the crisis by promoting a safer way for individuals to treat their diseases and, if necessary, satisfy their curiosity.
There are two ways we can insure marijuana gets legalized in the foreseeable future. One way would be turning against the government for its futile War on Drugs. A war that is, mind you, not even really considered a “war.”
George Carlin (1992) perfectly illustrates my point, saying, “We love to declare war on things here in America. Anything we don’t like about ourselves, we have to declare war on it. Don’t do anything about it, we just declare war on it. It’s the only metaphor we have in our public discourse for solving a problem. It’s called “declaring a war.” Got a War on Poverty, The War on Crime, The War on Litter, The War on Cancer, The War on Drugs, but you ever notice, there’s no War on Homelessness, is there? You know why? There’s no money in that problem.”
The other way we could insure that marijuana gets legalized is by getting the government to recognize that more people are dying every year from opioid drug overdoses, and that the problem will not be solving itself anytime soon if marijuana remains illegal.
In the meantime, money will supersede public health.
Carlin, G. (Writer). (1992). George Carlin live at the Paramount: Jammin’ in New York [Video file].
Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. (2016, July 25). Retrieved August 26, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
Loria, J. W. (2014, April 20). 23 Health Benefits Of Marijuana. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/health-benefits-of-medical-marijuana-2014-4
Ludwig, M. (2015, September 30). How Much of Big Pharma’s Massive Profits Are Used to Influence Politicians? Retrieved August 26, 2016, from http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33010-how-much-of-big-pharma-s-massive-profits-are-used-to-influence-politicians
Volkow, N. (2014, May 14). America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse