The conclusion of the 1972 National Commission on Marihuana (sic) and Drug Abuse was that marijuana should be legalized. President Richard M. Nixon personally appointed the commission, which included four physicians and four members of Congress. Although times have changed, marijuana policy has not despite these findings.
According to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future 2000 study, half of all 8th graders reported marijuana was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain. Three-fourths of 10th graders made similar statements. Obviously, our policy is not controlling this problem; it is having the opposite effect.
If marijuana were regulated like prescription drugs, young people would find the drug more difficult to obtain. The billions of dollars saved on criminal justice costs could be spent on education and diversion programs. Tax revenue could be allocated to pursue anyone selling the drug to children.
We must place the danger marijuana poses in the context of all drugs. While marijuana does have the potential to cause harm, according to the National Academy of Sciences, “compared to most other drugs, dependence among marijuana users is relatively rare.” This 1999 report also stated that while “few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine) and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.”
If we look at the dangers of drugs to society, alcohol – which is involved in 90 percent of campus rapes and 95 percent of campus violence – is exponentially more harmful than marijuana.
Prohibitionists often claim that marijuana is a gateway to other illegal drugs. Some truth may lie in that statement, but not because of the drug’s effects on an individual. The same NAS report found “there is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular physiological effect.” But frequently, when a marijuana consumer makes a purchase, the dealer will also sell other illicit narcotics. So, by virtue of its illegality, not its chemical effects, users may encounter other, more dangerous illegal drugs.
A recent Gallup poll of American attitudes toward marijuana found a record 34 percent favored legalization, the highest ever, including conservative William F. Buckley, former Republican Secretary of State George Schultz, and even our beloved GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. The Presidents of Mexico and Uruguay, and the British magazine The Economist also have made similar statements.
The findings of Nixon’s marijuana commission are as true today as they were in 1972. The marijuana problem is not the drug, but the policy of prohibition.
-The writer, a senior majoring in criminal justice, is a member of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.