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March 15, 2009


By Claire Cunningham

In Ohio there is a law limiting what size heel a girl can wear downtown on a Friday night. While outside observers question the reason for such an obscure statute, any person in a Ohio city can tell you that it prevents injury to women who might step on the city’s large sewer grates. During the year most women reported stiletto-related injuries, the budget was hurting too. Instead of fixing all the grates, Ohio made three-inch and larger high-heels illegal. Let’s question the reasoning of another strange law in America.

Let’s start by answering this question: why is marijuana illegal? Over the last week, I asked Belmont students this very question. After a pause, most answered “I don’t know.” Other responses included, “because the government cannot tax/regulate it,” “it has harmful health effects,” and, “because you cannot control yourself when using it.”

Let’s find out why the cannabis plant became illegal. In 1937, after years of heavy lobbying and propaganda, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act. This law outlawed the growth, sale, and consumption of the plant. Thanks to the efforts of Harry J. Anslinger, the head of the Bureau of Narcotics at the time, the drug gained a bad reputation. He and other policy leaders pontificated on the supposedly “proven violent effects” it had on minorities. They also railed against marijuana, arguing that “reefer madness” caused violent murders and an increasing prevalence of “loose women.”

The cult classic "Reefer Madness" demonized dope-smoking

The cult classic "Reefer Madness" demonized dope-smoking

People, generally minorities, frequently used marijuana in jazz clubs. Most white adult males feared its increasing popularity among their offspring – white teens – and decided to outlaw the drug. Anslinger left us with gems like “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races,” and “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.” For those students who answered, “I don’t know,” those are the cultural perspectives that preceded the ban on marijuana.

Why can’t the government tax or regulate it? Just like cigarettes and alcohol, surely people who sell marijuana in convenience stores and governments could levy enormous sin taxes and impose age restrictions on purchase eligibility. Plenty of companies and individuals would be willing to take up the mantle of growing the product and selling it. Some Americans continue to do so clandestinely, but lifting restrictions on the commercial sale of marijuana could ameliorate the ever-increasing budget deficit with fresh revenues.

But what about the health effects and problems it causes? Ask yourself, is the effect marijuana has on your brain and control functions any different from that of alcohol? No. Actually it’s less harmful; one is able to remember the things that happen when under the influence of marijuana, which is not always true with its legal liquid counterpart. No official records exist indicating that someone died as a result of smoking too much pot. Can we say the same for cigarettes? No.

According to a recent study at the University of California Los Angeles, scientists found absolutely no correlation between smoking marijuana and cancer. In fact, they found that marijuana may actually help prevent cancer. The study was the largest human study ever done on the subject, boasting over 2,000 participants. While science has yet to establish causal links between pot-smoking and long-term negative effects, it can impact one’s short-term memory – just like the legal drug, alcohol. The plant itself also does not contain any addicting chemicals; those who are “addicted” to marijuana have a strictly psychological addiction.

Since 1988 when DEA Administrative-Law-Judge Francis Young conducted hearings and found that marijuana has a clear utility in medicine, we have discovered that marijuana has fewer health risk factors than other legal substances. Fortunately, many states around the country have begun legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana. It reduces physical pain, temporarily relieves depression, suppresses nausea, alleviates stress, can prevent seizures, and can serve various other healing functions that ancient peoples included in practice for thousands of years.

“But it’s a gateway drug!” the naysayers continue. This objection is the last remaining basis for continuing the ban. After marijuana became legal in the Netherlands in the late 1970s, the number of people smoking pot rose only slightly, and the use of harder drugs like cocaine and heroin declined drastically. If it were true that marijuana is a gateway drug, wouldn’t the use of harder drugs have increased?

In Texas, it was once illegal to shoot whales from your car. Because this turned out never to be a practical issue, lawmakers repealed the statute in recent years. The question that must now be answered is this: “In America, are we in the position of Ohio or Texas?” Should we rid ourselves of an overly-tough prohibition on the production, sale, and use of an item that could generate tax revenues and provide health benefits? Or do we want to continue fear-mongering and treating cross-sections of our culture like second-class citizens?

Claire Cunningham is a sophomore Music Business major.

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