Marijuana is destroying lives in the United States, and something needs to be done about it.
Marijuana is classed as a Schedule I drug because it’s deemed as having no medical value and has a high probability of abuse that results in physical and/or psychological dependence. It’s classed as being as harmful as heroin and LSD (also Schedule I drugs), but not as potentially harmful as cocaine and meth (which are Schedule II).
On the face of it, it really does seem that the Devil’s lettuce has earned its nefarious name, especially when you see the words ‘dependence’ and ‘abuse’ alongside it. But according to The Drug Policy Alliance, less than 10% of people who try weed ever end up meeting the clinical definition of dependence. Whereas 32% of tobacco users do. And while some heavy/regular weed users may experience withdrawal through mood swings, the sweats, agitation, etc (which, to be clear, are an indicator of physical dependence), these symptoms are the same when heavy/regular users of alcohol or tobacco go through withdrawal. Death rates from excessive alcohol abuse totalled 88,000 people each year in the U.S. from 2006-2010, while deaths from abusive toking reached … zero. To put it another way … of the more than 70,000 drug related overdose deaths in 2017, none were from marijuana. In fact, when DEA Judge Francis Young argued in favour of lowering the Schedule I categorization in 1988, he worked out that you’d have to smoke around 1,500 pounds of herb within fifteen minutes to reach a lethal/overdose level.
And even though Schedule I substances are categorized as having no medical value, medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states. So which is it? It either has no medical value or it does.
Lives are indeed being destroyed by marijuana, but not from addiction, withdrawal, excessive use or deaths. An arrest or conviction for marijuana possession can result in lost jobs, lost benefits, suspended driver’s licenses, student loan restrictions, lost housing eligibility, lost voting rights, etc. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reported that in January 2017, 46.4% of federal prisoners were incarcerated for non-violent drug offences, most of them for marijuana. And most of them are Black. And because Black people in America are over three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than White people, even though usage rates between the two are about the same, shows that there is a racial disparity between whose lives are getting derailed.
As far as I’m concerned, marijuana shouldn’t be a Schedule I substance. It should be legalized recreationally and medicinally nationwide. But because of the for-profit prison system, and police quotas that fuel cash-strapped community revenues, that means vast numbers of people, mainly Black or People of Colour, will continue to be arrested and sucked into the criminal “justice” system because marijuana arrests are equal to big money gains. And big money equals big power. And if you can get enough people to be hindered from fully reintegrating into society by making it as hard as possible to get a job, benefits or housing, etc you pretty much ensure that the big money machine is always well oiled. If legal avenues to getting back on your feet are greatly restricted or even closed off to you, choices become limited and you could begin a cycle you can’t get out of.
Sadly, I think that’s exactly how the systems of power here in the U.S. have been set up. If all races experienced criminal “justice” in the same way, and all races were arrested, sentenced and jailed at the same rates for the same crimes, I wouldn’t see mass incarceration as a from of social/racial control. If you think that sounds too far-fetched, I’d urge you to read ‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander who explains this incredibly complex subject far better than anything else I’ve read … or look through the Drug Policy Alliance & Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which may give you an idea of just how racially-targeted marijuana arrests have an impact on peoples lives.
So, yes marijuana destroys lives, but not in the way a Schedule I categorization would have you believe.
For further reading, I’d recommend: