Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

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 A largely controversial topic of 2015, and an ongoing debate in America today, is whether or not cannabis should be legalized for medical and/or recreational use. While some may say that having any type of commonly recreational drug legalized is dangerous, there is growing scientific evidence proving the plentiful medical applications cannabis contains, without the prominent negative effects shown in commonly used prescription drugs. Dustin Sulak, DO, a doctor at the forefront of medical marijuana research, has seen outstanding results in his treatments of chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, although she is currently against legalizing marijuana, recently signed bill HB 2154 (also known as “Katie and Cayman’s Law”) which will allow medically supervised use of cannabis oil. The primary focus of this movement is to treat adolescent seizures, but will hopefully expand in application if these trials prove to be successful.    
 
Research on the application and results of cannabis on disabilities and diseases has recently emerged from stagnation; a stagnation caused by the Drug Enforcement Association and Food and Drug Administration disapproving and denying scientists’ requests to conduct clinical studies. Due to this, there has not been a cohesive collection of accurate data from these tests released since 1990. This lack clear evidence, matched with resistance from government agencies, has caused the American public to have a distorted view on the effects of cannabis on the human body. Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC), the main psychoactive chemical found in cannabis, is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain within seconds of being introduced to the body. There, it interacts with neurotransmitters and cannabinoid receptors in the hippocampus, cerebellum, and basal ganglia; this causes effects such as stimulated appetite, feelings of relaxation, as well as effecting short-term memory, coordination, and problem solving. It does not however, significantly impair driving, cause brain damage, cause more damage than smoking, or cause death. 
 
Another large, and sometimes overlooked, facet of the debate over cannabis legalization is the extreme legal consequences put in place for illegal growing, distribution, and possession. In Oklahoma you can be sentenced up to life in prison for growing, selling, or possessing marijuana, and it isn’t a rare occurrence for sentences to be much higher than the one year minimum sentence. 
 
In February of 2011, twenty-five year old Patricia Spottencow, a mother of four, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for the sale of less than forty dollars of marijuana. To further explain why this is so absurd, let me put it in perspective; the max penalty for second-degree rape is fifteen years in prison, and the minimum sentence for second-degree murder is ten years (which is less than what Spottencow was sentenced). 
 
I believe it is, without debate, outrageous that committing a victimless crime with a non-lethal drug can land you more jail time than raping someone. In the state of Oklahoma alone, approximately 13,000 people are arrested annually for marijuana-related crimes. On top of that, between 2001 and 2010, about 8.2 million people were arrested nationally. Of these 8.2 million, 88 percent of them were for possession; a non-violent and victimless crime. Arresting and jailing all of these people is a giant waste of money as well; states spend over 3.6 billion dollars annually enforcing marijuana laws. Governor Mary Fallin addressed this pressing issue in her 2015 State of the State Remarks, declaring that Oklahoma must “ramp up its smart on crime policies” and “more readily offer alternatives such as drug-courts, veterans courts and mental health courts” to low-risk, non-violent offenders. She also brought to light that “it costs the state around $19,000 a year to house an inmate, but only $5,000 a year to send an addict through drug court and on to treatment”, which has proven to be a better and more successful alternative to prison.
 
John Smith, a Tulsa native, has had his own trouble with the law concerning marijuana-related crime. John was living with his roommate, who was pulled over once day for an “improper turn”. This led to a search of the vehicle and a “roach” was found on the floor of the car. This, along with a debatably illegal phone search, resulted in John’s roommate being arrested and, a warrant to search their home was issued. The police found about nine grams of marijuana during the search, landing the two a possession charge. The most absurd part about their charge though was that the police also charged the pair with the intention to distribute, due to a pack of sandwich bags found in the kitchen. 
 
Later, around the time the case started, John found out that the police had been tipped off by the stepmother of the roommate’s girlfriend, saying that they were drug dealers; pulling his roommate over was just a front to gain a search warrant.
 
The district attorney insisted that the two had to have jail time, due to a special clause that intensifies consequences of drug-related crimes within 2,000 feet of a school or public park (even though their home was located that close to a park, and they did not intentionally conduct their activity near one). Fortunately, John and his roommate only revived a ten-day sentence, but they both received a five-year deferred sentence. Although, if they hadn’t taken the plea deal (or if they had lost their case), the pair would be looking at a minimum sentence of five years in jail.
 
John mentioned this unfortunate series of events has “put his life on hold” for a while, due to his felony making things such as pursuing corporate employment to develop a career or pursuing higher education (due to the college he was attending suspending him) quite difficult. On top of all that, he now is not allowed to consume alcohol, own a firearm, or vote (which agitates him the most). While on probation, he was also susceptible to random strip-searches without probable cause or willing consent.
*John Smith is a fictitious name created to protect the identity of my interviewee 
 
I believe that having marijuana classified as an illegal drug causes more problems than it’s worth; it’s a waste of money, it restricts advancements in the medical field, and it puts innocent people into our sub par jail/prison system.
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