Why Is Marijuana Illegal (…For Now)?
Why is marijuana illegal in Canada and mostly North America? Why is weed illegal in other countries, even though they are separated by vast geographical space—continents, forests, oceans—and, less tangibly, different governments and cultures?
Marijuana prohibition exists for several basic reasons—basic in the sense that they are employed everywhere, to support conservative arguments, anti-pot activists, and legislation restricting rights to cannabis—whether it’s for medicinal or recreational use.
With a North American-centric focus, this article explores some of the questions people have always been asking about pot: namely, why is marijuana illegal? Then it investigates public perception of marijuanna, how new understanding and recent legislation create a virtuous circle, shifting public opinion—and governments—in a way that makes for greater, freer access to legal marajuana.
What is marijuana?
One reason for marijuana’s illegal status is a strong misconception of what cannabis actually is. So, what is marijuana? History of marijuana plants and human use go back thousands of years. The purposes of the marijuana plant vary widely, from acting as a source of nutrition, to clothing production, to medicinal and therapeutic applications.
Also spelled marijuna, marajuana, marihuana, marijana and marijauna; Marijuana has pseudo-hallucinogenic, analgesic and antiemetic properties; it also stimulates appetite. It’s a viable treatment for patients suffering from diseases and chronic illness such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, muscle and joint pain, fibromyalgia, and digestive issues. Anxiety disorders and certain trauma disorders, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, are also treatable with marijuana.
Is weed bad for you?
The active ingredients in marijuana (such as cannabinoids THC and CBD) are not detrimental to your health. Marijuana is not deadly—like alcohol, opioids, and amphetamines—because of the virtually impossibly high dose of THC necessary to be considered “toxic”; nor is marijuana physiologically addictive due to the way cannabinoids are processed in the endocannabinoid system.
However, people with prior history of drug abuse and genetic risk factors for addiction may be at higher risk for developing some level of marijuana dependence. Smoking marijuana also produces tar and carcinogenic toxins. Methods of ingestion such as using marijuana vaporizers or weed edibles are considered much cleaner and healthier.
If there are many health benefits and low risks to using marijuana, why is marijuana illegal in Canada and the United States (federally)?
Perception of marijuana as a substance without medical value, or an addictive “drug” on par with narcotics and cocaine, created a political environment conducive to prohibition. In Canada, marijuana prohibition began in the 1920s, under the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill; and in the United States, cannabis has long been considered a Schedule I drug (with “high abuse potential”) by the federal government, under the Controlled Drug and Substance Act of 1970.
Now, with greater transparency of information—demonstrating marijuana’s real medical and economic value, with low risks to public health—attitudes and policies around marijuana are reversing.
Health Canada’s program Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) is one step towards a less “criminal” perception of cannabis and (one day) legalization. Meanwhile, U.S. states such as Washington, Oregon (as of July 1st 2015), Colorado and Alaska, as well as Washington D.C., have already fully legalized marijuana (i.e. for medical and recreational purposes). These States stand as a real-life demonstration of pot’s safety and potential for public benefit.