Marijuana: Health, Crime, and Legality

Michael Rivera | Staff Videographe

by Torben Bjorn Hansen via flickr

When it comes to the current state of marijuana, there is a strong force working for and against reforming its legalization. Some automatically judge against it and condemn those who use it, even if they know nothing about it. Some believe when compared to alcohol and tobacco, marijuana has much greater health benefit potential, without as many addictive characteristics.

According to, in 1998, 55 percent of Oregon voted in favor of Measure 67 (the Medical Marijuana Act) under the guidelines of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) in order to treat “cachexia; cancer; chronic pain; epilepsy and other disorders characterized by seizures; glaucoma; HIV or AIDS; multiple sclerosis and other disorders characterized by muscle spasticity; and nausea.”

Many patients prefer medical marijuana over synthetically created prescriptions because of the effect of THC (the active chemical in marijuana). It helps stimulate an appetite, especially for cancer patients. Some prescription medications have many harmful side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Marijuana has minimal side effects, in comparison, such as sleepiness and hunger.

Fiscally, treatment for these diseases can be extremely strenuous for those who cannot afford health insurance. Medical marijuana offers OMMP patients a cheaper option.

Even so, people are under the assumption that the toxins inhaled when smoking are bad for us, no matter what. However, according to Anahad O’Connor, writer for the New York Times, a new government study shows that moderate smoking over several year does not make a significant difference to someone’s health.

“The researchers followed more than 5,000 people over two decades and found that regularly smoking marijuana – the equivalent of up to a joint a day over seven years – did not impair performance on a lung function test,” says O’Connor.

The study did find that after 10 years of daily smoking, lung function was compromised.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “It was estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug. This may be due to increased heart rate, as well as the effects of marijuana on heart rhythms, causing palpitations and arrhythmia.”

Even O’Connor says that “smoking marijuana irritates the airways and can cause coughing, and public health advocates stress that it causes impairment that reduces attention, lowers motivation and heightens the risk of accidents.”

This is why many medical marijuana users prefer edible-marijuana foods to smoking it. Food that has been made with extracted THC is processed by the liver (that processes the toxins) prior to entering the bloodstream. This also produces a body high, instead of a mental one.

It is true that the abuse of marijuana can have adverse effects on your health, but when used responsibly and in moderation, there are few harmful effects, unlike tobacco.

Tobacco and nicotine are legal drugs found in cigarettes, which are known to cause lung cancer, wrinkles, and heart disease. They also contain other harmful toxins, such as tar and rat poison.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 5 million deaths related to cigarette use anually world-wide. “In the United States, tobacco use is responsible for about one in five deaths annually (i.e., about 443,000 deaths per year, and an estimated 49,000 of these smoking-related deaths are the result of secondhand smoke exposure).”

“Drug harms in the UK: a multi-criteria decision analysis”, by David Nutt, Leslie King and Lawrence Phillips, on behalf of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. The Lancet.

For example, the use of alcohol versus marijuana has  adverse statistics. In a CDC report, it says that the United States, from 2001-2005, had 43,731 alcohol-related deaths. In Oregon, we experienced 523 of those alcohol-related deaths, yet there is no information on marijuana-related deaths.

If alcohol and tobacco are more harmful and more addictive than marijuana, why are they legal?

Some people fear that the legalization of medical marijuana will increase the chances of underage use and DUIs. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) claims: “A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse surveyed 6,000 teenage drivers. It studied those who drove more than six times a month after using marijuana. The study found that they were about two and-a-half times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than those who didn’t smoke before driving.”

Impaired driving is wrong and shouldn’t be condoned. Though marijuana may benefit patients when used in moderation, one must not be ignorant to the harm that is associated with its abuse. With any substance, correct doses and responsibility is key.

The DEA says any illegal drug made legal will increase crimes – the cost of controlling legalized marijuana would increase tax dollar spending by youth prevention programs and addiction recovery. The DEA claims that in 2002, “federal drug control spending is minimal … the amount of money spent by the federal government on drug control was less than $19 billion in its entirety.” This money is said to be “used for treatment, education and prevention, as well as enforcement.”

“If the number of drug abusers doubled or tripled, the social costs would be enormous,” stated the DEA.

There is a thin line for marijuana’s legality. There is concern that if legalized, people could abuse it by going to their doctor and requesting a medial card for minor, or false issues. Permits for medical marijuana cards are state issued; if the state has decided that this patient needs a medical marijuana card, which are pre-approved by primary physicians.

This does not guarantee anything. Even though it’s legal to use medical marijuana with a card, it doesn’t mean you are free from trouble with the federal law. According to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, OMMP will protect the cardholder in the state of Oregon, however you may not be protected from the federal government. This should bring concern to patients applying for their medical marijuana cards.

No matter the side you stand on, it is hard to understand something when it has been considered a “horrible drug” and dismissed quickly. The best way to find your own opinion is to do your own research. If we don’t look at the pros and cons of this issue, there is no way to fully understand either side.

What do you think?