Marijuana and Medical Marijuana

Posted: November 29, 2012 in RealLife

Marijuana and Medical Marijuana

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Updated: Nov. 8, 2012

2012  Elections

On election day, Nov. 6, 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington made their states the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But in Oregon, a similar measure failed.

Supporters of Washington’s initiative said they hoped its passage would ultimately change federal law, which regards any possession or sale of marijuana as illegal.

The next day, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency said the Justice Department was reviewing the ballot measures and declined to comment directly on how officials would respond to them. But he said the agency’s enforcement of federal drug laws “remains unchanged.” The United States attorneys in Denver and Seattle responded with nearly identical statements, offering no clue on whether they would sue to block the measures from being put into effect.

Overview

Marijuana, whose botanical name is cannabis, has been used by humans for thousands of years. It was classified as an illegal drug by many countries in the 20th century. Over the past two decades, there has been a growing movement to legalize marijuana, primarily for medical purposes.

Medical marijuana use has surged in the 16 states and the District of Columbia that allow its use. But states and cities are also wrestling with the question of what medical marijuana is, or should be.

Marijuana’s use has particularly increased among teenagers. According to a December 2011 government report, one out of every 15 high school students smokes marijuana on a near daily basis, a figure that has reached a 30-year peak even as use of alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine among teenagers continued a slow decline.

The popularity of marijuana reflects what researchers and drug officials say is a growing perception among teenagers that habitual marijuana use carries little risk of harm. That perception, experts say, is fueled in part by wider familiarity with medical marijuana and greater ease in obtaining it.

Proponents of marijuana have argued for years that the drug is safer than alcohol, both to individuals and society.

In Colorado, the proposal to legalize possession of marijuana in small amounts  went on the ballot in November 2012 under a title that urged voters to “regulate marijuana like alcohol.”

The goal of legalization is not to make access to marijuana easier, but rather, said one supporter in Colorado, “to make our communities safer by regulating this substance, taking it out of the underground market, controlling it and better keeping it away from young people.”

The debate in Colorado was premised on the idea that marijuana has become, if not quite mainstream, then at least no longer alien to the average voter. Medical marijuana is already legal here. Medical marijuana dispensaries, especially in Colorado, have exploded in number in the last few years, and more than 88,000 Colorado residents have medical marijuana cards,

Supporters of legalization agree that medical marijuana has led to abuses, and that, they say, is the very problem that legalization would fix. Banning or improperly regulating a substance that large numbers of people will use anyway failed in the 1920s with alcohol — with the spread of speakeasies and corruption during Prohibition — and is failing now with marijuana, they say.

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