Peter Tosh, 1976
In the late seventies Peter Tosh catapulted himself to international fame with the release of his album and lead track, “Legalize It”. Tosh used his music to advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana, in particular for medicinal purposes. His lyrics called attention to social justice issues in Jamaica at the time and in an interview for New Musical Express in 1979, he predicted that someday marijuana would be available just like cigarettes1.
Colorado is one of the pioneers in the legalization of Marijuana (MJ) in the United States as one of four states where recreational marijuana is available. This phenomenon has put Colorado on the forefront of the national debate creating fodder for conversation at the federal policy level down to high school seniors deciding whether to attend college in CO for the kind 4:20 goodness. In order to consider the realities of MJ in 2016, we need to understand how legalization evolved.
In November 2000, the state amended the constitution to allow patients with “chronic debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana”2. However, according to the Journal of American Medical Association very few people used medical MJ until October 2009, when the U.S. Attorney General established guidelines giving jurisdiction of MJ over to the states. This created enough of a gray area for the pot industry to take root. Medical marijuana licenses increased from 4,819 in 2008 to 116,287 in 20143.
In November 2012 Colorado made history when voters passed Amendment 64 with a close margin of 55% legalizing recreational marijuana for retail sale. Retail sales commenced on January 1, 2014 and Colorado staked its claim in reefer history.
The initial impetus for legalization for medicinal purposes is still a hot topic and it’s efficacy for multiple medical ailments for children and adults continues to be debated at all levels of medicine. It is important to consider this in the context of the human and medical environments, as it has radically changed practice in some areas and created temendous relief for some patients. The relevance for social work stems from two of the six core values as determined by the National Association of Social Workers, dignity and worth of the person and social justice.
“For 5 millennia, Cannabis sativa has been used throughout the world medically, recreationally, and spiritually. From the mid-19th century to the 1930s, American physicians prescribed it for a plethora of indications, until the federal government started imposing restrictions on its use, culminating in 1970 with the US Congress classifying it as a Schedule I substance, illegal, and without medical value.” 4
As stated in the Washington Post, Marijuana shares Schedule 1 status with heroin, and it is more strictly regulated than the powerful prescription painkillers that have killed more than 165,000 people since 1999. 5 This perplexing designation creates significant barriers, not just to access, but for research on the efficacy of the CBD compound found in MJ to treat several serious medical conditions. This federal status severly limits resources and research.
Another consideration related to legalization of marijuana is the number of people incarcerated for drug related crimes. This is a social justice issue as the majority of those in jail for such crimes are young African American men. As well, the amount of money we as a nation spend on jails and the associated expenses is astronomical.
One has to ask,
“Couldn’t that money be better spent on education?”
It seems that the President of the USA thinks about the same thing…
“The exorbitant cost of incarceration is one factor causing states to decriminalize cannabis, President Barack Obama said in a March interview with Vice News.”6
*All images are stock photos
1 Legalize It. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalize_It
2, 3 Monte, A. A., Zane, R. D., & Heard, K. J. (2015). The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado. Jama, 313(3), 241. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.17057
4 Bostwick, J. M. (2012). Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana [Abstract]. Mayo Clinic Proceedings,87(2), 172-186. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2011.10.003
6 P., & Rowley, L. (2015, October 05). Where Is Marijuana Legal in the United States? List of Recreational and Medicinal States. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://mic.com/articles/126303/where-is-marijuana-legal-in-the-united-states-list-of-recreational-and-medicinal-states#.0aRLaFfnd