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Why is there a war in the first place?

Since the failed Nixon-era War on Drug in the 1970s and the debacle of the Controlled Substance Act, the current momentum is counterproductive. Under the Act, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, the same category as heroin and MDMA (ecstasy). Federal laws are behind the times and excessively unforgiving. Evidence suggests that marijuana is less harmful than legal alcohol and nicotine. Indeed, marijuana and its derivatives are used to treat everything from chronic pain to post-traumatic stress disorder to childhood epilepsy. A toxicological study in 2015 compared the threshold risks of marijuana to other drugs. The finding suggested that alcohol posed the highest risk, followed by heroin, cocaine, and nicotine. Marijuana was calculated to be among the lowest. The study concluded that pot is a safe alternative to other drugs of abuse – heroin and other opioids. 1/

True – some research papers suggest marijuana is not entirely benign. Impair driving, and a subset of users develop a form of dependence called marijuana use disorder. Other research indicates that teenage users may adversely impact brain development – i.e., changes in neural structure and function, including lower IQ, and increase the risk of psychosis. While current studies have challenged these findings, especially two longitudinal twin reports found no significant link between marijuana use and IQ.

More controlled studies are needed to understand the risks and benefits. Instead of buying a new tank or further subsidizing the wealthy, open federal funding would offer scientists and researchers the opportunity and access to the drug for effective, independent investigation. Even today, the federal government has a monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes, and many of their programs are not shared with the public. With the federal government’s attitude of cracking-down on state-level legal marijuana and their stands on independent research, the tactics suggest a conspiracy to suppress marijuana inquiries. Moreover, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed Justice Department guidelines, which gave states final decision to pursue marijuana cases, now provides U.S. attorneys full authority to press criminal charges. All this noise is a clear message to the states that the federal government wants to maintain marijuana’s status as an illegal drug.

The War on Tobacco and the War on Alcohol should have given the federal government an historical roadmap of failed policies and costly mistakes. According to our Subjective Probability Model (SPM), the efficacy of criminalization and the unintended consequences of these two wars cost the United States $3 trillion, adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars. In contrast, the total costs of all U.S. Wars then and now was $4 trillion. We making the same mistake with marijuana?

A compelling case study of “knowing what to do” was executed by Portugal. In 2001 the country made all drugs legal. The results were major cost saving in enforcement, less crime, an increase in use taxes and other taxes, less diseases associated with drugs and transmitted, and increase in the country’s standard of loving. While Portugal’s success may not translate directly to the U.S., the actual results are a case in point.

A 2014 study found that medical marijuana legalized in the U.S. has not increased crime and may be linked to lower assaults and homicide rates. Even a limited version of federal reform, such as downgrading marijuana as a Schedule II or III drug --- categories considered less harmful – could prove beneficial. Why the lack of action? It can’t be the disproportionate number of blacks are arrested for it, or the lucrative black market controlled by wealthy whites with major federal connections?

Meanwhile, a majority of states allow some form of medical marijuana use, and nine states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational use. Recent polls confirm that one in eight U.S. adults smoke marijuana, and almost as many pot users as there are cigarettes smokers. Marijuana is part of everyday life for millions on American. A Gallup poll released last year found that more than 33 million adults were identified as “current” marijuana users, and the federal survey confirmed that number.

Current science and public opinion agree to stop treating marijuana as a deadly drug and make it a constructive asset. The last catastrophic event we need is another expensive war on lowly marijuana, especially when there are much more severe issues to address. Or is marijuana merely a defection to spin society into another direction?

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1/ Dirk W Lachenmeier and Jurgen Rehm, renowned scientists, published a comprehensive study in 2015 entitled “Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach.” The toxicological MOE approach validates epidemiological and social science-based drug ranking approaches especially with the positions of alcohol and tobacco (high risk) and cannabis (low risk).

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