Masters thesis paper: "Ethicalities of Legalizing Marijuana"

Discussion in 'Legalization/Decriminalization' started by jerryd, Nov 19, 2011.

  1. jerryd

    jerryd New Member

    Okay, so it's not quite a *final* masters thesis, but as my first post to this board I'd like to share with you'all the following thesis paper I wrote for Business Ethics class in the MBA program at Chaminade University. It is an academic piece so, therefore, my real name is provided in order to validate its authenticity. Perhaps one day I'll be called upon to defend my thesis during any serious legislative talks about legalizing marijuana. It all boils down to this: Whether or not you agree with the ethics of using marijuana, legalizing it will greatly benefit America's economy (in the billions of dollars), and not just for those of you who use the drug. That infusion of billions of dollars of revenues, along with the savings of billions of dollars in drug enforcement expenses, would result in positive economic externalities creating benefits that far outweigh any perceived ills associated with marijuana -- and these benefits will even extend out to those who are staunchly opposed to its use.

    Feel free to quote and redistribute this paper, so long proper credit is given to me. ; ) Also, I'm open to any and all professional dialogue or debate regarding any facts, opinions, citations, conclusions, etc. contained in this paper.


    Ethical Arguments for the Legalization of Marijuana
    Chaminade University of Honolulu
    November 23, 2010


    This paper will discuss the ethical issues and propose the righteousness of legalizing marijuana on the federal level, as a controlled substance, while taking two stances: (1) the benefits of legalizing marijuana far outweigh its risks, and (2) there are inconsistencies in current legal policies governing marijuana vis-à-vis more dangerous drugs, such as alcohol.


    What are the prevailing issues for and against legalization of marijuana? Just because something is “illegal” does not mean it is bad; likewise, if something is “legal” does not mean it is not bad. Unlike law – which relies on oratory skills to defend an already-defined legal position -- ethics tries to esoterically determine what is right and wrong regardless of any law that may, or may not, already exist relating to the issue at hand.

    This paper will propose the righteousness of legalizing marijuana on the federal level as a controlled substance, while taking two stances: (1) its benefits far outweigh associated risks, and (2) there are inconsistencies in current legal policies with marijuana vis-a-vis illegal drugs that are more dangerous as well as those that are legal, accepted, and readily available to the public. Specifically, this paper will compare marijuana’s benefits and risks against those of the most common legal recreational drug currently in use today, alcohol.

    This paper will avoid discussing legalization of medical marijuana, as 12 states already allow its use for medicinal purposes, and there are currently over 2000 legitimate marijuana dispensaries across the nation. However, possession and use of marijuana are still illegal under federal law; and federal law trumps state laws every time. Due to the popularity and ongoing, widespread, and historical use of marijuana, a new look should be given to its place in society as a legal recreational drug – alongside, or even replacing, alcohol and tobacco.

    History and Significance of Marijuana

    In order to fully appreciate marijuana’s place in human society, one must first comprehend its prevalence as a medicinal and recreational drug. Marijuana was cultivated as far back as 5000 years ago. In ancient Chinese and Vedic cultures, it treated a wide range of ailments, including malaria and rheumatism (Silver, Ransom, & Tilley, 2010).


    In addition to its recreational properties, hemp -- a by-product of the marijuana plant -- was a major cash crop used for clothing, fabric, and medicine. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it, and drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. Hemp production was mandatory and ordered grown for the United Kingdom (Silver et al., 2010).

    With the rise of the 1840-1860 literary movement in France, marijuana gained in popularity as an intoxicant of the intellectual classes, due to claims of it stimulating one’s imagination and creativity. In the United States, medical interest in marijuana use was evidenced in 1860 by the convening of the Committee on Cannabis Indica of the Ohio State Medical Society, which reported on its therapeutic applications (“History of,” n.d.).

    The Anslinger Years

    In 1930, Harry Anslinger headed up the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics and crusaded to outlaw marijuana. Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act in July 1937 in response to pressure by Anslinger, who feared the use and spread of marijuana specifically by Mexicans (Musto, 1972).

    Anslinger enlisted the media and movie industries to further stigmatize marijuana. In 1938, the exploitation film Reefer Madness linked the use of marijuana by high school children to hit-and-run accidents, manslaughter, suicide, rape, and descent into madness (“Reefer Madness,” 2010). Anslinger’s efforts to stigmatize marijuana were so successful that by the 1950’s, public fear of marijuana linked its use to government overthrow as well as to communism, America’s most-feared enemy of the time (Silver et al., 2010).

    The New War on Drugs

    In 1961, the Single Convention Narcotic Treaty made production and supply of narcotic drugs an international crime. Nevertheless, marijuana regained its popularity and spawned the hippy subculture of the late 1960’s, who viewed marijuana as symbolizing America’s freedoms. Furthermore, the Vietnam War introduced marijuana to those who otherwise would not have used it -- our soldiers in Vietnam (Silver et al., 2010).

    In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, calling it “public enemy number one.” He created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and took a hard-line stance against drugs (Silver et al., 2010). A decade later, President Ronald Reagan’s administration continued the war on drugs when First Lady Nancy Reagan launched her “Just Say No” campaign (Silver et al., 2010). This famous catch phrase soon became a mantra recited by elementary school children throughout the United States. President Bill Clinton vowed to keep up the fight against drugs, but was not as systematic as Reagan or Nixon. Consequently, the Mexican drug cartels became stronger during the Clinton years (Silver et al., 2010).

    September 11, 2001 marked a new era in the fight against marijuana. The United States tightened its border policies upon President George Bush’s declaration of war on terror. This effectively stifled importation of marijuana from Mexico. Consequently, the Mexican drug cartels turned to growing marijuana within United States borders rather than smuggling it across (Silver et al., 2010).

    Arguments For and Against Marijuana Use

    Schedule I Classification

    Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Its main active chemical ingredient is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Schedule I drugs are classified as having a high potential for abuse, with no currently accepted medical use in the United States. Yet, other drugs such as cocaine, morphine, and amphetamines -- including crystal methamphetamine, or “ice” – are classified as Schedule II substances, thereby implying they are less dangerous than marijuana (“Marijuana Facts”, n.d.).

    Effects of Marijuana

    Effects common with other drugs. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana use can produce various adverse physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral effects. These effects include impaired perception, impaired judgment, diminished short-term memory, loss of concentration and coordination, and increased risk of accidents (“Basic Facts,” 1999). However, these adverse effects apply to any mood-altering drug, including alcohol. It seems unfair, then, to single out and stigmatize marijuana use based on these attributes without also considering their association with the use of alcohol and other legal drugs.

    Dependency. Another adverse effect attributed to marijuana use is psychological dependency; yet, marijuana is not physically addictive as is tobacco or alcohol. In fact, dependency to alcohol is so severe that abrupt stoppage will manifest itself into adverse physical ailments during the withdrawal process. Alcohol is the only drug known that can cause severe neurological changes as well as death during the withdrawal process (“Delirium tremens,” 2010). On the other hand, physical withdrawal symptoms are not associated with marijuana cessation.

    Loss of motivation. Marijuana use has also been associated with loss of motivation. Stereotypical images of apathetic “potheads” who serve no productive role in society are conjured up when one thinks of a marijuana user. However, it is unjustified to characterize all marijuana users as being unmotivated, as I personally know many who are currently successful and contributing members of society. This includes a trauma surgeon who smoked marijuana regularly throughout undergraduate and medical schools, as well as several successful business people.

    Id release. Marijuana is also claimed to diminish one’s inhibitions. Yet, alcohol is the drug most commonly known for being an aphrodisiac. Therefore, to stigmatize marijuana based partly on claims of it being an id releaser is unwarranted and inconsistent with society’s acceptance of alcohol. Furthermore, the claim “diminish one’s inhibitions” suggests that a moral judgment – specifically, the stigmatization of sex – is being forced upon the population. It seems inappropriate to cite consentual sexual behavior as basis for whether or not to legalize a drug.

    Respiratory diseases. The above-mentioned adverse effects – whether legitimate or not – affect only the individual user and not the general public in any way. The most common and serious effect of marijuana use that might also indirectly affect the rest of the nation, if true, is damage to the respiratory system and increased risk of cancer to the user. Such ailments, on a widespread level, could put a burden on our public health care system, which would consequently tax the rest of the nation.

    The claim that one joint, or marijuana cigarette, has four times more cancer-producing tar than a cigarette may be true; however, even a habitual marijuana user does not smoke an entire joint in a single setting but, rather, might take only three or four “hits” before becoming intoxicated. Assuming a daily marijuana user, an entire joint might last all day. On the other hand, cigarette smokers typically consume an entire pack of 20 cigarettes or more every day. Mathematically, then, habitual cigarette smokers are still five times more likely to develop lung-related diseases than even the most chronic marijuana user.

    Reports pointing out respiratory consequences of smoking marijuana stop short of directly attributing such diseases to marijuana use but, rather, merely suggest marijuana as a contributing factor (“Health concerns,” n.d.). Accurate or not, such respiratory diseases can be prevented by ingesting the drug rather than smoking it. Ingesting marijuana leads to a different experience than smoking it, resulting in a stronger and longer “high” (Agaric, 2007).

    Comparison With Alcohol

    Toxicity. Alcohol is one of the most toxic drugs available, surpassed only by such drugs as heroin and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) in terms of toxicity. Alcohol is part of the largest cluster of substances that has a lethal dose of only 10 to 20 times its effective dose. Other drugs with similar toxicity include cocaine and MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as "ecstasy") (Gable, 2006).

    Marijuana, on the other hand, is one of the least physiologically toxic substances, requiring 100 to 1,000 times the effective dose to cause death. According to Gable (2006), “I've found no published cases in the English language that document deaths from smoked marijuana, so the actual lethal dose is a mystery. My surmise is that smoking marijuana is more risky than eating it but still safer than getting drunk.”

    Alcohol-related violence. Alcohol use is highly associated with reckless behavior, as well as with violent crime including domestic violence and sexual assault. About 3 million violent crimes occur on American soil each year, with alcohol consumption a contributing factor. In 2002, 75 percent of domestic violence incidents involved an offender who had been drinking (“Facts on,” n.d.). A Harvard School of Public Health study found that 72 percent of college rapes occurred when the female was too intoxicated by alcohol to resist or consent (Mohler-Kuo, Dowdall, Koss, & Wechsler, 2004). Indeed, even well-established relationships are prone to alcohol-related violence, regardless of the offender’s age (Star-Advertiser staff, 2010). Marijuana use, on the other hand, is not associated with violent crime whatsoever.

    Financial Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana

    Recently, over 500 economists and university professors endorsed a report authored by Jeffrey A. Miron, professor of economics at Harvard University, titled The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition. Miron favors a regime in which marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods. His report urges the American people to “to commence an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition.” It states that our government currently spends $7.7 billion each year in state and federal monies to enforce prohibition of marijuana. By legalizing marijuana, state governments would save $5.3 billion of this money, and the federal government would save $2.4 billion. Furthermore, legalizing and taxing marijuana as a regular consumer good would generate an additional $2.4 billion annually, or up to $6.2 billion annually if taxed at the same rates as alcohol and tobacco (Miron, 2005).

    Axiomatic Propositions

    This paper avoided focusing on the medical benefits of marijuana. However, I must disagree with the government’s assertion that marijuana warrants Schedule I classification due to not having any medical use. It has been proven that inhaling marijuana significantly increases daily caloric intake and body weight in HIV-positive patients, is well tolerated by the body, and does not impair long-term cognitive performance (Haney et al., 2007). Other medical uses of marijuana include treatment of nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy, lowering intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients, and reducing spasticity and other neurological symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, there is evidence marijuana is useful in treating the symptoms of a variety of other medical conditions (Malerba, 2010).

    There are no conclusive data proving marijuana use is a gateway to harder drugs -- only suggestions. It is very likely that such assertion is a remnant of Anslinger’s negative campaigning. Ironically, marijuana’s popularity rose in the 1990’s because it was viewed as a far safer alternative to harder drugs prevalent at the time, such as crack cocaine. Today, crystal methamphetamine is America’s nemesis drug. It is affordable and readily available on the streets. Banning marijuana may actually have caused the rise in popularity of this much more dangerous drug.

    Anslinger’s dogmatic approach to outlawing marijuana included racially-spurred comments, such as:“This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes” and “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” (Skordelis, 2009). History has shown that campaigns fueled by such racism will likely lead to persecution of the innocent. For instance, Adolf Hitler’s declaration of white supremacy, followed by his acts of genocide, is a prime example. Likewise, it is logical to conclude that Anslinger’s own racism has also resulted in the unwarranted persecution of the innocent marijuana user.

    Someone is arrested once every 37 seconds for using marijuana. Our government spends anywhere between $7.7 billion (Miron, 2005) and $13.7 billion (Silver et al., 2010) per year enforcing marijuana laws. Is this expense the lingering consequence of a zealous fundamentalist regime from 80 years ago? Are we throwing good money after bad? Instead of spending this money on a war that may never be won, perhaps we should inject this money into America’s vital but ailing social services, such as our healthcare system.

    Why did alcohol prevail over marijuana at the end of the Prohibition Era? Perhaps Al Capone and other crime figures of the time were more successful than the Mexican cartels in pushing their illegal drugs. Or, in realizing society will always seek drug-enhanced recreational activities, our government chose to legalize alcohol because it was already being produced on American soil whereas marijuana was not. Legalizing alcohol would, therefore, create American jobs and contribute to national gross domestic product – particularly as our nation moved towards industrialization and away from agriculture. Marijuana, on the other hand, might not have been considered to provide such a benefit to our economy at that time.

    Do violent drug cartels sell beer or tobacco? No, they do not, because alcohol and nicotine are legal and, therefore, are not profitable for organized crime. However, if made illegal – such as marijuana – criminal organizations would go to the extremes to sell it. The Prohibition Era of the 1930’s is a prime example of this phenomenon. It also proves that organized crime’s involvement with prohibited drugs leads to wanton acts of violence such as killings and hijackings.

    Of all illicit recreational drugs, marijuana is the most commonly used. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), “an estimated 104 million Americans aged 12 or older have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes, representing, 41.5% of the U.S. population in that age group” (“Marijuana facts,” n.d.). Yet, and despite its prevalence in society, there seems to be a marked absence of incidents attributing the use of marijuana to crimes against property or persons. On the other hand, and in addition to alcohol, many “less dangerous” Schedule II drugs are regularly implicated in violent crimes.

    Despite being illegal, marijuana is readily available to the public -- including to our adolescent youths. Exactly how easy is it to obtain? One can simply walk up to a nefarious-looking person and ask if they know anybody selling marijuana. Chances are that person has, or knows somebody who has, marijuana for sale. However, if marijuana is legalized and regulated -- the way alcohol currently is -- it would be unprofitable for such street dealers to sell as larger operations would utilize economies of scale to produce and distribute the drug at less cost. Legitimate dispensaries would replace weed on the streets. Being regulated would actually make marijuana much more difficult for teenagers to obtain, thereby curbing its use among our youth.


    Recreational drugs have always been a part of human culture since early homo sapiens found himself in a “better place” after chewing on a strange new root or flower. The desire to escape, expand, or enlighten will always prevail in the human psyche – it is rooted in our very evolution, and strengthened by America’s fundamental principles of freedom. We have proven time and again that when this freedom to use recreational drugs is taken away from us, we will do whatever it takes to seek it out, including breaking the law.

    Yet governments continue to pursue a wholesale ban of recreational drugs despite human society continuing to perpetuate its use. From a relativist’s perspective, this suggests it is not unethical to use certain mood-altering drugs, particularly those with such long-standing acceptance as marijuana. Marijuana is safer than alcohol as well as other drugs currently in use. It is, therefore, not an ethical question of whether or not to legalize marijuana but, rather, an ethical dilemma of choosing which recreational drug(s) to allow.

    However, I am skeptical about the prospect of marijuana ever gaining legal status or replacing alcohol as America’s recreational drug of choice. We seem to value alcohol-induced extroverted pleasures – action, adventure, and the bar “pickup” scene – over the introverted and intellectual experiences of marijuana use. Furthermore, the powerful and well-established alcohol industry will resist legalization as well as public acceptance of marijuana. For even if alcohol continues to remain legal, marijuana would be a substitute drug and, therefore, its legalization will result in decreased profits for the alcohol industry.

    Looking back on the history and use of marijuana, and where it stands today in American culture, it is clear its wholesale stigmatization was the result of the zealousness of a few. In hindsight, we see how tragic it is that the ignorance of those in positions of authority can create such an ethical dilemma as that posed in this paper. Unfortunately, redefining an unjust paradigm is much more difficult than initially establishing the correct precedence. As such, the longer marijuana use is illegal and portrayed as being unethical, the more difficult it will be to convince the status quo otherwise.


    Agaric. (2007, February 2). Ingesting marijuana versus smoking marijuana. Yahoo! Associated Content. Retrieved November 17, 2010 from: Ingesting Marijuana Versus Smoking Marijuana - Associated Content from Yahoo! -

    Basic facts about drugs: Marijuana. (1999). Retrieved from American Council for Drug Education website:

    Delirium tremens. (2010). MedlinePlus: trusted health information for you. Retrieved November 16, 2010 from U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health website: Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

    Facts on Cannabis and Alcohol. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2010 from Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) website:
    SAFER - Alcohol vs. Marijuana

    Gable, R. (2006). The toxicity of recreational drugs. American Scientist, 94(3), 206-209. doi

    Haney, M., Gunderson, E. W., Rabkin, J., Hart, C. L., Vosburg, S. K., Comer, S. D., & Foltin, R. W. (2007, August 15).
    Dronabinol and Marijuana in HIV-Positive Marijuana Smokers: Caloric Intake, Mood, and Sleep. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 45(5). 545-554. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0b013e31811ed205

    Health concerns: What are the medical dangers of marijuana use? (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2010 from Harvard University website: THE MEDICAL DANGERS OF MARIJUANA USE

    History of marihuana use: medical and intoxicant. (n.d.). Retrieved from Schaffer Library of Drug Policy website:

    Malerba, L. (2010, October 25). Medical marijuana: The pros and cons of legal cannabis. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: Larry Malerba, D.O. : Medical Marijuana: The Pros and Cons of Legal Cannabis

    Marijuana Facts and Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved from Office of National Drug Control Policy website: Office of National Drug Control Policy | The White House

    Miron, J. A. (2005, June). The budgetary implications of marijuana prohibition. Retrieved from website:

    Mohler-Kuo, M., Dowdell, G. W., Koss, M. P., & Wechsler, H. (2004, January).
    Correlates of rape while intoxicated in a national sampleof college women. Retrieved from Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health website:

    Musto, D. F. (1972). The history of the marihuana tax act of 1937. Retrieved from Schaffer Library of Drug Policy website: History of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 by David F. Musto

    Reefer Madness. (2010, November 14). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved November 15, 2010, from: Reefer Madness - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Silver, R. (Writer/Producer), Tilley, D. (Producer), & Ransom, B. (Writer). (2010). Marijuana: a chronic history [Documentary]. Country of Origin: USA.

    Skordelis, W. (2009, September 5). US Forestry Service apologizes to Hispanics for marijuana insensitivity. Retrieved from website: US Forestry Service apologizes to Hispanics for marijuana 'insensitivity' - Miami Broward County Liberal |

    Star-Advertiser staff. (2010, November 17). Two people charged with attempted murder in Mililani. Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved from:
    3 people like this.
  2. jerryd

    jerryd New Member

    Cool. Thanks for the compliment and thanks for having my back. Not sure exactly which words are misspelled, though. Perhaps when I copied-pasted-formatted the paper onto this board, I may have corrupted the spelling of a few words? I know "ethicalities" generally doesn't pass spellcheck, but it is a word (if not, then I'd love to take credit for coining it. Lol!)

    BTW, the paper got an "A"...and this was at a conservative, Catholic (Marianist) university, with the professor being a retired corporate attorney. Imagine that! ;)
  3. Dedbr

    Dedbr Domestic War Veteran

    It is a good paper Jerry, they can't deny that. I edit papers like this for students, and yours is really well done........:wave:

  4. Entropy59

    Entropy59 New Member

    Well, hell, pizza is now a vegetable due to Congressional fiat so pot can be worse than meth and alcohol (Yeh, I love our a point...It still is about the coolest to this point in history)
  5. piercer808

    piercer808 New Member

    Spelling errors

    After *carefully* reading this uploaded document, I now see the spelling errors previously mentioned. However, these errors are not present in the original copy of the paper that is on my hard drive. It seems the copy/paste process mangled any word with "" in it."Prohib ition" (without the space) got uploaded as "Prohiion," and "inhb itiions" (without the space) got changed to "inhiions." Sorry about the spelling errors; I'm generally a perfectionist when it comes to writing.

    EDIT NOTE: Hey...see those two empty quotation marks above? It's supposed to have the following letters in it: B as in "boy," I as in "indigo," and T as in "tango." But for some reason, this forum doesn't like this word ("b.i.t." without all the period. Why is that?
  6. SourDieselMan

    SourDieselMan New Member

    Nice paper, it has some really good points.
    2 people like this.
  7. WolfGang Paco

    WolfGang Paco Sr. Member

    Oh dude, for some reason our site deletes the b.i.t. Out of words.

    Like I'm going to type b(it) - bit

    It's just a weird glitch in our system. Great paper, might have to use your references if I ever need to write an essay such as this :)
    2 people like this.

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