For Your Health

A Case for Legalization

Chad W. Lutz
​People get curious, restless, bored, and angry. We stray, we falter; we take wrong turns and say the wrong things. People making mistakes is about certain as, “What goes up (on Earth) must come down.”  So, to counteract these bored bouts of stupidity, we as society make rules and regulations. We set up systems of judgments and establish penalties for breaking agreed upon policy, which we televise and put on posters and hand out in leaflets to make sure everyone knows what the score is before they go to bat each morning and head off to their jobs or schools or whatever they have lined up. But despite publicity and highly manicured definitions these rules and regulations receive and possess, even the best and brightest of us fall prey to human err and wind up sleeping on couches, paying late fees, and in the back of cop cars for less-than-noble momentary lacks of discretion.
So, what goes into establishing what is and what isn’t considered deviant behavior?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is money, although I don’t really feel like that’s fair of me to say. I’d like to believe that our Fore Fathers built the Constitution to reflect the sentiments the U.S. shared at the time of the penning of the Declaration of Independence rather than solely the cost-effective shrink/loss values associated with any type of transaction, monetary or otherwise. Puzzles consist of more than just a single piece, so let’s look further.
The second thing I can thing of is Public Wellbeing, which I’m going to capitalize because I’m going to talk its definition in abstracts. Public Wellbeing, as I’d like to define it, not only takes into consideration the good of the whole, but the good of the individual as well, and balanced out appropriately should provide positive economic, physical, mental, and spiritual circumstances for human beings to live in relative harmony with one another.
Ideas that influence the concept of Public Wellbeing at the federal level, as outlined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), include housing, employment, crime, life satisfaction, emotional stability, and physical health. CDC officials actually measure and quantify Public Wellbeing using psychological, physical, economic, and nutritional surveys. In total, the government agency puts participants through four separate surveys to effectively gauge how satisfied a person or group of persons feels about their current circumstances.
At the center of all of these different factors sits personal health. Human beings largely define existence by physical experiences. If we’re feeling anxious and antsy we might say things are hectic, our thoughts might race, our backs might hurt, we might develop headaches or overeat, which would affect our overall views of that particular day. We might have an injured leg or arthritis in our hands that would pull us out of the present moment and distract us from potentially pleasurable things going on all around us. We drink less coffee and alcohol to feel better about ourselves. We quit smoking. We stop eating fatty, salty foods. We exercise and drink more water. We stretch and go to yoga and relax when we get the chance. But we all make mistakes and overuse and binge on the things we love and push our bodies beyond their limits, and then put everything on rinse and repeat only to cycle through the same vicious process all over again.
But when Public Wellbeing comes to drugs and alcohol, simply resetting your week after getting arrested for petty amounts of marijuana isn’t that simple. You can’t just start buying more kale and suddenly your criminal history is erased. Picking up trash at the community park doesn’t change the way people are going to look at your resume, and it sure as hell isn’t going to deter border patrol officers or even just your average, everyday boy in blue from picking your automobile to pieces, even if you swear you have nothing in your car and you truly don’t. Public Wellbeing then becomes monopolized by groups of people who apparently have yet to make mistakes in life. And while I won’t sit here and hack away at this keyboard in a blind, naïve stupor and say that there aren’t such things as career criminals who stop at nothing to break all the laws they can because they can, there are also a lot of real, living and breathing people residing in the United States who make mistakes on a daily basis. Some of these mistakes land them in jail; other mistakes land them in short-lived contempt of lovers or loved ones. Some may lose their jobs. But when it comes to the subject of marijuana use, enough is enough.
According to Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, arrests for marijuana related crimes have gone up nationwide, despite several states, including Washington in 2012, decriminalizing or even legalizing marijuana use for medicinal and recreational purposes: “In 1990, there were an estimated 327,000 marijuana arrests; by 2006, that number more than doubled to reach 829,625 (Beckett & Herbert pgs. 11, 12).” The same report goes on to announce that a whopping 44% of drug arrests in 2006 involved marijuana only, and 89% of those arrests were for simple possession charges.
So, who are these people? What faces should we associate with these criminals? Are they the types of people that would break into our homes and threaten our families, our Public Wellbeing? Or are they the type of persons that, if given opportunities, would completely reform or at the very least moderate their behaviors and otherwise avoid any kind of violent crimes?
Seventeen: that’s, on average, the age when people try marijuana for the first time a.k.a. high school. Roughly 30% of 12th graders reported using marijuana in the past year, and 20% in the last month in 2005 (Beckett & Herbert pg. 19). Overall, marijuana use, including use within the last month, only comprises 10% of adults living in the U.S. That’s 30 million Americans or so, if my math serves me correctly. So we take that big bad number given in the above paragraph, 829,000, and we apply it to one of the most reckless, immature, and confused age groups to get a better picture of who our police are really slapping cuffs on: Kids. Remember what it was like to be seventeen? Drug Policy Alliance, a national grassroots organization dedicated to reforming current narcotics laws, puts it nicely on their homepage: “The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners.”
The New York Times reported on issues surrounding marijuana in a June 2014 article titled “The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests” written by editorial-board staff member Jesse Wegman. In the column, The Times journalist reveals that in 2011 police arrested more people for marijuana possession “than for all violent crimes put together.” The Huffington Post Denver reported police made a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds in 2011, and the ratio of marijuana-related crimes to violent crimes was again staggering: around 750,000 arrests to roughly 535,000 arrests.
But most dissenters argue that people pushing for legalization overhype and sensationalize the idea that thousands of marijuana users are being put behind bars every year, and those dissenters are correct. The average person who gets cited for marijuana possession receives no more than a ticket, a fine, loss of driving privileges, and community service, depending on the state. In Ohio, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana results in an automatic suspension of driving privileges for six months, between $100 and $400 in fines, and community service. The offense is treated like a civil citation, the equivalent of littering or a traffic ticket and requires no jail time. The cop takes your bag of grass, writes you a ticket, and tells you she doesn't want to run into again that night and you're on your merry way. There's no automatic jail time for first-time offenders, and according to The Office of National Drug Control Policy, an arm of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, who compiled data from a comprehensive study on the phenomena in the early 2000s, only .3% of all inmates in U.S. prisons were in jail for first-time marijuana offense. Only .7% of prisoners were in jail for possession of marijuana only, and marijuana-related crimes comprised only 1.6% of all inmates in total nationwide. This starkly contrasts the data presented by The Times and The Huffington Post Denver and the two researchers from Washington. Checkmate?
Not quite.
What the data doesn't take into account is the standard of living, the Public Wellbeing, if you will, of the people convicted of marijuana-related offenses. Punishment for these crimes doesn't just end when your balance at the county courthouse bursar is reduced to nothing. Even if the criminal offenders are first-timers and have never had any other run ins with the law in their lives prior, once arrested, these people now have drug convictions on their permanent records accessible with a simple background check. This limits opportunities to get well-paying jobs, get into secondary schools, or even establish meaningful relationships with other people due to social stigmas. Here's the catch: these people new possession of marijuana was against the law when they committed the crimes. Shouldn't they be punished? Sure. If that's the law. But not all laws promote Public Wellbeing.
Scenes like this from the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing led to stiffer rules and regulations surrounding the race for both spectators and runners. (
​Up until the November 2006 general election it was perfectly legal to smoke inside of buildings in Ohio. In 2014, Boston Marathon officials banned backpacks. TSA agents are now allowed to perform cavity searches at random or in the event of general, arbitrary suspicion. Aside from smoking inside of buildings, most people might even say the other new rules are inconveniences, but they serve a purpose, and I'd be willing to go out on a limb to assume that in terms of Public Wellbeing, a vast majority understand why those rules and regulations are put in place. But in terms of Public Wellbeing, the laws governing marijuana are narrow and short-sighted. According to their own statistics, marijuana laws aren't even cleaning up the streets. So-called criminals are released right back into the general populous, sometimes within minutes, of being reprimanded for their offences.
But their crimes aren't violent, and marijuana law offenders aren't nearly the threat to Public Wellbeing that other legal narcotics are or present even half as many challenges. Between 2006 and 2010, the CDC reported excessive drinking was responsible for more than 88,000 deaths, roughly one in ten deaths for persons aged 24 to 60. On average, the people who died due to alcohol use passed 30 years earlier than expected, based on individual circumstances. This is an organization that operates as an extension of the same federal machine that put out the statistics on marijuana users in prison. And what statistics do we have on marijuana-related deaths? None. Marijuana side effects include decreased sperm counts, amotivational behaviors, short-term memory loss, and impaired lung function. But the now 33-year old Surgeon General's Warning on Marijuana released in 1982 says nothing about mortality, except that you may develop cancers similar to those developed as a by-product of heavy cigarette smoking if used excessively over extended periods of time. But even those claims have been refuted, with the widespread acceptance of the plant's chemical compounds as ideal for inducing hunger in cancer and AIDS patients and reducing the nausea associated with chemotherapy treatments. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive compound found in the plant, has even been shown to: "slow growth and/or cause death in certain types of cancer cells growing in laboratory dishes. ("
Not bad for something against the law, especially when cigarettes account for roughly 480,000 deaths a year (CDC), and alcohol kills around 10,000 people in traffic-related accidents alone per annum.
So what we basically have in this country is a backwards stance on Public Wellbeing when it comes to marijuana laws. We allow substances like alcohol and tobacco to be sold over-the-counter, despite being highly dangerous if used improperly, which in alcohol's case, CDC officials label as more than just one drink per day. Some states currently have decriminalized laws that penalize marijuana users less significantly than other states would if cited and convicted but fail to differentiate between life-long criminals and the confused, dip-shit youth who put herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and now can't find work, has trouble getting into schools, and because of this, can't afford to get even one conviction expunged if she wanted to because it costs thousands of dollars and requires personal appearances before a judge, which takes time away from school, looking for a job, or maintaining a job.
Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio president Jay McDonald explains his organization's stance against Issue 3 in September 2015
​On November 3, Ohioans have a choice. Issue 3, a statewide initiative to legalize marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes, would erase all of this nonsense and reset the social debts of convicted users back to zero. Their records would remain intact due to grandfather laws, but the perception of these people who simply made mistakes and indulged in something that has no real ill effect on Personal Wellbeing, let alone Public Wellbeing, would wain and perhaps even disappear. People who can now only hope for the best in life would have fighting chances at their wildest dreams and wouldn't run into pesky roadblocks like background checks or drug screenings.
While I won't sit here and say that Issue 3 is a great referendum, it's the starting point. Laws were made to be changed, that's why our U.S. Constitution allows for amendments, as does our state Ohio Revised Code. The issues with the monopoly of growers shouldn't matter. And unless you're in the pot growing business, most of you aren't going to see any of that money anyway. Issue 2 is shaky and ill-worded. It doesn't clearly define what the industry should be, and should be voted down. But Issue 3 clearly states that if it passes, marijuana will be legal in Ohio for both medicinal and recreational use. On November 3, Ohioans have a choice. Please get out and vote.