For Liberty, Against Medical Marijuana
The War on Drugs is wasteful, discriminatory, and unjust. It costs the United States more than 50,000,000,000 dollars per year. In 2012, the U.S. arrested 749,825 for marijuana charges, 88 percent of which were possession only. The War on Drugs is notoriously racist, as blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for drug use than whites, although drug use is consistent across racial lines. Many drug policy activists see the problem with the War on Drugs, but they often focus on the legalization of marijuana for medical use. After all, legal medical marijuana would be better than our current system of mass imprisonment for nonviolent crime. Legalization of medical marijuana may seem more achievable than legalization for recreational use. But medical marijuana does not go far enough.
As activists, our goal should be to liberate nonviolent “criminals,” not to encourage drug use. When activists focus on marijuana for medical use, we exaggerate the drug’s benefits, and ignore its risk factors. Marijuana can help treat pain, poor appetite, seizures, and anxiety. The drug is especially helpful for patients with cancer or chronic illness. On the other hand, long-term use of the drug can lead to chronic bronchitis and has been linked to schizophrenia. While not shown to be physically addictive, marijuana causes dependence in 9 percent of users. When we treat marijuana like a miracle drug, we surround ourselves with unhealthy confirmation bias and delegitimize those who struggle with addiction.
‘Big Medicine’ is not liberty’s friend. With medical marijuana, big pharmaceutical companies could patent certain strands of marijuana or push for increased FDA regulations, creating massive economies of scale in the process. Medical marijuana creates monetary incentives for pharmaceutical companies to work to halt the legalization process. Marijuana users would need to obtain a prescription, which involves and expensive doctor visit. Many would continue to purchase on the black market instead, as evidenced by the existing black market for other prescription drugs. Other health questions arise from marijuana for medical use: should standard insurance cover it? Would employers be able to distinguish between plans offering marijuana coverage and those that do not? Medical marijuana fails to address the problems inherent in the medical industry.
The Drug War is not just a war on marijuana. In 2010, 48 percent of all drug arrests were not marijuana-related. If our goal is to end the Drug War, we must legalize all substances, with marijuana leading the way. Legalizing marijuana for medical use does not pave the way for legalization of other drugs. While arguing for medical weed is easy, arguing for medical cocaine or medical heroin is much more difficult. Medical marijuana is a distraction, not a step in the right direction. As medical marijuana becomes legal in more states, activists in those states settle for what seems “good enough.” Colorado took twelve years to cross the bridge from medical marijuana to legalizing weed for recreational use. Ending prohibition is realistic and worthwhile, which is why we need to shift the conversation from medicine to self-ownership.
Drug legalization comes down to this: should the government control what we put in our own bodies? Drug use is a matter of personal choice. The health benefits and risks of an individual drug are irrelevant. We own ourselves; we are responsible for what we put in our own bodies. As attitudes toward marijuana legalization become increasingly positive, we must push to legalize marijuana, and eventually all other drugs, for all purposes, for one reason only: my body, my rights, my responsibility. If we are not free to make poor choices, we are not truly free.