Marijuana Should Be Quasi-Legal

         We need to change the illegal status of marijuana.

         Today, a record 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized, according to a recent Gallup poll.

          Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, a fact emphasized by our Surgeon General fifty years ago. There has yet to be reported a fatal case of acute marijuana overdose. Perhaps the worst thing you can say about pot is that it may bring symptoms of schizophrenia before they would have appeared otherwise.

         Rather than totally legalize marijuana, we should create a new category of things neither legal nor illegal. Call them quasi-legal.

         Alcohol was illegal from 1920 to 1933 because it was increasingly abused, but its prohibition was unenforceable and its availability from criminal sources provided enormous revenue to criminal elites. Alcohol remained legal for medical treatment during prohibition. It is clear that most prescriptions for it were not entirely motivated by medical need. These prescriptions remained popular for a decade or so after prohibition — pharmacists wrapped the product in brown paper and the customer did not have to be seen by his peers to be buying booze.

          A similar phenomenon is taking place today with “medical marijuana.” But this is not a long-term solution anymore than it was for alcohol if only because of unfair pressure on physicians. 

         Making marijuana “quasi-legal” would mean that it could not be advertised. Other drugs that should be on this list include cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine. There is not much serious harm from the use of caffeine, but it is habit forming. It has been added to soft drinks ever since Dr. Pepper (caffeine is naturally present in cola nuts, an ingredient of Coca Cola). Mountain Dew now “contains more caffeine” without even mentioning the quantities. So-called power drinks, promoted to enhance athletic performance, contain egregious amounts of caffeine, again quantity unspecified.

         We might also consider other items for the “quasi-legal” category, such as gambling.

         And if we were ever to get serious about reducing the consumption of unnecessary fossil fuel, we’d put jet skis, snowmobiles and all terrain vehicles in this category, too.

         Meanwhile, we urgently need a new approach to the “Drug War.”

         It supplies criminal elements with enormous revenues, creating a corrupting influence on society comparable to bootlegging during prohibition.

         Spending obscene amounts of money jailing nonviolent addicts (as opposed to drug dealers) is not a public health measure. These moneys would better be spent on treatment of addictions and other public health benefits.

         Some of those jailed for long periods for simple possession of marijuana could actually be good citizens or even good parents, if they were not in jail (Note: Marijuana does not foster violence in users as does alcohol.)

         So let’s end the futile criminalization of marijuana use. Let’s recognize that the American public opposes it. And let’s consider sensible ways to categorize the drugs and products that may not be good for us but that we’d be foolish to outlaw.

John Frantz, MD, October 17, 2011. 
Edited by Matt Rothschild, October 24, 2011