Ethical Perspective of Legalizing Marijuana

In today’s society, many ethical concerns arise on a daily basis, especially when it comes to the topic of legalizing marijuana. Many individuals have relied on the fact that marijuana was illegal, when determining whether smoking it should be considered unethical.

However, many studies have shown that the effects of marijuana are not as detrimental as they were once made out to be. Legalizing marijuana can be an extremely controversial topic because several people have strong beliefs concerning why it should not be legalized, while a significant amount of people have stronger arguments, as to why it should be legalized.

On January 1, 2018, the law on the legalization of the use of recreational marijuana came into force in the largest state of the United States, California. The law allows citizens over the age of 21 to carry up to 31 g (1 ounce) of marijuana, as well as grow up to six hemp plants at home.

When it comes to looking at the ethical standpoint of legalizing marijuana, everyone has a different interpretation as to why marijuana should or should not be legalized. This is because everyone’s sense of morals and values differ from one another.

Legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use would be beneficial for large amounts of people for many reasons. The theory of utilitarianism implies that the proper course of action should be the one, which benefits the greatest number of people.

Many aspects of legalizing marijuana should be considered when determining if the benefits outweigh the risks. Several states have passed laws, which govern the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In fact, over twenty states, as well as the District of Columbia have enacted laws that govern the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes only. The increasing number of physicians implying that they would use marijuana medicinally for their patients shows that there are many benefits, which could derive from using the substance.

A study conducted by American herbalist showed, “79. 5 percent of professional members stated that if there were not legal prohibitions they would use cannabis clinically” (Romm & Romm, 2010, p. 25).

This study also implies that the top reasons for prescribing marijuana include appetite loss, cancer, pain, glaucoma, insomnia, and it is also said that it helps with relaxation. Considering the increasing number of patients suffering from such diagnosis, the utilitarian approach shows that legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes would benefit the greatest number of people.

When considering the harmful and destructive nature of alcohol and tobacco, it is hard to interpret why and how these substances became legalized. While at the same time, people are curious as to how a substance, such as marijuana, that controversially could result in more advantages than disadvantages, has yet to become legal. Marijuana is significantly less destructive than alcohol and tobacco and is used to treat medical conditions. State legislatures have ignored the signs of potential advantages of legalizing marijuana for years.

However, legislatures have previously legalized substances, including alcohol and tobacco, without the advantage of the substances advancing or improving medical care. Therefore, the main ethical argument against legalizing marijuana comes down to the fact that of the legalities governing it’s use. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is an organization that serves as an information center for issues concerning marijuana use and legalization. The NORML Organization also serves as the voice for American’s opposing the current marijuana prohibition.

This organization presents the fact that if people are using this substance for enjoyment, those people should not be subjected to civil penalties or criminal injustices. A recent government study has shown that over 14 million American’s use marijuana on a regular basis, despite legalities (NORML, 1996, para. 1). The NORML organization has compiled a list of principles of responsible use, which could reduce the amount of ethical concerns and legalities associated with using marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.

One of which include the use of marijuana being restricted only to adults. This is important because, just like alcohol and tobacco, it is unethical, immoral, and irresponsible to provide such substances to children.

Another principle includes restrictions on driving while under the influence of marijuana. NORML stated, “Although cannabis is said by most experts to be safer than alcohol and many prescription drugs with motorists, responsible cannabis consumers never operate motor vehicles in an impaired condition” (NORML, 1996, para, 6). Therefore, the no driving principle is implied.

These are two of the most significant principles presented by NORML. The next principle is described as set and setting. The NORML organization states, “The responsible cannabis user will carefully consider his/her set and setting, regulating use accordingly” (NORML, 1996, para. 7).

Meaning, adults should be responsible enough, when using marijuana, to take into consideration several different aspects of one’s life. For instance, it is important for marijuana users to consider his or her “set,” meaning the individual’s attitude, personality, and experience.

The term “setting” refers to an individual’s physical and social condition or circumstances (NORML, 1996, para. 8). Therefore, individuals should consider and analyze a number of factors before choosing to smoke or just choosing to just say no. Two other principles presented by NORML include resisting abuse and respecting the rights of others. Therefore, individuals should steer clear of any sign of abuse and should not violate the rights of others when using marijuana.

Decriminalizing marijuana would aid America’s next generation in becoming more successful with the ability to prosper. By reducing the amount of young people being penalized and/or institutionalized for using or possessing marijuana, less lives will be destroyed as a result of the war on pot.

Former President Jimmy Carter once said, “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use” (NORML, 1996, para. 14).

Therefore, even our former President considered legalizing marijuana to benefit the greatest number of people, due to the high volume of individual’s lives being subjected to destruction as a result of using and/or possessing this substance. The former President also implied that the penalties governing drug use should not be more destructive than the actual drug itself. It has been proven and will continue to be proven throughout this paper, that there are ways to avoid possible ethical concerns raised in reference to legalizing marijuana.

For instance, a recent study showed, “ . . . in the 16 states where medical marijuana is legal, there has been a drop of nearly 9% in traffic deaths since the laws took effect and a 5% drop in beer sales” (Crowe, 2012, para. 1). This study does not prove that driving while under the influence of marijuana is any less dangerous than driving while intoxicated. However, the results of the study do imply the fact that since alcohol is sold in bars and restaurants, it is more typical for higher rates of those driving drunk to have life threatening accidents than those under the influence of marijuana.

Especially considering most marijuana users consume the substance in the privacy of their own homes. Whereas, individuals who choose to drink alcohol at a bar or restaurant, also choose to risk driving home while intoxicated. The author’s of this study also imply that individual’s driving while intoxicated are more likely to misjudge their perception and ability to drive, while those under the influence of marijuana typically tend to avoid taking risks on the road (Crowe, 2012, para. 11).

However, individual’s who choose to drive while impaired or intoxicated in any form are subject to being charged with driving under the influence, which imposes severe penalties and will result in loosing driving privileges. Some may argue that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drugs.

However, the NORML Organization argues that, “For those minority of marijuana smokers who do graduate to harder substances, it is marijuana prohibition — which forces users to associate with the illicit drug black market — rather than the use of marijuana itself, that often serves as a doorway to the world of hard drugs” (NORML, 1996, para. 20).

With that being said, it is not the use of marijuana that opens the doors for harder illicit drug use, it is being subjected to the underground market of marijuana that opens the doors for individuals to become familiar with other drugs. There are many ethical concerns when it comes to legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. So far, two states have legalized marijuana for multiple reasons including medicinal purposes and recreational purposes.

Washington and Colorado have implemented state laws governing the use of marijuana for recreational use. The Obama Administration and the Justice Department concluded in a recent announcement that federal agents will not intervene in Washington and Colorado’s new found marijuana laws and regulations as long as the states are, “preventing distribution to minors, stopping marijuana from being used as a cover for trafficking other drugs, and enforcing laws against driving under the influence of drugs” (Dinan, 2013, para, 20).

Therefore, as long as the states regulate the use and possession of marijuana, according to the previously stated guidelines, the federal government will not intervene with the state’s policies concerning the legalization of marijuana. The laws passed in Washington and Colorado are the first steps in the direction of decriminalizing marijuana.

Those who are caught with an ounce of marijuana or less will not be subject to pay fines nor will they be institutionalized because citizens may legally possess anything less than an ounce. In recent years, the war on drugs has ruined thousands of young lives of those who were caught possessing or using marijuana. Decriminalizing anything less than an ounce of marijuana, when it is being used for recreational purposes, will ensure the judicial systems within the United States are reserved for more serious and/or violent crimes.

The authors of Marijuana Legalization stated, “According to the FBI, there were 758,000 marijuana arrests nationwide in 2011, the vast majority for possession” (Sullum, 2013, para. 17). Therefore, most of the individuals who were arrested for marijuana in 2011 were actually arrested on possession charges, which most likely would not even be considered a crime in Washington or Colorado. Studies have shown that over fifty percent of American’s now believe marijuana should be legalized for recreational use because of the benefits outweighing the risks.

Paul Armentano, the director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws recently stated, “Today, a majority of Americans espouse ending America’s nearly century-long, failed experiment with cannabis prohibition and replacing it with a system of limited legalization and regulation” (PR Newswire, 2012, para. 5). By utilizing limited legalization and regulations on marijuana, less people would be put away for what would normally be considered a crime. In doing so, the future of many young people would be protected against being victims of the war against cannabis.

From an ethical utilitarian perspective, it would be more beneficial for the greatest number of people, to legalize marijuana. Those who chose to possess and use marijuana are overcrowding prison systems and judicial systems within the United States. Implementing and utilizing methods of distributing marijuana, legally would decrease the amount of people being institutionalized for such crimes and could result in billions of dollars of tax revenue, which could strengthen the economy.

The Seattle Times recently implied, “State financial experts estimate the new legalization could raise nearly $2 billion in tax revenue over the next five years, with the money going toward education, health care, substance abuse prevention and basic government services” (PR Newswire, 2012, para. 7). Herein lies, yet another ethical concept as to why marijuana should be legalized. An ethical egoist could argue that a person should have the right to use marijuana if that person sees using marijuana as being in his or her best interest.

If not, the ethical egoist could argue that if that person does not see smoking marijuana as being in their best interest, they should not do it. No matter the direction the individual chooses to approach this situation, the ethical egoist would support the person’s right to make the determination for his or her self. Our textbook indicates, “The egoist simply says that you should do what makes you happiest, or, again, maximizes your utility” (Mosser, 2010, sec. 1. 8, para. 22). With that being said, the utilitarian approach implies, the right thing to do is what benefits the largest number of people.

However, the ethical egoist could possibly interpret, restricting one’s use of marijuana as being in his or her best interest. Based on the material presented and the information obtained while conducting research on the topic of legalizing marijuana, the logical notion would be to legalize marijuana. Having the ability to regulate and control the use and possession of marijuana among U. S. citizens, will provide the government with the ability to control its distribution Therefore, making availability to minors just as regulated and controlled as alcohol and tobacco, which would be in compliance with the Justice Department’s regulations.

Almost half of our nation’s population previously voted to legalize marijuana. The government is beginning to realize, just like the use of alcohol and tobacco, the use of marijuana will continue legally or illegally. Legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use would be beneficial for a significant amount of people for many reasons. Why not just develop regulations, apply taxes to it, and maintain control over it rather than continuing the “war on pot” which has failed tremendously over the years.

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