A Brief History
On April 20, 2022, marijuana users celebrate a day that is commonly acknowledged as “Marijuana Day,” an unofficial holiday in which marijuana aficionados rally around their herb of choice and advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana use and the associated decriminalization of the growing, possession, and use of the leaves of Cannabis sativa and its closely related kin, Cannabis indica, the scientific name of the plant we usually refer to as marijuana, weed, pot, or other euphemistic names. So, what could be the problem?
To date, according to US News, 18 states as well as Washington, D.C. and Guam, have made marijuana legal for recreational use, while many other venues in the United States have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Federal US laws have not been changed and still list marijuana among those illegal drugs subject to criminal prosecution.
Advocates of legal use of marijuana claim the mood-altering effect of the active ingredient, THC, is beneficial to users in general, and to medical patients in particular, allegedly in relieving pain, anxiety, glaucoma, nausea and other ills. These advocates of marijuana also claim any negative effects are minimal, insignificant, or even non-existent. Detractors claim marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads users to the use of more dangerous drugs, and further that “stoners” (heavy, regular users of marijuana) are made less productive members of society due to their use of this particular drug.
A current debate is underway in the state of New Jersey over whether or not police officers should be allowed to indulge in marijuana usage while those officers are off-duty. Advocate of free use of marijuana obviously say “Yes,” that cops are people like any other person and deserve the right to use pot as they which, at least while not on the job. Opponents of marijuana use, and even many proponents, say that police officers should NOT be allowed to smoke or otherwise use marijuana even while off-duty, because there is no currently available test to indicate when a person has used marijuana. The implications of the lack of a reliable test for marijuana influence means it would be impossible to test if a police officer was under the influence of THC when he or she used deadly force, was involved in life and death situations (such as vehicle pursuits) or other such critical actions and decisions. If an officer tests positive for marijuana in the wake of a critical event (such as a fatal car wreck or shooting), was that officer currently under the influence of pot or was he/she merely testing positive for use of the drug while that officer was off-duty and legally permitted to indulge? Many persons in and out of the police profession say the above scenario necessitates a ban on use of marijuana by police officers whether on or off-duty, period.
Okay, so follow the logic! If it is dangerous to society for police officers to be under the influence of marijuana, and even advocates of legal marijuana believe cops and pot do not mix, then what about other people? Should judges, jury members, doctors, nurses, surgeons, pharmacists, pilots, drivers of commercial vehicles, heavy equipment operators and others be allowed to use marijuana while “off-duty?” If so, in the event of a catastrophic event where the actions or decisions of those people may have caused death or serious problems for someone, we would be unable to determine if the THC in that person’s body was from previous, legal use while not on the job, or if the person involved in the problematic situation was “high” on marijuana during the negative event. How about politicians? Should society allow people in positions of high responsibility to make important decisions while under the influence of pot? Given the inability of our current testing systems to tell when a person is under the influence, should such officials be completely banned from marijuana use to preclude clouded judgment while working on behalf of the public? How about teachers and child-care workers? Air traffic controllers?
For that matter, even normal, everyday citizens that happen to drive their own personal motor vehicles are likewise subject to the same potential pitfall of the legal use of marijuana as specific other occupations. Since cops and legal authorities cannot confidently determine if the driver of a car involved in a serious accident was under the influence of THC at the time of the accident, or if the use of marijuana that resulted in a positive test for THC was from previous use and not a factor in the accident, does this mean we are all left defenseless in the face of potential masses of drivers that are stoned on pot? Or is it just ok for all drivers to use marijuana without restriction?
And of course, the next major issue involved in determining whether or not marijuana use should be unrestricted is that of the age of the user. Should minors be allowed unlimited access and use of marijuana? If not, then why not? If marijuana is not in fact harmful, why would we keep it from kids? For that matter, what sort of logic would go into an arbitrary designation of a “legal age” for marijuana possession and use? Would it be somehow worse for a 17-year-old to use pot than an 18-year-old? And if so, why?
Finally, another factor in the “pro” vs. “anti” marijuana debate is the context of the larger debate over whether or not American citizens (specifically in the context of this article, but generally speaking, citizens throughout the world as a human right) should be allowed to use whatever drugs they want, whenever and however they want as a freedom of choice issue while in the pursuit of happiness. After all, people do not “need” ice cream or cigarettes, and yet we allow those things despite knowing both are (in immoderate use, anyway) harmful to health. We allow many hazardous items to be ingested and hazardous activities to take place in order for people to pursue whatever makes them happy, so why not drugs? On the other hand, do we have the right to limit what other people do in order to protect society from the direct ramifications of that activity or the costs associated with such activities? (An example would be requiring the use of seat belts in cars, or motorcycle helmets, both of which supposedly protect the rest of us from the related extra health care cost of those persons injured in car/motorcycle wrecks.)
The questions and topics posed above are not simple and require careful consideration for any person to come to an intelligent, logical conclusion. We do not desire to impose our opinions upon you, our valued readers, but invite you to consider the issues and make your own decisions about your opinions on the subjects.
Question for students (and subscribers): If cops, firefighters, and other various workers can be forced to undergo drug testing, should all judges, politicians, office holders and others in positions of authority such as company officers also be required to undergo drug testing? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Backes, Michael. Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana. Black Dog & Leventhalm 2017.
Brown, Brian. Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America. First Second, 2019.