“Legalize it / Don't criticize it” sang Peter Tosh decades ago, and many still sing marijuana's praises. It's no worse than tobacco or alcohol. It's a godsend for people suffering intensive pain—it may help restore appetite and improve general well-being. Legalize it. Don't critize it.

Only now, you hear the refrain in courtrooms and state houses, not just reggae bars and subculture outposts.

In Canada, a judge determined that the law prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana is unconstitutional because it doesn't allow for medical use of the drug, The Globe and Mail reported Dec. 12. In the province of Alberta, Justice Darlene Acton threw out a charge of cultivating marijuana against Grant Krieger, who grows and consumes the drug to alleviate the symptoms of his multiple sclerosis.

In England, marijuana use has reached significant levels. A recent study indicates that up to two-fifths of children will have tried some form of drug before their 16th birthday, the BBC reported Nov. 23. Cannabis is by far the most popular drug among young teen-agers, with 11% saying they had used it in the past year. The survey of more than 9,000 secondary school pupils carried out late in 1999 points to a small increase in drug use over the previous year.

Marijuana use has been widely debated in English political circles, after the Conservative Party shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe, announced a couple of months ago that she favored the idea of giving police the powers to issue fixed penalty fines to cannabis users. Her proposal caused a fierce debate and embarrassed the Conservatives, as no less than eight members of the shadow Cabinet subsequently confessed to having experimented with the drug in their youth.

The British government, however, shows no sign of relaxing current restrictions. Home Secretary Jack Straw said there was little chance that the government was ready to relax the law on possession of soft drugs, The Telegraph reported Oct. 11. Straw did promise, however, that medical use of cannabis compounds to alleviate the suffering of those with conditions such as multiple sclerosis would be legalized if tests now under way show it to be effective.


In the United States, Hawaii became the eighth state to decriminalize the use of medical marijuana, The New York Times reported June 15. Patients with certain qualifying illnesses must obtain a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana and must register with the state Department of Public Safety to avoid criminal prosecution. Initial reports suggested that 500 to 1,000 people will be eligible to use medical marijuana.

The marijuana question came up again during the November elections. And not by chance: The Washington Post reported Oct. 29 that a number of pro-drug ballot initiatives were the result of a well-financed campaign led by a trio of wealthy businessmen.

The trio have spent millions more to support medicinal-marijuana initiatives around the nation. In past elections, they had won approval for such initiatives in seven states.

The first of the trio is John Sperling, who founded the for-profit adult education institute known as the University of Phoenix. Another member is George Soros of New York, the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, financier and currency speculator who is worth an estimated $5 billion. The third is Peter Lewis of Cleveland, head of the fifth-largest auto insurer in the nation, Progressive Corp.

Their latest success came in California, where voters approved Proposition 36. The measure virtually bars authorities from sending nonviolent drug users to jail; instead, it requires treatment for drug possessors. The Washington Post reported Nov. 9 that the trio put more than $6 million into the campaign, overwhelming the efforts of their opponents.

Against smoking? Marijuana is worse than cigarettes. Weekend-only user? Studies say the drug's effects last all week.

Meanwhile, voters in Nevada and Colorado approved the use of “medical marijuana.” And in Oregon and Utah, voters OK'd measures making it harder for police to acquire and use the proceeds of drug-related forfeitures.

Other pro-drug proposals failed. Massachusetts rejected a drug-reform effort in November, while Alaska turned down, by a wide margin, an attempt to completely legalize marijuana. Notably, the latter plan was not part of the package of legislation supported by the Sperling-Soros-Lewis trio.

The bankrolling of drug liberalization measures by these wealthy businessmen raised a few eyebrows. The Associated Press on Nov. 9 quoted Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, as saying, “I think the initiative process is becoming dangerous. ... The very wealthy who have the money to do it are buying public policy all over the country.”

Medical Concerns

A number of medical studies give grounds for worry over the consumption of marijuana. In a new federal study, monkeys repeatedly gave themselves doses of the main active ingredient of marijuana, according to the Oct. 16 New York Times. The researchers say the result emphasizes the idea that people can become addicted to marijuana.

Marijuana smokers may also have a higher risk of contracting lung cancer than tobacco smokers, the BBC reported June 20. A study in the United States found that one of the key ingredients of marijuana may promote the growth of cancerous tumors.

The researchers, from the Jonsson Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggest that THC, the major psychoactive component of marijuana, may reduce the body's ability to fight tumors. Previous research has found that THC can lower an individual's resistance to both bacterial and viral infections.

These effects of THC, combined with the tendency of marijuana smokers to inhale large amounts of tar and other cancer-causing agents, put users at increased risk of lung cancer, the researchers suggest. Moreover, studies have shown that marijuana smoke deposits four times as much tar in lungs as tobacco. The tar also contains higher doses of carcinogenic hydrocarbons.

Another warning concerning marijuana use came from a Sydney, Australia, doctor, John Anderson. The Age newspaper reported June 14 that thousands of casual marijuana smokers who have a joint on the weekend were unaware that they were affected throughout the rest of the week. Anderson said the chemicals in one marijuana cigarette lasted for weeks, leaving the smoker with greater anxiety, depression, slower reaction time and a “cognitive deficit” that reduced the person's ability to distinguish “relevant from irrelevant material.”

And then there is a New Zealand study, which showed that people who take cannabis regularly are much more likely than nonusers to move on to harder drugs. According to a Nov. 8 report in The Times of London, Keith Hellawell, the United Kingdom's anti-drugs coordinator, said the survey had convinced him that cannabis was a “gateway drug” which lead users on to more-harmful substances.

The study tracked 1,200 children from birth to age 21. It found that young people who smoked a marijuana cigarette more than 50 times a year were 60 times more likely to move on to harder drugs. All of which should give voters pause the next time a pro-drug initiative appears on a ballot.

This news analysis was provided by Zenit.