Marijuana is the most commonly abused drug in the U.S. It is depicted as negative by the government and the mainstream media. It has also been labeled a gateway drug. Which means marijuana can lead users into using harder substances; such as cocaine or heroin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2004 an estimated 14.6 million Americans 12 years or older have tried the drug. This can be attributed to the fact that it is easily available in almost every state despite being illegal.

Henry Hanslinger the director for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was a leading advocate against marijuana. Hanslinger claimed marijuana caused temporary insanity and people to commit violent crimes. He had a notion that it was the worst thing ever. Hanslinger helped establish that 1937 marijuana tax act, which made the substance illegal. Currently research suggests that “Heavy use of cannabis produces inflammation in the lining of the repertory system, including pre cancerous conditions.” (Beltrame 2001)

However Dr. John Morgan a New York based Pharmacologist and author of the book Marijuana myths says otherwise. He states in his book Marijuana Myths: Marijuana Facts that “A succession of anti-drug U.S. governments have labored over the years to make the case against marijuana. Cannabis is not a major cancer risk for the simple reason that the drug does not lend itself to heavy continual use, as doe’s tobacco he says. Nor do pot smokers appear to develop emphysema, the serious repertory disease common among tobacco smokers” (Beltrame 2001) Marijuana is near the bottom of all addictive substances while heroin is the most addictive. A survey conducted of clinicians and researchers by the Psychology department at the University of Southern California discovered that caffeine and alcohol rank higher in addiction than marijuana. You don’t see people robbing for a cup of coffee. Thus you can make the assumption it is unlikely someone would commit crime to support a marijuana habit. What you do see is crime in relation to highly addictive substances. On November 6, 2007 the voters of Santa Cruz passed Measure K which would make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. Similar laws have been passed in West Hollywood, Oakland, Seattle, and Denver. Those who are in support of the measure may have several reasons why it is good for their city. Police spend countless hours apprehending marijuana offenders. In 2005 police in Santa Cruz arrested more than 270 non violent adult marijuana users. Most were cited and let go. In California 85% of those punished by the three strikes law were non violent offenders. Instead of wasting resources arresting and dealing with these non violent offenders, police could concentrate on more severe issues within the city. Such as the gang activity which is quickly becoming an issue. It is plain and clear that marijuana is easily available within the United States. Rather than being ignorant to the issue as many are. Moving forward in a positive manner setting reforms on the drug is something each city should take into account.

In contrary there are many reasons this measure may not be a perfect fit for the city. In the local newspaper several residents have expressed their disagreement. Mike Bethke a downtown resident and father of two stated, “It sends the wrong message to our kids and the rest of the country that Santa Cruz is a haven for those who smoke pot. “There is a possibility that this measure could taint the city’s image in a negative manner. Santa Cruz is an upscale oceanside community nestled on California Central Coast the last thing it would want is any kind of labeling as one of the residents previously expressed.

The Goal of measure K as mentioned before was to give police more time and resources to fight crime within their city. Funding for the measure which totaled $ 70,000 was mainly provided by Peter Lewis an insurance broker who believes in legalizing the drug. There were 3,400 signatures collected from registered city voters. Which eventually lead to the measuring passing by 60 %. Rising court costs coupled with staffing a larger police force are issues many cities face. Cities such as Madison Wisconsin serve as a model example of the decriminalization of Marijuana. Within Dane County those caught with less than 25 grams do not face criminal prosecution and only face a fine. The fine only amounts to $109 much less than that of Fitchburg a neighboring city where violators pay $1,300 and have to appear in court as well. District Attorney Brian Branchard can be largely credited to adopting the ordinance. He saw his county understaffed and having a problems associated with alcohol and heroin. Marijuana posed little threat when compared to the violent crimes such as sexual and physical assaults and homicides that occur.

Alaska is a state that does not have criminal penalties for those charged with personal use or cultivation of marijuana (Gettman 1987). They base their right on the state’s constitution that allows the right to privacy. There are also over a dozen other states that allow judges to use their own discretion when dealing with marijuana cases (Gettman 1987). These penalties range from a simple fine up to incarceration in some instances. As you can see Marijuana laws vary in state to state California has some of the most liberal practices.

Proposition 215 allows the usage and sale of medicinal medical marijuana. This practice is legal in California as well as eight other states. Eddy Lepp has a particular interest in the drug he was the first person arrested, tried and acquitted under proposition 215. He is also the National Director of the Medical Marijuana Association (King 2003). Lepp is a legendary grower in the Bay Area. He supplies numerous marijuana dispensaries all over the region. “Twice a month Eddy organizes for dozens of sick people to meet with a doctor who understands the benefits of medical marijuana. This has earned him a special place in the eyes of the locals and law enforcement” (King 2003). Eddy’s garden was soon raided by the feds and in the end no charges were filed. He is now in litigation to try and get his property and restitution from the DEA.

A group who has a particular interest in the drug is WAMM (Women’s/ Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana). Mike and Valerie Corral the founders created a safe haven for sick patients to come together and grow their medicine. Unfortunately in 2003 the garden was raided. 250 patients lost their medicine 85% of them were terminally ill. The public in Santa Cruz supported the Corral’s and the city council voted to deputize the couple to grow marijuana. U.S. Representative Sam Farr commented on the subject. He said, “The DEA should focus on more pressing woes, with all the difficult problems the world faces, I find it hard to believe the DEA should further punish sick people, most of whom are terminally ill, by arresting them and carting them off to jail. This is truly outrageous.” There is a deep historical relationship between marijuana and society.

The drug can be closely related to the ethnic minority. The Mexican farm laborers used the drug to relax after a hard day’s work in the fields. Charles A. Jones, The Chief of Police for Los Angeles, said that Hashish grows wild in Mexico.” In Louisiana, a predominately African American region, marijuana was used by early Jazz musicians. Though it is debatable topic, most of the early marijuana laws were created to oppress the ethnic minority. Evidence of that can be seen in the creation of the 1956 Narcotic Control Act, which put marijuana in the same categories as heroin. There was a minimum sentence of 2-6 years and in Missouri a second conviction could get your life. In our current society many people of color “Shy away from medical cannabis as a support for or treatment of medical conditions because of the social stigma attached and as a way of distancing themselves from stereotypical associations with cannabis.” (Sanchez)

My relationship and perception of the substance has changed since seeing many of the positive benefits first hand. There are numerous medical benefits from using cannabis. My brother suffers from crone’s disease, which is an inflammation of the intestines and affects one’s ability to consume food. He has undergone many tests at Stanford University Hospital seeking advice from numerous doctors. None of the remedies or tradition methods such as pills seemed to work. Since using medical marijuana there has been a significant positive change in his life and coping with this lifelong disease There is also a historical relationship attached with female users of the drug. Many are afraid to “Come out of the closet” and admit using the drug in fear of loss of child custody or being labeled. However a man has nothing to lose because it is more socially acceptable. “The use of Marijuana as medicine has been passed from mother to daughter in the more indigenous populations of Mexico, and the Americas.”(Beltrame). To combat these fears women are facing in today’s society. Marijuana dispensaries have implemented different policies and procedures. For instance, dispensaries are more professional and many have visible security creating a more comfortable atmosphere. Currently there are a handful of women at the front lines fighting for marijuana advocacy. “They are active in dispensaries across the state of California and throughout all aspects of the medical marijuana community”. We need more women such as these to break down social barriers.