Top 7 Reasons Why Marijuana Is Illegal

For almost a century, these seven lines of reasoning have been the most commonly employed justifications for the criminalization of marijuana across the United States. Learn more about the origins of these reasons, the facts behind them, and how marijuana legalization advocates have responded. 

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It's Perceived as Addictive

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Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug on the basis that it has "a high potential for abuse."

This classification comes from the perception that when people use marijuana, they get hooked and become "potheads," and it begins to dominate their lives. This unquestionably happens in some cases. But it also happens with alcohol, which is perfectly legal.

In order to fight this argument for prohibition, legalization advocates have made the argument that marijuana is not as addictive as government sources claim.

So how addictive is marijuana after all? The truth is we really just don't know yet, but it looks like the risk is relatively low, especially when compared with other drugs.

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It Has No "Acceptable Medicinal Use"

Marijuana seems to yield considerable medical benefits for many Americans with ailments ranging from glaucoma to cancer, but these benefits have not been accepted on a national level. Medical use of marijuana remains a serious national controversy.

In order to fight the argument that marijuana has no medical use, legalization advocates are working to highlight the effects it has had on the lives of people who have used the drug for medical reasons.

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It Has Historically Been Linked With Narcotics, Such as Heroin

Early anti-drug laws were written to regulate narcotics — opium and its derivatives, such as heroin and morphine. Marijuana, though not a narcotic, was described as such — along with cocaine.

The association stuck, and there is now a vast gulf in the American consciousness between "normal" recreational drugs, such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, and "abnormal" recreational drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Marijuana is generally associated with the latter category, which is why it can be convincingly portrayed as a "gateway drug."

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It Was Once Associated With Oppressed Ethnic Groups

The intense anti-marijuana movement of the 1930s dovetailed nicely with the intense anti-Chicano movement of the 1930s. Marijuana was associated with Mexican-Americans, and a ban on marijuana was seen as a way of discouraging Mexican-American subcultures from developing.

Today, thanks in large part to the very public popularity of marijuana among whites during the 1960s and 1970s, marijuana is no longer seen as what one might call an ethnic drug — but the groundwork for the anti-marijuana movement was laid down at a time when marijuana was seen as an encroachment on the U.S. majority-white culture.

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Inertia Is a Powerful Force in Public Policy

If something has been banned for only a short period of time, then the ban is seen as unstable. If something has been banned for a long time, however, then the ban — no matter how ill-conceived it might be —  tends to go unenforced long before it is actually taken off the books.

People tend to be comfortable with the status quo — and the status quo, for nearly a century, has been a literal or de facto federal ban on marijuana.

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Advocates for Legalization Rarely Make a Convincing Case

To hear some advocates of marijuana legalization say it, the drug cures diseases while it promotes creativity, open-mindedness, moral progression, and a closer relationship with God and the cosmos. That sounds thoroughly unconvincing to people who don't use the drug themselves — especially when the public image of a marijuana user is, again, that of a loser who risks arrest and imprisonment so that he or she can artificially invoke an endorphin release.