Legalize jane, save Illinois

By Eric Naing

Back in 2003, then-Attorney General John Aschroft’s Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter managed to capture one of the world’s most dangerous men. Symbolically sentenced to nine months in federal prison on Sept. 11, radical terrorist Tommy Chong’s diabolical plan to sell drug paraphernalia was thwarted, thus ending our government’s war on drugs forever.

Or maybe not.

Fighting an undefined and futile drug war is draining this state and this nation of billions of dollars and badly needed law enforcement officers. Fortunately, three Chicago members of the Illinois State Senate sponsored a bill this year that seeks to take a small step in the right direction. SB2568, currently floating around in the Illinois State Senate, would allow authorized people with debilitating medical conditions to possess a controlled amount of cannabis.

Smoking marijuana has been proven to alleviate the pain of chemotherapy, combat AIDS wasting and reduce the pressure on the eyeball caused by glaucoma. Furthermore, unlike regular cigarettes, smoking marijuana does not increase your chances of getting lung cancer. In the largest study of its kind ever conducted, pulmonologist Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles found that not only does marijuana not cause lung cancer, but the THC in it might even kill ageing cells which could eventually become cancerous. British medical journal The Lancet also has concluded that “it would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat … than alcohol or tobacco.”

But marijuana is a gateway drug, you say. It will lead you down a Jodie Sweeten-esque rabbit hole toward harder drugs like meth or crack. Well, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health, you’d be dead wrong. The 2004 study compared marijuana use in San Francisco where it is prohibited, to the usage in Amsterdam where marijuana is legalized. The results showed that marijuana usage rates were similar in both cities but the lifetime prevalence for illicit drugs other than marijuana was significantly higher in San Francisco.

The Dutch government’s policy of legalized marijuana creates a separation of markets that “reduces the likelihood that people seeking cannabis will be drawn into deviant subcultures where ‘hard drugs’ are sold.” By forcing people to seek marijuana in an underground black market, they become more likely to come into contact with harder drugs. Thus, if marijuana were legal and sold in a controlled environment, marijuana users would be far less likely ever to come into contact with harder drugs.

SB2568 is a much needed baby-step in this state, but full legalization of marijuana should be the ultimate goal of Illinois politicians. Illinois spends $250 million each year to imprison drug offenders. Nationwide, taxpayers pay between $7.5 billion and $10 billion every year for marijuana-related arrests and prosecutions. Legalizing marijuana would save Illinois millions. It also would free up much needed resources to allow law enforcement officials to deal with more serious issues.

A scientific 2002 poll conducted by McCulloch Research & Polling showed that 67 percent of Illinois voters would support legislation allowing controlled prescriptions of marijuana. That number jumps to 77 percent when dealing with terminally ill patients. So it’s not only wild-eyed hippies who support marijuana legalization. Nine other states currently have legislation legalizing marijuana. Illinois would only benefit if it became the tenth.

Our nation’s drug policy wastes billions of dollars and untold man hours. It also institutionalizes racism (an African American man is 57 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug charges than a white man in Illinois). Put all your preconceived notions about drug culture aside and imagine a substance that is far less addictive and dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, has proven medical benefits to critically ill people, won’t specifically lead to the use of other drugs and may even prevent lung cancer. Think of all the death caused by tobacco and alcohol. If they are legal, then there is no legitimate reason why marijuana should not be as well.