By Daniel Savickas
Today, American politics is a disdainful struggle between increasingly polarized partisanship. Since many of us American University students are aspiring public servants, we’ll wield future influence over the solutions to our great nation’s problems. We must look not only to represent our best interests, but to reach across the aisle, build consensus, and ensure that substantive progress results from our political endeavors. To exemplify consensus building, the respective blogs representing AU College Democrats and AU College Republicans are collaborating to tackle controversial issues. This piece represents the Republican opinion on the pressing issue of legalized marijuana; its sister-piece represents the Democrat opinion. Although both pieces display contrasting opinions, the articles collectively forge an impactful and reasonable agreement. The AU College Republicans urge our viewers to also read the supplementary Democrat article.
Among the many controversies that surrounded the presidency of Richard Milhous Nixon, one was the declaration that drug addiction was “public enemy number one.” President Nixon followed this declaration with a call for dedication of federal resources to the prevention of drug addiction and the rehabilitation of addicts. This began what has now evolved into what we call “The War on Drugs.”
The Republican Party has long advocated that marijuana (also affectionately referred to as “pot”), should it become widely legalized, would be a detriment to our society. It is widely viewed, within the GOP, that marijuana legalization would integrate pot within the American culture, and that the crime, degeneracy and medical repercussions that are associated with the drug would, no doubt, accompany it. This is largely why the party maintains that marijuana is an integral part of Nixon’s “War on Drugs.”
The medical effects of marijuana have been widely understated by pro legalization advocates and by the media in general. Many will point to the fact that the effects of marijuana usage are minuscule in the face of the effects of legal substances like alcohol and tobacco. Additionally, the media will largely portray pot users as easy-going groovy people. However, marijuana does have a dark, not-so-groovy side. Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction specialist has said that between alcohol, cocaine and marijuana, it is the marijuana that is by far the most addictive substance of the three. Pinsky also points out that of the 7.3 million people aged 12 or older that had a classified drug dependence, 4.2 million of these were addicted to marijuana. The fear, justifiably so, is that the more readily available marijuana becomes, the larger that addiction problem will become.
With regards to the comparison to alcohol and tobacco, marijuana presents many drawbacks without any of the benefits that the first two substances offer. Tobacco has been a part of the US economy since our founding and provides a wide range of economic benefits for the nation. Alcohol has been prohibited in the past and the Prohibition era did little to nothing to curb alcohol use and abuse and deprived the American government of the benefits that go along with the alcohol industries. Both substances, granted, are awful for the human body for many reasons. However, marijuana, studies show, affects the brain and mind more than tobacco. In fact, a Northwestern University study finds that repeated marijuana usage can lead to schizophrenia and permanent damage to IQ. Not to mention, the effects marijuana could have should a user get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
Many pro-legalization advocates will point to the potential decrease in crime that would accompany the legalization of marijuana. However, in the Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam, where marijuana is legalized, this has not been the case. Amsterdam recently had to ban marijuana usage on school grounds, as it became a widespread problem where kids were showing up to school unable to function. Marijuana is illegal, yet widely available in the Netherlands, but in Amsterdam, where it is legal, problems continue to arise. Many coffeeshops in Amsterdam have had to become private, member-only shops as the use of the shops as distribution sites have led to increased crime in those areas. Marijuana is not, in fact, decreasing crime, or improving the culture in any way, shape, or form, and the Amsterdam example highlights how marijuana can undercut businesses and harm society in ways that alcohol and tobacco cannot.
However, as with many things in the Republican Party these days, there is a growing rift on stances regarding marijuana legalization. There is an augmenting faction, spearheaded most prominently by Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-KY), who advocates that the question of marijuana legalization should be left to the states to decide. In fact, Senator Paul, along with Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bipartisan bill that would declassify marijuana to a schedule 2 drug, instead of schedule 3, and remove federal medical marijuana bans.
This has led to a larger discussion on the Constitution. Those who fall into Rand Paul’s line of thinking will point to the 10 Amendment which states that any power not given to the federal government in the Constitution is given to the state governments, and given that marijuana is not addressed in the Constitution, it is unconstitutional for the federal government to ban marijuana.
The other side of the argument will point to the Constitution’s granting of the right to regulate interstate commerce to the federal government as an indication that the federal government does, in fact, have jurisdiction over marijuana, as it is likely marijuana will be bought and sold across state lines, ultimately affecting the economy. Also, given that marijuana is banned federally, it is argued that federal law takes precedence over state laws regardless. These points were addressed in the Supreme Court case, Raich v. Gonzales, where the court ruled with the federal government’s right to regulate marijuana.
However, given the current tensions that surround marijuana and the overarching concern about the overreach of the federal government, there is a legitimate case for a compromise on the issue. To appease those who call for legalization or decriminalization, it would largely make sense to decriminalize marijuana federally (not legalize). From there, a solution where the federal government cedes jurisdiction and enforcement of marijuana laws to the states makes sense. In this scenario, the federal government, to ease the fears of those who say marijuana could destroy the culture, would impose a mandatory minimum ne or community service requirement that is steep enough to act as a sufficient deterrent. The federal government would then leave all additional sanctions to the separate states. Lastly, the federal government would allow for marijuana use medicinally, given that a state allows medical marijuana, and that at least two different medical doctors confirm patients who could benefit from the drug medicinally. Overall, progress regarding some aspects of marijuana may be in the best interests of both parties.