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Marijuana Legalization: The NORML Perspective

January 11, 2011

NORML members protest in Lafayette Park during...
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–>The Spectrum Staff Writers

Published: Friday, January 7, 2011

Updated: Friday, January 7, 2011 17:01

Last year, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 16.7 million Americans aged 12 or older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed. Despite the frequent use of the drug, it remains a Schedule I illegal drug in America.

 The UB chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) works to dispel the propaganda and misinformation regarding marijuana and hemp. In addition, UB NORML also takes a stance on the legalization of the drug.

 “[Legalization] could be very different depending on what your definition of legalization is,” said Matthew Kopalek, a senior in the school of management and president of the UB chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “It could entail very strict regulation… most people [think legalization of marijuana] means no rules or structure.”

 However, legalization has numerous benefits and drawbacks, many of which center around financial issues. According to statistics, more than 870,000 U.S. citizens were arrested in 2007 on cannabis-related charges, amounting to more than $17 billion tax dollars per year toward the persecution of mostly non-violent marijuana users.

 The most common cited drawback is the public image of our country having legalized marijuana, according to Kopalek.

 “The benefits, though, are proper education of our youth on the dangers of marijuana, the societal impact, not arresting the non-violent users of the drug,” Kopalek said. “Those are the people who choose a safer alternative to alcohol.”

 Marijuana has proven to be less toxic and addictive than alcohol, as long-term marijuana use is far less damaging and lethal than long-term alcohol consumption. The consumption of alcohol leads to aggressive behavior and violence, whereas marijuana reduces the likelihood of both.

 Due to the designation of marijuana as illegal, the growing and selling of the plant is largely unregulated. This leads to the “lacing” of marijuana with other substances, which could include other drugs, toxins, or impurities. However, if marijuana were legalized, the federal government could potentially have more influence over the purity of the substance and thus, fully investigate its potential medicinal uses.

 “There’s so much good that could come out of the very simple act of legalizing. You get medical cases, you get studies [showing] it can help people who are going through chemotherapy who want to eat and survive,” said Elyse Brown, a senior history major and UB NORML member. “It’s a shame that we don’t allow it to be used for the good it can be used for.”

 However, influential pharmaceutical corporations may also oppose the legalization of marijuana. There are issues patenting a plant, as it isn’t a substance manufactured by the company. If the company were to attempt to create a marijuana substitute, the innumerable number of chemicals found in the plant lead to difficulties in creating a medicine that accurately replicates its effects.

 “Why would leading pharmaceutical companies want people to grow a plant in their backyard that could replace the drugs that they’re selling?” Kopalek asked.

 However, for many other club members, the issue is much larger than legislation or pharmaceutical patent issues. The problems stem from a widespread misunderstanding about marijuana and the media’s ploy to sway public opinion.

 “There is a major problem with the war on drugs and drugs in general,” said Colin Knoer, a sophomore political science major and UB NORML treasurer. “When the government talks about the war on drugs, many people don’t listen anymore because it’s just ‘Above the Influence’ commercials on TV telling you you’re going to smoke pot, sink into your couch and never talk to your [family or friends] ever again in your life.”

 During this upcoming semester, UB NORML plans to bring in a lawyer who has been focusing on marijuana laws in New York State for over 30 years to discuss what a transition period into legalization would look like for the U.S. and New York. On April 20, the club also plans on holding a cannabis cultural celebration at Baird Point with live music, food, and education materials.

 For more information, attend a weekly club meeting, held every Friday at 6 p.m. in 250 Student Union.


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