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Marijuana: It’s not as bad as you think it is, and it’s time to revisit legalization

March 24 was a day for celebration in California, and not just for the pot smokers who live there.
A California voter initiative was passed, giving people the opportunity to vote for the legalization of marijuana. The issue will appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
Although no one can be certain if legalizing the drug will benefit the state, there is hope that by removing the prohibition, California can finally pull itself out of its growing debt.
By legalizing marijuana, the state would see more than $1 billion more in tax revenue, not to mention the $1 billion the government would save on law enforcement and arrests.
The 56 percent approval rating in California for the drug’s legalization could make for a close vote this winter.
California residents, as well as the rest of the U.S. will see advertisements both promoting and discouraging voting for the bill. Soon, information about the drug will be shot at the public from every direction, so I decided to do my own research and dig up facts on the biggest beliefs about marijuana.
BELIEF: Marijuana kills brain cells. 
In 1974, a study was done showing monkeys who were given 30 joints a day had more dead brain matter than those not given marijuana. The government reported the findings based on this study alone. 
After six years, they released their method – the researchers pumped 63 Columbian-strength joints into a monkey’s gas mask for five minutes at a time during a period of three months. 
Doctors reported after four minutes without a certain amount of oxygen, brain cells began to die, which later verified the monkey’s brain cells died from suffocation, not from the joints. No study since has found proof of any evidence that marijuana is damaging to the brain. 
A study done on college students reported marijuana use had no correlation with grades. The dropout rates in school do have a correlation with marijuana, but further research found students who dropped out of school were more likely to use marijuana, not the other way around. Memory and cognition are affected by marijuana use – they are slowed when high, yet the effects do not continue when the user has sobered.
BELIEF: Marijuana causes cancer.
This was promoted until 2006, when a study came out from the University of California in Los Angeles which found marijuana does not cause cancer but actually has a chemical contained in it (THC) that may help prevent cancerous cells. 
BELIEF: The use of marijuana causes deaths every year.
The number one substance for directly related deaths is tobacco, averaging at 430,000 instances per year. Alcohol is next with 140,000 deaths annually. 
After researching marijuana deaths, a doctor at the Harvard Medical School reported there are no deaths directly related to the drug’s use through overdosing, abusing or even health-related side effects. Car accidents from being high are almost non-existent as well, unlike drunk driving. 
BELIEF: Marijuana is an addictive drug.
It has been found that heavy, longtime use of marijuana can produce mild withdrawal effects similar to caffeine withdrawal after quitting, but for the majority of marijuana users – no side effects from quitting ever surface. 
Although there is a staggering amount of people in treatment for marijuana use today, only 3 percent are there voluntarily. The other 97 percent are in treatment because it was court-ordered. 
The drug has had abuse reports, of course, but its reports fall into a long list of other items abused in the U.S., such as cigarettes, prescription pills, video games, the Internet and high fat diets.  
BELIEF: Marijuana causes crime.
When speaking in terms of the black market, this is true. Statistics on crime directly related to the marijuana underground trade are hard to get in exact numbers, but one grower reported in an issue of Rolling Stone that the drug trade between Mexico and America can be a very dangerous one.
However, when speaking in terms of effects from being high, studies have reported that when under the influence, both animals and humans showed a decrease in aggression. Almost all marijuana-related arrests have been for possession or selling only. 
After reviewing this information from drugpolicy.org, the documentary “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High” and the article “Marijuanamerica” from Rolling Stone magazine, I can’t help but wonder: Why is this drug, California’s number one cash crop, still illegal?
Wouldn’t it be better to make it legal, throw a tax on it and help get the U.S. out of debt?
Wouldn’t having control and regulation of the product help keep it out of children’s hands, instead of having them buy from their local drug dealer who doesn’t care if they are underage? Could the legalization possibly shift the law enforcement’s arrests from marijuana to harder drugs?
The prohibition of alcohol was quickly repealed after crime rates from underground alcohol trade skyrocketed. The marijuana industry could follow in its footsteps.
Megan Loos is a senior psychology major from Schaumberg. She is the Scout photo editor.
Direct questions, comments and other responses to mloos@mail.bradley.edu.