Write a 5000-word essay or do 240 hours of community service? Although a formal poll hasn’t been taken, it’s not hard to guess the choice most convicted drug dealers would make. Yet, a 32-year-old UK man said he was “shocked” to hear the sentence handed down to him by the judge. He was reportedly unable to fulfill the work-related sentence due to a prior injury from snowboarding. Seems a rather light sentence, considering Terry Bennett had 2 pounds of marijuana in his possession, and also admitted that he had planned to distribute it. According to news reports, Judge Julian Lambert ordered Bennett to compose a 5000-word essay that discussed the dangers of drugs (including marijuana) and their impact on society. Bennett asked the judge if he could focus on the pros and cons of cannabis, but the judge declined his request based on the fact that the drug is illegal. He wanted the focus specifically on the negative aspects of cannabis. So, Bennett reportedly plans to take a slightly different approach. He told reporters that he would write “about the dangers that come about because it is illegal, rather than the nature of weed itself.” His statement suggests that he doesn’t regard the drug as truly dangerous, a view held by a significant percent of the population. Rather – and perhaps speaking from experience – he wants people to realize that having it in their possession with plans to sell it could lead to some unpleasant legal issues. Bennett is required to complete the essay by April 4. If he fails to do so, he will be sent to jail for a year.
Ongoing Controversy Over Marijuana
While some feel Bennett has gotten off too easily and should incur a more serious punishment, others argue that the whole thing is nonsense. Whether or not marijuana is truly a dangerous drug (and continues being illegal as a result) has been the subject of considerable debate over the years. Proponents of legalizing marijuana argue that, compared to drugs like heroine, methamphetamines, or cocaine, it’s relatively harmless. Opponents, however, fiercely stand by the long-held view that marijuana is not only a “gateway” drug that frequently leads to the use of more dangerous illicit substances, but also a dangerous and potentially addictive drug by itself.
Federal vs. State Law
In the U.S., marijuana is still categorized as a “Schedule I” drug, per the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs in this category pose a high risk for abuse and are regarded as having no real medical use. Under federal law, the cultivation, possession, use, and sale of marijuana is illegal. Several states, however, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized the medical use of marijuana. Several others have decriminalized the possession or medical use of the drug. Recently, two states – Colorado and Washington – legalized the non-medical use of marijuana. Not surprisingly, supporters of legalizing marijuana tend to fall in the younger, more liberal demographic of the U.S. population. Older, more conservative individuals make up a large portion of those who continue to fight against such measures.
Potential Dangers of Marijuana
Despite the controversy, it’s difficult to truly refute the dark side of marijuana. There are many potential dangers to those who use it recreationally (and even medically, if prescription guidelines are ignored). Short-term side effects range from dry mouth and bloodshot eyes to possible psychotic symptoms (hallucinations or delusions) and paranoia. Other negative effects include rapid heartbeat, anxiety, impaired coordination, mood changes, slowed reaction time, impaired judgment, difficulties solving problems and clouded thinking. These symptoms are caused by THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol), the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. Once the drug is ingested or inhaled, symptoms can begin to appear fairly quickly. Other dangers:
- Some research suggests that individuals predisposed to developing serious psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, may increase their risk with marijuana use during adolescence.
- Women who use marijuana while pregnant subject their unborn child to a whole host of potential problems, including low birth weight, developmental issues, behavioral problems and learning disorders. They are also more likely to miscarry or give birth prematurely.
- The second-hand smoke from marijuana is also dangerous due to its high levels of tar and other toxic substances.
Dangers of chronic use: In addition to becoming dependent upon or addicted to the substance, chronic users of marijuana may develop a variety of medical issues. These include:
- Greater risk of cancer
- Increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease
- Damaged lungs and airway
- Frequent chest colds
- Lung infections
- A decrease in testosterone levels and sperm counts in men
- Hormonal imbalances and irregular periods in women
- Low libido
A suitable punishment? Back to Bennett in the U.K…. Did his punishment fit his crime? A 5,000-word essay (along with a four-month curfew and random drug tests) seems rather lenient for possession of 2 pounds of the illegal drug, not to mention the intent to distribute it. The serious effects of marijuana – both short-term and long-term – are difficult to ignore. Yet, Bennett was reported as saying that he would no longer use drugs because he’s been convicted and because marijuana isn’t legal in his country.