The Highs and Lows of Legalized Marijuana

Question: Should marijuana be legalized?

Carl Hart:    So my opinion on legalization of marijuana is complicated because when we think about a society in general, if we think about these things honestly, every society has their intoxicant.  We have alcohol.  That’s our primary. We also have tobacco. And we have caffeine, which is not as intoxicative. 

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Now, the question becomes, should we make another intoxicant legal? 

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We know all the problems that we have with alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.  We know the problems that we may have.  So that means if you have marijuana be more widely available, you can also expect that maybe have some more problems.  Some of those similar types of problems, on the one hand. 

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On the other hand, in New York City for example, we’re arresting hundreds of thousands of people every year for marijuana and, as a result, they have a record or they have some sort of blemish and that might retard their ability to make a contribution.  So we are also having some consequences from our current legal status of the drug. 

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So the society has to balance what is more important to the society, but they should do so with their eyes open.  You will have problems either way. The point becomes, which problems are we willing to tolerate as a society on the one hand.  Now, that’s the legalization issue that you’re talking about.  That’s more available. 

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When we think about medical marijuana, the Institute on Medicine did a report, tried to study this issue comprehensively, and suggested that we should probably continue to investigate the therapeutic potential of marijuana; and I clearly support that position.  That we certainly need to if people are suffering and we have potential medications that will help relieve their suffering; absolutely we should go full forth with that, and we should do it in a responsible way, in a similar way, in which we look at in which we use drugs like morphine which is essentially heroin.  We do that responsibly and we certainly do it in a restricted and a controlled manner; and we should probably do the same with marijuana.

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Recorded on: Feb 26, 2009

Professor Carl Hart says wide-scale marijuana legalization is a thorny issue, but he thinks we need to continue investigating the drug's therapeutic potential.

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