Marijuana: Guilt by Association

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Photo courtesy of Reason

By Ronald Fraser – Using a cockeyed logic, the U.S. Congress, in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, set the stage for the modern drug war by giving marijuana and heroin the same “most dangerous” Schedule I classification.  In addition, the act declared both drugs lacking any known medical uses.

Today marijuana’s guilt by association seems downright silly.   After 40 years of rehabilitation and a new-found respectability in at least 25 states, marijuana’s public image has matured.  Heroin’s has not.  It is time to separate the two drugs, leaving heroin under federal control and passing marijuana regulation to the states.


Congress has steadfastly refused to revisit the status of marijuana while the states have served as public policy laboratories. One by one, the states, taking their policy making responsibilities seriously, have reexamined the status of marijuana again and again.  Federal lawmakers, on the other hand, are hung up in a 1970s time warp.

A Medical Use?  While heroin has been approved for limited medical uses in several countries, the prospect for its legalization in the US is dim.  How about marijuana?  Today, medical doctors in a growing number of states are now authorizing the use marijuana to relieve pain, fight depression and activate appetites in chronically ill persons suffering from cancer and other life threatening conditions.

Unlike policymakers in Washington – according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – in nineteen states public policies now accept that marijuana does, in fact,  have bone fide medical uses:  Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware,  Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington State.

A bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana is now before the New York State legislature. And the following professional groups have expressed support for passage of the bill: the American Public Health Association, the American Bar Association, the New York Nurses Association, the New York AIDS Coalition and the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York.

A Criminal Offense?  Once upon a time, both heroin and marijuana use could bring jail time in all 50 states.  No more.  First time possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use has been decriminalized and is now treated more or less like a traffic ticket in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island.  Heroin? No change.

Legalized?  While nineteen states have found a medical use for marijuana and fifteen treat its possession much like a traffic ticket, Colorado has given marijuana a total reprieve from its 1970 misclassification. Not only is marijuana decriminalized in Colorado and approved for medical use, last November Coloradans passed a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for recreational use as well. Further north, a ballot initiative legalizing recreational use of marijuana also passed in Washington State.

Easily Abused?  Admittedly, all drugs, including both marijuana and heroin, can be abused.  But so can over-the-counter cigarettes, legal for recreational use in all 50 states. In fact, a stronger case can be made that cigarettes, not marijuana, is a better fit for classification as a Schedule I substance, alongside heroin.  Cigarettes kill thousands of Americans each year and, unlike marijuana, cigarettes have no redeeming medical value.

Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.  Write him at:






  1. Do you know how much pork spending cigarette taxes provide? Neither do I, but you can be assured that there is no trust fund sitting around with all that money in it.

  2. Legalizing marijuana will only have the same result tobacco, alcohol and now prescription drugs are having on our society. Death, illness, higher taxes and insurance premiums. While not everyone becomes addicted with exposure a verge large percentage does. More young people will be exposed, more young people will become addicted. Cigarette companies are pushing legalization and have been since the 70's. They already target youth for tobacco sales. This is foolish!

  3. I don't use any kind of drugs, but I do believe that putting marijuana on the same level as heroin is absurd. This should be changed!

  4. Today, medical doctors in a growing number of states are now authorizing the use marijuana to relieve pain, fight depression and activate appetites in chronically ill persons suffering from cancer and other life threatening conditions.

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