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Medical marijuana is nothing to huff and puff about

Since President Richard Nixon declared an “all-out offensive” to curb the use of illegal drugs in the United States, the War on Drugs has mostly failed. Even though drug busts seem to be getting bigger each year, few today would agree that drug use is “America’s public enemy No. 1,” a statement Nixon made in 1971.

However, vilification of even the most harmless drugs, including marijuana, was quite effective and has lead to marijuana also being withheld from medical uses that would benefit patients. It also has made an objective debate about legalization almost impossible.

While many states have passed laws that make marijuana accessible to those carrying a prescription, the federal government continues to stonewall, stubbornly sticking to its story: Pot is bad. Period.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration had issued a statement saying “no sound scientific studies” supported the medical use of marijuana. It is hard to fathom how the FDA can make statements like this while patients in California as well as other countries such as Canada and the Netherlands give daily proof that it improves their standard of living. It is even harder to understand why the U.S. government would be so adamant about withholding drugs even from terminally ill patients. After all, even the most cold-hearted person should wonder why it is acceptable to literally nuke a cancer patient’s body, but prescribing a plant that would readily grow in most gardens and has been used for thousands of years is deemed illegal.

The reason behind this decision has to do with how drugs are classified in most countries. In the United States, the Controlled Substance Act classifies all drugs in one of five groups, ranging from Schedule I to Schedule V. “Abuse” of Schedule I drugs – meaning illegal use – is penalized worse than those in the other groups. Schedule I includes not only hard drugs such as heroin that are addictive often even after their first use, but puzzlingly also marijuana, a substance that has no proven properties that cause physical addiction.

Interestingly, Schedule I drugs are, by definition, drugs that do not have an “accepted medical use,” while Schedule II drugs have “a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. This explains why the FDA statement was made in the first place: It was an attempt to further undermine the increasing calls to reclassify marijuana. If it can’t be used medically, it can’t be reclassified as a Schedule II drug.

This occurred last year in Great Britain. Possession of marijuana is still technically illegal there, but since marijuana has been reclassified, mere possession does not bear any actual penalty as long as it is apparent the drug is for personal use and not meant for resale.

In the United States, calls for reclassification of marijuana are usually brushed aside because it would “undermine” efforts of keeping the drug off the street.

It’s hard to imagine any way pot could be more readily available, as even now almost anyone can procure it through the trusted “friend-of-a-friend” method. And since marijuana has been legalized in the Netherlands for years and drug use there has decreased rather than increased, that’s an argument that simply won’t fly.

What’s true, though, is the business with the drug is booming. This weekend, for example, the BBC reported lobster fishers in the Maldives stumbled upon 1.6 tons of marijuana in what is likely one of the largest, if not the largest, pot bust ever. (For the smokers among you: 1.6 metric tons is about 56,438 ounces or 1.6 million grams)

Smuggling marijuana into the Maldives is punishable by death, yet someone thought the endeavor lucrative enough to risk smuggling marijuana.

What is true for most markets is also true for the drug market: As long as someone is willing to buy, someone is going to find a way to supply. America’s drug policy encourages dealing with the drugs by pushing its prices up to heights they would not reach otherwise.

What decriminalization would almost instantly do, though, is get rid of an entire sector of organized crime that deals with the drugs. A few months after the attacks of Sept. 11, the U.S. government ran high-profile commercials during the Super Bowl that told viewers if they smoke pot, they “help the terrorists.”

This is only partially true. Yes, organizations often make money through drug trading to finance other ventures that could possibly also include acts of terrorism. But if pot was legalized, organized crime would no longer be the only supplier; prices – and with it profit margins – would diminish.

The problem is not the sale of the drug but the legal status that makes the trade so lucrative and pushes it entirely into the black market.

Maybe a group should buy a counter-spot commercial that says, “If you don’t legalize it, you’re helping the terrorists.”

Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and a former Oracle opinion editor.