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Marijuana comparatively harmless; anti-drug laws historically racist

[Note: The following is an open letter to Charlene Cole and the rest of the Oberlin community.]

To the Editor:

I am writing concerning your creation of an "ad hoc task force" to reassess college drug policy. I agree with your statement that the college rules need to "come to terms" with the fact drugs, most importantly marijuana, are illegal. In coming to terms with this fact, I think it is important to know the scientific and historical realities which lie beneath it.

Firstly, it is important to realize that marijuana is a substance which can objectively be considered harmless. According to Lester Greenspoon, M.D., former associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, the hypothetical lethal dose of marijuana is 40,000 times the psychoactive dose. The lethal dose of alcohol, a legal drug, is 4 to 10 times the psychoactive dose. The figure for marijuana is hypothetical in that is has only been shown to be true in rats; there are no records of lethal marijuana overdose in humans anywhere. (Marihuana Reconsidered, p. 227) Aside from being non-toxic, marijuana is essentially harmless. There is no scientific evidence for any lasting physiological or psychological detriment resulting from even the heaviest marijuana use. As Andrew Weil, M.D., and Winifred Rosen state, marijuana's "medical safety ... is great. Aside from respiratory irritation, heavy marijuana use does not seem to cause… medical problems." (From Chocolate to Morphine, p. 118)

Secondly, it is important to be aware of the origins of American anti-marijuana laws. Anti-marijuana laws, along with anti-opiate laws, came into being not out of a desire to protect the health of citizens, but from a desire to harass certain minorities. (Ernest L. Abel, Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years, pp. 200-213) Alcohol was the drug of choice for Americans of European descent in the 1910's and 20's. Marijuana was the drug of choice for Mexican and Black communities. Claims were made to the effects that marijuana caused Mexicans to become violent and caused Black men to rape White women. Opium, the drug of choice among Chinese immigrants, was vilified in a similar fashion. (Abel, Marihuana, pp. 191-199) Of course, there was no real evidence to support these claims, but the White men who ran the country wanted laws with which they could harass and incarcerate various minorities, and they got what they wanted.

In short, American anti-marijuana law is wholly devoid of merit. I find your desire to crack down on marijuana use at Oberlin to be similarly without merit. Marijuana harms nobody on this campus, while your persecution of students who use marijuana in their dorm rooms causes them great stress and wastes time and money that could certainly be better spent. I hope the information I have provided will make you think twice about your efforts to crack down on marijuana use on this campus, and I encourage you to read further regarding the matter. I own and have borrowed a number of books on the subject, and I would be happy to lend them to you. I fear, however, that you will ignore this letter. I fear that you are out to bust students who use drugs and are looking to pass new rules which will enable you to do so. On top of all, I fear that you, Charlene Cole, like the racist assholes who passed anti-marijuana legislation in the first place, will get what you want. If this is your goal, I wish you no luck in achieving it.

-Benjamin Selman (College sophomore)

Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 16; March 1, 1996

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