By Jean Reynolds

Your police training is likely to include information about the status of local, state, and federal laws relating to marijuana (cannabis), a psychoactive drug and popular recreational substance. Some spiritual groups use marijuana in their religious rites, and some medical experts say that marijuana can be useful for medical treatments. The effects of marijuana include relaxation, heightened mood, and an increase in appetite. Because the legal status of marijuana is changing, police officers can benefit from some basic knowledge about controversies surrounding the use of marijuana.

In 1972, the US government passed the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law that regulates various drugs. Marijuana was placed in the Schedule 1 category, which lists drugs that may not be prescribed by a physician because they have a high potential for abuse and do not have any medical benefit. (Other Schedule 1 substances include various opium derivatives and hallucinogenic drugs, along with certain depressants and stimulants.) Scientists were forbidden to study marijuana, and use of this substance carried heavy penalties.

In recent years efforts have been made to place marijuana into a different category so that it can be studied by scientists and prescribed by physicians. At the same time, support for legalization has been growing. Eventually twenty-three states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana for medical use. Four states also permit recreational use of marijuana.

Proponents for legalization point to numerous stories of patients who have benefited from treatment with substances derived from marijuana. For example, Charlotte’s Web is a non-hallucinogenic derivative that has been used to treat epilepsy in toddlers and children. Proponents also claim that prosecuting marijuana users is a waste of law enforcement resources. According to some experts, marijuana is not addictive and is less dangerous than alcoholic beverages.

Opponents of legalization point to research showing that marijuana poses great dangers to young people whose brains and neurological systems are still developing. Young children who accidentally consume marijuana could be seriously harmed. Opponents also worry about an increase in automobile accidents. Experts also disagree about possible medical benefits of marijuana.

The future of marijuana in the United States remains to be seen. So far the federal government has not interfered in states where marijuana has been legalized. Law enforcement experts continue to monitor this topic closely.