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People and Planet: An argument for the ethicality of weed

Across the U.S., 48.2 million people use marijuana, a federally illegal drug. This number will likely increase as headway is made in medical access to weed and legalization efforts progress. Already, people use weed for various clinical and personal reasons. In fact, marijuana is one of the few social issues seeing growing bipartisan support.

Still, a heavy taboo follows the plant. Although marijuana is only fully illegal in six states, the laws in the other states regarding its legality vary widely and can be unclear. While states like Oregon, Michigan and Washington, D.C. have fully decriminalized, legalized and allowed medicinal usage, Ohio has only decriminalized recreational marijuana. This means someone caught with under 200 grams will not be arrested or serve time but could be cited and fined. Only medicinal marijuana is fully legal in Ohio.

When it comes to the ethical debates surrounding marijuana legalization, one of the most important things to consider is how it compares to alcohol in terms of the likelihood of developing a dependency and the physical and behavioral side effects that accompany each substance.

In the U.S., an estimated 14.5 million people ages 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder, or AUD, whereas only four million fit the criteria for having a marijuana use disorder. Of course, there is something to say about alcohol being legal and thus more accessible, but weed being the most widely used federally illicit drug in the country means it cannot be that difficult to come by.

So weed seems to be far less addictive than alcohol. But what about the potential harm? It is a myth that there are absolutely no side effects when using marijuana. Though there have been no overdose deaths from marijuana usage, it can cause anxiety and paranoia. 

Along with this, some unregulated marijuana vapes have been found to be laced with fentanyl. But the plant itself? Not many issues.

Meanwhile, over 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in the U.S. each year, an average of 261 deaths per day. Alcoholic liver disease alone took 24,110 lives in 2019. 

The behavioral changes people experience when they drink can help explain these statistics, as alcohol is highly associated with risk-taking behavior. When someone is drunk, they are more reactive and less likely to consider the long-term consequences of their actions and are more likely to be concerned with immediate sensation-seeking, leading to risky driving and unsafe sex. 

Time and again, drinking alcohol has been shown to increase the likelihood of becoming violent, and the more someone drinks, the more severe the violence can become. An estimated 88,000 die every year from crimes such as homicide, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and suicide. Between 28% and 43% of violent injuries and 47% of homicides are believed to involve alcohol.

The legalization of a plant used for recreational and medical purposes remains a widely debated and highly contentious issue, while alcohol consumption is highly normalized regardless of its ties to violence and various health concerns. Legalization will give countless people access to medicine and majorly assist in harm reduction. Although it will be a long road, small steps are being taken around the country that will eventually lead to something greater and more ethical.

Megan Diehl is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the opinions expressed in this column do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Megan? Email her

Megan Diehl

Assistant Opinion Editor

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