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Is It Time To Legalize Marijuana?

52% of Americans think marijuana should be legalized. Here are the facts:

Marijuana used to conjure up the image of a strung out, spacey hippy, saying “Wow, man, that’s cool”. But, the times are indeed rapidly changing.

Millions have died from cigarettes, yet they're still freely sold at stores. Alcohol has been the root cause of countless deaths due to liver disease, diabetes and dementia with almost 10,000 killed from drunk driving alone in 2011, yet it can still be purchased. Every 19 minutes, someone in the US dies from a prescription overdose. Who has died from marijuana? No one. There is not one confirmed case of someone dying strictly from pot.

Twenty states and DC have legalized medicinal marijuana, while Colorado and Washington state have legalized it for recreational use as well. More states are soon expected to follow suit.

Consider that over 100 million Americans have smoked pot once -- that's 41 percent of the population. Twenty six million or 10 percent, claim they've used it during the past year and fifteen million or 6 percent claim to be regular marijuana users.

Here are four popular misperceptions:

Marijuana is addictive: No, it is not for the vast majority of smokers. I discuss that in detail here.

Marijuana causes brain damage: A meta-analysis of 15 studies found that moderate, daily use does not cause brain damage. Heavy long term use does cause a “very small impairment in memory and learning”. But any drug can be abused with resulting negative sequelae.

Marijuana makes you lazy and unmotivated: If someone is lazy and unmotivated before using weed, they will remain lazy and unmotivated after. The so called “amotivational syndrome” ascribed to pot smoking has never been proven.

Marijuana causes lung cancer: Wrong. According to the American Medical Association, marijuana can actually increase lung strength and occasional smokers have healthier lungs than non-smokers. Cigarette damage to the lungs is easy to see on X-ray, while marijuana smoked once a day shows no significant changes. It is believed that this is due to the active ingredient THC, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

As more Americans are lighting up, the stance against marijuana is lightening up. Even those in power, are now admitting to it. Check out the 50 Most Influential Marijuana Users.

Has the time come to legalize marijuana? America is overwhelmingly saying yes. An ABC News poll shows 81 percent believe medical marijuana should be legalized, compared to 69 percent in 1997.

As for recreational use, a recent Pew Research Center poll showed a majority of Americans, 52%, now believe it should be legal. Another survey where anyone can cast a vote online has 83 percent saying yes.

Conservative leader and visiting economics professor at Harvard University Dr. Milton Friedman along with 500 top economists has asked for a national debate over the legalization of marijuana, complete with a full report and open letter for all to read.

He questions the continued costly war against marijuana -- almost $8 billion annually and believes taxing and selling marijuana would actually make money-- over $10 billion a year. This money could be used to fund treatment for the few who do develop a problem with the drug.

In addition, conservative leaders like John McCain are starting to have a change of heart, as are more and more individual states. Even noted neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a former anti-marijuana spokesperson (who declined the offer to be Surgeon General of the US) has changed his mind.

A quick note about abuse: Yes, marijuana can be abused and as I discuss in a prior blog a very small percent of users do become dependent. But certainly much fewer develop a problem with pot than with alcohol, and nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man.

Alcohol and tobacco are far more harmful than marijuana, and yet they are legal. The time has come to stop the hypocrisy and legalize, tax and sell marijuana.

More from Dale Archer M.D.
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