There are two different positions in the marijuana legalization policy debate. One seeks to maintain the prohibitionist approach, while the other looks towards legalization. Although these are two contradictory movements, there are many different areas in which both appeal to the same goal but come to different conclusions. In order to understand these approaches, we will observe the narrative and numbers used by two advocacy organizations: Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM) and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). We will also focus in three main areas: public health, safety, and security.
First, when observing the approaches to public health, both movements are looking to protect people’s wellbeing by using or not using marijuana. In that sense, they employ different arguments that intersect each other. For instance, both movements include the use of medical marijuana, brain damage, risk of cancer, and potency of the drug, among others. If we consider the use of marijuana for medical purposes, CALM cites a study from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which reaffirms that “there is no medical benefit provided by the use of smoked marijuana and that, in fact, considerable harm can be caused by such use.” In contrast, DPA argues that marijuana has been effective in “reducing the nausea induced by cancer chemotherapy, stimulating appetite in AIDS patients, and reducing intraocular pressure in people with glaucoma.” Additionally, they affirm that for many patients capsules are not as effective as when people smoke it. These two organizations are seeking to demonstrate that they are right about healthy practices that support or reject marijuana use for medical purposes
Another example is directed to the brain damage that marijuana can cause in its users. CALM employs a study made by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) called “Evidence on the Carcinogenicity of Marijuana Smoke” to affirm that marijuana causes irreversible brain damage, especially among young people. Nevertheless, they do not give any other reasons of how the study arrives at that conclusion. On the contrary, DPA’s website explains that marijuana affects mainly short-term memory, and cites laboratory studies where people under the influence have no trouble remembering what they learned previously. Also they claim that “there is no convincing evidence that heavy long-term marijuana use permanently impairs memory or other cognitive functions.” Therefore, once again the two sides show arguments to demonstrate to the community the high or low risks of using marijuana. One presents permanent brain damage based in a local study, while the other argues that the evidence is not conclusive, without citing any study in particular.
When talking about the risk of cancer, CALM refers to the 483 chemicals in marijuana, and affirms that there are 4 to 5 times more cancer causing agents than in tobacco cigarettes. To support this argument CALM uses numbers to try to “impart an aura of expertise and authority,” creating the image that marijuana is 2,000 times stronger than tobacco. However, when consulting in the National Cancer Institute web site, they only list 60 types of cannabinoids (name given to the chemicals) and two of them (dronabinol and nabilone) are approved by the FDA to control nausea and vomiting, paramount in the treatment of cancer patients. In contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list 7,000 chemicals in tobacco. More than one hundred are toxic, and about 70 can cause cancer. Therefore, the numbers presented by CALM are used to increase the threat of marijuana, but do not give enough details to support their argument. They also omit the components that are helpful to cancer patients, excluding information related to the quantity and quality of harmful chemicals in marijuana compared with other legal drugs.
In contrast DPA’s arguments towards the risk of cancer state that “several longitudinal studies have established long-term use of marijuana (via smoking) is not associated with elevated cancer risk.” If we observe this claim closely we can find a sense of ambiguity when they state that there are “several longitudinal studies,” approaching an unknown quantity of scientific information. This affirmation sends the message of “many” that could be anything around 10 or 1,000 studies. Also, they are probably seeking to present a general agreement in this fact, which is similar if they were saying that “everybody” thinks the same. But, who is everybody?
When referring to the potency of the drug once again, CALM uses numbers to demonstrate that marijuana effects are even worse than 40 years ago and cites a study from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). “Today the potency of THC is at least 3 times more toxic than in the 1970’s.” Once again, CALM seeks to multiply the effects of marijuana that not only contains more than 483 chemicals, but also is three times stronger. Using these claims CALM builds a narrative that seeks to persuade people from consuming marijuana, and condemn its use, based in the health risks that this can bring to individuals and to the community. In the other spectrum DPA argues that “potency is not related to risks of dependence or health impacts.” Besides, they discuss the incapability of THC to cause fatal overdose, and that FDA has approved a pill that contains 100% THC called Marinol. With these claims DPA is pursuing to diminish the sense of marijuana as a dangerous drug, converting it in a relevant medicine that could be used by any patient without any major risk.
CALM and DPA’s arguments both appeal to the same goal but come to two contradictory conclusions in how to protect public health. CALM uses a narrative and numbers to get into the assumptions that marijuana presents a prominent risk for health to the community. Citing studies from local and federal authorities, CALM gives legitimacy to its argument. In addition, when adding numbers, the organization seeks to impart an aura of authority increasing the sense of risk in an exponential manner. In contrast, DPA uses a narrative that appeals to the general knowledge of marijuana use, employing ambiguous phrases to defend the low risks that marijuana has for health. On the contrary, they argue that marijuana is widely used to reduce the effects of certain diseases.
Second, another main idea that comes into place when framing the problem about marijuana legalization is the concept safety. This represents the fear of the community about something bad happening if people are allowed to consume marijuana; creating a sense of insecurity. Among the different concepts that could be included in the safety approach we will observe the one related to risk of accidents while being under the influence of marijuana and how the two advocacy groups want to protect individuals from having a car accident by prohibiting or allowing marijuana use.
For the risk of accidents, CALM uses a narrative that is complemented with numbers to add credibility to their argument. For instance, to support that the phrase “no one gets hurt from Marijuana” is a myth, CALM uses mixed data: “26.9% of seriously injured drivers test positive for marijuana and 20% of all vehicle crashes are attributed to drugged driving.” This is cited in CALM from the Stop Drug Driving web site. Nevertheless, the source only shows information from the second part that entails only to drug driving but does not give the information about marijuana and seriously injured drivers. Therefore, CALM gives the impression of having reliable sources to back up their data, and state that it is a myth that marijuana does not hurt.
DPA uses a narrative that compares the effects of marijuana and alcohol arguing that the former tends to make subjects more cautious and the later makes them to increase risky driving practices. Also, they recall that “the overall rate of highway accidents appears not to be significantly affected by marijuana's widespread use in society.”In that sense DPA’s approach is to show that there is a minimum relation in marijuana consumption and the risk of being involved in accidents. However they constantly appeal to general knowledge when using phrases like “driving studies” or “surveys” but not specifying any study or survey.
Finally, when observing the arguments about security, the main response by the U.S. government for drug consumption was to stop the threat towards criminalization. This was led by the imprisonment of consumers as a way to “stop crime through incapacitation” denying them access to the drug. Regarding this background both advocacy groups use arguments to support or criticize incarceration of drug users as a way to solve the problem and bring more security to our community. Furthermore, both appeal to the relevance of making the state more cost-effective when criminalizing people with drug charges and how liberalization or prohibition increases the burden for maintaining drug users in jail.
Regarding to CALM’s position, they refer to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) where they use state data to show that only 1% of state prisoners were marijuana possession offenders with no prior sentences, and 99.8% of federal prisoners sentenced for drug offences were incarcerated for drug trafficking.  Furthermore, they compare the rates of arrests for alcohol related crimes with drug use, minimizing the quantity of those offences when compared to 2.5 million of arrests for alcohol in 2010. This numbers are used to give legitimacy to the claim that decriminalization or legalization might further exacerbate the costs of the current incarceration. If we observe these numbers more closely, the arrests for drug offences are presented in a percentage and the alcohol arrests are shown in a natural number. This employment of the data helps to build a greater difference when comparing 1% to 2.5 million, nonetheless that 1% could be taken from 313.9 million people in the U.S. making 3.9 million of arrests of marijuana. In consequence, the manipulation of the data helps their argument of the increase of crime if marijuana becomes as widely used drug as alcohol. Therefore, this argument leads us to the fact that if we want to be more secure and avoid the costs of incarceration, we should maintain prohibition.
In contrast, DPA uses data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report showing that the police carried out 749,825 arrests of people for marijuana violations in 2012. They affirm that arrests for possession comprise approximately 88% of the total. If we observe these numbers, they are counting the people who have been arrested but not the ones that have been prosecuted and sent to jail increasing the costs in the criminal system. Besides, DPA reinforces its narrative with a human rights or human security perspective of the problem. When explaining the harm that people face for being arrested they list the benefits that a regular person has but will lose for having a criminal record due to a simple marijuana possession arrest. For instance, the rights to vote, access to loans for education, work in certain positions, get a mortgage for buying a house, or adopt a child, are basic components necessary to have a normal life, are diminished or lost for being arrested or convicted for drug consumption. In consequence, this narrative uses the number of arrests to place a serious harm for society that people who use a “low risk” drug will be punished as a serious criminal offender.
In consequence, we have analyzed how CALM and DPA have at least three common goals such as public health, safety, and security. Both organizations use numbers and a narrative to demonstrate they have a certain level of expertise and authority that leads them to a conclusion. For the public health argument they are seeking to safeguard people’s wellbeing, when appealing to safety they want to shield individuals from having a car accident, and for security they want to protect the community and avoid incarceration costs to the government. Nevertheless, CALM has a prohibitionist approach and DPA defends legalization, but both use numbers and a narrative to shape their argument and convince the public that they have the right answer.
“CALM Position on Marijuana”Accessed October 10th, 2013. Available: http://www.calmca.org/
“10 Facts About Marijuana” Drug Policy Alliance, Drug Facts Marijuana Accessed October 10th, 2013. Available: http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/10-facts-about-marijuana
 Actually this study is wrongly cited in CALM web site “California Office of Environmental Health and Assessment Science.” The study was made by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) “Evidence on the Carcinogenicity of Marijuana Smoke” Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment Branch. California Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed October 10th, 2013. Available: http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/hazard_ident/pdf_zip/FinalMJsmokeHID.pdf
 CALM Health. Accessed October 10th, 2013. Available: http://www.calmca.org/health/
 10 Facts About Marijuana” Drug Policy Alliance, Drug Facts Marijuana Accessed October 10th, 2013. Available: http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/10-facts-about-marijuana
 CALM Health. Accessed October 10th, 2013. Available: http://www.calmca.org/health/
 Stone Deborah, “Policy Paradox. The Art of Political Decision Making.” Norton & Company. New York-London. Third Edition, 2012. pp. 191
 “Nausea and Vomiting.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed October 10th, 2013. Available: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nausea/HealthProfessional/page1/AllPages
 “Smoking and Tobacco Use, Chemicals in Tobacco Smoke.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 12th, 2013. Available: