A few weeks ago, I wrote a column in which I supported the medicinal use of marijuana to ease the suffering of cancer patients undergoing chemo-therapy treatments. Now, I'm going to take the even more controversial subject of permitting the recreational use of marijuana under certain circumstances.

The problem with marijuana is that for many decades it has been lumped with many harder drugs as a mind altering substance. There's no doubt that marijuana is indeed a mind-altering substance, but many conservative elements continue to equate it with substances such as heroin and cocaine, whose effects are much harsher and greater over a considerably shorter period of time.

When I was in school, part of our health class curriculum included lessons on the dangers of drug abuse and addiction. As I said, marijuana was placed into the same category as the harder drugs, with severe warnings issued about those foolish enough to smoke the "devil weed" - that their fate would be the same as those who became addicted to cocaine and heroin and just about everything else.

Time passed. I eventually went to college and it was there I began to associate with people who (gasp!) smoked marijuana - usually at parties or surreptitiously between classes. I waited and watched and was rather amazed when these people did not turn into raving lunatics over time, with most of them graduating and entering the workforce to lead productive lives.

Okay, I'll admit I did know some who smoked it too much and it did have an adverse affect on them. I'll address that in a few paragraphs.

Anyway, several years later, I began to see on television a number of anti-marijuana commercials, in which demonstrated the nasty effects of those who smoked the devil's weed. One commercial feature young actors giving testimony about the fun times they had while high on pot - such as letting people draw on their faces, loss of memory, and other things. Another commercial featured a rather dramatic effect which showed a group of people in a graveyard. The camera suddenly pulled back into a large aerial shot, with the narrator intoning that this was the number of people who had died as a result of motor vehicle accidents because they were under the influence of marijuana.

Such arguments did not impress me.

Oh I'm not saying that those arguments are untrue. And it is indeed a shame when such things happen. However, I work with the courts on a regular basis and I know that the number of people adversely affected by marijuana is nothing compared to those who have had contact with the most popular mind-altering drug of all - alcohol. Any person who even drinks beer or wine is using a mind-altering substance. This is often harmless, but many, many times the effects of alcohol are negative in the extreme. Going back to the commercial about the graveyard, I remember thinking rather cynically when I first saw it, that if the producers had included a graveyard that held the number of people who had died as a result of alcohol-related fatalities, the marijuana-related graveyard would - in relationship - have been reduced to the size of a postage stamp.

I've heard arguments that marijuana is a "gateway" drug - that it encourages users to experiment and use harder drugs, creating even more of a problem. While this might be true to a certain extent, there's evidence that alcohol and tobacco - both legal, mind you - can also be considered gateway drugs. And let's face it, there's always going to be people who use illegal substances, no matter what's available or what laws there are on the book against it.

Some argue that if marijuana is made legal, then it will get into the hands of young people who shouldn't be smoking it, and increase the drug abuse problem in that area. But again, I counter that even when illegal, marijuana is already a problem with some young people and I don't believe making it legal for recreational use for those who are 21 years of age or older will cause a dramatic upswing in the number of underage people who shouldn't be using it in the first place. After all, it's illegal for a person under the age of 21 to drink alcoholic beverages, and while there are indeed some instances of problems caused by underage drinking, most young people for the most part stay away from alcoholic beverages.

Colorado and a few other states have finally taken the step of allowing the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Many people across the nation are watching these states very carefully to see what kind of short- and long-term effects will occur as a result. I predict the income of these states will rise as those using marijuana will pay the necessary taxes when they purchase it; as well as those states no longer having to prosecute and/or incarcerate those who purchase and use it on a small basis for recreational purposes. Yes, there will be those who undoubtedly suffer long term adverse effects because they smoke too much marijuana, just as there are people who suffer the long term adverse effects of becoming alcoholics. But as Prohibition so painfully taught us, it is impossible to eliminate a perceived vice by making it illegal, when you have a large group of people who are willing to violate the law in order to participate in said vice. I don't believe we should make the use of heroin and other hard drugs legal, but if things turn out well in Colorado and the other states, I definitely think it's time for Pennsylvania to also look into the possibility of allowing the recreational use of marijuana within its borders.

C.J. Marshall is a writer and columnist for The Daily/Sunday Review. He can be reached at cjmarshall@thedailyreview.com.