Over the past 70 years, Marijuana, in all of its forms, has been the casualty of extremes. Decades ago, the nation was absorbed by the “Reefer Madness” culture, and every adolescent in the country was taught to fear the drug beyond practically anything else. In addition to widespread stigma in popular culture and vehement prohibition in practically every suburban home in America, the spread of marijuana was also combated with a full arsenal of institutional resources, including billions of dollars allocated toward government-led prevention efforts and a culture of incarceration that enveloped the lives of even the lowest-level offenders. Despite a few pockets of outlying dissenters, it appeared for many years that America was to be forever married to a culture of marijuana non-grata.
A Shift in Perception
Over time, however, the aforementioned pockets of dissenters grew in numbers and, in many cases, legitimacy of argument. As the impact of incarceration on families and communities was more closely reviewed, and “legitimate” prescription painkillers started killing Americans in record numbers, creating the worst substance abuse epidemic in history, suddenly marijuana didn’t look so bad. This perception viewpoint was further strengthened by alcohol’s continued destruction of lives and families everywhere. Proponents of marijuana legalization were, and still are, quick to point out the hypocrisy of a culture that allows thousands to die from opioids and alcohol each year, but stigmatizes and destroys the lives of those who smoke what they believe is a benign substance; and so…here we are.
Today there is not only widespread community support for marijuana’s legalization, there is increasing legislative support as well. This increasingly permissive culture has even led to the legalized recreational use in states like Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. It is also approved for medical use in these four states plus 20 more. It appears the pendulum is starting to swing the other way, and as more and more states lobby for legalization, we may once again shortly find ourselves in an atmosphere of extremes when it comes to this controversial plant.
The “H” Word
The largely debunked hyperbole surrounding marijuana’s negative effects have caused many to believe that this is a “harmless” substance, and the reality is that many function in their day-to-day lives while nursing a regular marijuana habit; the same, however, can also be said for cocaine. Just because marijuana’s effects may pale in comparison to those of drugs like heroin and prescription opioids, this doesn’t mean the drug is a benign substance. In Colorado, there is evidence to suggest that legalization has led to a marked decline in physical health and quality of life. A 2015 study revealed clear increases in marijuana-related traffic deaths hospital visits, school suspensions, lab explosions and even pet poisonings since the state started allowing recreational use. Marijuana-related emergency room visits have increased 44 percent among residents and 109 percent among visitors to the state in search of a safe and legal area to use the drug. In addition to ER visits, there has been a considerable spike in juvenile use, even though use is still prohibited for users under 21. Though there may be no definitive neurological link between marijuana and other drug use, other circumstances can still lead to progressively dangerous substance abuse. A recent study in the International Journal of Drug Policy revealed that nearly half of test subjects started using marijuana and went on to more serious drug illicit drug use.
The Truth Lies Somewhere In Between
When we take politics and pre-conceived notions out of the equation, we can finally see marijuana for what it is: a drug whose effects and have been both greatly exaggerated and greatly underestimated. This is still a drug that inhibits motor skills, increases risk-taking behaviors and impairs judgment. We can’t allow the extremes of yesteryear to give birth to the extremes of today. The reality is that many start taking marijuana en route to a more serious drug problem, and it is not something we should be taking lightly. Just because marijuana doesn’t kill by itself, doesn’t necessarily mean the floodgates should be opened for uncontrolled use.