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Will Cannabis Legalization Debunk Outdated Cultural Myths?

Maxim Sorokopud Maxim Sorokopud
20th April 2021
Will Cannabis Legalization Debunk Outdated Cultural Myths?

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

2021 marks the 50 anniversary of the U.S.’s War on Drugs. It’s strange to think that this anniversary year coincides with New Jersey, Virginia, New York and New Mexico legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, with more states being likely to follow suit before the year is out. America is embracing cannabis like never before. In fact, in November 2020, 68% of American adults approved of legalizing cannabis. That means that cannabis currently enjoys more support than any incumbent president since George W. Bush in 2003. Of course, like all drugs, cannabis is still a controversial substance, especially on a global scale. 

Between 2010 and 2018, global cannabis use was estimated to have increased from 224.49 million people to 250.01 million people. The world is slowly going mad for marijuana, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going mad because of marijuana. The U.S.’s National Institute on Drug Abuse concludes that it is hard to determine to what extent cannabis increases the risk of psychiatric disorders. Global reports struggle to state the extent to which cannabis can be linked to psychosis. In 2020, The World Health Organization’s report on The Opioid Crisis cited a 2014 study that noted instances of cannabis and tramadol use contributing to psychosis. In contrast, it also concluded that cannabis use and non-medical use of tramadol among those with drug-induced psychosis might be related to environmental and economical factors. 

Psychiatric disorders are just one side of the argument. Many also believe that marijuana has medicinal properties. 36 U.S. state governments and 4 U.S. territorial governments in 2021 apparently believe that cannabis can have health benefits, as these states and territories all have medical marijuana programs. The U.S.’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, which concludes that cannabis can cause psychiatric disorders, also states that THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, has proven medical benefits.

Of course, just because a product can be harmful or beneficial does not determine its legality. If that were the case, then tobacco would be completely illegal. For years, one of the main additional factors in keeping cannabis illegal has been the claim that it is a “gateway drug” which can lead to more severe addictions. Almost anyone who attended school will have heard the argument that cannabis usage leads to cocaine, heroin and other drug addictions. But do the facts back this up?

Again, this is a tough question to answer, and more questions are needed to even define the term, “gateway drug.” Once more, the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows why this term can be difficult to define. They conclude that some research suggests that marijuana use can precede use of other substances. However, they also state that most people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances. The source later compares alcohol and nicotine use to cannabis’s potential to prime a human brain to other drug use. 

This points to what may be the most logical way for a nation like the U.S. to treat cannabis. There are two things that many can agree are important to the people of America. The first is that the U.S. is supposed to emphasize individual freedom. The second is that cannabis is very much a part of the American culture. After all, many of America’s most culturally significant people have used and continue to use cannabis, such as the only musician to have ever won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob Dylan, who cites cannabis as a strong influence on his music; computer pioneer Bill Gates, NASA scientist Carl Sagan, and singer/songwriter Rihanna are known marijuana users.

There are many other facts that highlight why cannabis should be legal. Most of this post has focused upon its health risks and benefits. It’s also true that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately affected and continues to affect minority communities. There is a disproportionate number of marijuana arrests of racial minorities. Cannabis prohibition has contributed to structural racism. According to The Marijuana Policy Project, African Americans are far more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis, but user rates are about the same for both races.

There are legitimate concerns about cannabis’s safety, but the benefits of legalization outweigh the negatives.