Lately it seems as if I’ve been hearing more calls to change US marijuana laws. The legalization of marijuana has been a cause for some citizens for decades, and efforts to change marijuana laws have waxed and waned since I was a teenager in the 1970’s. Some people believe that this time around, attitudes are truly changing. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that as of November 2012, a majority of US voters favor legalization of the drug for recreational use.
The current status of marijuana laws are confusing, to say the least. Marijuana is regulated at multiple jurisdictional levels, so a person in any one location is subject to state, federal, and sometimes local statutes. These statutes are often at odds with each other, so the legality of marijuana depends largely on the employer of the agent or officer making the arrest.
There are also multiple forms of legality. In November, Colorado and Washington State legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Another dozen-or-so states decriminalized marijuana over the past 20 years, so that possession of the drug is punishable by citation, not prison time. Another 20 or so states have laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana, including in some cases provisions to grow marijuana for personal use or for a small number of patients.
By federal law, marijuana continues to be illegal in virtually all settings. The DEA classifies marijuana as ‘Schedule I’, the same status as heavy-hitters like LSD or Heroin. Smoking marijuana can be reason enough for most employers to terminate employment. And violation of marijuana laws, even the possession of small amounts of marijuana, can result in permanent banishment from federal financial aid programs for higher education.
I have no pressing personal opinion on this issue. I don’t have a ‘marijuana problem’, and I never really had a problem with the drug. I smoked it as a teen, and note that the year of my high school graduation, 1978, was the peak year for marijuana use in this country. But I never enjoyed smoking pot as much as some people appear to. I always had things that I wanted to do or accomplish, and smoking marijuana, as I grew older, got in the way of those things.
Marijuana was a much less potent drug in the 1970’s than it is today. In my teens, people talked about ‘smoking a joint or two.’ Now that the THC content is much greater, people have ‘hits.’ I just realized, by the way, how ‘square’ I sound right now.
It is difficult to know whether perceptions surrounding marijuana are accurate or based in fantasy. Last night I saw a Facebook post from one of my HS classmates that included a picture of my geography teacher in 1976, wearing extra-long, extra-wide, plaid bell-bottom slacks. It is hard to remember 1970’s marijuana without remembering all of the other silly things that we did in the 1970s, that seem so harmless in retrospect. On the other hand, I remember the fallout shelters and nuke drills back then, which on paper seem every bit as serious as any ‘fiscal cliff.’ Clearly, dangerous things in the past seem less frightening than dangerous things now.
Is marijuana a ‘gateway drug’ that leads to use of more dangerous substances? There is no doubt that marijuana smokers are more likely to use heavier drugs than are non-marijuana-users, but correlation is not causation. I’m reluctant to conclude that marijuana use ‘causes’ people to use pain pills or heroin. At the same time, I don’t buy the arguments by some pot smokers that marijuana keeps them sober from alcohol or illicit substances.
My Klout score isn’t so high as to impact the likelihood of legalization of marijuana, but I will share a few thoughts anyway about my clinical experiences and observations:
Many young people have been led to believe that the Obama administration is on ‘their side’ in regard to legalizing marijuana. I wonder, though, if legalization of marijuana will require the lead of a traditional antagonist—as Clinton participated in welfare reform, and Nixon opened relations with China. In other words, I’m not expecting big changes on the federal level anytime soon.
Marijuana plant photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 9 Dec 2012