Pot, weed, dope… whatever you call it, the conversation around marijuana is on a national scale these days.
For decades, the use of marijuana has been surrounded by contentious debate. Proponents of legalization claim it is safe (especially in comparison to tobacco and alcohol), while opponents claim it is a dangerous gateway drug.
The use of marijuana was legal in the United States until the first law banning its consumption in 1906. The drug then became further restricted under the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. Currently, more than half of all drug arrests in the United States are marijuana-related offenses.
Beginning in 1996, states began passing laws that permitted the use of marijuana for specific medical conditions. 20 states and Washington D.C. now permit the use of medical marijuana. Despite these state laws, marijuana use is still an offense under Federal law.
California is an example of how the controversial topic of medical marijuana is playing out differently in each city and county, depending on local politics. In May 2013, California’s Supreme Court ruled that local governments could outlaw the dispensaries that provide medical marijuana and ban its use, despite a state law that allows for the medical use of marijuana by individuals. Over 180 cities in California have approved that ban and fought to shut down marijuana dispensaries.
2012 saw marijuana popping up on the ballots in states across the country. Colorado and Washington voted to enact measures that now serve to regulate and legalize the drug in a manner similar to alcohol. These state laws make the ownership and consumption of marijuana legal in certain amounts for those over the age of 21. Oregon and Alaska are expected to put similar bills on their ballots in the 2014 election.
As seen, each state is taking its own direction in regard to the use, sale, and distribution of marijuana. In California (and potentially other states soon), city and county governments are being given the authority to counteract state governments’ decisions around medical marijuana. Either way, public opinion has continued to shift in recent years, with more endorsement for the deregulation, decriminalization, and increased medical access than in previous years for the controversial plant.
One reason for federal regulation is the usage trend skews heavily towards young kids. Opponents of legalization contend that early use leads to dependence, and to the ‘gateway effect’, meaning the use of harder drugs. National dependence rates state that around 11% of marijuana users can be defined as dependent on the drug: their habit interferes with their life and they are unable to cut back. That is lower than nicotine (32%), heroin (23%), cocaine (17%), or alcohol (15%).
Whatever your personal stance on the use and deregulation of marijuana, it is a topic that is continuing to gain the national spotlight and will certainly play a large role in local, state, and national politics in upcoming years. For questions about marijuana, contact a drug treatment professional at Pat Moore Foundation today.