Not Your Father’s Marijuana
After decades of lingering in the shadows of legal society, cannabis is experiencing an eruption in public support. A Pew Research Center poll released in April shows a 52% majority of Americans now favor legalization of marijuana, with 45% opposed. Support for legalization is up 11% since 2010, according to Pew. It's a stunning turn in public opinion from 1991, when only 17% said it should be legal, with 78% opposed.
Medical marijuana is perhaps the largest driver in this shift. Since 1998, 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws permitting possession of marijuana for medical purposes. In a survey commissioned by Fox News released May 1, although a slim majority within the poll's margin of error opposes legalization, backing for medical marijuana is another matter. More than eight in 10 respondents think adults should be allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes if a physician prescribes it.
Views on the subject fall along age and political lines in the Fox poll. Sixty-two percent of those under age 35 advocate legalization, while 63% ages 65 and older are opposed. Sixty-two percent who identify as liberals favor legalization; 62% of conservatives oppose.
Research regarding marijuana's medicinal benefits is ongoing, such as at the University of California's Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Meanwhile, across all demographics, about half of the Fox News survey's participants believe most people who smoke medical marijuana just want to smoke marijuana and don't truly need it for medical purposes. An official with the Washington State Liquor Control Board reportedly testified in March he believed more than 90% of medical marijuana purchased in the state was for recreational use.
Is medical marijuana a backdoor legalization scheme? It seems to serve as such for many judging by the more than 26 million websites generated by the search engine query "what to tell doctor to get marijuana."
Not so fast say University of Florida addiction medicine specialists Scott Teitelbaum, MD, and Michael Nias, JD, LCSW, who are not on board with the rush toward relaxed attitudes about marijuana. In their new book, Weed: Family Guide to Marijuana Myths and Facts, they question the perceived safety of marijuana, noting today's strains are up to seven times higher in the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is what makes users feel "high."
"This isn't your father's marijuana," said Teitelbaum, medical director of the UF & Shands Florida Recovery Center and associate professor of psychiatry in the UF College of Medicine. "The higher THC concentration is associated with more psychiatric problems and more dependence."
Noting studies showing approximately 15% of eighth-grade students have already been exposed to marijuana, Teitelbaum said marijuana can be particularly risky for adolescents.
"Introducing drugs with neurotoxic effects during this time, while the brain is still developing, can be very damaging," he said. "It's similar to a pregnant woman drinking alcohol."
We live in times of fast-changing social standards. Despite warnings from people like Teitelbaum and Nias, it sure looks like marijuana is among the next taboos set to fall. It remains to be seen if that's a good thing.