The topic of marijuana legalization in the United States is one that’s hotly debated. As many states have pushed to make marijuana recreationally legal, others are resisting. Currently, the legality of medical and recreational use of marijuana varies from state to state, but the cannabis plant remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government regardless.
Debating its marijuana laws related to recreational and medical use requires an understanding of the positive and negative aspects of the drug. We wrote this article with the intention to inform you, so by the end of this read you should be educated enough to take a position on the legalization of marijuana in the United States.
Before forming your opinion, it’s best to first understand some of the science and data behind Marijuana. The scientific name of the marijuana plant is Cannabis sativa, thus the term “Cannabis Use Disorder” to describe marijuana addiction. The primary psychoactive chemical in the marijuana plant is called THC; in addition to THC, the marijuana plant has more than 100 compounds, called cannabinoids, that are related to it.
Marijuana (also called pot, weed, dope, and cannabis) gets administered in several ways; It can be smoked in a pipe or rolled into a joint; it can be eaten or brewed into tea. There is also an increasing number of people who use concentrates and extracts from the marijuana plant.
Where Is Marijuana Currently Legal in the U.S.?
States where recreational marijuana is legal to include:
- Washington D.C.
- South Dakota
- New Jersey
- New York
Some states, while they haven’t fully legalized marijuana, have decriminalized it. That means that they have reduced or eliminated penalties for possessing low-level amounts of the drug.
How Do Americans Feel About Marijuana Legalization?
According to a Gallup poll from 2019, 66% of adults in the U.S. think marijuana should be legal. A survey from Pew Research Center found similar support levels. This has come a long way since 2000 when only 31% of surveyed adults felt that way.
Democrats were more likely to favor marijuana legalization than Republicans, but still, a majority of Republicans also said they were in favor of it. People under 30 are more likely to back marijuana legalization than older people.
The Pros and Cons of Marijuana
There are potential health risks associated with long-term use of marijuana, including:
- Marijuana can have short- and long-term effects on the brain, especially in teens and young people. In the short term, marijuana can cause problems with brain structures related to memory, attention, and learning; it can affect brain development in the long term. For example, when teens regularly use marijuana, it can affect developing motor skills and the brain’s ability to build connections.
- When you regularly use marijuana you can experience mental health conditions and symptoms like anxiety, paranoia, or temporary psychosis (especially in high doses.) Marijuana has also been linked to anxiety or depression, but researchers don’t know if there’s a causal link or there’s just an association.
- If you smoke marijuana, it can affect the health of your lungs. It may cause damage to the tissue and small blood vessels in the lungs, and it can cause scarring.
What About Medical Marijuana?
While marijuana can have health risks, it’s approved in some states for medical use. Some studies have found marijuana may be helpful for conditions like:
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chronic pain
Is Marijuana Addictive?
You may be asking, “Is marijuana addictive,” and along with the larger conversation of marijuana legalization, this can be debated as well. Legalization proponents say marijuana isn’t addictive. Doctors say, “not so fast, the answer may not be as simple as you think.”
While there’s nothing chemically addictive about the composition of the plant or its derivatives, unlike tobacco which adds the addictive chemical Nicotine to its products, It is still possible to develop a Cannabis Use Disorder. In severe cases, Cannabis Use Disorder can lead to addiction. Despite marijuana not being compositionally addicting, we at Opus Health still admit dozens of clients yearly for drug addiction treatment due to their dependence on cannabis.
Research shows that around 30% of people who regularly use marijuana may have a use disorder. People who begin using marijuana before they’re 18 are anywhere from four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
Marijuana use disorders can lead to not being able to easily quit, even though it’s causing problems in their lives. There’s also marijuana dependence, which leads to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, and cravings when they don’t take marijuana.
Millions of people in the U.S. meet the criteria for marijuana use disorder.
Do you know someone who fits into this classification?
What Are the Pros and Cons of Marijuana Legalization?
While a growing majority of Americans support marijuana legalization, that doesn’t mean it’s a simple decision.
Some of the pros of legalization include:
- $$$ It’s good for the economy. The legal status of marijuana did not prevent people from using it. If you make it legal, it can generate tax revenue at least.
- Legalizing marijuana comes with government regulation and testing, thus making it safer for anyone who uses it. When it’s illegal and purchased on the streets there are no government standards that need to be met, and you can never really be sure what you’re getting if it’s laced, if it’s been tested.
- Police efforts can be refocused on higher priority issues besides low-level marijuana crimes.
- Tax dollars can be re-allocated to more pressing issues rather than paying to keep people incarcerated for marijuana crimes. Studies show that taxpayers, like you and I, pay 3.6 billion dollars a year keeping people incarcerated for marijuana crimes. This is money that you might think could be better spent in other places.
What about the risks?
- Sometimes, legalizing a substance can give the perception that it is safe. While marijuana isn’t as bad as some of the other hard drugs that exist, that doesn’t mean it is safe to use. Marijuana can damage the brain and lead to addiction and dependency, especially in young people.
- We see now that in states where marijuana is legal recreationally, teens are increasingly using it, even though it remains technically illegal for them.
- Traffic accidents involving marijuana have been on the rise. For example, in Colorado, following the legalization of marijuana, traffic deaths related to the drug went up by 62%.
What About Federal Marijuana Legalization?
Recently, U.S. House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler reintroduced a marijuana legalization bill known as the MORE Act. The proposed legislation is formally known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The bill seeks to legalize marijuana federally by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. Nadler spoke out with the reintroduction saying the federal law needs to keep up with state laws.
Marijuana legalization is occurring, whether people agree with it or not. There are economic and criminal justice implications that are viewed as upsides of legalization. At the same time, the government and medical officials need to help people understand that “legal” doesn’t automatically mean “safe.”
We need to look at this situation similarly to alcohol. While it is legal to drink alcohol in the United States, alcohol use disorders, accidents, and health problems can come with excessive use.
It is possible to become addicted and dependent on marijuana, and public messaging needs to reflect these risks. There also needs to be a push to help people understand that treatment programs are available if marijuana is affecting their life negatively.
Marijuana is legal for adults in California, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause problems or addiction. If you, or someone you love, is experiencing marijuana dependency and looking to break the habit before the long-term consequences set in, call Opus Health today to talk to one of our care coordinators.