Mainstreaming Marijuana

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The trends and fashions in drug abuse are pretty obvious over time. Since President Nixon declared a war on drugs, we’ve seen several.

Marijuana was on the front burner, along with heroin addiction with returning Vietnam vets.

But attention shifted to cocaine – a “club drug” that became popular along with disco. By the '80s, powdered cocaine evolved into crack cocaine and it exploded on the urban scene. In the '90s, we saw methamphetamine as an upward trend, and at the turn of the century, prescription narcotics have surged forward.

Marijuana's staying power

Meanwhile, marijuana never went away. Instead, an underground community of smokers kept the dream alive. And as the baby boomers grew up, we saw our first President who admitted to using the drug (although Bill Clinton famously said he didn’t inhale).

When Obama’s marijuana-using background came out, it wasn’t even much of a news item. Marijuana has moved from a feared gateway drug to compete with alcohol as an (almost) accepted way to relax. And it appears the mainstreaming of marijuana will continue.

Some highlights

  • • 18 states now allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes. Almost all let patients grow their own supply. Two states have legalized cannabis for recreational use.
  • • Television shows about marijuana growing as a business have appeared on the Discovery Channel and CNN in documentary form, while other popular fictional shows have main characters who deal in weed. There’s even an infomercial making the rounds called, "Should Grandma Smoke Pot?" (Spoiler alert: The not-surprising answer is "yes.")
  • • Marijuana use appears in more than a dozen popular movies in a casual fashion as part of the social fabric, instead of a criminal act, reflecting how the public is no longer shocked by smoking weed. (Some of the titles: There’s Something about Mary, Face-off, Platoon, American Beauty, Almost Famous and others.)
  • • Forbes, the noted business magazine, has run more than a half-dozen pieces about getting into the marijuana business, with a recent offering titled, "Meet the Yale MBAs Trying to Tame the Marijuana Industry."
  • • In May, a former Microsoft executive said he plans to create the first U.S. national marijuana brand – kicking off his business by acquiring medical pot dispensaries in three U.S. states.
  • • In a search of online newspapers, it was almost impossible to find one that didn’t have an editorial or opinion piece supporting marijuana reform.

This list could continue for another page, but like it or not, marijuana isn’t just here to stay, but moving into the mainstream in a big way.

Where's the push-back?

There has been surprisingly little counterpoint to the growing acceptance of marijuana. Legislatively, things are moving slower than advocates would like, but even some of the expected opponents are coming out in support of legalization.

Two dramatic examples of unexpected support come to mind. The first is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a pro-legalization organization made up of former police officers, prosecutors and judges. They are well-funded, with a national reach, and provide speakers to promote cannabis reform as a remedy to several social ills.

The second surprise comes when otherwise politically conservative leading lights support mainstreaming. Grover Norquist, the lobbyist famous for getting republicans to sign a “no new taxes” pledge, supports legalization. Some view it as a state’s rights or small government issue, and others want to legalize marijuana based on personal freedom grounds.

All in all, there has been very little in the way of organized push-back. Opponents seem to be relying on existing laws to do the job. But polls now show more people in the U.S. support some form of marijuana decriminalization than oppose it.

Mechanisms of addiction not linked to legal status

Even those in the addiction treatment community don’t seem to be reacting en mass to the trend. Doctors are recommending marijuana for a variety of illnesses, and the best the medical community seems to be able to do is to caution about use by those under 21 or about driving under the influence.

Perhaps the lack of push-back by addiction treatment specialists comes from understanding that the mechanisms of addiction aren’t linked to legal status. They already see patients addicted alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana can be addictive, but the consequences pale in comparison to drugs that have trended up in the past.

With mainstreaming, we expect to see more patients seeking treatment for marijuana addiction. This would result, if nothing else, from the math. More users, with the same percentage of abuse, means more who will become dependent. However, the reality seems to be that this trend will continue and, if it were possible, it would be a good trade: marijuana for all of the previous trends – cocaine, crack, meth and narcotics.

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