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learn | 12.18.2019

Where Did The Huge Social Stigma On Cannabis Users Come From?

How did cannabis ever acquired such a stigma, such that users of the herb are seen as less than acceptable members of society? Where did we go so wrong?

As cannabis moves closer and closer to the mainstream of American culture, we have to ask ourselves how it ever acquired such a stigma. Why are users of the herb are seen as less than acceptable members of society? How did we go so wrong?

Reefer madness

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How on Earth did smoking weed become associated in the popular consciousness with negative outcomes like violence and insanity, when the opposite is nearer the truth?

The stigma surrounding cannabis use has been around for decades in American society. While that decidedly doesn’t mean it is fact-based, it does very much mean that it has negatively impacted many, many people, and unjustly so.

While the problem is getting better, due to accurate information about the herb becoming widely available, it still persists. This is particularly true in the less educated sectors of society.

The good news is, as we learn more about cannabis, its reputation improves among knowledgeable people. Changes in the perception of cannabis are happening not just because of the easily verifiable fact that it is relatively safe, especially when compared with other socially used substances.

The high cost of prohibition, both in dollars and in lost human potential, is also a factor in the rehabilitation of weed’s image in the public eye.

Just in the past four decades, cannabis has gone from being perceived, as a matter of societal consensus, as a damaging substance so dangerous that its eradication was worth a multi-billion-dollar Drug War, to one that is seen as being capable of revitalizing the American economy.

As the process of mainstreaming marijuana accelerates, it becomes clearer that the genesis of cannabis prohibition in 1930s America brought with it the negative stereotypes surrounding its usage.

Bogus links to violence, madness, and at best, a zombie-like non-productivity became the dominant narrative – never mind that these ideas were wildly inaccurate.

A new era

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Millennials, defined as those who are 20 to 36 years old in 2017, became adults during the era when societal change, in the form of cannabis normalization, started to sweep across the USA.

The 2016 elections accelerated this process, taking us from a nation where recreational cannabis use is legal for 5 percent of the population to one where it is now legal for nearly 25 percent.

Support among Millennials has doubled in the past decade (from 34 percent to 71 percent). This has taken place as the threadbare narrative represented by marijuana prohibition and stigmatization is increasingly shown to be untrue. While these young people are no longer scared of cannabis, they are very concerned about governmental intrusions into their lives.

That’s why Millennials can still be cagey about discussing their own usage. This alone is sufficient to show that the stigma surrounding pot smoking – though it may be on its last legs – is still around.

The fact, however, that you can be a recreational cannabis user and still be a productive, functional member of society is a self-evident truth to anyone who uses marijuana, or even to anyone who knows a user well.

Conservative alarmists view the normalization of marijuana as some sort of dire “social collapse,” (yes, this exact phrase was used in a hysterical 2015 L.A. Times editorial by former Drug Czar William Bennett). But those of us with a more reality-based approach are encouraged by the inroads truth has made on Reefer Madness fiction.

The facts don’t lie

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It is the type of backward thinking represented by relics like Bennett that is our enemy as we strive to educate against the hoary stigmas of the past when it comes to cannabis. Bennett, of all people, really should know better if he had any intellectual curiosity at all around the herb.

But he claims, in direct contradiction to the facts, that legalization has resulted in “56 percent higher” teen marijuana use in Colorado after legalization.

Science, meanwhile, shows us that there has been no change in teen marijuana use as compared to pre-legalization levels in Colorado, as reported in JAMA Pediatrics.

The unfortunately still common, uninformed and reflexive stigma surrounding weed is one of the primary obstacles to full repeal of the marijuana laws across the United States.

Once one acquaints oneself with the medical literature showing cannabis as a particularly benign substance, especially compared to “drugs of abuse,” it becomes obvious that the harms and potential dangers of marijuana are still grossly overstated on a regular basis.

It’s impossible to make fully informed, rational decisions on subjects like marijuana when the air is clouded by “alternative facts.” Yes, I’m talking about lies which have stubbornly hung around for decades.

This means that each of us who wants to be a part of the positive change sweeping the nation, when it comes to marijuana policy, has the responsibility to fearlessly advocate for the truth when we hear one of the tired old stigmas being dragged out yet again to justify an unjustifiable prohibition on the herb.

Out with the old, in with the new

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Those who condemn cannabis as unacceptable, as some unsightly vice that must be hidden, denied, and discouraged, are buying into tired old stereotypes. These negatives were first used to paint the herb as something associated with ethnic minorities, and as something which was used to “corrupt women and children.”

Knee-jerk judgments, of course, are no way to make life decisions. This type of thinking is even more damaging when codified into laws which routinely destroy people’s lives and livelihoods.

Let’s face it: Measured on a reality-based scale, cannabis use by consenting adults is no big deal. We are thankfully moving past the days when cannabis use was seen as a career-ruining disgrace, something that meant you must become an outcast from society.

That sounds pretty laughable to educated people these days, and there’s a reason. We are finally starting to emerge from the long national nightmare of prohibition and of stigmatization of those who choose to use this harmless, even beneficial herb as part of their daily lives.

Cannabis, of course, in reality, has nothing to do with intelligence or the lack thereof. It has nothing to do with the presence of absence of good character, with motivation and worth ethics, and with the basic ability to handle life. And that’s why the stigma surrounding it is FINALLY starting to go away.

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