There appears to be a shift in the United States in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, a topic that has dipped in and out of the national conversation for decades. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of “Reefer Madness” to growing acceptance of medical marijuana.
Sean Azzariti, an Iraq war veteran and marijuana activist, speaks to the media Wednesday, January 1, after becoming the first person to legally purchase recreational marijuana in Colorado. Colorado is the first state in the nation to allow retail pot shops. “It’s huge,” Azzariti said. “It hasn’t even sunk in how big this is yet.”
Members of a crowd numbering tens of thousands smoke and listen to live music at the Denver 420 Rally on April 20. Annual festivals celebrating marijuana are held around the world on April 20, a counterculture holiday.
A man smokes a joint during the official opening night of Club 64, a marijuana social club in Denver, on New Year’s Eve 2012. Voters in Colorado and Washington state passed referendums to legalize recreational marijuana on November 6, 2012.
People light up near the Space Needle in Seattle after the law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana went into effect in Washington on December 6, 2012.
Nutrient products are placed on shelves in the weGrow marijuana cultivation supply store during its grand opening on March 30, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The store is a one-stop-shop for supplies and training to grow plants indoors, except for the actual marijuana plants or seeds. Legislation was enacted in 2010 authorizing the establishment of regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in the nation’s capital.
Marijuana activist Steve DeAngelo wears a “Yes on Prop 19” button as he speaks during a news conference in Oakland, California, on October 12, 2010, to bring attention to the state measure to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes in California. Voters rejected the proposal.
Sonja Gibbins walks through her growing warehouse in Fort Collins, Colorado, on April 19, 2010. Since the state approved medical marijuana in 2000, Colorado has seen a boom in marijuana dispensaries, trade shows and related businesses. So far 20 states and the District of Columbia have made smoking marijuana for medical purposes legal.
A patient prepares to smoke at home in Portland, Maine, on October 22, 2009, a decade after the state approved a medical marijuana referendum.
Coffeeshop Blue Sky worker Jon Sarro, left, shows a customer different strains of medical marijuana on July 22, 2009, in Oakland, California. Voters in the city approved a measure during a vote-by-mail special election for a new tax on sales of medicinal marijuana at cannabis dispensaries.
Medicinal marijuana patient Angel Raich wipes her eyes during a press conference on March 14, 2007, in Oakland, California. The 9th circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that 41-year-old Raich, who used medicinal marijuana to curb pain from a brain tumor as well as other ailments, did not have the legal right to claim medical necessity to avoid the possibility of prosecution under federal drug laws.
Different varieties of medical marijuana are seen at the Alternative Herbal Health Services cannabis dispensary in San Francisco on April 24, 2006. The Food and Drug Administration issued a controversial statement a week earlier rejecting the use of medical marijuana, declaring that there is no scientific evidence supporting use of the drug for medical treatment.
People in New York gather for a pro-cannabis rally on May 4, 2002. That same day, almost 200 similar events took place around the world to advocate for marijuana legalization. It was dubbed the “Million Marijuana March.”
Dennis Peron takes notes during a phone interview while Gary Johnson lights up at the Proposition 215 headquarters in San Francisco on October 11, 1996. The ballot measure was approved when voters went to the polls in November, allowing medical marijuana in California.
A television ad aired in 1996 by Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole’s campaign included footage from a 1992 MTV interview of a laughing President Clinton saying he would inhale marijuana if given the chance to relive his college days.
President George H. Bush holds up a copy of the National Drug Control Strategy during a meeting in the Oval Office on September 5, 1989. In a televised address to the nation, Bush asked Americans to join the war on drugs.
Robert Randall smokes marijuana that was prescribed to treat his glaucoma in 1988. He became the first legal medical marijuana patient in modern America after winning a landmark case in 1976.
First lady Nancy Reagan participates in a drug education class at Island Park Elementary School on Mercer Island, Washington, on February 14, 1984. She later recalled, “A little girl raised her hand and said, ‘Mrs. Reagan, what do you do if somebody offers you drugs?’ And I said, ‘Well, you just say no.’ And there it was born.” She became known for her involvement in the “Just Say No” campaign.
President Jimmy Carter, with his special assistant for health issues, Dr. Peter Bourne, beside him, talks to reporters at the White House about his drug abuse control message to Congress on August 2, 1977. Among other things, he called for the elimination of all federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
Panel members of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse attend a hearing In Denver on January 10, 1972. From left, Dr. J. Thomas Ungerleider, psychiatrist; Michael R. Sonnenreich, commission executive director; Raymond P. Shafer, commission chairman; Mitchell Ware, Chicago attorney; Charles O. Galvin, Dallas law school dean. The commission’s findings favored ending marijuana prohibition and adopting other methods to discourage use, but the Nixon administration refused to implement its recommendations.
Protesters wade in the Reflecting Pool at the National Mall in Washington during the “Honor America Day Smoke-In” thrown by marijuana activists in response to the official “Honor America Day” rally organized by President Nixon supporters at the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, 1970.
Marijuana reform was the Life magazine cover story in October 1969. The banner read: “At least 12 million Americans have now tried it. Are penalties too severe? Should it be legalized?”
Police dogs trained to smell out hidden marijuana examine U.S. soldiers’ luggage at the airport during the Vietnam War in 1969. Drug use was widespread during the war.
People share a joint during a 1969 concert in Portland, Oregon. In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis.
Marijuana use became more widespread in the 1960s, reflecting the rising counterculture movement.
Research scientist Dr. Reese T. Jones, right, adjusts the electrodes monitoring a volunteer’s brain response to sound during an experiment in 1969 that used a controlled dosage of marijuana. The tests were conducted at the Langley Porter Institute at the University of California, San Francisco.
U.S. Customs agents track the nationwide marijuana market during Operation Intercept, an anti-drug measure announced by President Nixon in 1969. The initiative intended to keep Mexican marijuana from entering the United States.
Members of the Grateful Dead talk with reporters from their home in San Francisco on October 5, 1967. The band was protesting being arrested for marijuana possession.
A woman buys ready-rolled marijuana cigarettes from a dealer at her door circa 1955.
Even after Congress cracked down on marijuana in 1937, farmers were encouraged to grow the crop for rope, sails and parachutes during World War II. The “Hemp for Victory” film was released in 1942 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Marijuana cigarettes are hidden in a book circa 1940. Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, effectively criminalizing the drug.
A poster advertises the 1936 scare film “Reefer Madness,” which described marijuana as a “violent narcotic” that first renders “sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter” on its users before “dangerous hallucinations” and then “acts of shocking violence … ending often in incurable insanity.”
Harry Anslinger was named commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics when it was established in 1930. While arguing for marijuana prohibition, he played on Americans’ fear of crime and foreigners. He spun tales of people driven to insanity or murder after ingesting the drug and spoke of the 2 to 3 tons of grass being produced in Mexico. “This, the Mexicans make into cigarettes, which they sell at two for 25 cents, mostly to white high school students,” Anslinger told Congress.
- Stuart Gitlow: More U.S. states are opening the door to legalizing marijuana
- Gitlow: Research indicates 1 in 6 teens who start using marijuana will become addicted
- He says with pot, people can also experience long-term psychiatric disease
- Gitlow: As a society, why would we want to take on such health risks and costs?
Editor’s note: Dr. Stuart Gitlow is the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and chairman of the scientific advisory board of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) — Back in the 1980s, while attending medical school in New York City, I watched patients remove their oxygen masks so they could smoke cigarettes while in their hospital beds. I watched the chairman of the board of the hospital smoke during board meetings. And I recall people smoking in airline terminals, in their offices, on trains and in restaurants.
Although tobacco smoking rates have dropped significantly in the decades since — thanks in part to legislation and shifting public sentiment — there are still many people who seek the “benefit” of being allowed to smoke, the “benefit” of the feeling they get from smoking, no matter the personal risk or the societal cost of their eventual illness and early death. And almost always, they started smoking well before they hit the age at which they could legally buy cigarettes.
Could legalizing marijuana become ‘tragedy’?
New York legalizes medical marijuana
Many people know one or more people whose lives were cut short by smoking cigarettes. It’s a tragedy that could be prevented.
Federal marijuana bill would legalize some cannabis strains
And yet, our country stands ready to once again head down the path of accepting another addictive drug, marijuana, as legal. It is almost as if we have to burn our fingers again to be convinced that the stove is still hot.
As with tobacco, a significant number of people who try marijuana will become addicted. Research says that 1 in 6 teens who start using marijuana will become addicted.
But with marijuana, people can also experience long-term psychiatric disease, and those who use it heavily prior to age 25 are more likely than nonusers to experience a drop in IQ. Let me repeat that for emphasis: If you use marijuana heavily prior to age 25, your brain won’t work anymore — not as it did originally. Will you die young, as with tobacco? We’ll have to wait a generation to find out, just as we did with tobacco. Our children will be the guinea pigs.
Why would we as a society choose to do this? If I told you I’m selling a lottery ticket where you have a chance of winning and must accept 1) a benefit that will last a few hours, 2) a permanently malfunctioning brain, 3) lifelong addiction or 4) — the PowerBall — psychosis, would you play? The New York Times editorial board think that risk is worth taking, as it promotes legalization of marijuana sales and use. Why would it and other marijuana proponents put the public in harm’s way?
As a society, we will not make money — we will likely lose money, just as we do with tobacco and alcohol. Taxpayers will need to pay more in order to make up for the productivity and illness-related losses that marijuana taxes won’t come close to covering.
And since only a small percentage of state prisoners are there for marijuana offenses, how much would we be saving in criminal justice costs? Especially since there are more alcohol-related arrests (e.g. drunkenness, driving under the influence, violation of liquor laws) than all illegal drug arrests combined.
Some would have us believe the benefit of a brief high is worth all the known risks, including the eventual addiction of about 17% of young people who decide to try marijuana. And let’s face it, how many people start using marijuana after age 25? Some would have us believe the benefit of a high is worth it despite the driving accidents that have already been shown to be related to marijuana use.
Is a momentary high so important that people are willing to take on such risks? The stakes, in this case, are our children. Let’s not turn them into guinea pigs.
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