The Rise of Medical Marijuana
In recent years, the stigma around marijuana has begun to fade away as it becomes legalized for medical or recreational use around the United States of America. While it is still a controversial topic, changes are being made by the week to make it legal, accessible, and ultimately, socially acceptable. Medical marijuana legalization is far more common than recreational legalization, and the midterm elections brought lots of attention to this topic. Canada has also been getting a lot of coverage on this topic because the entire country legalized recreational marijuana, which is a very bold and meaningful move. As marijuana becomes legalized in even more places in our country, it is increasingly important to know how medical marijuana works, why it’s legal, and what the government is doing about it.
Marijuana is commonly used recreationally because of its pleasant ,relaxing effect, at least for some. This effect actually translates to its use medically as well, as it is often used for reducing pain. According to a National Institute of Drug Abuse publication (June, 2018), some other uses include decreasing inflammation, reducing tension, and it could even be used to help with substance abuse and addiction since it is a far less harmful substitute for opioids. Some more negative side effects include an increased appetite, paranoia, and problems with coordination and reaction time.
However, it is crucial to differentiate two of the substances within cannabis: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and Cannabidiol (CBD). While THC can relieve pain or reduce inflammation, it is usually not used in medication. This is because many people trying medical marijuana, whether someone with anxiety or cancer, do not want the hallucinatory effects THC has. This is because THC is the main psychoactive chemical in the cannabis plant, meaning it is the portion of marijuana that makes people “high.” CBD can be ingested in a number of ways, including a pill, an oil, or even in as a flavored and drinkable substance. It is important to have this baseline of knowledge to discuss the more pressing question, why legalize marijuana?
The legalization of marijuana is a relatively new change in the United States. Time Magazine (April, 2016) says, “In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, the first legislation legalizing marijuana for medical purposes at the state level.” This is correct, and all 42 other legalized states, besides Vermont, also legalized medical marijuana through ballot measures. Over the past 20 years, there have been people who swear by medical marijuana, as well as a fair share of people who object, causing a lot of division and controversy. However, even before Proposition 215, there was an acknowledgment of marijuana in the US Government. Back in 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was put in place. This did not make marijuana illegal per se, but in order to buy or sell marijuana, one had to go through a rigorous process to register, as well as pay a hefty tax. If the precise rules of this law were not followed, one could face up to five years of imprisonment, meaning marijuana was effectively impossible to get, unless perhaps you were rich and powerful. Later, in the 1970s, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which was used to categorize drugs based on how much they should be restricted. The criteria for this selection was confusing, and marijuana was placed in the most restrictive category. For comparison, cocaine and methamphetamine, or meth, are ranked an entire category before marijuana, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. The United States’ rocky relationship with the cannabis plant is clearly ongoing, although lately, things have been looking up for pro-marijuana individuals.
Despite personal opinions, there is no question that marijuana legalization is relevant, and more importantly, happening frequently. The midterms this year had numerous ballot proposals relating to marijuana, and according to Wired (November, 2018) medical marijuana was legalized in two new states: Missouri and Utah. Michigan saw the addition of recreational use becoming legal, making it one of ten states that are fully legalized. Could it be that soon the entire country will be legalized? Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, said: “Two-thirds of the country wants marijuana to be legal, and politicians are ignoring that at their peril.” However, this does not mean there were no campaigns full of support, or opposition, for marijuana, but that it could potentially be time for this issue to be brought to Congress. Times are changing, and this story will continue to evolve and grow, but stay in the limelight.
Many people are hopeful for the elections ahead, as the midterms were quite eventful. Big things are already happening in the world of legalization, even in the state right next to us: New Jersey. A bill may get passed that would entirely legalize the recreational use of marijuana for individuals above the age of twenty-one. While the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, has been an advocate of legal marijuana in the past, it also appears that people in the area are slowly being swayed towards legalization as it becomes a more reliable substance for medical and recreational use. This issue has had a continuous tie with the political turmoil in the United States, and it has become clear that this is not a bipartisan issue, and that it will not be easy for both sides to compromise. Nevertheless, pro-marijuana citizens have had a good month in terms of support, and it would not be shocking if this pattern continued.
Students and teachers at City and Country should be aware of the news surrounding this issue because New York, like every state, is involved. Marijuana is not available recreationally in New York, but that is not the case for medical use. New Jersey’s close proximity, and cultural similarities, to New York could plausibly affect the mindset of New York lawmakers, but nothing is being changed yet, that we know of. However, there is a lot of speculation on whether this could soon change. The New York Times (September, 2018) said that “In January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called on the state Health Department to conduct a study on the pros and cons of regulated marijuana in New York,” and they predicted that recreational marijuana could be legalized in the midterms. The prediction, of course, was incorrect, but like every other state, legalization never truly is off the table.