It’s being legalised around the world at a faster rate than ever before. In 2017, marijuana stores in states like Colorado and Oregon in America outnumbered the number of Starbucks stores. Almost $9 billion in legal sales were made. All but four states legalised cannabis, with its massive consumption levels shown by California’s opening of a retail market on Jan 1, 2018. It’s estimated to reach $5.1 billion throughout 2018 in sales. Within political structures, marijuana is gaining popularity too. Phil Murphy, the New Jersey governor, won with marijuana as the persuasion of his campaign.
Reflected in the state movement toward legalisation, the general public’s support of marijuana is burgeoning. At double the number of those supporting legalisation in 2000, nowadays sixty-one percent of Americans are in favour of cannabis legalisation. This is mostly due to the shedding of the traditional stigma that has surrounded the drug. Previously associated with unproductivity, it is increasingly seen as an acceptable means of medicine and recreation.
Another reason for the growing support of cannabis is that it has not led to more drug abuse. This is neither in support of cannabis or against it. While cannabis proponents sing praises of legalisation by arguing that crime levels will lower, cannabis opponents worry that it will lead to more societally irresponsible behaviour. In truth, both groups may be wrong. Cannabis legalisation simply doesn’t have a net positive, or net negative effect.
A key reason for the support of marijuana is that people believe it’s withdrawal symptoms are mild in comparison to other drugs. People who quit generally experience physiological signs of withdrawal which are much more subtle than if the substance had been alcohol, ecstasy or other drugs. More often than not, the symptoms are a mildly elevated pulse, feelings of irritability, and cravings. Compare this to the volatile convulsions of an alcoholic, who may be rendered completely incapacitated without a frequent intake. When quitting, these drug users are noticeably in discomfort, and will have prominent pulse rates and blood pressure. They can experience hallucination and even have seizures.
However, in explaining the absence of federal legalisation of marijuana in the US, a key reason draws from the fact that addiction can still happen. Just because a drug does not induce strong withdrawal symptoms does not mean that it is not addictive. A person who uses cannabis for purely medicinal reasons, in the maintenance of healthy, normal function, is not addicted. But when the behaviour of the person is compulsive and is spiralling out of their control, a potentially life-threatening problem is evident. Just as activities such as gambling and eating commonly display negative effects when performed excessively, the behavioural changes of a person’s routine upon reaching cannabis addiction significantly outweigh the arguably minimal physiological harm it does.
With estimates that 9% of marijuana users are dependent in routine and behaviour on their consumption of the drug, to the point that their normal everyday routines are disturbed in their effort to procure it, there is a clear reason why governments are still reluctant to legalise it. Furthermore, the younger a person is when they first consume marijuana, the likelier they are to become addicted later on. This places youth in lower socioeconomic circumstances at particular vulnerability, as their cannabis consumption may be one of the few sources of recreation and comfort they can obtain. Consequently, these adolescents are more likely to develop anxiety and depression because their brains are continually evolving, lasting into their late 20’s. In turn, this will have an inter-generational impact as their transference of productivity to their children is constrained. Their children, in reciprocation, will likely fulfil the vicious cycle of adopting cannabis too, thus prolonging the low socio-economic plight.
While generally recognised to be ‘tamer’ than other drugs, with less physiologically negative effects, a small proportion of cannabis users develop psychotic-like symptoms from inhaling the smoke. These symptoms, ranging from feeling suspicious of others to being paranoid of surroundings, are on a slippery sloping spectrum leading to a possible diagnosis of schizophrenia. This condition, which disturbs human mind functioning and involves vivid episodes of psychosis involving delusional thoughts, hearing of speech and presence of foreign entities, can have a terminal impact on daily welfare. And whilst turmeric advocates argue that schizophrenia is treatable, there is no cure as of yet, and a great deal of support and dedication to treatment will be necessary to restore a meaningful life. Studies at the moment though, are still paused at the indication that marijuana users have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, and don’t evidence a certain direct causation link.
But in line with the growing support of cannabis legalisation, research studies have highlighted the preference toward cannabis, rather than opioids, for the treatment of patients with chronic back pain. With both drugs found to be effective at treating the pain, there is an inarguable benefit from the perspective of public health – marijuana carries essentially no risk of fatal overdose in comparison to the number of opioid overdose deaths in recent years. Marijuana’s physiological impact is lesser than alcohol, and yet alcohol is more commonly legal. Ultimately, with the arguments for and against marijuana legalisation outlined, and a minimal net positive or negative effect established, it is personal definition of how much consumption is too much.