While we now enjoy the support of a majority of the American public to end marijuana prohibition, 64 percent of those same people nonetheless still have an overall negative impression of marijuana smokers. All to often they see us as slackers who fail to live up to our full potential, and whose primary interest in life is getting stoned.
While much of that disconnect is likely the result of decades of “reefer madness” propaganda, some of it also results from careless conduct on the part of some marijuana smokers that reinforces those negative stereotypes. We can’t change the past, but we do have the ability to demonstrate by our conduct that marijuana smokers also have full, rich lives filled with family and friends, and influenced by our intellectual and professional pursuits. We are about more than just getting high.
In fact, those of us who smoke marijuana are otherwise indistinguishable from other Americans. We come in all shapes and sizes, with a full range of political beliefs and lifestyles and professional goals. For the vast majority of smokers, our use of marijuana does not define our lives; it is but one factor, including family, work, education, sports, literature, music and faith, that taken together, define who we are as individuals.
Of course, those of us who smoke enjoy the benefits of marijuana, from its relaxing qualities to its ability to allow one to become more creative, and expansive, in our thinking. I do believe that marijuana smoking plays a very positive role in my life and in my work, and I am sure many other smokers feel the same.
Everyone needs some private time, and getting “high” — like sex — is not a dirty word. There are times when we can lay aside our responsibility for a time, and enjoy the freedom of just getting high with friends. But that does not suggest that marijuana smoking should become the center of one’s life, or that one should be stoned all waking hours. Most jobs and educational pursuits require a clear mind and a steady focus that are not possible if one is experiencing the short-term memory loss that is an integral part of the marijuana “high.”
And a healthy family life requires shared experiences and interactions that depend on a degree of personal communication that is frequently interrupted if one of the parties is stoned. And, frankly, like most other activities in life, getting “high” is more pleasurable when experienced in moderation.
Principles of Responsible Marijuana Use
Here are a few common sense suggestions for enjoying marijuana in a responsible manner, which will, over time, help persuade the non-smokers that those of us who do smoke are nonetheless good, productive citizens. Many of these are based on The Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use, adopted by the NORML board of directors back in 1996, and found on the NORML website.
1. Be sensitive to the set and setting before lighting-up. A responsible marijuana consumer should be vigilant to the conditions – time, place, mood, etc. – and should not hesitate to say “no” when those conditions are not conductive to a safe, pleasant and/or productive experience. And we must always respect the rights of others.
The responsible marijuana smoker does not violate the rights of others, observes accepted standards of courtesy and public propriety, and respects the preferences of those who wish to avoid marijuana entirely. Regardless of the legal status of marijuana, responsible users should adhere to emerging tobacco smoking protocols in public and private places. It is important politically that non-smokers do not feel as if those of us who smoke are forcing our personal preferences on them.
2. No driving while impaired with marijuana. A responsible marijuana consumer should not operate a motor vehicle or use other dangerous machinery while impaired by marijuana or other substances (including alcohol and some prescription medications).
Public safety requires that impaired drivers be kept off the roads, and that objective measures of impairment be developed to detect marijuana impairment; not simply testing for the presence of THC.
3. Resist abuse. Most marijuana use is essentially harmless; some is not. The use of marijuana, to the extent it impairs health, personal development or achievement, is abuse and should be resisted.
For example, the concept of “wake and bake” needs to disappear from our lexicon. It is a variation on the “stupid stoner” stereotype of a smoker who sits home on his couch all day and stays stoned from morning until night. That image feeds the prejudice that exists among non-smokers towards those of us who smoke.
“Wake and bake” might work on an occasional camping trip, or a day spent walking in the woods, but it should not be a regular part of one’s life.
4. Be careful with edibles and concentrates. When consumed as an edible, the THC in marijuana requires up to 90-minutes, or even longer, to take effect, and it is therefore difficult to titrate the dosage. 10 milligrams is generally considered a single dose for an experienced user, and perhaps 5 milligrams for a novice user.
One who consumers too much of an edible will likely have a frightening, unpleasant experience, similar to a bad acid trip, which sometimes ends up in an emergency room. Those incidents are not life threatening or fatal, but they do reinforce negative views of marijuana smoking by non-smokers, and complicate our task of moving legalizing forward.
And the same warning applies to concentrates. Novice users especially need to go slowly when using concentrates, to avoid an unpleasant overdose; and even experienced smokers frequently are surprised by the strength of concentrates. Just as alcohol drinkers learn to use far less if they are drinking hard liquor than if they are drinking beer, those who use edibles and concentrates must acknowledge the distinction from regular marijuana and adjust their intake.
5. Moderation in all things. Just as alcohol drinkers learn that moderation is necessary to insure a pleasant experience, and to avoid an unpleasant one, so too with marijuana smoking. Getting as high as possible should not be the goal. The purpose of marijuana smoking should be to reach a nice, comfortable, pleasant high that permits enjoyable social interaction with others, and enhances the experience of activities such as eating, listening to music, walking in the woods, having sex, etc.
In fact, sometimes marijuana smokers prefer a mild level of intoxication, which has resulted in the arrival of many low-THC strains and edibles in states in which it is legal.
If those of us who smoke marijuana can generally follow these basic guidelines, we will begin to overcome the negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers that persist among nearly two out of three non-smokers, which in turn will permit us to make the remaining cultural and legal changes required to end unfair discrimination against responsible marijuana smokers.
A new and well done public service announcement in favor of ending cannabis prohibition was just released by Green Flower Media. Producers hope that this advertisement is the first in a series.
Vaporized cannabis mitigates pain intensity in diabetic subjects in a dose-dependent manner, according to clinical trial data published online ahead of print in The Journal of Pain.
Investigators at the University of California, San Diego assessed the efficacy of inhaled cannabis versus placebo in 16 patients with painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN).
Authors reported: “This small, short-term, placebo-controlled trial of inhaled cannabis demonstrated a dose-dependent reduction in diabetic peripheral neuropathy pain in patients with treatment-refractory pain. … Overall, our finding of an analgesic effect of cannabis is consistent with other trials of cannabis in diverse neuropathic pain syndromes.”
A series of clinical trials conducted by investigators affiliated with the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego previously reported that the inhalation of whole-plant cannabis is efficacious in the treatment of various types of treatment-resistant neuropathic pain, including HIV-associated neuropathy and spinal cord injury. According to the findings of a 2014 clinical trial published in the Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, “At least 10 randomized controlled trials, lasting for more than 1000 patients, have demonstrated efficacy of different types of cannabinoids for diverse forms of neuropathic pain.”
An abstract of the study, “Efficacy of inhaled cannabis on painful diabetic neuropathy,” appears online here.
The question was intriguing, and caused me to revisit in my mind the areas of public policy in which marijuana smokers continue to be treated unfairly, even in states that have legalized marijuana, and to consider why these problems remain so difficult for us to correct.
I have discussed in previous columns the continuing problems we face as smokers dealing with employment discrimination, child custody and related issues, and charges of driving under the influence of marijuana. Simply put, marijuana smokers continue to be treated as people who, because of their marijuana smoking, can be fired from their job without the slightest indication they have ever gone to work in an impaired condition; continue to be presumed by the state child welfare agencies to be unfit parents, without any evidence to suggest that conclusion; and continue to face DUID charges without any showing of driving while impaired.
Most Americans are decent, fair-minded people who would generally want to treat their fellow citizens in a fair manner, just as they would want to be treated. But because of the impact of decades of “reefer madness” propaganda and widespread misinformation about marijuana and marijuana smokers, once the factor of marijuana smoking enters the equation, these same Americans are largely willing to allow – or even encourage – policies that needlessly and unfairly harm the families, careers and lives of people who are good, hard-working individuals who happen to enjoy marijuana smoking when they relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine when they relax in the evening.
Two out of Three Americans Have an Unfavorable Impression of Marijuana Smokers
This is true despite the fact that a majority of the American public now support full legalization. They have concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself; but they are certainly not pro-marijuana. This is an important distinction. These citizens were dubbed the “marijuana middle” by the Third Way, a Washington, DC think tank that recently released polling data showing, somewhat shockingly, that while a majority of the country now favor full legalization, 64 percent of those same people have a negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers!
They believe that those of us who smoke marijuana are doing something wrong, and harmful, regardless of the legal status of marijuana. Thus in every policy area that arises, including especially employment, child custody and driving, they continue to presume the worst-case scenario, and, in their minds, to “err on the side of caution” to protect the non-smoking public from the perceived dangers of marijuana smoking and marijuana smokers.
This is largely the result of the “stupid stoner” stereotypes that too many Americans continue to embrace for recreational users. While many of us who smoke have learned to laugh at those stereotypes when they appear in the popular culture, apparently too many of our fellow citizens fail to see the humor, and take them seriously. They see us as slackers who fail to live-up to our potential, and whose primary interest in life is getting stoned. And until we correct this misimpression, it will be impossible to put in place policies that treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly.
And that brings me back to the question I was asked regarding what the new generation of legalization advocates could do to leave their mark on the legalization movement. My answer is that the latest generation of advocates must come out of the closet in far greater numbers – to stand-up tall and proudly announce that you are a responsible marijuana smoker, as well as a good, productive citizen.
It is only by demonstrating that marijuana smokers are hard-working, middle class individuals who raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive manner to our communities, that we can finally overcome those negative stereotypes that persist. And until we overcome those stereotypes, we cannot achieve full equality with our fellow citizens. We will continue to be treated unfairly both legally and culturally.
In earlier decades, it took real courage to acknowledge your use of marijuana, as one might find yourself shunted by friends or colleagues, or even worse, targeted by law enforcement. And even today, the Third Way polling results clearly demonstrate there remains a stigma to marijuana smoking, and we must overcome that stigma if we are to avoid these unfair policies, even after legalization.
It is the younger generation of smokers who must face this final challenge. We have, after decades of effort, begun the long process of redefining the responsible use of marijuana as a legal activity. Over the next several years, we should succeed in ending the practice of arresting marijuana smokers all throughout the country.
But we will continue to be treated unfairly until we overcome this persistent cultural bias. So long as 65% of the public have an unfavorable view of those of us who smoke, we simply cannot achieve full equality. To do that we must convince the majority of the non-smokers that marijuana smokers are just average Americans – good people –who just happen to enjoy smoking marijuana. We need to move the “marijuana middle” to a place where they are emotionally more comfortable with those of us who smoke. This is a necessary cultural shift.
That is the challenge for our younger colleagues in the legalization movement.
While it may not be apparent to casual observers of the current drive to legalize marijuana in America, we are truly the beneficiaries of political reforms adopted during what is generally referred to as the Progressive Era.
This period of social activism and political reform in America is generally defined as beginning in 1890 and running through 1920.
The principal objective of the Progressive movement was eliminating corruption in government, and to accomplish that goal, proponents sought ways to take down the powerful and corrupt political bosses and to provide access to ordinary Americans in the political system – a concept called direct democracy, as contrasted to representative democracy.
On the national level, progressivism gained a strong voice in the White House with the election of Teddy Roosevelt as president in 1901. Other national proponents included Robert La Follette and Charles Evans Hughes on the Republican side, and William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson and Al Smith on the Democratic side.
It was during this period that the concept of direct primaries to nominate candidates for public office, direct election of US senators, and universal suffrage for women gained traction; and most important to our work, the procedures know as referendum and initiatives began to be adopted in several states.
To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.