It’s a great time to be alive if you are a marijuana smoker. We are finally working our way out of the shadows of prohibition and into the mainstream. Following the reign of terror that resulted in more than 25 million Americans being arrested on marijuana charges since 1937, the country is at last looking for a better alternative.
Fewer marijuana smokers are being arrested.
Flickr/Oregon Dept. of Transportation – flic.kr
First, and most important, fewer and fewer states continue to treat responsible marijuana smokers like criminals. Seventeen states have decriminalized the personal use of marijuana, and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use. With each new state that moves in our direction, the number of marijuana arrests continues to decline.
The latest marijuana arrest data released this week by the FBI show that 643,122 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges in 2015, with 89 percent of those arrests for marijuana possession only, not for cultivation or trafficking. While that number remains far too high — that’s a lot of individuals having their lives and careers disrupted unfairly over their use of marijuana — it is the lowest number of marijuana arrests reported since 1996. And it represents nearly a 25 percent reduction in arrests since the peak (almost 800,000 arrests) was reached in 2007.
“Enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana,” according to the ACLU’s 2013 report on marijuana arrests.
With five states scheduled to vote on full legalization this November, marijuana arrest rates are expected to continue to decline further in the coming years. We clearly still have lots of work to do, but the trend is all in our direction, and the pace appears to be accelerating.
More Americans are smoking marijuana.
Second, marijuana smoking continues to become more mainstream culturally, with more and more adult Americans smoking each year. Instead of being ostracized and marginalized, marijuana smokers today are being embraced by the larger culture. For most Americans today, smoking marijuana is simply no big deal.
About 30 million Americans smoked marijuana over the past year, more than double the number of smokers in 2002, and 69 percent of the country now are aware that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
One in eight Americans (13 percent) now reports that they currently smoke marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s nearly double the number of current users (7 percent) found by Gallup just three years earlier, with 43 percent of Americans acknowledging they have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. One in five adults under 30 years of age is now a pot smoker.
Flickr/Dank Depot – flickr.com
And yet the number of adolescent marijuana smokers has not increased over the last decade, and adolescents tell us that marijuana is becoming less available to them than in prior years. The percentage of respondents aged 12-17 years who perceived marijuana to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent between 2002 and 2014, researchers at the CDC reported. Regulation with age controls is clearly more effective than prohibition.
As marijuana smoking continues to gain popularity, it also gains respectability, with fewer and fewer Americans supporting marijuana prohibition. They are not necessarily pro-pot, but — just as the country learned with the failed attempt at alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early ’30s — a majority of the public has concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself. Roughly 60 percent of the public now supports ending prohibition and legalizing marijuana.
Among generations, the demographics are strongly pointing toward ending prohibition altogether. About 68 percent of Millennials say marijuana should be legal, and 50 percent of baby boomers favor legalization. Young Americans simply have no problem with marijuana and can’t understand why it was ever made illegal.
High quality marijuana is available today.
Flickr/fredodf, Bigstock/greg banks – flic.kr
Finally, high quality marijuana is available to most consumers today, regardless of where you live. The marijuana legalization movement is only incidentally about marijuana; it is really about personal freedom. The government has no business coming into our homes to know what books we read, what music we listen to, how we conduct ourselves in the bedroom, and whether we drink alcohol or smoke marijuana when we relax in the evening. It is simply none of their business.
If there were no marijuana to smoke, this movement would still be an interesting intellectual exercise, but it would not be a political movement that is changing fundamental values in our country. We have political power as a movement because we are part of a community, and our marijuana smoking helps define that community.
There was a time when marijuana smokers had to make a serious effort to find a source to obtain decent marijuana, and in many parts of the country, there was frequently a “marijuana drought” for a couple of months each fall, before the new crop was harvested, when there was simply no marijuana available for consumers to buy on the black market. During those years, most high quality marijuana was imported. Some came from Canada, some from Mexico (“Acapulco Gold”). There was ganja from Jamaica, “Thai stick” from Thailand, etc. Domestic marijuana during those years was considered “ditch weed” and only smoked as a last resort.
And because of the legal risks involved importing marijuana, the price sometimes put high quality marijuana out of reach for many consumers, even if available. It was largely a connoisseur’s market.
Then the “grow America” movement took off. With seeds imported primarily from Holland and Canada, domestic marijuana growers began to produce the finest marijuana in the world. That remains the case today. Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam, for example, will find that most of the marijuana available in the famous coffee shops, while good, is simply not as strong as the marijuana available in most states today, either via the legally regulated market or on the black market.
We’re looking for basic fairness.
Flickr/Heath Alseike, Flickr/Unai Mateo – flickr.com
We still have a great deal of work to do before responsible marijuana smokers are treated fairly: Job discrimination, child custody issues, and DUID are just three of the more important areas where smokers are still treated like second class citizens. And we need social clubs where we can legally socialize with our friends and others who also smoke marijuana, outside a private home.
But these reforms will come as we continue to come out of the closet and gain political strength and as more and more Americans accept the fact that we are just average Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute to our communities in a positive manner. When we relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, tens of millions of us enjoy a joint.
Is this a great country or what?
This column first ran on ATTN.com.
Meeting at our board meeting in Boston this past Friday, held in conjunction with the Boston Freedom Rally, the national NORML board of Directors endorsed Denver Social Use Initiative 300, the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program.
Under current law, marijuana can be legally smoked only in a private home, or in one of only a few marijuana-friendly hotels in the state. Most tourists and many renters have no place where they can legally consume marijuana that they legally buy in Colorado. This is not a realistic situation, and will continue to result in many people smoking in public, which is not legal in Colorado, and can result in stiff fines.
Two Competing Social Use Initiatives
There were initially two competing social use initiative being circulated in Denver. Denver NORML and Responsible Use Denver were circulating petitions for an initiative that would have allowed marijuana-only lounges and special use permits to be issued, and frankly, it was in my perspective the preferred proposal. It would have provided Amsterdam-like lounges where marijuana smokers could socialize with their marijuana smoking friends outside a private home, and it would have provided for special permits for 420 and similar events where marijuana smoking would have been legal.
And most importantly, it would not have permitted alcohol sales in the marijuana lounges, an attempt to avoid the problems often faced when alcohol drinkers imbibe too heavily, getting in fights and otherwise engendering violent and aggressive behavior. As marijuana smokers, we did not want to be blamed for these all-too-familiar alcohol-related problems.
But despite a valiant effort by Jordan Person and Judd Golden and Denver NORML supporters, the petition failed to gather a sufficient number of signatures of registered voters. It was a true grassroots effort, and Denver NORML will likely be back with another effort in the future.
An industry-backed and funded effort, Initiative 300, did make the ballot with a proposal that would permit certain bars and lounges to apply for a license that would permit marijuana edibles in restricted areas, and perhaps vaporization (although city authorities have questioned whether this would be permissible under current state law). But to obtain such a license, the applicant would first have to obtain the approval of a neighborhood advisory council, a requirement that is not likely to be met by many applicants.
Nonetheless, any proposal that recognizes the need for responsible marijuana smokers to be allowed to use marijuana outside a private home is a step in the right direction, and thus this initiative, with all of its shortcomings, still deserves our support.
So all Denver marijuana smokers need to get behind this city-wide voter initiative, and let’s continue to push the envelope until we achieve a policy that treats responsible marijuana fairly in all respects, including job discrimination, child custody issues; driving under the influence of drugs, and the right to socialize with other marijuana smokers in a public setting outside the home where we are permitted to smoke marijuana.
We know that roughly half the adults in the entire country have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives, and that more than 30 million Americans have smoked just in the last year, a number that continues to increase each year. What is not so clear is precisely who smokes marijuana. If one were to rely on the popular culture for that answer, you might conclude marijuana smokers are cultural misfits living a lifestyle better suited for the 1960s and 70s.
The Current Inaccurate Images Held by Non-Smokers
Because of a number of factors resulting from prohibition (i.e., recreational marijuana smoking remains illegal in most states; a social stigma still attaches to marijuana smoking; and most middle-class marijuana smokers must remain “in the closet” to protect their jobs), the public image of marijuana smokers has been largely shaped by those on the fringes of the marijuana culture. Too often the result, fueled by stoner movies and popular culture, has been a cartoon-like image of the stoned slacker whose life is all about getting and staying stoned all day.
While most of us who smoke marijuana have learned to enjoy the humor, it has without question held us back politically.
Because of those negative stereotypes, even in the states that have legalized marijuana and stopped arresting smokers, marijuana smokers are simply not treated fairly in a number of important areas that impact us on a daily basis. Private employers are still legally permitted to fire an employee who tests positive for THC without any evidence the employee came to work in an impaired condition. Child welfare agencies across the country routinely presume that any use of marijuana by a parent with minor children is evidence suggesting the parent may be unfit to retain custody of his/her child. And marijuana smokers remain subject to arrest and prosecution for a DUID charge, simply because some level of THC was found in their system , without any showing of impairment. These and other discriminatory practices would not be tolerated if those of us who smoke were seen as good, responsible citizens.
Who Smokes Marijuana Today?
While the survey was far too small to provide statistically significant data, a recent poll designed to learn more about the demographics of marijuana smokers does allow us to peek behind the curtain that continues to mask the identity of most marijuana smokers. This new poll, the Civilized Cannabis Culture Poll, suggests those negative stereotypes common in the media are pure fiction and do not accurately reflect the marijuana smoking culture in America. They found that smokers are just average people with families, careers and full lives, in addition to their marijuana smoking.
So We’re Not Slackers, After All
According to the Civilized poll results, most marijuana consumers are homeowners (66%); 74% are employed ; half have a household income of $75,000 or higher; 51% hold supervisory or executive roles at work; 52% have completed college or university-level programs; and 78% are married with children.
That sounds pretty mainstream and middle-class to me.
The poll also confirmed that most (73%) marijuana smokers admit they sometimes feel the need to hide their marijuana smoking from their family members, friends, or colleagues at work. Twenty-four percent of the men reported hiding their use from their wives or significant others, while 17% of women said they did the same. The percentage using marijuana surreptitiously was highest among young smokers and higher-income smokers. Without question, some social stigma remains attached to marijuana use, causing many smokers to keep their marijuana smoking a private matter.
This survey found that once smokers reach retirement age, more people feel free to come out of the closet. Less than 7% of those over 45 years of age said they hid it from their spouse or partner. Apparently there are some advantages to age, and being honest about one’s marijuana use is one of those.
Get To Know Your Neighbors
All of which brings me back to the need for more middle-class marijuana smokers to let their friends and neighbors and, where possible, their colleagues at work, know they are responsible marijuana smokers in addition to being good neighbors and loving parents.
If non-smokers understand that we are just like them, except that we prefer to smoke a joint at the end of the day to relax, just as tens of millions of other Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, then we can finally overcome the remaining obstacles that keep us from enjoying the same rights as all other citizens.
We do not need to blow smoke in the face of those who do not approve of marijuana, but we do need to demonstrate by our conduct that we are good, productive citizens. Our use of marijuana is just one aspect of our lives and nothing that should concern them.
Until we do this, we will continue to face unfair discrimination based solely on our choice of intoxicants. We have the ability to end marijuana discrimination, and we have the obligation to try.
We are only incidentally talking about marijuana smoking. We are really talking about personal freedom and equality.
This column was originally posted on marijuana.com:
Read more http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2016/04/who-smokes-marijuana-in-america/
One of the most troubling aspects of current marijuana policy in this country, even in those states that have legalized marijuana, is the continuing job discrimination faced by those who smoke marijuana.
In 49 states (Arizona is the sole exception), a private employer is legally free to fire anyone who tests positive for THC in their system, without the slightest suggestion the individual came to work in an impaired condition. It is a relic left over from the “reefer madness” days when marijuana smokers were considered bad people, and employers were anxious to identify smokers and get rid of them.
Arizona does not permit employers to discriminate against legal medical marijuana users (they do not yet have legal recreational use) “unless a failure to do so would cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing benefit under federal law or regulations.” Of course, employees in Arizona are not protected if they come to work in an impaired condition, or possess or use marijuana in the workplace. Until we manage to change federal law, that is a good model for new states to consider, as they draft either medical use or full legalization proposals.
For those who may not know, it is important to understand that THC remains in the system for days, or for heavy, long-term users even weeks, after the individual has smoked marijuana. But the individual is only impaired for about 90-minutes after smoking. It is the impairment that should be of concern to the employer, not the off-work usage.
The Absurdity of the ‘Drug-Free Workplace’
For too many years, private employers have been encouraged by the federal government to drug test their employees, as a way to enforce the anti-marijuana laws. These employers who opted for what is called a “drug-free workplace,” seemed unaware of the hypocrisy of allowing workers to get drunk in the evening and come to work the following morning, while treating off-job marijuana use as a disqualifying factor, even if it occurred days or weeks earlier.
They justified that distinction on the basis that marijuana was illegal, while alcohol was not. But with the changing marijuana policies and attitudes in this country, including four states and the District of Columbia that have legalized adult use, and a total of 37 states that have adopted some form of legal medical use, that justification no longer applies.
Testing for THC determines only whether the individual has smoked marijuana over the last few days; it is not a test for whether one is impaired when the test is taken. Yet today, even in states where marijuana is legal, the majority of employers continue to fire good employees who test positive for THC, without any indication that the individual has ever come to work in an impaired condition. It is an ignorant and self-defeating policy that no longer has any place in the American workplace.
Unless the off-the-job marijuana use is interfering with that employee’s ability to perform their job in a safe and efficient manner, it should be irrelevant.
We need to better educate employers about marijuana and marijuana smoking, and convince them that drug testing, at least for the purpose of identifying marijuana smokers, is a costly waste of money for the employer and will inevitably result in the unnecessary loss of good, productive employees. Whether one enjoys a glass of wine or a marijuana joint when they relax in the evening has absolutely nothing to do with their fitness as an employee.
Another Reagan Legacy
Workplace drug testing was largely popularized by President Ronald Reagan, who in 1986 issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to establish regulations to achieve a “drug-free workplace,” making it clear that federal employees are forbidden to use illegal drugs “whether on duty or off duty,” and requiring drug testing for all applicants for federal employment, and for federal employees deemed to hold sensitive position.
At that time only about 20 percent of private employers drug tested their employees. Today that number exceeds 80 percent. Private corporations have been enlisted in the war on marijuana smokers in a big way, and it will take some time and effort to turn them around. For too long, employers were made to feel that it would almost be unpatriotic if they refused to drug test their employees, that somehow they would share the blame for the perceived drug abuse problems in America. The unmistakable message was “If you love America, help us enforce the marijuana laws and drug test your employees.” And most fell in line.
We all agree that those who operate dangerous machinery, or have the safety and welfare of large numbers of people in their hands, such as bus drivers and airline pilots, can and should be subject to random drug testing. But the vast majority of employers have no such excuse for violating their employees’ privacy.
Influence of the Drug Testing Industry
Another factor driving workplace drug testing is the influence of the drug-testing industry, which includes some of the former drug czars who have cashed-in on the “drug-free workplace” mantra. Most private employers have no drug abuse expertise, and they are regularly warned by those in the drug-testing industry that if they do not hire these drug-testing companies to test the urine of their employees, they will be losing valuable production by workers who are stoned on the job.
There is not the slightest evidence that stoned employees on the job is a serious problem for employers, or that the money employers spend on these needless drug tests is money well spent. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences in 1994, following a three-year study, published a report entitled Under the Influence: Drugs and the American Workforce, which challenged the cost-effectiveness of drug testing employees.
And the inevitable result of workplace drug testing is the loss of many good, loyal, productive employees who are fired for testing positive for THC, but who have never come to work in an impaired condition. That’s both unfair to the employees and damaging to the employer. As marijuana legalization continues forward across the country, those companies that continue to drug test for marijuana will end up in an uncompetitive position, as other more innovative companies accept the legalization of marijuana and protect their employees from job discrimination.
As we move forward with legalization proposals in more and more states, it is important that those proposing the changes do polling to test the impact of including language similar to that adopted by Arizona voters to protect legal smokers from being fired. If the polling demonstrates that legalization can win with the anti-job discrimination provisions included, then obviously they should be. Next to stopping the arrest of smokers, ending the unfair job discrimination marijuana smokers face must be our highest priority.
But if the polling suggests the inclusion of those job-protection provisions will cause the defeat of the initiative, then the language should be deleted and we should deal with this issue in the second phase of reform. We will continue to work to end the unfair job discrimination faced by marijuana smokers, as well as other needed improvements involving child custody and DUID issues, but it is easier politically for us to fine-tune these new laws once marijuana has been legalized and de-stigmatized, and marijuana smokers are no longer seen as criminals.
And we should focus our efforts on better educating private employers that drug testing their employees for marijuana use is both unnecessary and a waste of resources. In the end, it is the cultural acceptance of responsible marijuana smokers as good citizens that will finally end this destructive policy.