When discussing marijuana users, many would use descriptive words like lazy, lethargic or even apathetic. This stigmatization easily causes a strong polarization between those who use, and those who think using is wrong.
These stereotypes are blatantly incorrect.
The continuous perpetration that people who use marijuana are “worse members of society” than people who don’t is unfair. Realistically, smoking a joint is no different than drinking a beer at dinner or a cocktail at a bar, yet the stigmatization around marijuana in the United States is far worse than that of alcohol. This is in spite of the fact that alcohol is far worse for our bodies and our communities than marijuana.
The truth is, marijuana has few adverse effects on the body. A study published in Scientific Reports found that the mortality risk of marijuana was approximately 114 times less than that of alcohol.
It is also a common misconception that marijuana impacts brain activity. A 2009 Neurotoxicology and Teratology study found that marijuana has neuroprotective properties, meaning it protects brain cells from harm. The study compared the white matter in teens' brains who solely drink alcohol to those who drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, finding "teens who used weed, as well as alcohol, suffered significantly less damage to the white matter in their brains."
In addition to the miniscule effects marijuana has on one’s health, the legalization of weed has not been found to increase the amount of DUI’s and DWI’s that occur in this country. In 2018, 12 million people, or 4.7% of the population, reported driving under the influence of marijuana. Meanwhile, every 50 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related car accident.
While some opponents point to recent studies indicating that the percentage of deaths related to car crashes involving cannabis have risen from 9% to 21.5% from 2000 to 2018, it should be noted that researchers also stated that “fatalities from crashes involving cannabis are more likely to have involved alcohol.” Hence, alcohol again appears as the bigger influence in crashes.
With all of these factors pointing to marijuana being substantially less impactful on ourselves and communities — why should cannabis users continue to be stigmatized, stereotyped and bad-mouthed for partaking in an activity that is statistically safer than consuming alcohol?
If this alienation can be dismissed, marijuana legalization could have immense beneficial effects on local economies. As proof, cities like Oakland, Calif. and Denver, Colo. were able to collect tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue after legalizing marijuana. This allowed the city governments to increase the quality of life of their constituents and fund additional social programs.
For every year marijuana is not legalized in Wisconsin, hundreds of millions of dollars pour out of the state and into neighboring cities, such as South Beloit, Ill. In fact, Mayor of South Beloit, Ted Rehl, said that "his town's budget relies on the failure of Wisconsin to legalize marijuana." Wisconsinites have continuously crossed the border into Illinois, spending $241 million in the first half of 2021 alone.
More monumental, in many places we have seen the positive effects of a society rid of stereotypes against cannabis users. The city of Madison has already made steps towards the legalization of marijuana by recently allowing those 18 and over to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis.
The effort to legalize marijuana in Madison is being fronted by Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4. According to Verveer, the age to use substances such as alcohol, marijuana or tobacco should be 18, saying, "if you can be drafted to defend our country and entrusted with the vote, you should be seen as an adult in all situations." By making these steps towards legalization, the city of Madison would be forcibly removing any negative portrayal of cannabis from the local community, effectively ending the alienation of cannabis users.
However, Madison's city council on the whole is not doing enough to support civilian desires. A Marquette University poll showed 76% of voters in Dane County voted in support of the legalization of recreational marijuana, while 85% voted in favor of the legalization of medicinal marijuana. It is evident that the people of Madison want to be able to enjoy marijuana recreationally, so why have local and state politicians not pushed for legalization on a national stage?
By continuing to impose these anti-marijuana laws, Wisconsin is effectively outlawing a group of people from belonging to the state's community. These citizens are being alienated solely because of outdated social norms. Cannabis use is no different than drinking alcohol while being better for one’s body.
By outlawing smoking preferences, especially when research outlines numerous merits to marijuana, policy-makers are effectively shunning a group of people based on false pretense and antiquated stereotypes.
Owen Puckett is a freshman studying Political Science. Do you think cannabis users are alienated in our communities as a result of the policy surrounding the drug? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.