Pubdate: Thu, 18 Aug 2016
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Column: Weed Between the Lines
Copyright: 2016 Boulder Weekly
Author: Sarah Haas


A new Gallup poll released earlier this week finds that self-reported 
cannabis consumption nearly doubled in the last two years. 
Thirty-three million people, or 13 percent of U.S. adults, report 
currently using marijuana, up from 7 percent in 2013.

The number of adults that report having used marijuana at some point 
in their lives also rose slightly from 38 percent in 2013 to 43 
percent in 2016.

Considering that cannabis is still federally illegal, this is 
remarkable growth, but it is hard to determine if it is a function of 
state level decriminalization and legalization efforts or of a 
decrease in stigma surrounding cannabis consumption.

It is difficult to connect prohibition with prevalence of use because 
criminalization doesn't necessarily get rid of the market but rather 
forces it underground - behind closed doors with closed lips. With no 
oversight or regulation, there is simply less to measure resulting in 
a lack of data and, with legal penalties for use and distribution, 
people are more reluctant to admit their own behaviors. Just like in 
alcohol prohibition, the prohibition of cannabis might appear to have 
reduced consumption, but the reality of the situation is far more 
convoluted than the numbers suggest.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 
released a poll earlier this year that draws a correlation between 
stigma and use rates. According to the survey, people who use 
marijuana less are more likely to say that marijuana use is harmful. 
Conversely, those who use it more are less likely to cite its harmful effects.

Since 2013, legal cannabis markets in the U.S. have grown, 
significantly increasingly legal access. In 2013, only two states, 
Colorado and Washington, had legal, adult-use markets and they were 
both in their infancy. Three years later, four states have legal, 
adult-use markets with another five states voting on legalization 
ballot initiatives in November. Currently, half of U.S. states have 
some form of legal medical markets and another four have legislation 
in the works.

It appears that adults residing in or near legal markets are more 
likely to use cannabis. According to the Gallup poll, residents in 
the West, where all of the legal, adult-use markets are located, are 
much more likely to say they consume marijuana than in other parts of 
the country.

But just as important as the states that have been successful in 
passing cannabis legislation, are those that considered initiatives 
that ultimately failed. Whether they make it or not, these ballot 
initiatives introduce a new rhetoric into congressional floors and 
into the public dialogue. As the conversation becomes less taboo, 
elected officials and citizens reckon with their own attitudes and 
opinions of the plant and, because of prohibition, probably for the first time.

The legalization chatter isn't just relegated to the state level - 
four presidential candidates, Democratic, Republican, Green Party and 
Libertarian - have all expressed their support for federal 
legalization, albeit in varying degrees. International governments 
are also hosting their own considerations of drug law reform that 
represent a significant change in approach to legalization of 
cannabis consumption that favors decriminalization and education in 
an effort to foster a health-based approach.

Whether or not people use cannabis, support for legalization is 
increasing across the board. A Center for Public Affairs Research 
poll released in March finds that 61 percent of adults support 
legalization, the highest reported number to date. With the vast 
majority of Americans in favor of reform, the days of prohibition are 
likely numbered.

Because the early footings of legal cannabis market were achieved 
through campaigns that sought to regulate cannabis like alcohol, it 
is interesting to track changing attitudes about alcohol in step with 
those on cannabis.

According to a 2014 survey from the National Institute of Health, 87 
percent of adults report that they have drank alcohol at some point 
in their lives and 71 percent drank in the last year. According to a 
2015 Gallup poll, one in five U.S. adults say moderate drinking is 
healthy, while 28 percent perceive moderate drinking as bad for health.

The main difference is that while negative perceptions about alcohol 
are based in evidence of alcohol related accidents, deaths and 
illnesses, negative perceptions of cannabis do not stem from any such 
data. Instead, they are largely rooted in fears, misunderstanding and 

Cannabis prohibition, just like alcohol prohibition, succeeded in one 
respect - both significantly reduced the amount of consumption of the 
banned substance, on paper. Each state has different goals for their 
legalization efforts, but for the most part they share the directive 
to make consumption safer and more responsible, while minimizing the 
harmful effects of criminalization.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom