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Picture this: You invite some of your friends over to dinner on a Friday night. They show up with a bottle of wine, you have a couple laughs, and share the bottle over some Penne alla vodka. Does this scenario sound out of the ordinary or character-defining? Society accepts and often glorifies the use of alcohol and tobacco. In Buffalo, we have a vibrant craft beer scene. Alcohol friendly events are common especially in the warmer months. Events include beer exchange, brew fest, and sip & paint. While alcohol use is considered quite normal in our society, decades of misinformation have contributed to substantial stigma associated with cannabis.
With such a complicated history of prohibition, cross-cultural trade, and propaganda, cannabis consumers throughout the last 80 years have been wrongly depicted as emotionless, “lazy stoner” caricatures. Successful consumers such as Anthony Bourdain, Morgan Freeman, Willie Nelson and Steve Jobs are a testament to the fact that we as hard-working individuals determine our destiny: not a plant. One thing is for certain — cannabis is not as dangerous and life-wrecking as the 37% of Americans who oppose legalization make it out to be.
The stigmatized view of marijuana arose mainly out of the 1930s Reefer Madness era, and was later reestablished with Richard Nixon’s war on drugs in 1971. These laws, combined with media influence and emerging stereotypes, unfairly shaped societal perceptions of what is acceptable. D.A.R.E, which is still active throughout 75% of school districts today, teaches students that, “The research is still inconclusive regarding whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug.” Despite this, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that, “The majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other illicit substances.” The recreational use of alcohol kills 88,000 people every year, yet there is still to be one reported death due to cannabis.* The CDC indicates that 20.5 percent of teenagers started drinking before age 13. With this data in mind, it is confusing as to why cannabis, a substance with a myriad of medical benefits, is looked down upon while alcohol use remains acceptable.
Myths such as the gateway theory have been fed to the American people for too long, and it is time that cannabis use by adults, be treated fair and not prejudice. How are we, as fellow Buffalonians, to legalize cannabis while still shaming those that choose to consume? Let’s face it: what is legalization for Western New Yorkers without acceptance? The herb has great potential to ease symptoms of chronic disease and change lives. I look forward to the day when the cannabis stigma is extinguished and responsible adults can consume cannabis without being labeled.
*Editor’s Note: There have been several reports which challenge this claim. One involves a death following ingestion of an edible. Others involve rare adverse effects from cannabis, such as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.