A study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that Texans are among the least likely to smoke marijuana as compared to residents of other states. The study sought to compare perspectives on the safety of use of marijuana. That is, the study asked participants to report on the likelihood of perceived risk associated with using marijuana once per month, including health problems, mental health issues, social issues like problems with employment, etc.
Southerners in general were less likely to use marijuana, and according to USA Today, residents of Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama were the least likely to use the drug. On the other end of the spectrum were California, Washington, and Oregon, three states with high rates of marijuana use.
What do perceptions of harm have to do with rates of marijuana abuse, and why does it matter?
The Legal Landscape
The law in this country is designed to reflect the desires of the people, and in recent years, many states have brought the legal status of marijuana, either for medicinal use or recreational use, to a vote. At this time, 25 states and Washington DC have legalized marijuana for use in some manner. Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon have all legalized marijuana for recreational use with some form of limitations concerning how much someone may purchase and have in their possession or grow independently at a given time. Nevada will consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use in November, and many states are in the process of moving similar legislation forward with the goal of putting it in front of voters. The rest of the states provide for legal medical marijuana.
When laws okay the use of a substance, it sends the message that it is safe for use. Even prescription drugs that are limited to medical purposes are often incorrectly deemed to be safe by the general public – an assumption that often leads to inadvertent overdose, abuse, and addiction. Similarly, alcohol, which has long been legal for recreational use has certainly been shown to also be a substance that causes death due to acute medical emergency, contributing to the development of chronic disease, as well as accidents under the influence.
With marijuana joining this group of legal substances, it too is more likely to be perceived as without risk, a dangerous assumption that can lead to unsafe use of the substance and unsafe behaviors under the influence.
Why Does It Matter?
What does it matter to a community at large if some individuals decide to smoke marijuana based on the idea that it is safe? There are a number of issues to take into consideration:
- There is currently no marijuana industry in place. This means that laws concerning use of marijuana in public places, before driving, and in the workplace will be taking up the time of the courts for years to come as the details get worked out. Taxpayers’ money, whether or not they use marijuana, will be diverted to pay for this process.
- Rates of drugged driving will increase. In the states where marijuana is legalized for medical use and those states that have also legalized it for recreational use, the rates of fatal accidents caused by a driver under the influence of the drug have increased. Citizens who do not use the substance will be impacted.
- An increased burden on the healthcare resources of a community is inevitable. In the states that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, there has been an increase in admissions to emergency rooms based on the use of marijuana products, especially edible versions of the drug. This means fewer resources for other health concerns and increased expense to taxpayers.
- Changes in social interactions are likely to occur. Unlike alcohol, it is common for people to use just a little bit of marijuana and go into work, head out to do errands, or otherwise function out in the world. Those who do not choose to use marijuana themselves will likely find that they are often interacting with people who are under the influence of the drug, which can alter the caliber of interactions and change the social environment in a community in a way that may or may not be the first choice of those who do not use the drug.
Do you think the changes that will occur when marijuana is legalized are acceptable? Do you believe that there are any risks associated with use of the drug?