- Health

How Public Opinion Changed the Medical Marijuana Debate

California was seen as an outlier when it approved medical marijuana back in the nineties. Little did state lawmakers know they would be setting the stage for medical marijuana’s roll-out across the country. More than two-thirds of the states now recognize marijuana as a legitimate medicine. Among the holdouts, several are now in the midst of crafting medical marijuana programs.

What happened? What caused such a profound turning of the tide? Public opinion. In nearly every state with a medical marijuana program in place, lawmakers were forced to act through strong public pressure or voter referendums. Utah is but one example.

The People Spoke

Utah has been one of the most morally and socially conservative states since its inception. Many thought they would be among the last holdouts fighting against medical marijuana. But according to Deseret Wellness, a retail operation selling medical marijuana in Park City, the tide changed a few years ago when organizers were able to get a referendum on the ballot.

Known as Utah Proposition 2, the issue went before voters in November 2018. It passed with plenty of support. Lawmakers attempted to delay implementation, but state courts intervened. Legislators were ordered to craft legislation that would allow for the implementation of Prop 2.

The people spoke and Utah lawmakers were forced to respond. The same story has been repeated in states across the country. Even now, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has said he will respect the will of the voters on medical marijuana. It is probably only a matter of time before Mississippi has a program in place.

A Crafty Message

Dig a little deeper into the medical marijuana issue and you discover there is something more going on here. Among the thirty-six states with active medical marijuana programs in place, seventeen now allow recreational use. Proponents have even gone so far as to come up with a new term: adult use marijuana.

Some would say that full decriminalization and recreational use have been the plan all along. If that’s the case, pro-marijuana activists have put together a crafty message that seems to be working. They start with the medical market, framing the debate as one of compassion for the sick. It is effective. After all, who wants to deny people their medicine?

Unfortunately, activists who claim their only interest is in medical use tend to shift into adult use gear once the medical question is settled. It’s happening right now in Florida, where it took activists several years to get a state amendment passed. Now those same activists are pushing for complete decriminalization.

People Seem Unconcerned

It would seem as though Americans are unconcerned about the effects of widespread marijuana use in their culture. According to a 2021 Quinnipiac University poll, 69% believe marijuana should be completely legal in this country. Just 25% say it should not be. Likewise, 60% of those responding to a 2021 Pew Research poll say marijuana should be legal for both recreational and medical use. Some 31% say it should be available only for medical use.

Such strong numbers are hard for lawmakers to ignore. They motivate activists to get propositions on the ballot with every election cycle. It appears to be only a matter of time before marijuana will enjoy the same status as alcohol. But is that a good thing?

Medical marijuana is one thing. Decriminalized adult use is something entirely different. We already have enough problems with alcohol in this country. Do we need to add marijuana to the mix? The people will ultimately decide. Then we will have to live with the consequences of that decision.

About Peter

Peter Thompson: Peter, a futurist and tech commentator, writes about emerging technology trends and their potential impacts on society.
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