With the legalization of medicinal and medical marijuana being passed in state after state, public perception of the plant is evolving. More and more people are allowed access across the country to experience cannabis for themselves, and with this exposure, more people now than ever before think that marijuana is harmless.
The journal Lancet Psychiatry recently released the results of a study which examined the use and opinions of 500 American adults on marijuana over 12 years. Looking at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2002 to 2014, the researchers found that marijuana use among American adults has increased, and its perception as being harmful has decreased.
When asked about smoking marijuana “once or twice a week,” only 33.3 percent found it to be a “great risk,” down from the previous figure of 50.4 percent. More startlingly, virtually three times as many respondents now see such marijuana use as causing “no harm” whatsoever – a shift from 5.6 percent to now 15.1 percent.
These changes in attitude are correlated with an increase in use. The study found that the number of people who use marijuana has also gone up – from 10.4 percent to 13.3 percent. The researchers also note that these figures may also be under-reported, as many respondents may have feared legal repercussions if they answered in the affirmative.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that the shift in the general perception of cannabis occurred around 2006 and 2007 – at the same time marijuana began to be legalized in some capacity across many different states. This suggests that as legalization and the resulting access to marijuana began to increase, the public began to utilize cannabis more. And with this greater exposure, their experience with the plant had changed their opinion of it to a more favorable one.
More Exposure = More Favorable Opinion of Marijuana
Roger A. Roffman, the author of Marijuana Nation and a professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work, spoke to ABC News about what has caused this change in perception. He views the legislation as increasingly allowing for marijuana use as instrumental in changing public opinion: “Beginning in the ’90s with medical marijuana laws, we have seen a significant amount of people using marijuana themselves and deciding themselves whether it was harmful to them.” According to Roffman, the result of this experimentation is the increasingly favorable view of the plant that is evident from this study. He added that the Colorado campaign’s message for the legalization of cannabis probably played a role as well. Their focus was on the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and as such should become legal as well. Many people may have “come to the conclusion that if attitudes change and laws change maybe there is nothing to worry about.”
The correlation between increasing access to cannabis and growing the perception of the plant as relatively harmless may soon snowball into more widespread legalization in the future. As it stands now, 5 more states will be voting on legalizing marijuana in some fashion in November. If the trend continues – where an increase in access results in an increase in a favorable opinion of the plant – then it will only be a matter of time before cannabis becomes legal all across the country.