In a moment many parents have been dreading, the United States appears poised on the precipice of a revolution with regards to marijuana. Previously, legalization and decriminalization efforts focused on marijuana for medical purposes. Now, there’s a shift towards recreational uses, which opens a whole new can of worms. Colorado led the charge this year with full legalization, and Washington State is set to follow.
That means that marijuana for recreational use will be more readily available, which many people are arguing is a good thing from both a fiscal and policy perspective. Legalization opens the door to regulation and taxation, puts a stop to costly drug interdiction campaigns, and allows regional law enforcement to focus on enforcing more functional and sustainable drug use laws. It also, of course, creates a major culture shift, as marijuana goes from forbidden fruit to legal item, and becomes more accessible to people of all ages (despite bans on marijuana products for underage people, undoubtedly determined youth will have no trouble getting their hands on it).
This raises the important point that it’s time to talk openly about cannabis usage, and specifically to start discussing responsible use. Just as parents attempt to impart important lessons about responsible drinking to their children, it’s time to talk weed as well. Both intoxicants represent considerable risks and temptations to youth and adults alike, and in a culture where these issues are discussed openly and without stigma, some of the risk can be alleviated.
In what’s known as a harm-reduction approach, people can acknowledge that while something may cause harm, it’s still going to be used. The question in this situation isn’t how to prevent use, but how to promote sustainable and safe use. Harm-reduction is behind initiatives like needle exchanges, for example, as well as campaigns to discourage drunk driving, where the goal is to help people make smart choices about potentially dangerous activities.
In the case of marijuana, Harvard researcher Archie Brodsky and addiction specialist Stanton Peele, at the request of the Cannabis Action Network, have begun outlining guidelines for responsible cannabis use so adults can use the drug responsibly, model responsible use for youth and have a foundation for providing lessons about how to use the drug wisely. The guidelines include suggestions like ensuring that people are well informed about the risks of the drug and that they use it free of pressure, and that people maintain a healthy, balanced relationship with cannabis; if the drug begins to interfere with daily living, for example, cannabis use has clearly swung out of balance.
They also stress that cannabis is not appropriate for children, and that in some locales, use should be reconsidered. Laws regarding smoking in public places should be respected for reasons of air quality and the comfort of others, and cannabis users may also want to consider instituting rules inside their own homes about where and how cannabis should be used. The model developed by the researchers strongly recommends not only modeling good behavior, but also rewarding thoughtful cannabis use to encourage new users to develop a responsible attitude toward the drug.
As the rest of the nation looks to Colorado to see what happens next, the discussion about responsible drug use should form an important component of public discourse.
Photo credit: Melanie Tata.