Here is a quick opinion piece I had to throw together for an Understanding Addiction class which is part of my requirement for certification as a licensed professional counselor.
Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug. In a recent 2013 Pew Research Poll a slight majority of Americans said marijuana should be made legal; that means change is probably not too far into the future. However, it is a powerful intoxicant which if used regularly is thought to cause developmental disorders in its users and in my opinion should remain a controlled substance legally available only for medicinal purposes.
First of all, legalization of marijuana would likely increase marijuana user groups. The effects of marijuana are different than drugs such as alcohol. Its affect is described more as being mental than physical, producing a unique sort of euphoric “high”, resembling the effects of some of the more dangerous drugs. I believe this characteristic makes marijuana a potential gateway drug more likely to lead to use of other more dangerous and powerful, “high” inducing euphorics, hallucinogenics, and narcotics. Legally available marijuana, in my mind, will lead to increased use -as it has where it has been legalized - which will lead to more user group settings where more dangerous mind-altering drugs will be experimented with. And while many people mature out of these drug using stages of their lives before they can cause irreparable harm, I believe legal marijuana will ultimately increase the numbers injured by and addicted to other substances. And I believe this will have a generally negative effect on American society.
Secondly, there is some question in my mind as to whether significant numbers of marijuana users and their peers groups tend to be more rebellious, nonconforming, and alienated from society “because” marijuana use attracts these types, or instead the reverse, that marijuana use has the tendency to cause these personality traits in a significant number of users. If the latter is true, then it helps explain what I experienced during my own relatively moderate use of marijuana during my late teen and early adult years. If legalization has this effect of increasing an antisocial response in an increased number of recreational marijuana users, then it will help to compromise an already compromised American society. Let’s not forget, marijuana is a mind altering drug, thus a behavior altering drug, thus a potentially society altering drug. And for the sake of my reputation, due to just disposing that I have smoked marijuana during college and young adulthood, many of the Republican candidates for U.S. President have disclosed that they also have smoked marijuana in their youth, as seen in this article "Where the 2016 presidential candidates stand on marijuana".
Third, marijuana use impairs. The high will last from 2-3 hours, but its residual effects will linger for roughly 24 hours. It impairs memory, learning, thinking, problem solving, feelings, conditioned reflexes, muscle coordination, judgement, can cause adverse lung and cardiovascular impairments, and even some unexpected psychotic impairments, all across that range of 24 hours. There are already many people who consume marijuana several times within a 24 hour period, every day. These impairments over time turn into impaired development across the lifespan. For users, often this means they stay at the same stage of emotional and personal development they were in when they began using. My desire would be to make marijuana laws a lot less punitive, a lot more treatment and diversion oriented, and to leave it stigmatized, illegal, and harder to get hurt from.
Whether or not marijuana is addictive, causes personality changes, or negatively alters behavior to the point of negatively altering society, it impairs its users, and through time, its user’s development, young and old. In the new global economy which is demanding more productivity out of its citizens for less pay, legal marijuana will further impair an already struggling U.S. labor force, and move us farther down the global economic ladder. On an individual level, making marijuana legal, and more widely used and accepted will leave a greater number of users permanently impaired so long as they continue to use the substance. On that basis I believe society is well advised to take some measure to protect itself and its citizens from it, identify it for what it is, and ban its legal use.