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Changes in Attitude

The rapid change in the attitude of the people across the country when it comes to the acceptance of legalized marijuana is quite astounding.  The values and norms that make up our culture and society are passed down through the generations and it typically takes a long time to change the mind of such a large portion of society. California is one of the states that leads the way in cannabis reform, but even there it took some time for the idea of legalization to take hold, and when it finally did many other states and localities began to follow.  

 The push for legalization in California began in 1964 when the first marijuana legalization group formed.  This came during a time where the Saturday Evening Post estimated that half of all college students in California had tried marijuana.  In 1972 a bill to allow legal use, possession, and cultivation, but not sales, was defeated with a vote of 33% for and 67% against.  Decriminalization of the possession of a small amount of marijuana happened in California in 1975, and by the early 1990’s parts of California were asking for legislation to approve of cannabis for medical purposes.  Proposition 215 - the Compassionate Care Act was passed in 1996 with 56% of the vote allowing for the use, cultivation, and possession of cannabis if it was recommended by a physician.

 While California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, Colorado and Washington were the first to legalize recreational use in 2012.  Many other states and cities did not go the full legalization route but instead focused on decriminalizing marijuana possession. Back in California full legalization was still having a hard time being passed, and in 2010 Proposition 19, which would have regulated marijuana similar to alcohol was rejected 53.5% to 46.56%.  Finally, in November of 2016, Proposition 64 was passed by a margin of 57% to 43%, legalizing adult use, possession, and cultivation of recreational marijuana. Licenses for marijuana businesses were just beginning to be issued in January 2018.

 A study conducted by BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry market trend and research group, tracked how legalization in California may have helped shift the attitudes of Californian’s when it comes to marijuana use.  Their study indicates that there has been a shift in the attitudes about marijuana use and the stigma attached to those who use marijuana has been decreasing. This study divided people into three groups Users who have used marijuana in the past 6 months, Acceptors who have not used marijuana in the past 6 months but would consider it in the future, and Rejectors who have not consumed in the past six months and are not likely to.  

 The chart below shows some of the data gathered.  The report showed a significant increase in consumers over the past year to 29 % in 2018, up from  23% in 2017. There was a decrease in acceptors from 38% in 2017 to 33% in 2018, but the researchers suggest that the difference is that some of the acceptors became consumers.  The number of rejectors decreased from 40% in 2017 to 38% in 2018.

The reason many acceptors and rejectors choose not to use marijuana is that they do not know how it will make them feel.  Among the objectors, 25% feel that using marijuana makes them feel dysfunctional, while over ⅓ of consumers say they use for the health benefits. Linda Gilbert of BDS Analytics says “We are already seeing major shifts in a short amount of time.  Some of that has to do with changes in legalization, what is happening with distribution and retatil systems and brands.”

 One area where researchers were surprised with the results was that only 57% of consumers believed in the importance of voting in every election where 72% of rejectors understood the importance of voting.  This was surprising to them as politics and activism are an inherent component to the marijuana movement. I, however, do not find this surprising. I think some of the results are the result of the ages indicated for each age group.   I believe that the importance of voting needs to be instilled more into the younger generations to keep the movement going.


Other research supports a growing acceptance and support of legalized marijuana across the country.  Pew Research has found that 6 in 10 Americans support marijuana legalization. The number of supporters has not increased much over the past year, however, support for legalization has doubled since 2000.

 BBC News explored several reasons why acceptance has grown worldwide.  Some of these reasons include the war on drugs whereby if marijuana is legalized it reduces the link between organized crime and selling marijuana. The BBC also believes the stories of sick children that show how their quality of life improves with using marijuana has increased acceptance of marijuana for medical purposes.

There are likely many other reasons that support of legalization has increased, but here are two final thoughts. Justin Strekal, political director of NORML believes access to technology and the internet has been able to debunk the political propaganda we have heard for many years.  Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University believes the opioid epidemic has improved the image of marijuana. "Marijuana is often seen as a more benign, less addictive pain relief alternative to opioids," he said. "Lots of folks who wouldn’t qualify for medical marijuana categorization might jump at the chance to buy marijuana legally, and that could possibly reduce reliance on opioids."  

Connie Maxim-Sparrow