By Sarah Huang, Opinions Editor
Prior to its legalization, marijuana faced a Catch-22: in order to decriminalize marijuana usage, more research had to prove that its benefits outweighed its costs on human health. However, because of its long history as a criminal drug, its research faces many policy restrictions, making it impossible to conduct the studies necessary to change it from a Schedule 1 drug (high abuse potential, no medical use, and severe safety concerns) to a Schedule 2 drug (high abuse potential leading to psychological or physical dependency). Prior to its legalization, marijuana faced great stigma from years of criminalization, made worse by information on the addictiveness of marijuana as a gateway drug.
Thus, proponents of the legalization of marijuana hoped to reduce its stigma by decriminalizing its consumption, especially due to its touted medical benefits of easing chronic pain and nerve pain without the severe addictivity of current drug treatments that involve the use of opiates.
The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (California Proposition 64) was passed in 2016 and took effect on January 1, 2018, allowing for the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana. More specifically, under this law, individuals over the age of 21 are allowed to possess, cultivate and sell marijuana.
Theoretically, this law has increased the availability and presence of marijuana by allowing for its recreational sale, prompting the slow emergence of commercial marijuana shops in cities that allow for these shops to operate, and its consumption inside one’s home, increasing the number of people who smoke marijuana. And anecdotally, students have reported smelling marijuana on the streets on a more regular basis than they did previously, especially in more urban areas.
However, it is important to note that marijuana use is heavily regulated in California cities. Proposition 64 prohibits the public consumption of marijuana, such as at sporting events or on the streets. Individuals are also subject to the rules dictated by the owners of private facilities, such as private arenas, which often do not permit marijuana on its grounds. Furthermore, many cities, including Millbrae, have barred the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana, dampening the effects of Proposition 64.
Thus, it should be no surprise that, in a Mills Thunderbolt survey of 131 students (29% Freshmen, 23.7% Sophomores, 19.8% Juniors, and 27.5% Seniors), the majority did not see a difference in marijuana usage before and after the legalization of marijuana in California. More specifically, 42% answered no, while 34.4% answered yes and 23.7% were unsure, a result that provides strong evidence that there is a statistically significant difference in the distribution of answers.
Despite the perceived lack of difference in marijuana usage before and after the legalization of marijuana, students tended to believe that people have become more open about consuming or smoking marijuana since its legalization. With 58% “yes” answers, 21.4% “no” answers, and 20.6% unsure, there is extremely strong evidence that suggests that the results constitute a statistically significant difference in the distribution of answers.Arguably, the results of the Mills survey reflect the Proposition 64’s intentions of decriminalization. Proposition 64 sought to reduce the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana related offenses, mitigating conditions in already crowded prisons. Furthermore, the decriminalization of marijuana allows health providers to adequately address that surround the health effects of drug usage by incentivizing individuals to seek help if needed. In the survey, many students cited in their reasons that the newfound openness towards marijuana could be attributed to the decreased stigma towards its consumption, a goal that must be reached in order to fully decriminalize marijuana usage.
Most interesting, in light of the perceived openness of consuming marijuana, the majority of respondents answered that they were not more likely to obtain and smoke or consume marijuana, with most citing either a lack of interest or its detrimental health effects. This seems to suggest that the legalization of marijuana is not truly the determining factor in one’s consumption of marijuana; rather, students are driven by factors such as health education and community influence.
In other words, it seems that students are driven by many of their preconceptions on the drug and possibly even the stigma that still surrounds it despite its recent legalization. However, the future of marijuana usage is still uncertain. Though, Millbrae has, for now, resolutely banned the emergence of “pot shops,” as more research studies emerge, its stance may change. But more telling is the role of the media in shaping one’s perception of marijuana. For now, it is uncertain what stance media outlets will take on this issue, though administrators ought to pay attention—it may very well shape our future.