Forget the 1930’s industrial conspiracy theory involving Hearst and DuPont; the real reason that Cannabis prohibition is still in place are the widespread beliefs that Cannabis makes people lazy, crazy, violent, and more likely to do hard drugs. Educating people to the truth on these 4 is the key to reforming the laws around marijuana.
There are highly productive people who use Cannabis regularly, just as there are plenty of people who enjoy the occasional beer, glass of wine, or cocktail. But many of these people have been quiet about their cannabis use; they have stayed ‘in the closet’ because of the fear of legal penalties and the social stigma around cannabis use. So a big chunk of the population doesn’t know that responsible cannabis use occurs; they only see the stoner stereotypes and the cannabis users who have multiple problems.
There is a slight association with heavy cannabis use in adolescence and schizophrenia… an approximate doubling of risk (while the absolute rate remains very low). The science argues for limiting access to children unless it is a substitute for more dangerous drugs (like some anti-convulsants used to treat epilepsy. But the small increase in schizophrenia is not seen in adults, it is a function of the vulnerability of young brains in a few susceptible individuals.
The idea that cannabis leads to increased violence is of course, the opposite of what is seen in the research – increased cannabis use is associated with lower propensity to engage in violence. The most recent study is one on domestic violence, and it found that the risk of violent behavior within a relationship drops with the herb. Even the police are starting to recognize that cannabis is not a problem, provided it isn’t laced with something more unpredictable or sinister. A legal, regulated source of cannabis dramatically reduces those peripheral risks.
And the ‘stepping stone’ narrative has never had any scientific backing. It may be true that those who are predisposed to thrill seeking and hard drug use use cannabis first (or second or third, after alcohol, tobacco, and other more available drugs) – but this is not the result of any ability of cannabis to cause people to seek other drugs. As has been pointed out, most members of motorcycle gangs started out riding a tricycle, but tricycles do not cause a person to move on to either motorcycles or delinquency.
The United Nations World Health Organization is about to release a review of the risks of cannabis. From preliminary indications, this will be a science-based study that clearly states that the risks of cannabis are much lower than from alcohol. It won’t say that cannabis is entirely harmless, and it doesn’t have to. It is enough to say that that cannabis is low risk, and it preferable to the drugs that are widely accepted in society today. Allowing people to replace more harmful substances with cannabis is a strategy to reduce harm.