There is an important ballot proposal in Michigan this November, and it’s about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. I have been asked by several people to opine on how they should vote on this proposal. As a psychiatrist who treats adolescents and young adults, I have my fair share of experience with recreational marijuana use, its effects, both negative and positive. I also have experience in the excuses people give as reasoning for their use of marijuana, from ‘I have headaches if I don’t smoke’, or ‘I smoke it to relieve chronic muscle pain’, or ‘I smoke it to help my anxiety’. Most of the time, the excuses are there as rationalizations for just wanting to get high.
I believe that adults have the right to live the life they choose, without forced input from the public sphere so long as their choices don’t endanger someone else’s life, and so long as they can make fully informed decisions. This brings me to the marijuana debate. I have a fear that jumping from marijuana being a criminal offense to becoming totally legal, based on hard drawn partisan lines will not equip our youth and young adults with the necessary precautions, since there is heavy bias in the pro-marijuana crowd touting marijuana as a harmless herb, a cure all, and in some circles, a healthy substitute for sober mindedness.
What I’d prefer to see is a prolonged decriminalization, wherein criminal penalties are loosened on the personal use (and harvesting) of marijuana, without the wholesale production and selling of it becoming legalized. My eventual hope is that decriminalization would help clear out our justice system, provide safeguards for vulnerable communities from being prosecuted, but also safeguard the same communities from a more widespread availability of marijuana and the destigmatization of substance use, which can be detrimental. We know that young people are at higher risk of becoming psychologically and physically addicted to drug use, whether it’s marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol. We also know that marijuana is psychoactive, increases the likelihood of developing mental illness such as psychosis manifold, and has societal ramifications that are yet understudied. So rather than making the leap to legalization, I recommend we push for decimalization first, as this is a moderate, common sense solution, to a complex and partisan topic. This is merely my opinion, after reviewing the scientific literature on the topic, and I recommend everyone make an informed, thoughtful, individual decision come November, without paying too much attention to echo chambers or group-think.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Dearborn Blog.