The Marijuana Stigma
Marijuana is a major controversial topic in the US and around the world. Although marijuana has been legalized in the US as well as many other countries, it is undeniable that the marijuana stigma remains a strong force in society. This expository essay, the type of essay that investigates an idea and investigates the evidence, tackles the various forms of stigma on marijuana present in society. This custom essay discusses the structural, social, and micro stigma and their adverse effects not only on those who identify with stigmatized identities but also on society as a whole.
Cannabis or marijuana is a psychoactive drug that has both recreational and medicinal uses. Marijuana is known for its effects on the mind and body when consumed, including euphoric or altered states, relaxation, increase in appetite, altered sense of time, impaired short-term memory, difficulty concentrating, and impaired body movement (Melnikov, Aboav, Shalom, Phriedman, and Khalaila, 2020). The drug has been used not just for relaxing but also for various ailments, including pain management. However, marijuana has been considered an illicit drug that is only recently decriminalized and legalized in a few countries. Even after that, marijuana continues to be seen as an illicit drug—a gateway drug to addiction. As such, despite the numerous medical benefits offered by marijuana and its legalization, people who use marijuana continue to face structural, social, and micro stigma. Such stigmas lead to discrimination and prevent people who need it from using the drug. The stigmas on marijuana and the effects of these stigmas shall be discussed in this expository essay (learn about our expository essay writing service).
Marijuana and Its Benefits
Cannabis is a plant originating in Central and South Asia. It is heavily used in traditional medicine as well as religious rituals in various cultures. From the 20th to the current century, marijuana is widely cultivated and used throughout the world in multiple ways including smoking, vaporizing, as tea, food, and through extracts. While marijuana is widely known as a form of recreational drug, it has also been found to be particularly beneficial for managing chronic pain caused by various conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and such while being less addictive than opiates (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, et al., 2017). Apart from that, cannabis has been useful in preventing chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea; as well as helps with managing mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , and schizophrenia; sleep disorders; Huntington’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; dystonia; dementia; Tourette syndrome; anorexia and weight loss from HIV; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); epilepsy; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; and so on (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, et al., 2017).
Marijuana’s hallucinogenic effects, however, have made it a popular recreational drug. Because of mild hallucinations, using marijuana impairs motor skills and cognitive processes, making it dangerous for the user to do certain activities like driving. Additionally, marijuana can be addictive, though at a lower rate than other substances like heroin and cocaine. Regular and prolonged use of cannabis may lead to the development of marijuana use disorder. Because of these effects, marijuana has been classified as an illicit drug. It has been listed as a Schedule I drug, along with LSD and heroin, in the Controlled Substances Act and continues to be classified as such despite its legalization in numerous states (“Controlled Substances Act,” n.d.).
Schedule I drugs are substances that are considered to have a high tendency to cause addiction and have no medical use according to the US FDA. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy (“Schedule I drug,” n.d.). For this reason, marijuana is a tightly controlled substance, with 40% of drug arrests being marijuana-related offenses in 2018 (Gramlich, 2020). Marijuana has been at the center of the US’s war on drugs despite studies and opinions agreeing that the drug is relatively safe. As activists pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana, 15 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and 29 have legalized it for medical use, such that only 6 other states have maintained laws against the drug (“Marijuana Laws by State 2022,” n.d.). While the majority of states in the US, as well as many other countries around the world, have legalized marijuana and American opinion is in favor of these moves, there remains a stigma with regard to the use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. The following sections in this expository essay shall discuss the structural, social, and micro stigma around marijuana.
The Marijuana Stigma
As mentioned in the previous section, marijuana has numerous benefits and uses. Thus, users of marijuana have diverse purposes and experiences, ranging from medical purposes to purely recreational use. As marijuana has become legalized in the majority of states in some form, more and more people have started to use it. In a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2021, they found that 91% of American adults think that marijuana should be legal—60% say it should be legal for both medical and recreational use while 31% say it should be legal for medical use (Van Green, 2021). However, as Reid (2020) asserts, marijuana use is far from being normalized and users of this drug continue to struggle with various forms of stigma.
Stigma is defined as the negative evaluation of a characteristic that is perceived as undesirable and different (Reid, 2020). This negative evaluation evolves from individual sentiment to become shared cultural knowledge that serves as the foundation for prejudice and discrimination about a certain population (Reid, 2020). Reid identifies three forms of stigma—structural, social, and micro stigma. All these forms of stigma interact on varying levels, affecting not just external or public perceptions but also personal perceptions that affect even how individuals perceive the practice.
Structural stigma refers to those that operate on the macro level. This includes social structures or cultures that perpetuate negative prejudices by pushing certain individuals in the margins. Structural stigmas include policies, institutionalized procedures, and cultural norms that “restrict rights and diminish the life opportunities of people with stigmatized identities” (Reid, 2020). Structural stigma places certain identities in a negative light, thereby reinforcing negative connotations and worsening the quality of life of those individuals. Structural stigma also manifests in the form of cultural norms wherein communities may come together in opposing or excluding individuals with stigmatized identities or businesses that support those identities, similar to the i nstitutional racism and discrimination experienced by Blacks and Latinos.
In the case of marijuana, users of marijuana are painted as deviants by the mere fact that cannabis is listed as a Schedule I drug by the DEA. Individuals of marijuana are deemed criminals and, as such, communities are warned of the dangers of not only cannabis but also of individuals who use it. The signs that someone is “high” from marijuana or is using it are widely publicized with negative connotations. In particular, individuals who use marijuana, or “stoners,” are often depicted as lazy and unproductive members of society due to frequent intoxication. Reid (2020) links this to American capitalist society’s roots in puritanical work ethics, which glorifies productivity and considers unproductivity as immoral. Such rhetoric puts individuals who use marijuana at a disadvantage—with employers excluding or refusing to hire individuals who consume marijuana. Furthermore, the immoral framing of marijuana has made it acceptable for American society to criminalize marijuana for a long time. It was not until toward the end of the 20th century that public opinion regarding marijuana started to shift.
Now, although numerous states have legalized and/or decriminalized marijuana, it remains a Schedule I drug at the federal level. This keeps marijuana in a gray area morally, which can be weaponized by institutions and communities or individuals to perpetuate prejudice or discriminate against those who use marijuana. All in all, structural stigma not only hinders individuals due to legislation and policies that marginalize them but also empowers social stigma that further makes it difficult for stigmatized individuals to integrate with society.
Social stigma operates on the meso level. This includes the negative messaging that organizations and groups endorse about stigmatized individuals or groups. This type of stigma often manifests in the form of “epithets, shunning, ostracism, discrimination, and violence towards the stigmatized group (Herek, 2007, as cited in Reid, 2020). Social stigma is associated with negative stereotypes that often go against a group’s norms or values prompting them to react negatively toward the stigmatized group. Social stigma is perpetrated by institutions as well, such as the media. The media, for example, frequently sensationalizes the link between marijuana use and criminal and violent behavior. Others have also associated cannabis use with immorality and deviant sexuality, as was done in 1937 preceding the federal prohibition of marijuana, according to Reid (2020).
Marijuana users have been stereotyped as lazy, irresponsible, and immature, often associated with unemployment. The LGBTQ+ community has also been linked with heavy use of marijuana, which serves as an additional stigma for both groups. However, such stereotypes may be the result, not of personal incompetence nor marijuana use, but of structural stigma. As previously cited, employers have instituted policies against hiring individuals who use marijuana, which means that those who use marijuana (whether for recreational or medical) likely experience difficulty finding employment. Even within communities, people who use marijuana may feel the need to hide for fear of judgment from others. A strong example here is parents. Parents who use cannabis are quickly labeled as negligent parents. As a result, they, as well as their children, may be avoided by other parents. However, the connections are unproven and are logical fallacies at best. Social stigma is even harsher for women, who are criticized more harshly than men typically are (Reid, 2020). Social stigma, as evident, compounds with other stigmas for minorities. Apart from women, people of color, particularly Blacks, receive not only harsher criticism but treatment and punishment for marijuana-related activities than their white counterparts. Social stigma pushes minority groups further into the margins when they use marijuana or because they are associated with marijuana, making it even more difficult for these groups to shed the stereotype of being deviants.
Micro stigma or felt stigma is a stigma that is felt and internalized as a result of exposure to structural and social stigma. Micro stigma manifests as the awareness that one’s identity is devalued or seen negatively by one’s culture, which affects one’s sense of worth and behaviors (Reid, 2020). For instance, users of cannabis may engage in concealment techniques to hide the fact that they use cannabis. They may take extra steps to eliminate the scent and other indications that they used marijuana. Additionally, they may refrain from commenting on issues related to marijuana, which will not help with promoting further legalization and normalization of cannabis. On a more extreme side, those who identify with the stigmatized groups may even express negative opinions or further perpetuate stigma toward their group to distance themselves from them.
Internally, marijuana users who are constantly bombarded with negative stereotypes about cannabis and cannabis users may have negative self-esteem and self-efficacy as well (Reid, 2020). They may have internalized these negative stereotypes and believed that they, along with everyone who identifies with the stigmatized identity, truly exhibit those negative characteristics. Internalized stigma may result in self-stigma where the individual’s negative idea of themselves starts to affect their sense of self, as well as their mental health (Reid, 2020). However, it is also possible for the individual to not internalize stigma and instead be extremely aware of them. Awareness of stigma may exhibit cognitive resistance and fight against those stigmas instead (Reid, 2020).
Effects Of Marijuana Stigma
The stigma toward marijuana does not just affect individuals but entire groups of people and society as a whole. On the individual level, there exists internalized stigma which negatively affects an individual's sense of self and self-worth. These issues may result in a self-fulfilling prophecy where the individual believes or anticipates that the stereotypes are true or will become true about them. These are problematic since the stereotypes are often detrimental to an individual. Internalized stigma may also translate to the individual exhibiting negative attitudes or behaviors toward those who are open about their use of cannabis. Thus, they not only directly contribute as a source of discrimination in the modern world but they also propagate negative stereotypes. Other individuals may also see their words or actions as an affirmation to continue with their harmful beliefs and actions. These micro stigma may serve as the foundation for social stigma, just as much as social stigma sustains micro stigma as well.
Another impact of these stigmas is that they can prevent those who need marijuana for medical purposes from using the drug. This could go two ways: doctors may hesitate to prescribe cannabis to their patients or the patients themselves may be reluctant to use cannabis even if it is for their own good. A study by Melnikov, Aboav, Shalom, Phriedman, and Khalaila (2020) found that marijuana stigma diminishes healthcare providers’ intention to recommend cannabis to their patients. Likewise, patients may fear heeding a medical practitioner’s recommendation to use cannabis for their medical condition for fear of the stigma as well. This effect has a negative impact on the health and quality of life of patients who would have benefited greatly from cannabis.
For society as a whole, the marijuana stigma is also debilitating. The stigma creates another marginalized group placed at a disadvantage. People who use marijuana, because of the stigma, risk being pushed into poverty. Employers discriminate against hiring people who use marijuana and, furthermore, do not hire those who have been incarcerated. Individuals who were wrongly or inappropriately convicted because of marijuana are likely to suffer the added stigma and social barriers for ex-offenders. People who are already part of marginalized groups, such as people of color and LGBTQ+, who need to use the drug experience added stigma and social barriers due to the stigma on marijuana as well. These stigmas, thus, contribute to the injustices and inequalities that American society already struggles with.
Marijuana is a drug that has been used for centuries both for recreation and medicinal purposes. Its medicinal purposes, particularly with regard to pain management, has been widely acknowledged and proven by studies. However, despite widespread decriminalization and legalization of cannabis, the marijuana stigma remains strong in American society. Although many Americans use cannabis and think that it should be legalized, structural, social, and micro stigma continue to dominate. These stigmas range from institutional policies like refusal to hire those who use marijuana to criticism and ostracism of users in communities, to internalized stigma by individuals. All these stigmas are interconnected, feeding off of each other, to add another layer of the barrier of injustice and inequality for people who are already in the margins. The legalization of marijuana at the state level is just the first step. There is still a lot to be done to normalize the use of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes to eliminate the marijuana stigma.
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