Love it or hate it, the language and attitude about marijuana use is evolving as legislators vote to legalize the sale and possession of the drug for recreational purposes. The debate is still incendiary and divisive, particularly across generational lines, and marked by arguments about bolstering the economy versus the supposed ill effects within a community that arise when a psychoactive drug becomes ubiquitous. Though recreational use is legal in eleven states, there remain limitations on a local level, as certain municipal boards “opt out” of allowing marijuana dispensaries to populate areas under their governance. Most “dry” academic institutions remain staunchly opposed to drug use of any kind, despite a growing tolerance among individuals aged 18-22. There are many questions that have yet to be answered, first and foremost because possession is still a federal offense and the legalization movement has only started to gain traction in recent years, making it difficult for researchers to collect accurate data and explore long-term effects.
Last November, Michigan joined the likes of California, Oregon and Maine in passing what was known colloquially as “prop one,” which made recreational marijuana use legal for individuals over the age of twenty-one. December 6, 2018, marked the official date of implementation, but the Holland City Council voted one day prior to ban dispensaries and other licensed establishments from selling marijuana within the municipality. Although the vote of the city council was unanimous, the citizens of Holland reached no such consensus, as 49% voted in favor and 51% voted against legalization. One of the prevailing arguments, reiterated by Mayor Nancy DeBoer, was that recreational marijuana use is still a federal offense, which places an undue burden on banking institutions that cannot knowingly accept money from the sale of drugs, regardless of whether it is legal in the state wherein the sale was conducted.
Though many individuals hold impassioned opinions regarding whether legal marijuana use will improve the state of affairs in Michigan, there is no definitive answer. It is difficult to analyze statistics without bias, or to be absolutely confident that surveys are correct when the subject matter deals with what is, in most states, illegal activity. In certain cities where marijuana was legalized – Seattle, Denver and Washington, D.C. – the homicide rate increased in the four years since each state law was passed. However, crime rates have also increased steadily over the same amount of time in Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and Kansas City, metropolises where the drug has not been cleared for recreational use. Neither has there been any resolute data that indicates that legalization impacts drug usage by teenagers in any significant way, though that is one of the more popular arguments against the legal distribution and possession of marijuana.
There have been studies, however, that have offered a more clear picture of the effects of marijuana legalization and its subsequent sale and use. The University of Michigan Health Lab reported that one of the major issues related to recreational use is heightened THC content. Since the mid-twentieth century, marijuana intoxication has been on the rise due to higher concentrations of the drug’s psychoactive component. Furthermore, there is a gap in the knowledge of modern medical science when it comes to measuring levels of impairment. Where measuring the effects of alcohol is carried out largely by determining blood alcohol content, no such canon exists yet for marijuana and other psychoactive drugs.
Clearly, there is a great deal of research that must be done before the debate of the risks and rewards of marijuana legalization is at last settled. It is likely with this fact in mind that the Holland City Council voted at the end of last year to impose the aforementioned ban on dispensaries. Hope College, too, has come out against marijuana use on campus, upholding its long-standing policy on substance use on campus. Although the college’s stance is unlikely to change, the language used and arguments employed when engaging in discourse about recreational marijuana use will almost certainly continue to evolve as the state of Michigan adjusts to the yet unknown changes that are bound to arise in the wake of this new legislation.