Recreational use of marijuana will soon be legal in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. after receiving voter approval in last week’s elections. They join Washington state and Colorado, along with 20 other states that have approved marijuana for strictly medicinal purposes. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, support for legalization hovers around 52 percent, up 11 points from four years ago, showing that weed is gaining ground across the country.
With nationwide legalization becoming an increasing possibility, society will still probably not break down on account of the collective rotting of brain cells. Most people do not smoke marijuana and will continue not to do so even without the threat of jail time.
Marijuana remains illegal in Wisconsin, but that does not prevent some Marquette students and people across the state from using other mind-altering substances on a regular basis. Every weekend, some college students consume enough of these substances to significantly affect their cognitive and decision making skills. Many people may even require medical attention and end up in the hospital. The obvious substance in question is alcohol, which, despite the widespread recognition of negative health and social consequences, remains popular.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which is the most illicit category, on the level of cocaine and heroin. However, this categorization is unwarranted as it is pretty much impossible to die from a marijuana overdose, something that can happen with alcohol. Instead, the chief concern of policy makers is whether or not legalizing weed will lead to an increase in things like car crashes and bad decisions caused by impaired judgment.
In order for marijuana usage to have a significant effect on things like accidents or crime, a large percentage of the population would need to start lighting up simply because it is legal. Teenagers and college students are often held up as the most impressionable segment of the population. So if Wisconsin were to legalize weed, Milwaukee could start smelling differently.
Since legalizing marijuana, the number of Colorado high school students who smoked weed in the past 30 days appears to have decreased slightly, from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013. While this decrease is not statistically significant, it shows that usage did not skyrocket as some politicians predicted. Data are not yet available for college students, but it would not be surprising to see similar results, especially since most universities in weed-legal states still ban marijuana on campus.
These findings make sense as with alcohol abuse a big enough problem already, universities may think marijuana introduces only another problem. But even with legalized marijuana, administrators’ biggest headache will still come from alcohol because alcohol, unlike marijuana, has an established place within the U.S., and especially college, culture.
Drinking occurs before sporting events, on birthdays, during celebrations and on almost any other occasion that involves a large number of people. Many college students drink in order to ‘fit in’ and lose their inhibitions, which helps when one is trying to socialize. Even without these psychoactive effects, alcohol, as much as administrators must hate to admit, has become part of the college experience.
It is important to note that most people do not drink for the effects of being drunk, but for the social aspects. For a variety of reasons, marijuana cannot fill this social niche. As a liquid, alcohol is easier to consume, and for many people, has effects that are more conducive to socialization. Without these social incentives, there is little reason for many people outside of the established ‘stoner culture’ to experiment with weed.
So before people start railing against potheads and the terrible things that happen from using marijuana, society must consider how legal substances may have an even worse influence.