While major politicians continue to describe cannabis as a ‘gateway drug’, the tide of public opinion is turning. In fact, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of Americans agree that cannabis should be legal across the country.
This isn’t the first time where laws have lagged behind public sentiment, it was only recently that the majority of the country favoured same-sex marriage yet the laws forbid it. Although, the law soon became reflective of the public’s wants and it was finally legalized. Will the same happen with the legalization of cannabis?
There has been a steady increase in the amount of people who support cannabis legalization whether that be medically or recreationally. The amount of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52% in 2010 to only 32% today.
These numbers are incredibly promising and have left us wondering what the reason behind this sudden rise in support for cannabis legalization is and what prevented their support in the beginning.
We delved into three powerhouses that hold an incredible amount of influence over the masses; the media, religion and the government, to see how these influences originated and how they are beginning to shift.
According to a study taken out by The Conversation, it is the media that holds the greatest influence over the public’s shift in opinion. According to their study, support for legalization began to increase after the news media began positioning cannabis as a medical issue rather than a political one.
The New York Times was used as a case study looking at cannabis-related articles published between 1983 and 2015. They found that just before the support for cannabis legalization began to increase, there was also a sudden increase in medical related cannabis articles.
Most cannabis-related articles published within the 80s were in the context of drug trafficking and linked to other schedule I drugs like cocaine and heroin. In the 90s, cannabis-related articles started being framed in the context of the plants medical uses. And by the late 90s, cannabis was rarely discussed in the context of drug trafficking and abuse. During the shift in the media’s portrayal of cannabis, the public’s support for cannabis legalization began to rise demonstrating a clear correlation between the two.
We may not realize it, but the media holds a particularly strong influence on the views and values of the human population, which can have its pros and cons. Their influence can be used to inform or it can manifest from a place of complete fiction, leaving the masses to think and feel a certain way about a topic based on false claims spread by the media.
These collective opinions entwined with falsified influence from the media can have detrimental effects, like the sorry story of cannabis prohibition. The media spread misleading and often false claims about the plant, influencing society to feel negatively despite the true benefits of cannabis.
It’s no secret that many conservative religions are wholly against cannabis, associating it as a sinful indulgence or a tool of the devil. Although cannabis was accepted and widely used within ancient religions, most contemporary religions have developed a very different stance on the plant, and for years condemned the use of it.
Although, this may be changing for the better. A 2016 study by the conservative Christian polling organization Barna Group found that among practising christians, around 34 per cent actually favoured cannabis legalization.
This may not sound like a large amount, but considering the strict and conservative nature of the religion it is quite impressive. Many young people of faith are now beginning to accept and encourage the health benefits of medical cannabis.
Back in 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked the Utah Legislature to legalize medical cannabis. Mary Stephens, the church’s director of community and government relations stated “we would like to get a solution that will help alleviate pain and suffering for the residents of our state…”
Despite the church’s opposition of recreational cannabis, their support of medical cannabis is still incredibly progressive for a religious organization.
Progressive leaders are also attempting to enlighten other Christians as to the health benefits of cannabis. Leaders like California pastor and author, Craig Gross who started Christian Cannabis, a company that wants to educate and engage the faithful on the issue.
The company has a blog and podcast used to enlighten other Christians on the health benefits of cannabis. The brand will also be releasing a line of cannabis products labelled pause, purpose, peace, persevere, praise, pain and people. The products are for the people’s “specific, integrative healing and wellness needs.” Each product is tailored to help with the specific needs of people whether they’re seeking peace, relief from pain, concentration etc. The products come in different forms such as a cbd balm, cannabis-infused mints or pens.
The website asks, “What if Christians were to begin understanding how something like cannabis could be used in beneficial ways to support their lives?”
The negative influence of political propaganda
The Pew Research Center survey discovered that the majority of Millenials (those born between 1981-1997), Generation X (born between 1965-1980) and Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) supported legalization of cannabis use.
Although, members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945) were the least supportive, with 64 percent opposing cannabis legalization.
When looking at the government’s efforts to demonize cannabis during the Silent Generations upbringing, it is easy to understand these figures.
In fact, in the context of cannabis prohibition calling them the Reefer Madness Generation would be more fitting considering the heavy influence they received from political propaganda. When the film Reefer Madness was released in 1936, it fuelled the hysteria spread by the government around cannabis.
The film centres around innocent high school students who are lured into trying cannabis. The effects of it apparently result in a hit-and-run accident, manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, hallucinations and a descent into madness.
The fictional film supported the word of the government and continued to influence the generation despite being based on a myriad of lies.
The bottom line
It is promising to see that American’s stance on cannabis legalization is beginning to change for the better. Whether it is the media, a shift in religious views, or a decrease in negative political propaganda; Americans are finally beginning to accept and embrace the benefits of cannabis. As they say, the proof is in the pudding (or the Pew Research Center Survey).