Public perception of cannabis use is evolving
Not quite long ago, marijuana use was a hot-button issue that mostly elicited disdain and reproach. But the tone is changing dramatically in favor of marijuana use. This is true across various demographics, the medical community, and the political spectrum.
In 1988, barely one in five people deemed cannabis legalization a positive step. Today, however, public opinion is becoming increasingly swayed towards supporting the decriminalization of marijuana use.
Thirty years after its classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic, over 66% of Americans have now joined the bandwagon of those in support of decriminalization. So far, a total of 33 stateshave enacted reforms that give their citizens access to marijuana, even with the drug remaining illegal on the federal level.
U.S. Cannabis opinions. Source
So what’s the main driving force behind this new found support for legalization? Several factors have contributed to this tidal change. However, of all factors, media coverage seems to be the most powerful determining factor.
Weed and the media
The change in America’s public perception of marijuana use started shortly after media coverage began focusing more on medical marijuana. A case study of the number of marijuana-related articles published between 1983 and 2015 shows a correlation between two factors: A rise in the number of published articles focusing on the plant’s medicinal use and an increase in the number of Americans in support of legalization.
In contrast, newspaper articles on marijuana in the 1980s mostly focused on the busts and seizures carried out by law enforcement. Very little, if any, was said about people whose medical conditions were being treated through the use of marijuana. In fact, back then, it was normal to hear the word marijuana being interchanged with cocaine and heroine.
With media coverage of the war on drugs in full swing, the percentage of Americans who believed drug abuse was America’s number one problem skyrocketed from 2-6% to nearly 64% in 1989. The demonization of marijuana at that time had nothing to do with its reported negative impacts on the users. Instead, it was the result of the negative light cast on the substance by mass media coverage.
The media made huge heroic acts out of those law enforcement busts and seizures. And as arrests and confiscations dominated headlines, the government became carried away, focusing more on making arrests than addressing the real socio-economic issues concerning marijuana which required dire attention.
But in the 1990s, news and stories concerning the medicinal effects of marijuana became more fascinating and engaging than those involving drug-related criminal activities. Soon enough, there was a strong tendency towards dissociating marijuana from other hard drugs like cocaine and heroine in the media.
Further, with the advent of the internet and social media, it became much easier to break stories concerning how folks used marijuana to successfully treat various illnesses which pharmaceuticals failed to treat. The stereotypical profile of marijuana users gradually transformed from that of stoned couch potatoes to patients of various illnesses looking for better alternatives to traditional Western medicine.
Harsh criminal justice sanctions also stir strong legalization sentiments
Countless studies have debunked several supposed negative effects of marijuana. As a result, justifying the extremely punitive approach of the criminal justice system towards marijuana issues has become difficult and unpopular.
According to surveys, one of the key considerations powering the support for marijuana legalization across America is the blatant harshness of the criminal justice system on marijuana law offenders. Also, since its inception, the war on drugs has had a debilitating effect on race relations, as minorities face incarceration at much higher rates than their white counterparts.
Race and cannabis arrests. Source
With these facts becoming common knowledge, the criminal justice system has been looked at as overzealous in this regard. The ideology behind such thought suggests that law enforcement should focus on more serious crime, rather than pursue nonviolent cannabis smokers.
The correlation between the change of tone in the media coverage of marijuana and the increase in the number of Americans who support legalization is irrefutable. It’s clear that media coverage shapes the public perception of cannabis. This is a reality that still holds until this day -- media coverage of marijuana’s medical benefits, along with its harmless nature, continues to be a major driver in increasing public support for legalization.