How Perceptions Play a Role in Medical Cannabis Acceptance
America has changed a lot in terms of its acceptance of medical cannabis. Just 20 years ago, only a small number of states were even entertaining the idea. California was the first to codify medical cannabis in the mid-1990s. Looking back over the history of medical cannabis, it is clear that public perceptions have affected policy.
When we talk of public perceptions, we have to divide them into three categories:
- Family members of patients
- Everyone else.
It generally takes a majority of the ‘everyone else’ category to get policymakers to make decisions about medical cannabis. But that group is ultimately influenced by patients and their family members. Patients are essentially the grassroots advocates. They influence their family members and peers who then go on to influence everyone else.
The importance of patient perception is illustrated in a recent podcast from UtahMarijuana.org, an organization that operates clinics where Utah patients can seek advice and assistance in getting their medical cannabis cards. This particular podcast featured an actual patient who had been using cannabis, as a medicine, before it was legal in the state.
He told the hosts that he started using cannabis because he did not like what his prescription opioids were doing to him. Yet prior to the accident that led to his opioid prescriptions, he thought of cannabis as a terrible drug with a high addiction potential and very little medicinal value. He no longer thinks that. He now has his medical cannabis card and is completely off opioids. His perception has changed completely.
Family Member Perceptions
This same podcast guest mentioned something else common to medical cannabis users: his family, who had previously not been supportive of medical cannabis, got on board once they saw how it changed his life. He related how his family relationships improved. He explained that his family members saw him improve to the extent that they now believe in the power of cannabis as a medicine.
Some of his family members have gotten medical cannabis cards as well. They have discovered that cannabis helps them cope with their own medical issues. Like the guest, his family members now perceive the drug differently. They see it in a whole new light.
Affecting Everyone Else
Combining patient perceptions with those of family members and friends is where all of this gets interesting. People with first-hand experience of medical cannabis no longer have to keep it secret in states where medicinal use is legal and accepted. So guess what? Many of them don’t. They tell others about their experiences.
Spreading the word about medical cannabis is like anything else. The more people hear about it and the good things associated with it, the more likely their own perceptions will change. And when that happens, politicians and policymakers have no choice but to sit up and pay attention.
There is no doubt that public perception played a role in passing the referendum that made medical cannabis legal in Utah. The same could probably be said for each of the thirty-six states with medical cannabis programs in place.
An Evolving Situation
More than a dozen states have moved beyond medical cannabis to completely decriminalize marijuana altogether. Thus, we have an evolving situation here in the U.S. It is quite possible that Washington will reschedule cannabis or decriminalize it altogether. Either way, any such move by federal lawmakers will be influenced by public perception.
There is no doubt that perceptions play a role in the acceptance of medical cannabis. As perceptions have changed, so have state laws. Will federal law follow?