With the democratic party uniting behind Hillary Clinton as hopes for Bernie Sanders continuously dwindle, and Donald Trump fighting for the republican party all by his lonesome, it has been (and will undoubtedly continue to be) an interesting year for American politics. Over the course of the past several months Facebook has been absolutely littered with opinionated posts and passionate promises to move to Canada if certain candidates are ever elected – this may be one of the most harshly divided elections we have ever had. And while that seething cauldron of political debate is one we try to avoid in its entirety, there are several issues that will undeniably have a major impact on addiction recovery and recovery communities nationwide.
Marijuana and Politics
For the sake of neutrality (just kidding), lets stick to a drug-related subject that has been making political headlines for quite some time – the marijuana industry. It is projected that by 2029, the marijuana industry will be as big as the tobacco industry, bringing in well over $100 billion annually. In 2015, the market for medical marijuana and legal recreational marijuana reached an all-time high of $4.4 billion nationwide. As far as politics go, widespread legalization has proven to be quite a contentious issue. The three remaining candidates – Bernie, Hill, and Trump – have presented quite different opinions on the issue. Actually, the views of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are somewhat aligned. They are both pretty much against recreational use, and agree that cannabis should be medically legalized on a state-by-state basis. Bernie Sanders stands by full legalization for both medical and recreational use.
Let’s take a look at what each of the remaining three candidates propose.
Sanders has openly stated that he believes current marijuana laws are unfair in the terms of how those that break these laws are treated. He often frames this subject as a ‘civil rights issue’ because of this. “It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy. This must change,” he states on his website under the category “Racial Justice”. In addition to calling for an end to the federal prohibition of marijuana, Sanders has proposed that marijuana be taken off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs, and that those living in states which have legalized marijuana must be fully allowed to participate in the banking system without facing the threat of federal prosecution.
To sum it up: Sanders believes current punishments for marijuana-related offenses are extreme and unjust. He has expressed avid support for statewide medical AND adult recreational legalization. He believes that states should be able to regulate the distribution of marijuana just as they are able to regulate the distribution of alcohol.
Hillary also addresses the issue of marijuana legality under the terms of civil rights. She believes that marijuana should be rescheduled from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance, in hopes that this will help facilitate research as far as its potential health benefits. She believes that states which have already legalized the substance for medical use should act as ‘laboratories for democracy’ – considering they strictly adhere to safe distribution laws (such as the avoidance of selling to minors, driving under the influence, and organized crime). She mentions the issue of marijuana on her own website, under the subheading, “Criminal Justice Reform”.
“Marijuana arrests, including for simple possession, account for a huge number of drug arrests. Further, significant racial disparities exist in marijuana enforcement, with black men significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, even though usage rates are similar.”
Overall, Hillary stands firmly by her belief that medical marijuana should be legalized state-by-state, and that we as a nation simply do not know enough about the repercussions of legalizing recreational marijuana to make any definitive decisions. “I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today. I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief,” she said during a debate last October.
To sum it up: Clinton supports the widespread legalization of medical marijuana, but is still unsure as to whether recreationally used marijuana should be equally as widespread. However, she is open to it. She wants to wait and see what happens (in the states that have fully legalized all distribution) before making any major decisions.
Trump is further than any of the other candidates from being comfortable with full legalization. At first, he openly opposed recreational legalization of any kind. However, his views seem to be steadily evolving. When asked to comment on the matter during a political debate last October, he confirmed his belief that the legalization of recreational marijuana should be a state issue, but that the widespread legalization of medical marijuana is probably okay. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” However, his views on legalization have changed – in 1990, he openly suggested that the only way to win the ‘war on drugs’ was to make substances such as marijuana completely legal, taking power and profit away from “these crazy drug czars”.
To sum it up: While Trump stated that he supported the widespread legalization of all drugs in 1990, he currently stands by state-by-state regulation of medical marijuana, and often openly opposes the legalization of marijuana for adult use. However, his views are slowly shifting, as he is becoming open to the idea of complete legalization on a state-by-state basis.
2016 – A Year of Change
Interestingly enough, this election will likely have major consequences on the national marijuana industry regardless of which candidate does get elected. A dozen states can potentially change their marijuana-related laws in 2016. Ohio and Pennsylvania recently enacted laws pertaining to the distribution of medical marijuana, while California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Arizona are working on legalizing recreational use. This is all fine and well, but the real predicted pot stirring will come with potential law changes in Nevada. Nevada? Why Nevada? In the most recent projections, Nevada was estimated to have about 40 million tourists grace its presence annually – and this number is projected to further grow to 45 million over the course of the next several years. Las Vegas, home to a wide array of insidious human vices, would likely become the first place party-hungry international 20-somethings and despondent balding bachelors travelled for a taste of legal, weed-induced fun. With such a heavy marketing emphasis on the consumer experience, one can only imagine what Vegas would do with recreational legalization. In any case, the lovely state of Nevada essentially has far more potential sway in the national issue than any of the political candidates.
Legalization and Addiction Recovery
Okay, so what does all of this have to do with the addiction recovery industry? Believe it or not, marijuana is the most frequently abused illicit (or semi-illicit) substance nationwide, even in light of the recent opiate epidemic. In the medical field, marijuana is widely accepted as an addictive substance. While some still question the seriousness or legitimacy of this specific addictive disorder, it has been repeatedly proven that psychological and physical dependence upon marijuana does exist – and is both widespread and wholly devastating. More individuals than ever before are seeking inpatient treatment for marijuana addiction. This excerpt from a report titled Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment expertly explains the current situation.
“Approximately half of the individuals who enter treatment for marijuana use are under 25 years of age. These patients report a distinctive profile of associated problems, perhaps due to their age and involvement in other risky behaviors. Adolescents who smoke marijuana are at enhanced risk of adverse health and psychosocial consequences, including sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, early school dropout, delinquency, legal problems, and lowered educational and occupational aspirations.
Some 4.3 percent of Americans have been dependent on marijuana (as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition) at some time in their lives. Marijuana produces dependence less readily than most other illicit drugs. Some 9 percent of those who try marijuana develop dependence compared to, for example, 15 percent of people who try cocaine and 24 percent of those who try heroin. However, because so many people use marijuana, cannabis dependence is twice as prevalent as dependence on any other illicit psychoactive substance.”
Politics Aside – Marijuana Addiction is Legitimate and Devastating
Yes, marijuana dependency is a very real and exceedingly widespread issue. Will legalization improve the issue, or contribute to it? Or will it prove to make very little impact at all, one way or the other? A major concern throughout recovery communities nationwide is that the term ‘medical’ will throw some addicts for a loop. Of course, prescription painkillers are also ‘medical’, and all-natural substances such as kava and Kratom are widely legal and used medicinally – but these substances are mood and mind-altering, and are far from being accepted as part of a long-term program of addiction recovery. There are innumerable points to be made, and endless arguments to instigate. The fact of the matter is – regardless of what political candidate is voted into office and what this means for the future of marijuana legalization and reform – marijuana addiction is a serious and remediable issue, and the majority of afflicted individuals are going untreated based on social stigma or simple lack of knowledge on the subject. Help is available. For more information on marijuana addiction, please contact us today.
And please feel free to share your personal thoughts on the national issue of legalization, and what you feel this will mean for recovery communities across the country.