Marijuana Legalization’s Impact on Recovery

On September 9, 2013, Colorado officially became the first state in the U.S. to finalize and adopt the rules for recreational marijuana sales, and the first recreational shops selling marijuana opened in January of that year.

The debate over whether marijuana should (or should not) be legalized has been lingering in the public and political arena for more than 50 years, with the arguments from the pro-legalization movement growing even more fevered in recent years.

Even as recent as July 2014, there have been major players in the court of public opinion who have stepped forward lending their support to the pro-legalization movement – such as the New York Times Editorial Board.

However, the voices that tend to be lost in this debate are perhaps the ones that need to hold the most weight: those that are recovering from cannabis dependence and/or other drug use disorders.  Although the opinions of those in recovery on this topic are sure to vary widely, they will likely share one major fear: The changes in drug policy in the U.S. could affect the overall stability and well-being of those currently in or seeking recovery.

Although the availability of recreational marijuana is of concern, the bigger issue is likely to be the overwhelming presence and social acceptability of cannabis within the American public.  After an individual in recovery has taken such drastic measures to distance him/herself from the drug counterculture, it seems obscene to then have that same counterculture splayed across television and print ads, or, even worse, to take up shop next to one’s local dry cleaner’s or deli.

Look no further than Big Tobacco or alcohol conglomerates to see examples of the dangerous marketing and advertising strategies that are often employed to “hook” new consumers – is it so far-fetched to believe that a Corporate Cannabis economy will emerge and utilize similar tactics?

The availability of recreational marijuana has far-reaching consequences, including “increased exposure of all citizens to public displays of drug use and intoxication, drug-impaired co-workers, drug-impaired drivers, and a social milieu filled with drug paraphernalia, drug advertising, and passive drug contact [which] raises questions about the quality of community life and public safety” (White, August 2014).

The United States has one of the highest per capita rates of addiction in the world, but we’re also at the forefront of many exciting and promising pathways to recovery.  We must continue to cultivate recovery space in the community where new beginnings can flourish, while protecting against threats to those who have chosen to seek out a new way of life.  Those in and seeking recovery must be a strong and resonant voice in the marijuana legalization debate – they have earned that right.

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