The views that people, the medical community, and governments have toward marijuana continue to shift and in the United States represent a conflict between federal and many state laws. Read the overview below to gain a balanced understanding of the issues and explore the previews of opinion articles that highlight many perspectives on marijuana.

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Marijuana Topic Overview

"Marijuana." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2022.

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In common usage, marijuana refers to the dried flowers of the cannabis plant. These flowers are typically smoked to produce a psychoactive high. In addition, the flowers and other parts of the plant can be processed into hashish, oils, extracts, and other refined products that can be smoked, eaten, and vaporized. The effects of the high can be subjective and often vary depending on whether the user consumed a Cannabis sativa strain, a Cannabis indica strain, or a hybrid strain.

Beyond its popularity as a recreational drug, marijuana also has medicinal applications. Its increasing therapeutic use has brought about the development of novel delivery methods, such as tinctures, balms, transdermal patches, and microdosing preparations. Biopharmaceutical companies are also creating a new generation of controlled delivery methods including regular and time-release capsules with standardized dosages.

Recreational marijuana use is common in the United States. According to results from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17.9 percent of Americans age twelve and older reported using marijuana in 2020. Marijuana use is most common among people between eighteen and twenty-five years old. Though federal law has prohibited the sale and possession of marijuana since 1937, by 2022, thirty-eight states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands had legalized cannabis use in some capacity, typically for medical purposes. In addition, five states have legalized cannabidiol (CBD) oil for medical purposes. CBD is an active ingredient in marijuana which is extracted for use in CBD oil. As of June 2022, recreational adult use of marijuana has been approved in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.

According to a Gallup poll in October 2021, 68 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Public support has steadily increased since Gallup began surveying Americans on cannabis legalization in 1969, when only 12 percent of respondents supported it. Gallup polling has revealed several motivations for supporting legalization, including an appreciation of the plant's medical benefits, a desire to free up law enforcement resources, reducing incarceration rates in communities disproportionally impacted by criminalization, the promise of state and local tax revenue, belief that cannabis use should be a personal choice, and anticipation that government regulation will make its use safer. Opponents of cannabis legalization have expressed concerns about its impact on public safety, noting that legalization may result in more impaired driving and contribute to users moving on to harder drugs.




  • Establishing a recreational marijuana industry creates jobs and can generate significant tax revenue for state and local governments. Tax revenue can be applied to drug treatment programs and other public projects.
  • Legalization allows consumers to purchase cannabis and cannabis products from licensed vendors regulated by the government, a safer alternative to acquiring them from the underground market.
  • When passed alongside statutes granting amnesty to past offenders, laws that legalize recreational marijuana use can help reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Similarly, legalization would address backlogged courts and overwhelmed corrections facilities.


  • Ending marijuana prohibition may contribute to a higher incidence of impaired driving and associated fatalities. Law enforcement has encountered challenges in creating methods to reliably test for marijuana-impaired driving.
  • Increased availability heightens the risk of intentional and accidental misuse. Legal retailers often offer cannabis-infused items, such as products that look and taste like candy, that children may mistake as being safe to eat.
  • While the dangers of using cannabis have not fully been studied, researchers have found evidence that using marijuana can have serious physical and mental health implications.



The psychoactive substance that produces the "high" associated with marijuana is known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is one of many chemical compounds present in marijuana known as cannabinoids and is the only cannabinoid proven to produce intoxicating effects. The effects of cannabis use can differ, depending on the strain of marijuana consumed, the level of THC content, and the consumption method.

Marijuana use commonly causes altered sensory perception. It can induce temporal distortions, making time seem to pass more slowly. Mood changes can occur; these effects tend to be highly subjective and dependent on the user's mental and emotional state. Many users report that the high causes difficulty with sequential reasoning and problem-solving but stimulates creativity and free-associative thought. At very high doses, marijuana can also induce delusions and hallucinations.

Cannabis users report that sativa strains induce a more energetic high suitable for socializing and creative thinking, while indica strains produce a heavier, more sedative effect. Hybrid strains of the plant, which are typically cultivated to contain a certain percentage of sativa parentage and a certain percentage of indica parentage, can produce different combinations of these effects. Smoked or vaporized cannabis products enter the bloodstream quickly and produce a near-instantaneous high, while edible preparations and tinctures are absorbed at a slower rate and usually take at least thirty to sixty minutes to produce any noticeable effects.

The subspecies Cannabis ruderalis naturally has extremely low concentrations of THC and is not typically consumed recreationally because it does not produce psychoactive effects. However, the plant has been used in traditional medicines in Central Asia. Further, cannabis growers have experimented with blending the subspecies with sativa and indica trains because of its sturdiness and its ability to flower regardless of the light cycle.



Marijuana use can have both short-term and long-term physical and mental effects. Short-term physical effects include decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and dry mouth. If the drug is smoked, it also constricts blood vessels. The increase in heart rate associated with marijuana is considered risky for people with heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. The short-term mental effects of marijuana use include confusion, sedation, impaired memory, inattentiveness, and diminished concentration. Users may also experience psychological side effects including anxiety, paranoia, panic, and delusional or psychotic behavior. More extreme psychological reactions are typically associated with higher dosages.

With regular long-term use, the physical effects of marijuana can include bronchitis, lung infections, and a chronic cough. Mental faculties that can be negatively affected include concentration, memory, and decision-making abilities. Some studies suggest that long-term use could lower a person's intelligence quotient (IQ) score. Such claims have faced scrutiny from researchers who challenge the methodologies and sample sizes used in these studies.

Research also suggests links between marijuana use and serious mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia. These links are strongest in people who began using the drug at a young age, use the drug heavily and frequently, and have a family history of psychosis and schizophrenia. In general, negative marijuana-related long-term physical and mental health outcomes are more likely to occur in heavy, regular users and users who begin taking the drug at a young age, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood when the brain is still developing.

A commonly held belief suggests that marijuana does not cause physical addiction. However, most mental health professionals recognize the potential for users to develop a psychological dependence on the drug. Physical addiction causes physical withdrawal symptoms when use of a drug is discontinued, while psychological dependence causes withdrawal symptoms identified as purely psychological and emotional. Experts stress that physical addiction can occur in rare cases, primarily in very heavy chronic users. Mental health professionals believe a person has developed marijuana use disorder when cannabis use interferes with a person's life and the person has trouble refraining from use.

Some public health officials, addiction experts, and researchers believe that marijuana may act as a gateway drug, meaning that using it creates an increased chance that a person will go on to take other drugs. While the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) acknowledges marijuana's potential as a gateway drug, it also concedes that most marijuana users do not go on to experiment with or use more dangerous substances.



Medical experts have recognized marijuana's potential therapeutic value in treating a wide range of symptoms and conditions, including chronic pain, seizures, inflammation, nausea, and insomnia. Research suggests that cannabis can also ease symptoms like the muscle spasms and stiffness of progressive neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Additionally, marijuana has been shown to help treat nausea and vomiting in some chemotherapy patients and to counteract loss of appetite among people with HIV/AIDS. When combined with other therapies, it may also help individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One obstacle to full understanding of the potential benefits of marijuana was a federal regulation that scientists could only perform research using marijuana grown in a single authorized facility at the University of Mississippi. This marijuana was described by scientists as "subpar" and not equivalent to the marijuana in actual use. In May 2021 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it was working on rules to allow researchers to purchase marijuana from commercial providers.

Marijuana also has been cited as a possible solution for the abuse of harder drugs, particularly opioids. The products of cannabis plants have noted analgesic properties. In these products, researchers have sought possible alternatives to the powerful narcotic painkillers that have contributed to high rates of opioid addiction in the United States and other countries. Several studies have shown that states with legal access to medical marijuana have fewer opioid-related deaths, and a study published in Health Economics in April 2022 found lower use of prescription painkillers among Medicaid recipients in states with legal recreational cannabis. No death has ever been attributed to marijuana overdose. A University of Washington study published in May 2022 found that between 2014 and 2019, alcohol, cigarette, and improper pain medication use all declined among young adults following recreational marijuana legalization in the state in 2012.

However, some scientists caution that routine marijuana use can still pose dangers, particularly for teenagers and very young adults, and for pregnant women. In addition, Stanford University researchers announced in April 2022 that people who smoke marijuana more than once a month have an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease, though a soy-based supplement may counteract this effect.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, more commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, changed the legal status of hemp, a type of cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent of THC and has traditionally been used to make clothing, rope, and other durable products. Through this change, Congress made allowances for the study of the potential effects of using hemp and the sale of some hemp-derived products, particularly those containing CBD. CBD is not psychoactive and can be found in all forms of cannabis. Interest in CBD products increased after the law's passage, though a consensus has not been reached on the full benefits of CBD. Several studies, however, indicate that it can be effective at treating certain epilepsy syndromes. As of June 2022, CBD products are legal nationwide, as long as they are derived from hemp rather than marijuana. Idaho additionally requires CBD products to have less than 0.3 percent THC content.

Except when considering the potential medical benefits of hemp, federal law holds cannabis as illegal and makes no distinction between medical and recreational use. In 2020 the US House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), which would have decriminalized marijuana at the federal level and removed it from the list of controlled substances. The bill stalled after the Senate chose not to vote on it. The same law was reintroduced in 2021, and in April 2022 was passed by the House. However, though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced plans to introduce a bill to the Senate, expectations that it would pass remained low.



  • What are the risks associated with marijuana use, and do you believe they are great enough to justify the federal government's approach to its use? Explain your answer.
  • Do you believe states that have legalized recreational adult use of cannabis benefit from their decision to do so? Why or why not?
  • In your opinion, should states that legalize cannabis also erase the convictions of people previously convicted of marijuana offenses? Explain your answer.



The legalization of recreational marijuana has had positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, states with legal recreational marijuana have enjoyed a major increase in tax revenues. Colorado, which was the first state to legalize the drug for adult recreational use, reported over $423 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2021, up from $266.5 million in 2018. Nationwide, legal marijuana generated a total of $3.7 billion in tax proceeds in 2021. Legal sales of marijuana were expected to exceed $33 billion in 2022, an increase of 32 percent over the $25 billion in sales in 2021. Fortune magazine reported that in 2022, the cannabis industry employed approximately 520,000 people, a figure expected to rise to over eight hundred thousand by 2026. In addition to generating revenue for states, advocates point out that legalizing marijuana saves expenses and frees police and court resources to focus on more serious crimes by eliminating the many misdemeanor marijuana prosecutions. Some activists have also argued for legalization as a racial and social justice issue, as people and communities of color have historically been disproportionately targeted for such prosecutions.

Though public support for cannabis legislation continues to grow in the United States, citizens remain concerned about the risks of impaired driving. The American Automobile Association's Traffic Safety Culture Index reported in 2020 that 70 percent of Americans considered driving after using cannabis to be highly dangerous and 77 percent supported laws criminalizing marijuana-impaired driving. As more states legalized cannabis, the number of fatal traffic accidents involving the drug rose sharply, doubling between 2000 and 2018, according to a 2021 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Testing positive for marijuana use after a collision, however, does not prove the person was impaired while driving, as the drug can stay in a person's system for several weeks after use. The lack of a reliable, universally accepted roadside screening test for marijuana impairment poses another complication for addressing impaired driving. While such tests are actively being developed, law enforcement officials must rely on controversial screening processes that may yield inaccurate and inconsistent results, and field sobriety tests reliant on police officers' judgment. Many police agencies indicate that officers frequently lack the knowledge and training to detect marijuana impairment, allowing some drug-impaired drivers to escape.

The wide variation of cannabis laws between states and the possibility of positive test results weeks after actual use has negatively affected employees of various industries. For example, zero-tolerance federal regulations for commercial driving license holders exacerbated the supply-chain issues that began affecting the United States in 2020. A driver can consume marijuana legally in one state while off duty and test positive weeks later, usually leading to instant termination by employers and a complicated series of steps to requalify for commercial driving. As the industry and the federal government have tried to recruit more drivers, they have lost thousands of experienced drivers. Of the nearly 120,000 drivers with a drug violation since January 2020, only about 25 percent have completed the process to resume commercial driving.

Changing marijuana laws have created some legal issues without clear answers. For example, many activists have called for marijuana amnesty, which would erase previous convictions from the criminal records of people found guilty of cannabis possession in states that have legalized it. However, with marijuana remaining prohibited at the federal level, there is no obvious path forward for such a policy at the national level, even though public support for amnesty is strong. As marijuana prohibition has disproportionately resulted in the arrest and incarceration of people of color, many activists have argued that any legal cannabis industry must provide opportunities that benefit these affected communities.

The transportation of recreational marijuana from a state where it is legal to a state where it is not legal causes further complications for law enforcement. Existing federal statutes make interstate transport of marijuana or marijuana products illegal. However, the rise of novel consumption methods, such as marijuana-infused beverages and snacks, has presented law enforcement officials with significant detection and enforcement challenges. Further, in states where such consumption methods are legal, authorities have reported cases of minors mistaking the drug for something safe to eat.


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