Historically, the legalization of marijuana raised a heat public debate in the US because marijuana is a drug, which consumption may be extremely dangerous to health of people. On the other hand, in spite of the illegal status of marijuana, it is widely-used and was used by people. The consumption of marijuana increased the risk of the development of drug addiction. On the other hand, scientific studies show that marijuana can be used for medical purposes (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). Nevertheless, whatever conclusions of scientists are concerning the impact of marijuana on human health, the consumption of marijuana has already become a sort of rite, initiation which transit teens from childhood to adulthood. In such a situation, the legalization of marijuana is viewed as the way to make its consumption safe and controllable. On the other hand, risks associated with the consumption of this drug persist that raises a strong opposition to the legalization of marijuana. In this regard, the older generation is more conservative and rigid in regard to the legalization of marijuana, whereas the younger generation, especially teens are more liberal and tolerant in relation to the problem of legalization of marijuana. In this regard, it is important to take into consideration several factors that affect the attitude of different age groups to the legalization of marijuana, including the evolution of the legislation, the socio-cultural changes and the level of consumption of marijuana in the society.
The impact of legislation on the perception of marijuana by the population of different age
On analyzing the attitude of representatives of different generations to marijuana and its legalization, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the older generation has always stood on the conservative ground insisting on the ban of marijuana as a dangerous drug. In stark contrast, the younger generation has a more tolerant attitude to the legalization of marijuana, to the extent that many young people support the legalization of this drug. In this respect, the evolution of the state and federal legislation apparently had a significant impact on views of people of different generations on the legalization of marijuana. In the past, the legislation was very strict in relation to marijuana, which was banned as a drug. However, in the course of time, states have started to implement legislative acts, which admit the possibility of medical use of marijuana that contradicted to federal norms but raised the movement for the legalization of marijuana. Therefore, many researchers focused on the study of the evolution of legislation, with the help of which it is possible to trace the change in views of people belonging to different generations on marijuana and its legalization.
In fact, over time, federal marijuana policy has become increasingly restrictive and punitive, while state policy has been more fluid and lax. Recently, citizen-sponsored state referenda to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes have challenged federal policy, sparking a national debate (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In such a way, marijuana can be used for medical purposes but still the recent legislative initiatives confront a strong opposition from the part of the older generation. Critics have argued that medicinal use “sends the wrong message” to youth. The purpose of this paper is to test this argument by examining marijuana attitudes and behaviors before and after a seminal California law was passed (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). At this point, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the older generation raised up and lived in the time of the ban of marijuana and, naturally, they oppose to the legalization of the drug. Moreover, representatives of the older generation believe that marijuana is a drug that cannot be used otherwise but for consumption by drug addicts. In stark contrast, the younger generation observes the public dispute over the legalization of marijuana and its possible application in medicine. Hence, younger people become more tolerant to marijuana because they do not view it as a mere drug but also as a medicine.
Current federal drug policy can be characterized as a “zero tolerance” approach, with primary emphasis on supply reduction, enforcement strategies, and legal sanctions. Historically, federal marijuana policy began with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and became more restrictive over time with the passage of the Boggs Act and the Narcotic Control Act during the 1950’s (Bonnie & Whitebread, 1974) (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). Obviously, the aforementioned acts introduced strict measures to prevent the spread and consumption of marijuana. Moreover, in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug (along with heroin and LSD), meaning that it had a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical utility, lack of accepted safety for use even under medical supervision, and was subject to the most stringent regulatory controls (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In such a way, marijuana was rejected as a drug that can be used in medicine. Hence, the older generation’s belief grew strong that marijuana was a drug and had no application in medicine.
However, Californians passed the Moscone Act in 1976, which decriminalized possession of marijuana and removed prison sentences. For the next 20 years, until the medical marijuana initiative was passed in 1996, California’s marijuana laws did not change substantially (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In such a way, new legislative initiatives eased the criminal liability for marijuana use and possession.
In recent years, states have since passed medical marijuana initiatives. These state initiatives clearly conflict with federal policy and much of the concern and opposition has been centered around the notion that allowing medicinal use would “send the wrong message” to youth – that is, change attitudes and perceptions about marijuana and result in greater recreational use of marijuana and other illicit drugs (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In such a way, the current legislation tends to be more tolerant to the consumption of the drug and its possible use in medicine. As a result, the younger generation naturally tends to perceive marijuana not as a serious drug that threatens to individual’s health but just as a drug that can be used in medicine and not dangerous enough to ban it legally, whereas the legalization of the drug will not have any grave negative effects. In contrast, the older generation, which grew up in the context of the 1950s-1960s, when strict criminal liability for using and spreading marijuana were introduced, still oppose to the legalization of marijuana.
The socio-cultural background and the level of marijuana consumption and the attitude to its legalization
At the same time, while studying the problem of the perception of the legalization of marijuana by representatives of different generations, it is necessary to analyze socio-cultural context, in which views and beliefs of different generations were shaped and the level of consumption of marijuana in the society. In this respect, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that today the young generation perceives the consumption of marijuana as a norm. Students who smoke marijuana get lower grades and are less likely to graduate from high school, compared with their non-smoking. Workers who smoke marijuana are more likely than their coworkers to have problems on the job (Yacoubian, 2007). Therefore, the consumption of marijuana has become a sort of the initiation rite, which means the transition of an adolescent from childhood to the adult life. In such a situation, young people cannot oppose to the legalization of marijuana as older people do because young people perceive using marijuana as a norm, whereas the older generation perceives the consumption of marijuana as a crime.
Furthermore, many specialists point out that it could be calamitous for teenagers, the largest at-risk group for taking drugs, who will experience a massive growth in numbers in the next few years. (In 2010 it is estimated there will be 35 million teens in America. The baby boomers topped out at 33 million.) (Levinson, 2003). In such a situation, representatives of the older generation naturally oppose to the legalization of marijuana because they believe that the legalization of the drug will lead to the rapid increase of the consumption of marijuana among the youth. In contrast, young people believe that the consumption of marijuana cannot cause any substantial harm to their health and the legalization of marijuana will not provoke the boom in the consumption of this drug. In fact, different habits and cultural traditions lead to the wide gap in the attitude of the older and younger generations.
Nevertheless, the growth of the consumption of marijuana is disturbing experts. In 2005, an estimated 19.7 million Americans aged 12 or older, or approximately eight percent of the population, were current (past 30-day) illicit drug users. Marijuana is the most prevalent illicit drug within the American household population, with 14.6 million persons 12 or older reporting its use during the past 30 days (SAMHSA, 2006). Of these persons, about one-third used it at least 20 of those 30 days. In 2006, the most prevalent current illicit drug among high school seniors, 10th graders, and 8th graders was marijuana. Nearly half (48%) of all seniors reported lifetime marijuana use, while approximately 36% reported marijuana during the past year and 21% in the 30-day period preceding the interview. Among 10th graders, lifetime marijuana use was reported by 25% of the sample, while lifetime marijuana use among 8th graders use was 12% (Yacoubian, 2007). In fact, the growth of consumption of marijuana raises the problem of its legalization because, on the one hand, the younger generation believes that marijuana can be legalized because it can be used for medical purpose and does not cause substantial harm to health. In contrast, the older generation still opposes to the legalization of marijuana because older people view it as a drug that is banned and dangerous to health.
Thus, the difference in views of the younger and older generations is enormous. The difference in views of different generations is determined by their socio-cultural environment, the level of consumption of marijuana and the legislation regulating the use of marijuana. In this respect, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the older generation grew and lived in the time of the strict ban of marijuana even for medical purposes. In stark contrast, the younger generation grew up in the socio-cultural context, where the consumption of marijuana is a norm.
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