Recreational marijuana is now lawful in 33 U.S. states. Medical marijuana has been legal in most states for a number of years already, but the government has woken up to the tax benefits of legalizing it for recreational use.
For states in serious debt, such as Illinois and Michigan, tax revenue from marijuana sales could not come at a better time. Authorized recreational cannabis sales began in Illinois on January 1, 2020. On that first day, revenue reached $3.2 million, and in a few weeks generated $19 million. In Illinois, the total state, city, and county taxes on weed sales will reach up to 41% of sales. That’s a lot of money.
In addition to the tax incentives of legalizing cannabis, recreational sales promise to benefit the limited number of business owners who have long planned for legalization, had their documentation in order, and secured a license. States only allow a certain number of vendors, so other entrepreneurs are out of luck.
Some say that another actor benefitting from the legalization of marijuana is law enforcement. Freed of the hassle of prosecuting minor cannabis offenses, authorities can concentrate on more serious criminal activities. Fewer individuals will be arrested and sent to prison for minor crimes, and the problem of mass incarceration will be alleviated.
Legalizing marijuana probably has its benefits—but what about its human cost? History shows us that we rarely look at the human toll of such actions until it’s too late (e.g., the legal but unprincipled over-prescription of opioids in the past decades).
When it comes to the legalization of cannabis, I am seriously concerned about what I call “the Fog.” The Fog is the state of being experienced when a person uses marijuana. One’s physical and spiritual state becomes a haze. I liken it to the Peanuts cartoon character Pig-Pen—the little boy always dirty, with a plume of dust following him. I know people who have lived in the Fog for decades; they’re trapped in it. While they’ve lost their ability to see and smell it, marijuana smoke sticks on them, and others detect it even on their bags and clothes.
Cannabis use throughout the U.S. is rising, and the amount consumed by frequent users is also climbing. The most severe problem of the Fog, I believe, is lack of ability to thrive. It’s common to hear a person say, “I’ve been smoking marijuana since the ’60s, and I am fine. I go to work, I have a home, and my children are fine.” This may be true, but both times and the drug have changed. Levels of THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana, are many times higher in products sold today. Marijuana sold before the ’90s has less than 2% THC levels. The plant has been modified, and these days, the THC content of most popular strains ranges between 15% and 30%.
Marijuana users manage life in the Fog through habit. They don’t like doing much out of the ordinary because it’s too hard to navigate the Fog in strange places. Smoking first thing in the morning and/or in the evening after work, they memorize routes in their homes until they can navigate without bumping into things. They do not like objects to move. They live in a routine: get up, go to work, pick up kids, get to that evening meeting or activity, back home to dinner, shower, and bed. Start all over the next day. They’ve got things under control.
My concerns are mostly for the everyday person earning less than $75,000 per year, living in a modest home, and working full time to make ends meet. The person’s dreams stall, and they lag behind their peers enough to feel sad and discontent. They attribute their lag to issues such as lack of support, children’s needs, workload, other life stressors that marijuana helps them get through. Yet they’ll never make it through. Instead, they see the years go by in that same state of life, enduring the same stressors and smoking marijuana to cope.
The Fog is a problem that’s only going to get worse. Those urging rapid legalization and marketing aren’t being honest with consumers about the dangers of the Fog because it doesn’t help their cause. Users themselves can’t see the hazards of the Fog because their awareness has been dulled.
What is to become of children growing up in the Fog? With the legalization of marijuana, I believe that we all have increased responsibility for the well being of children in our communities. We need to act now, or society will pay a steep price for our negligence.
I advocate for a multifaceted approach to incorporating the inevitable, new social norm of cannabis consumption into our society. We should adopt a curriculum promoting drug-free lives in our elementary, middle, and high schools. Parents who smoke weed should be convinced of the value of creating Fog-free spaces in their homes. We must offer affordable mental health care; with all the new tax revenue generated through cannabis sales, states have no excuse. And, the media must share widely a constant conversation with mental health professionals about cannabis and its health consequences.
Marijuana legalization, promotion, and consumption are daunting issues. What can we do right now? We can have honest conversations with our families and communities that question the Fog and shine the light of real examination into its haze. We can pray for today’s children as they face the Fog—a presence that will affect their generation throughout their lives.