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Debunking the Stigma Attached to Marijuana

Debunking the Stigma Attached to Marijuana

Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 11/01/2013 in Medical Marijuana

In ancient Greece, slaves, criminals and traitors alike were branded by scorching hot irons to create a visible scar known as a stigma. The mark served as a reminder that the very identities of these individuals were morally corrupt in nature. This stigma worked as a permanent indication to all those who publically viewed it, acknowledging that those who bore it did so with shame and disgrace. The world we live in today does not go to such extreme branding measures to ensure shame takes a physical form. However, we carry these notions of stigmatized identities strongly with us by way of hate groups, stereotypes, discrimination and propaganda – all of which enact severe social consequences.

Stigma is in absolutely no way linked to truth regarding the targeted group. The modern form of stigma is not exclusively tied to racial groups, sexual orientations or cultural backgrounds. In fact, stigma does not necessarily coincide with a targeted people at all. A stigma is what happens when deviance overrides the norm. In our society, nearly any departure from the norm somehow encourages a stigmatizing effect. Physical disabilities, alcoholism, mental illness and sexual transgressions invite stigmas solely because they divert from the expectation of “normalcy” upheld by our society as a whole. And in a world brimming with difference, normalcy is a nearly impossible concept to define.

It is essential to note that social stigma in today’s day and age works on two different levels. At the macro level, society works to keep the stigmatized group down. Say, for example, the particular stigmatized group we are focusing on are those suffering from depression. You may be hard-pressed to find a health insurance that covers treatment. At the micro level, you may find that friends or family members do not fully grasp your depression. In turn, you may find yourself working hard to hide your depression, or your potential treatment for depression to avoid feeling like an outsider. It is these stigmatized identities we invent – of all sorts – that make navigating in the social world a highly difficult task.

As patients, advocates, activists, and supporters of medical marijuana, we have become exposed, first hand, to the highly stigmatized plant and all of the negative connotations it evokes. We have perhaps experienced the stigmatization ourselves – and we can all – undoubtedly, recognize it when we see it. As with many stigmas, and those who perpetuate it, parcing apart the individual from the targeted stigma is rarely an option. For example, with alcoholism or mental illness, the blame is pinned on the individual for carrying that with them – rather than separating the two. So how then does medical marijuana come into play? Without mentioning the medicalization of marijuana, we can focus on the negative implications embedded in our culture when looking at the plant itself. We live in a culture that absolutely dumbs marijuana users down, often discrediting their knowledge and setting it aside. We have seen this time and time again in patient stories and wrongful arrests. In a case which took place this past July, a Michigan resident was charged with possession with intent to deliver marijuana, because he was a licensed caregiver. In his car, he had medibles properly labeled and stowed away in Tupperware for his patients. Despite having an on-site forensic chemist to test the THC levels in the brownies, the court ordered that the entire weight of each brownie in the batch be counted toward the maximum THC weight. And although the defendant’s edibles were labeled with the precise weight and marijuana content, the Court of Appeals referred to the defendant’s request to take that into account as, “absurd.” Further stating, “We find no support in our precedent for the notion that the amount of a controlled substance possessed should be established by a defendant’s self-report.” The defendant’s knowledge was entirely disposed of, considered null and void, for reasons perpetuated by a stigma saturated in falsehood.

Because Marijuana invites a world of negative stigma, people who utilize it as medicine must bear the brunt of its degradation. If you must medicate to relieve your pain you are looked upon as a “pothead.” Anti-marijuana groups who believe our country will fall into the hands of criminals if medical marijuana is legalized haven’t even advanced as far as understanding its medical implications and benefits. While we are fighting for its recognition, its “stoner” stigma still lingers. In fact, the “stoner” concept has been so solidified in our culture that countless citizens have explicitly stated their disbelief in marijuana as medicine. People are so quick to discredit marijuana as medicine, that human rights are being threatened at its very core. In the example using depression as a stigmatized mental illness, we saw that health care may not cover necessary treatment all the time. Now picture, for a moment, having a debilitating case of PTSD, and then first fighting for your right to use marijuana to alleviate your symptoms. Because the government has funded so little in terms of finding substantial evidence about marijuana as medicine, patients and advocates alike are first having to make a case for their medicine – proving that it is just that. Unlike prescription pharmaceuticals and over the counter drugs alike, marijuana is still not recognized as solely medical by any stretch of the imagination. And though health care may not cover all treatments for those suffering from mental illnesses, it covers absolutely no part of the medical marijuana industry. Like this, our society keeps the stigma alive and well.

Back in 2006, the DEA publicly stated, “Legalization of marijuana will come at the expense of our children and public safety.” When highly empowered groups in our society make statements like these, a nation can choose to conform to its message, or deviate. The former is always the easier option. Facebook groups such as “Weed Kills 420” are just another way for negative images and messages about marijuana to permeate into our everyday culture.

Regardless of whether or not these Facebook groups are real, or pranks played by individuals with too much time on their hands, the message is being sent out in one way or another. And though it would be ideal to think that not everyone believes what they see, that is simply not the case. Mayor Bloomberg said just last spring in an interview that medical marijuana is “one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.” He went on, “Medical my foot. There is no medical.” Statements such as these diminish an entire group of people, and the struggle they’ve had to go through. Hate groups, advertisements and propaganda bashing marijuana is hurting the people who deserve it least. Innocent men, women and children whose lives have been made remarkably better because of medical marijuana treatment are our real heroes. And quite frankly, it’s time to start treating them as such.

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