This is truly a letter to the person in your media outlet who decides what words to use where. As many jurisdictions consider reversing a nearly century-old approach to marijuana laws, a term has come up with some regularity that has a specific and inaccurate meaning. Decriminalized, legalized, regulated, state-sanctioned marijuana distribution, use and possession is not about encouraging or even a benign acceptance of a “recreational” use of the substance.
In fact, the persistent labeling of efforts to remove criminal sanctions and state prohibitions against the creation of markets as legalizing “recreational” marijuana, far overstates and misrepresents the intent of most legislative sponsors. It trivializes the reasoning behind advocacy for such changes and risks sending an inaccurate and inappropriate message to the general public, but in particular, young people.
Indeed, individuals have a variety of motivations for marijuana use and lumping these together as “recreation” distorts usage which more likely is for the improvement of health and quality of life. A recent study conducted by BD Analytics found that within the 26 states that have legalized medicinal marijuana only 6 percent of Americans over the age of 50 cited recreational purposes for consumption. Pain relief was the primary motivating factor. Additional surveys have found therapeutic, appetite enhancement, relaxation and aiding sleep as dominating factors (See: Marist Poll “Weed and the American Family” April 17, 2017).
A recent publication by the state Department of Health was widely reported to recommend the legalization of “recreational” marijuana, yet no such term or any version of it appears in their conclusion.
It is simple. State legalization is not the same as condoning the widespread use of marijuana. This debate is much more serious than that. As one of the co-sponsors of the legislation that set up the state authorization of the medicinal marijuana market in New York (A.06357 Gottfried / S.7923 Savino) and of a bill that would reform state sanctions against marijuana use, possession and distribution (A.3506B Peoples-Stokes / S.3040B Krueger), colleagues and I are not supporting the proliferation of a party drug.
Ending decades of the inappropriate use of our criminal justice system, recognizing that law-abiding people ought not have to fit into a narrow category of specific diagnoses, discouraging illegal and unsafe markets and allowing responsible adults to make legal choices is not about “recreation.” I encourage the media, advocates and even opponents to remember that words have meaning and often, as in the case here, subtexts, as well. This is an important public policy debate that should not be characterized by overly broad and misrepresentative labels.
Kevin A. Cahill
Assembly member, 103rd District