Public Opinion on Marijuana Use Shifting, Student Opinion Remains Split

Kyle Florence

Marijuana is arguably the most heavily scrutinized drug available today.

Across the United States, there are virtually droves of individuals who swear by this substance, and likewise just as many who unwaveringly oppose it. As such, it is not surprising that college campuses are often fraught with debate, as they offer a four-year window for experimentation, personal preference, and self-discovery.

As a staff member at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on-campus counseling center, licensed psychologist Dr. Jason Siewert works regularly to educate students on the dangers of substance abuse.

“I think we’re [UWSP] pretty consistent with other schools of our size,” Siewert said. “What we find is a relatively broad cross-section of students have experimented with marijuana, and I would say that there are far fewer heavy-users than those who use intermittently or have tried it once or twice.”

Siewert’s assertion isn’t far off according to a 2012 survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which concluded that by age 25 just over half of all individuals will have tried marijuana at least once.

“It’s probably one of the easier substances to get a hold of, certainly more so than any of the harder drugs that you or I could name. People who are looking for a buzz but don’t necessarily want to get into what they’ve already personally labeled as ‘hard drugs’ may gravitate towards marijuana,” Siewert said.

Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that “heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers who came from similar backgrounds.” This study, and other studies illustrating similar results, have also prompted countless education and preventing efforts, increased the severity of federal penalties regarding marijuana, and cemented the substance as an irrefutable gateway drug.

“Personally, I do not support the use of marijuana, but I’m not going to go out there preaching to everyone about it,” said Kirsten Kreger, a senior political science major. “I don’t support it because it is illegal, and even if it did become legal, I would not partake in its uses because that’s just not me.”

Kreger’s disapproval of regular marijuana use is parallel to many US citizens, though in recent decades, public opinion has undeniably began to change. A national survey commissioned in the April of 2013 by the Pew Research Center reported that 72% of Americans now believe that “government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth,” while 60% say that the US government should no longer enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have approved its use.

“What people want to do to their bodies is their own decision. Personally, I don’t smoke, but I feel it’s not really that big of a deal, and certainly manageable in moderation,” said Nicole Pare, a senior communication major.

Similarly, Siewert admits that cases of actual marijuana abuse are rare, even within his field.

“I haven’t personally in my professional role seen an overwhelming number of people come in with consequences associated with their marijuana use being a driving factor in their lives,” Siewert said. “I’m not saying never, just not ordinarily.”

Given this shift in societal outlook, it is not surprising that there are also those who not only approve of regular marijuana use, but also encourage it.

“Student A,” a UWSP student who has chosen to remain anonymous due to the illegality of marijuana, first smoked when she was 15 years old, and now refers to herself as a “regular smoker.”

“I smoke nearly every day, sometimes multiple times a day,” Student A said.

Though the drug can have a negative reputation, Student A believes that her continued marijuana use has never had a negative effect on her.

“I don’t think it has affected me negatively, but that’s from my perspective. Maybe other people have thought differently,” Student A said.

“Student B,” a UWSP student who has also vied for anonymity as to avoid legal repercussions, is also a “regular smoker”, and agreed with Student A.

“I smoke every day, and am pretty much willing to smoke before anything. I feel it doesn’t hinder me in any of my daily events,” Student B said. “I’ll smoke before class; I’ve even talked to advisors high.”

As part of a 2010 survey administered by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, both student A and B are part of the 21.5 percent of college- aged Americans who smoke weed on a weekly basis.

According to Student B, rather than cripple his academics, as many would expect, marijuana has actually become a regular part of his studies.

“I feel like it helps me focus on getting something done because getting work done isn’t such a chore. You can sort of just put your mind to it and it doesn’t seem like work,”Student B said.

Student A shared a similar outlook.

“When I smoke, I feel more productive and creative, almost to the point where I am more inquisitive about things,” Student A said. “I don’t really smoke before class, more so just before I study. That, and when I have to do the dishes, because, well, everyone hates to do the dishes, but they’re fine when you’re high.”

In addition, Student B also described the act of smoking as a communal pastime, which has the potential to not only strengthen already formed bonds, but also build new ones.

“It’s fun, but it’s almost a social event too. If you don’t know someone you can sure sit down with them, smoke a bowl, and after that you’re certainly better friends than you were before,” Student B said.

This point of view may be especially thought provoking when one considers Student B’s history of marijuana use.

“I was always ‘the really good kid’, and I never saw myself smoking, until I had a couple of friends who did it and I realized it wasn’t really that big of a deal,” Student B said. “It was actually kind of a big thing when I started smoking because people never really saw that coming.”

Regardless of their past or present smoking habits both Student A and B are adamant that they are in no way addicted to marijuana.

“There’s been time where I get bored with it, and won’t smoke foran extended period of time. I just do it when it needs to be done,” Student A said.

Again, Student B agreed.

“I would say it’s definitely a habit forming thing. I started smoking my senior year, and have smoked most days since then, but I’ve also had periods where I’ll take months off at a time, even with access to it. I mean, it’s just one of those things that if you really need to not do it, you just don’t do it,” Student B said.

Nonetheless, Siewert maintains that marijuana is still a drug, and still must be approached with the utmost caution.

“Any substance can be abused, any substance can be misused, and you can experience consequences from any substance,” Siewert said.

In regards to the effects of marijuana in comparison to other illegal substances, Siewert declined to comment.

Conversely, though Student A and Student B condone the use of marijuana, they too acknowledge that its regular use is not for everyone.

“I think it affects everyone differently. There are some people that just have negative experiences with it, so it all depends on how you react to it. I definitely feel like it’s an experience that you need to have for yourself,” Student A said.

Student B made a similar point.

“If you’ve never done it, have an open mind,” Student B said. “Know your limits and know how it affects you. If it’s not for you, then it’s not for you.” 

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