Green herb crackles under his lighter as white smoke swirls through a long, glass tube. With one swift inhale, it’ll elevate him into a state of euphoria that has become the norm for his everyday life.
John, who wishes his last name not be revealed due to employment-related reasons, is a senior at California State University, Long Beach and a marijuana user.
“Marijuana has little to zero known consequences,” John said, noting the start of his daily regimen with his first toke in his first semester of college. “Let everyone experience it and decide for themselves; if it’s not hurting, then it can only help.”
Along with the industries cashing in on the five-limbed leaf, public opinion in favor of the drug’s legalization is growing.
Research by The ArcView Group, a cannabis industry investment and research firm, surveyed both medical and recreational marijuana shops. Their results showed that the United States’ market for legal marijuana developed a 74 percent increase from $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion in 2014, making it the fastest growing industry in the country.
Nearly 16,000 people were registered for work in the legal industry in Colorado, which is a 143 percent increase in jobs within the industry from 2013. Colorado and Washington were the first to legalize recreational use with Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia following suit.
California may soon be going green as well with plans of adding the legalization issue to its 2016 ballot.
“I don’t think legalizing marijuana changes anything—it’s not hard to get weed,” Shane Osaki, a senior civil engineering major at CSULB, said. “If any problems arise because of the legalization it is the fault of the user, not the product.”
As for America’s up-front opinion, research released last month by the Pew Research Center found 53 percent of Americans in favor of legalization with 44 percent opposing and the final 3 percent not holding an opinion on the matter.
Sergeant Steve Owen of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is part of the 44 percent, and said that he believes the controversial drug to be harmful.
“With what I see, it’s a gateway drug that leads to the use of other dangerous drugs like cocaine, meth, heroin,” Owen said. “When you talk to these people it seems like everybody has the same answer—they all started smoking weed and it progressed from there.”
Owen said that although he understands users with medical needs, nearly all of the dispensaries he has investigated have violated state law, including one that was selling to anyone regardless of a written recommendation.
“[We need] to [have] a real doctor and a real hospital [involved], not these quacks that are making money off of filling out prescriptions,” Owen said. “If weed is a medicine, do it that way.”
Roberto Henderson, an alcohol and drug abuse counselor in Long Beach, holds that marijuana use is connected to that of harder drugs, but is in favor of its legalization and educating the public.
“The educational system is letting kids down,” Henderson said. “In order to do the job when it comes to issues of anger, domestic violence, drug addiction, we have to have a more intelligent dialogue with our youth.”
His main argument is the removal of the illegal market.
If a user—who will use regardless—can safely go to a store in the middle of the night instead of to the dangerous part of town to deal with criminals, then that is a positive in Henderson’s opinion.
Joe, a pseudonym for one of CSULB’s seniors unwilling to provide his name or major from fear of potential law enforcement ramifications, agreed that there are dangers associated with the illegal-market as a former marijuana grower and dealer himself.
He stopped selling on April 20 of last year after the business became too much for him. He found himself working with gang members and other “shady types.” Along with the constant requests from clients, selling proved to not be worth the estimated $5,000 he was making every two to three months from his business.
Despite the drug’s widespread popularity, there are still a number of people who have yet to try it and are indifferent on its legal status, like Christian Whittington, a senior computer science major at CSULB.
“I don’t feel strongly enough about legalizing marijuana to vote for or against it,” Whittington said, noting that his interest in the drug is deterred by its dank stench and eyewitness accounts of people losing their self-motivation. “I don’t think it causes immediate harm to anyone using; the fact that smoking weed is illegal doesn’t stop most people from doing it.”