Monday, February 18th, 2019

Non-smokers dispel pot stereotypes

Posted on April 20, 2015 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

Abigail Johnson-Ruscansky

With marijuana legal for medical use in 23 states and legal recreationally in four, it’s clear that the mind-altering plant is gaining support across the country. Out of 300 students polled at USM, 249 said that they think marijuana should be legalized nationwide. However, a lack of reliable knowledge surrounding the substance and its illegal status in some states contribute to a lingering social stigma. Anonymous survey takers cited everything from a bad odor, addictive qualities and facilitating a culture of laziness as reasons why they’ve never sparked up some ganja.

There are many common stereotypes that plague the average marijuana user. Pot tokers are often labelled as “stoners” who have trouble holding a job, sport a five-word vocabulary and are absolute slaves to the munchies, ingesting junk food at a nausea-inducing pace. Other stereotypes group smokers as long-haired hippies that wear tie dye shirts, listen to reggae and are in a constant state of confusion. Perhaps most detrimental to marijuana’s image, and most untrue, is the notion that it can be fatal to those who smoke, vape or ingest it.

But for Jordan Leathers, a former biochemistry major and medical marijuana patient, smoking pot is more than just a way to relax; it alleviates his chronic back pain. He said pot stereotypes are annoying, because the plant has so many benefits and misinformation deteriorates its reputation.

“I know it’s still being taught in some places down south that it’s like meth or something, like it can kill you,” said Leathers.“I wouldn’t call it a drug, it’s just a plant.”

As marijuana becomes more socially acceptable, these stereotypes are becoming further and further from the truth. Plenty of hardworking Americans enjoy a joint every once in a while, so Leathers doesn’t think it’s fair to label all “stoners” as lazy.

Outside of the medical marijuana community, opinions differ.

“People I’ve known in high school and college who smoked regularly didn’t care as much about their studies or getting a step ahead in life,” wrote one survey respondent. “It was tough to see intelligent, driven friends have their grades drop or drop out completely because they just didn’t care anymore. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, but it can have a similar level of impact on a person’s life.”

Opponents of marijuana and the culture it fosters often point to studies that show that long-term use has a negative effect on memory, motivation and cognitive function. Other people shy away from cannabis for the same reasons they do cigarettes: no matter what you’re smoking, it’s harmful to inhale the effects of combustion into your lungs.

Isabelle Crosby, an undeclared sophomore, is of this opinion and prefers relaxing with the occasional alcoholic drink instead. Crosby considers  marijuana to be a “gateway drug,” or one that sparks curiosity within some to try harder and more dangerous substances.

“I have seen people go rapidly from marijuana to class A drugs,” said Crosby. “Friends of mine dropped out as a result and probably ruined their lives.”

“Marijuana doesn’t cause a physical addiction like other drugs do,” explained James Li, a medical marijuana doctor based in Damariscotta. “From a doctor’s standpoint, it doesn’t even come close, danger-wise to the substances we’ve already legalized. People are prone to judge others that seek mind altering experiences.”

Rowan Watson, a junior biology major, has never tried marijuana and has no interest in ever trying it, but doesn’t demonize its users or legalization efforts. Watson said that the main reasons he avoids the substance is because it’s illegal and it smells bad, but beyond that, he’s got no problem with it.

“The fact that it is already illegal influences people’s opinions on legalizing it,” said Watson. “Instead of seeing it as a potential to do great amounts of good, people remain willfully ignorant of its potential and even its effects because they see it only as an illegal substance.

“I don’t smoke pot simply because it’s still illegal federally,” said Jasmine Miller, a junior women and gender studies major. “If I got caught smoking pot it would negatively affect my career.”

Rachel Gates, a junior communications major, said that the illegality has greatly influenced the public perception of marijuana. According to Gates, smoking weed has been the “cool thing to do” for some because it’s illegal and taboo. She said that there are also people who adamantly oppose everything to do with marijuana simply because it involves breaking the law.

“That further contributes to the plant’s misconstrued reputation,” said Gates. “For some people, it’s just simply enjoyable. I think that, like with most things in life, perspective is everything; just because some have had bad experiences with the plant, as I have, does not mean that their encounter should speak for all marijuana users.”

Gates used to occasionally smoke pot with her friends in high school, but it took her a while to truly feel high. When the high hit her, she decided to stop smoking altogether. Gates said her early marijuana smoking days were tainted by an overwhelming sense of paranoia, where all her anxieties became magnified, a feeling which she disliked immensely.

“Two years after high school, I tried smoking again and the same situation happened, so I’m completely done now,” said Gates. “I think I react this way to pot because I struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. In a weird way, it’s almost like the plant holds up a mirror where you look into your reflection. Someone who is naturally calm will probably have a good time, whereas someone who is paranoid may struggle and try to fight the high.”

Seasoned smokers like Leathers offered this advice to people thinking about smoking marijuana for the first time: don’t overdo it, and moderation is key.

Natasha Bezbradica, a senior communications major, has tried smoking marijuana many times, but, like Gates, has also never enjoyed the effects.

“That’s really the only reason why,” said Bezbradica. “From my personal experiences with friends who are regular smokers, regular use of marijuana alters people’s personalities. I’ve noticed a drastic change in those who’ve stopped smoking for certain periods of time.”

Despite their negative reactions to the high, Bezbradica and Gates still support people who decide to smoke a bowl instead of drink a beer.

“Everyone is and will always be different,” said Gates. “I believe it’s hugely important to keep an open mind about [marijuana] for the rest of the community.”

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