Last week, following the federal government's release of a state-by-state survey of drug use and perceptions of harms of various drugs, the news media in Colorado reported that marijuana use was up significantly in the state.
Let's just pause and think about that for a moment. The news media reported that marijuana use was up up significantly in the state.
Now, most of us have been bombarded by the message that marijuana is "bad" or "harmful" our entire lives, and we know what to expect when the traditional media reports on an increase in marijuana use. So you probably assume at this point that the tone of the coverage was one of alarm and dismay. If you think that, you haven't been in Colorado over the past four years.
What has happened in the Centennial State over the past four years, you might ask? Well, the populace, including the media itself, has been constantly bombarded with one simple message: Marijuana is safer than alcohol -- both to the user and to society -- and it therefore makes no sense to punish adults who make the rational choice to use the less harmful substance.
The organization I head, SAFER, which stands for Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, has pushed this message through referendums on college campuses, two citywide ballot initiatives in Denver, a statewide ballot initiative campaign, and countless public demonstrations and press conferences. (You can get a sampling of the kind of media coverage we have generated by checking out our YouTube channel.)
SAFER's efforts appear to be having an impact. Consider first the survey mentioned above. Yes, it showed that marijuana use increased in the state. More importantly, Colorado was one of only three states in which the perceived risk of smoking marijuana once a month decreased by a statistically significant amount between 2005-2006 and 2006-2007.
[LINK "decreased" to http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k7state/AppC.htm#TabC-4 ]
In other words, it appears the people of Colorado are getting the message. They are starting to understand that the government has lied to them for decades and the truth is that marijuana is simply not all that harmful, especially in comparison to alcohol. They are beginning to see marijuana for what it really is -- a less harmful recreational alternative to alcohol -- and it appears some of them are logically shifting toward using the safer substance.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the evolving attitudes toward marijuana in the state are even being reflected in mainstream media coverage. Just watch this clip from the local Fox News station.
Not to spoil it, but here are the highlights: First, the anchor casually states that more Coloradoans are "putting down the bottle and picking up the bong." Then, after noting that marijuana use is up significantly in the state, the reporter asks, "Is this a good thing? It depends whom you ask." She then proceeds to ask a bar manager -- yes, a bar manager -- who says, "[Marijuana] is better for you than drinking, obviously... I don't think the side effects are quite as harmful." After letting me say a few words, the reporter ends by repeating a couple of concerns from local police. (Same old crap, of course.)
The conclusion to be drawn from this report, as produced by the local Fox News station? Yes, the increase in marijuana use in the state is a good thing.
Has there been a news report like this in the past? I don't believe so. Will this be the last news report like this? Absolutely not. It's just the first of many...
Mason Tvert is the co-author of the forthcoming Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, July 2009).