Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Theodore Caputi Headshot

Is Pro-Marijuana Pro-Propaganda?

Posted: Updated:

There's a lot of buzz going around about marijuana legalization. Now that Colorado and Washington state have legalized recreational marijuana use, marijuana proponents are in a frenzy - trying to convince state governments to legalize medical marijuana, decriminalize possession of marijuana, or - the holy grail -- legalize recreational use.

I am not going to focus the attention of this post on whether marijuana legalization (in any of its forms) is a good or bad idea. Instead, I would like to call attention to the unfair marketing practices of marijuana proponents.

I realize that there are some benefits to marijuana legalization. I'm not saying this argument is a case of right versus wrong - it's definitely a gray area. But, from what I've seen, several legalizers are unfairly using propaganda to sway a vulnerable audience of people (particularly teenagers) who probably haven't had the time to weigh the pros and cons.

Legalization proponents claim to be the "free thinkers" in this argument. But I would argue that many legalizers want to think for you. Here are a few egregious examples of propaganda use in the marijuana legalization debate.

Testimonials:

A testimonial is an endorsement by a famous person or figure. Testimonials can be a tool for gaining important information; if you don't know much about a specific topic, you might look for the endorsement or testimonial of an expert. However, in this debate, I have seen a less helpful form of testimonials - a testimonial by someone who, although famous, is not necessarily knowledgeable on the subject. Take, for example, this poster, which features actor Morgan Freeman and his quote, "[Marijuana prohibition] is just the stupidest law possible... Just legalize it and tax it like we do liquor." I have seen this post the past 10 times I scrolled down my newsfeed on Facebook, and it got me thinking: what does Morgan Freeman know about marijuana legalization? Sure, he's a great actor, but does he have a degree in social work? Psychology? Economics? No. Has he worked in the substance use field? No. The only connection I found between Morgan Freeman and substance use is this quote and the fact that he has smoked marijuana. I have no doubt that this poster has swayed hundreds if not thousands of people to favor marijuana legalization, but why?

Bandwagon:

Marijuana proponents have repeatedly referenced a recent poll by the Pew Research Center that claims a simple majority of Americans now feel that marijuana should be legalized. Well that's it: if a majority of Americans want it, then we should have it. That's just democracy, right?

Not exactly. Believe it or not, America is a representative republic, not a democracy. The idea behind our government is that not everyone can be well informed on all of today's important policy issues. Politicians are our representatives, and their job is to better understand policy issues in order to protect American citizens.

Just because 54% of Americans approve of marijuana legalization, is it a good idea? Not necessarily. The average American probably has not properly weighed the pros and cons. This fact might capture your attention - it might even convince you to do some research into marijuana legalization - but you shouldn't make your decision based on majority opinion alone.

Faulty Cause & Effect:

Propaganda often tries to imply some kind of cause and effect relationship, even when the facts aren't there. Take, for example, a poster that shows actor James Franco and the caption: "Marijuana didn't ruin his career, or his life." This advertisement tries to imply that because marijuana did not ruin the life of James Franco, a successful movie star, it could not have a negative effect on other people.

Marijuana, like most other drugs, can have different effects on different people. For example, research has suggested that there is an inheritable proneness to addiction for marijuana (Kendler & Prescott, 1998). This means that, while marijuana use may not have negatively impacted James Franco, it could definitely be detrimental to an individual with a genetic pre-disposition for marijuana addiction.

The debate over marijuana legalization could be enlightening and helpful as we find better ways to approach drug problems in the United States. But I've seen far more examples of propaganda and unfair marketing practices than I have of reasoned arguments. Worst of all, this kind of marketing targets kids, teenagers, and college students. If we want to make progress in substance use issues, we will need facts and reason, not ploys to grab the attention of our nation's youth.