Is marijuana a harmless giggle, as John Lennon once called it, or a dangerous and illicit addiction?
The debate has once again been pushed to the forefront, thanks to a couple of timely factors.
Fourteen states have passed laws in favor of medical marijuana, designed to ease the suffering of those in chronic pain, while state lawmakers are debating whether or not some form of limited legalization—and, therefore, taxation—could help plug massive budget holes.
“The economy is sharpening the minds of politicians,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Norml. “It’s hard to argue that prohibition is succeeding."
Powerful, yet subtle demographic forces are also at work.
"You're seeing a paradigm shift," says Dr. David E. Smith, a pioneer in drug treatment, founder of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury Free Clinicand former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. "The boomers are influential now; they say, 'I smoked that back in 1967, it wasn't so bad.'"
Still, what about the underlying health, social and moral issues involved? Are changing public perceptions of marijuana a sign that existing laws should be repealed, or merely a symptom of a rootless society’s blurring of right and wrong?
After all, recent polls shows a majority of Americans now support medical marijuana.
That is deeply troubling to addiction experts like Dr. Herbert Kleber. The Columbia psychiatry professor says that marijuana use is anything but an innocuous pastime.