However, Californians passed the Moscone Act in 1976, which decriminalized possession of marijuana and removed prison sentences. For the next 20 years, until the medical marijuana initiative was passed in 1996, California’s marijuana laws did not change substantially (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In such a way, new legislative initiatives eased the criminal liability for marijuana use and possession.
In recent years, states have since passed medical marijuana initiatives. These state initiatives clearly conflict with federal policy and much of the concern and opposition has been centered around the notion that allowing medicinal use would “send the wrong message” to youth – that is, change attitudes and perceptions about marijuana and result in greater recreational use of marijuana and other illicit drugs (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In such a way, the current legislation tends to be more tolerant to the consumption of the drug and its possible use in medicine. As a result, the younger generation naturally tends to perceive marijuana not as a serious drug that threatens to individual’s health but just as a drug that can be used in medicine and not dangerous enough to ban it legally, whereas the legalization of the drug will not have any grave negative effects. In contrast, the older generation, which grew up in the context of the 1950s-1960s, when strict criminal liability for using and spreading marijuana were introduced, still oppose to the legalization of marijuana.
The socio-cultural background and the level of marijuana consumption and the attitude to its legalization
At the same time, while studying the problem of the perception of the legalization of marijuana by representatives of different generations, it is necessary to analyze socio-cultural context, in which views and beliefs of different generations were shaped and the level of consumption of marijuana in the society. In this respect, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that today the young generation perceives the consumption of marijuana as a norm. Students who smoke marijuana get lower grades and are less likely to graduate from high school, compared with their non-smoking. Workers who smoke marijuana are more likely than their coworkers to have problems on the job (Yacoubian, 2007). Therefore, the consumption of marijuana has become a sort of the initiation rite, which means the transition of an adolescent from childhood to the adult life. In such a situation, young people cannot oppose to the legalization of marijuana as older people do because young people perceive using marijuana as a norm, whereas the older generation perceives the consumption of marijuana as a crime.
Furthermore, many specialists point out that it could be calamitous for teenagers, the largest at-risk group for taking drugs, who will experience a massive growth in numbers in the next few years. (In 2010 it is estimated there will be 35 million teens in America. The baby boomers topped out at 33 million.) (Levinson, 2003). In such a situation, representatives of the older generation naturally oppose to the legalization of marijuana because they believe that the legalization of the drug will lead to the rapid increase of the consumption of marijuana among the youth. In contrast, young people believe that the consumption of marijuana cannot cause any substantial harm to their health and the legalization of marijuana will not provoke the boom in the consumption of this drug. In fact, different habits and cultural traditions lead to the wide gap in the attitude of the older and younger generations.
Nevertheless, the growth of the consumption of marijuana is disturbing experts. In 2005, an estimated 19.7 million Americans aged 12 or older, or approximately eight percent of the population, were current (past 30-day) illicit drug users. Marijuana is the most prevalent illicit drug within the American household population, with 14.6 million persons 12 or older reporting its use during the past 30 days (SAMHSA, 2006). Of these persons, about one-third used it at least 20 of those 30 days. In 2006, the most prevalent current illicit drug among high school seniors, 10th graders, and 8th graders was marijuana. Nearly half (48%) of all seniors reported lifetime marijuana use, while approximately 36% reported marijuana during the past year and 21% in the 30-day period preceding the interview. Among 10th graders, lifetime marijuana use was reported by 25% of the sample, while lifetime marijuana use among 8th graders use was 12% (Yacoubian, 2007). In fact, the growth of consumption of marijuana raises the problem of its legalization because, on the one hand, the younger generation believes that marijuana can be legalized because it can be used for medical purpose and does not cause substantial harm to health. In contrast, the older generation still opposes to the legalization of marijuana because older people view it as a drug that is banned and dangerous to health.
Thus, the difference in views of the younger and older generations is enormous. The difference in views of different generations is determined by their socio-cultural environment, the level of consumption of marijuana and the legislation regulating the use of marijuana. In this respect, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the older generation grew and lived in the time of the strict ban of marijuana even for medical purposes. In stark contrast, the younger generation grew up in the socio-cultural context, where the consumption of marijuana is a norm.
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