Why stigma still surrounds medical cannabis patients

Kayla Johnson | The Oklahoma Chronic | November 16, 2020

It’s been a little over two years since Oklahoma passed State Question 788, giving patients in the state access to legal, medicinal cannabis for the first time. When the bill passed, for long-time cannabis advocates in the state, it was a glimmer of hope in a state that was notorious in its dislike for cannabis and those who use it. In 2014, Oklahoma was among the states the filed a lawsuit against Colorado for their marijuana laws, and less than five years later, a grassroots effort saw 788 pass with a 57% majority. It seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the old way of thinking. Despite the ever-growing number of patients in the state and the undeniable success of the industry thus far, the dark cloud of stigma that has followed cannabis for decades remains a difficult one for patients to shake off.

Cannabis consumers are no stranger to that stigma that comes with the plant, though it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to deal with. While it’s never pleasant to hear a negative comment about your medicine of choice from strangers, it’s often the reaction from anti-cannabis family or friends that can cut the deepest, especially when what they’re saying is a reflection of how they see you as a cannabis patient. ‘Lazy’, ‘pothead’, ‘addict’, and ‘it’s a gateway drug’ are just a few of the phrases you’ve likely heard directed your way as a cannabis consumer. Some, even with a medical card from a physician’s recommendation, have faced increased scrutiny from family or even coworkers, despite their medication of choice having little to no negative impact on their day or work performance. A lot of patients, myself included at times, have even found that the mere mention of the plant or their views on it results in a changed relationship with friends and loved ones, usually not for the better.

For many patients and users, the most frustrating part is that in many cases, the positive change after trying cannabis is quite noticeable in one way or another. Their family members are likely to see, or hear about, the changes the plant has made possible for their loved one, and still choose to believe the propaganda that has been shoved down America’s throat for decades. It’s because of that barrage of incorrect or anti-cannabis information that the stigma is still alive and well in America, and while legalization is sweeping across the country state by state, it’s hard to put out a fire after letting it rage for a few decades.

The stigma still surrounding cannabis and those who choose to use it is an ugly one. As legalization continues to expand, one of the most important ways to contribute to the growth and success of a legal cannabis market is to encourage education efforts to continue. Stigmas and stereotypes are born in part from a lack of knowledge or information, and educating these same people who view us as ‘less than’ just because we accept cannabis is an important step in getting rid of that stigma for future patients and for ourselves. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge we can share, the less power that stigma will have.

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