The Public Stigma of Medical Cannabis


As progressive as Pennsylvania's cities are, the rural areas remain staunchly conservative, and the stigma of marijuana" is as prevalent as its smoke.

The vast majority of Pennsylvania’s top-level elected officials wholeheartedly agree that medical cannabis is a phenomenal idea, and so Senate Bill 3 was signed into law a month ago.

I’m glad this was a legislative action and not a public vote. If it went to a ballot, I honestly don’t think it would’ve passed. As progressive as Pennsylvania’s cities are, the rural areas remain staunchly conservative, and the stigma of “marijuana” is as prevalent as its smoke.

I hate the name “marijuana.” It’s derogatory at best.

Back in the “Reefer Madness” era of drug prohibition, it was given a Latino nickname to associate it with the “no-good culture” that was using cannabis, causing interracial relationships and other “atrocities” such as listening to that awful African-American Jazz. It was as dirty a drug as you’d find, because it wasn’t White America’s drug of choice at the time.

The Establishment certainly couldn’t let “the minorities” have any fun. The holier-than-thou attitude had to prevail.

While tensions have eased in present day, and we’re just a general election away from full federal cannabis legalization, there are still some of those who think it’s the devil’s work. They equate “Demon Weed” with the ultra-lethal methamphetamine and heroin.

It’s that level of miseducation that’s the problem. The stereotype of the college stoner cannabis user has to go. We’re talking about a medical treatment that was deemed beneficial in Pennsylvania and 23 other states.

This is medicine, and countless patients (children included) will benefit from it. If you’re worried that it will fuel a drug epidemic, rest assured that opioids have that market cornered.

Inhaled cannabis provides so many medical benefits. I personally know patients who took a lot less oxycodone after a surgery because they added cannabis to their drug regimen. I also know long-term pain management types who are taking lower doses of opioids because of cannabis supplementation. I’ve seen adult ADHD patients stabilize without amphetamines and bipolar patients stay in a more stable mood range, all because of medical cannabis.

Viewing cannabis as a medicine with numerous health benefits is more of an educational challenge than a legislative one at this point. Lawmakers across the country are finally seeing the light, but it’s up to health care professionals to take the lead in educating themselves, their medical colleagues, and their patients.

I’m on board with that challenge. I’ve taken proactive steps to offer my services on the legislative board and other advocacy efforts of the Pennsylvania Department of Health as the state begins to implement this much-needed law.

Trust me: the use of cannabis in health care isn’t going to cause a mess; it’s going to help fix it.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, isn’t the devil in disguise.

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