The stigma associated with cannabis has worn off in many areas, but there are still many people who are afraid of getting caught. Even though the Cannabis sativa plant has been around for over 5,000 years, it was made illegal in the mid-1800s in the United States. The government has made it nearly impossible to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes, and as a result, many people who could benefit have turned to other types of medicine, such as opioids.

Many people who are interested in using cannabis for medical or recreational reasons have a very difficult time finding evidence that cannabis is effective in dealing with their ailments. We want to change that.

As a cannabis coach, I speak to people across the country who are looking for more information about cannabis and wondering whether or not cannabis is right for them. I often work with a client who has been interested in cannabis for years, even decades, but has only recently decided to take the plunge.

When I ask what sparked their interest in cannabis, I usually hear something like this: I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I know it will be good for me. And now it’s finally legal where I live.

It’s conversations like that that get to me. Now that they finally have legal access to cannabis, these patients will be able to use cannabis to treat pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, etc. But these conversations also make me melancholy. And to be honest, they kindle the fire in my stomach. Why? Because it’s clear that the remnants of cannabis prohibition continue to prevent people from taking the steps they want to take to be healthy.

It’s simple: Many people do not want to take a drug if it is considered illegal by their government. After every cannabis policy change that expands access to cannabis, thousands of potential new patients become eligible for cannabis use. But what about the millions of people who are still being prosecuted for using cannabis to treat their symptoms?

It is time to remove the legal barriers that prevent people from accessing cannabis. Because the law is an important factor in determining whether or not people are willing to try cannabis on their own.

Cannabis prohibition and its impact on consumption patterns

Most of us were raised with the worldview that we should strive to be good, law-abiding citizens. But what about when we have to enforce laws that don’t reflect people’s needs, like cannabis prohibition?

Well, it gets more complicated. In the days when cannabis was prohibited, many patients – often out of medical necessity – chose to find and use it anyway.

But for most people, the illegality of cannabis is a huge barrier between them and their ability to treat their symptoms with cannabis. In areas where cannabis use is not legal, people risk losing their jobs, being socially stigmatised, being found medically unfit and even ending up in prison if they are caught using cannabis. And those traces on a criminal record can haunt a person for the rest of their life.

Thus, cannabis prohibition continues to have long-term consequences for people’s right to choose cannabis. Current policy presents many patients with a choice: either health or legality.

The law does not reflect our collective voice

Over time, prohibition policies have become less and less compatible with public opinion. In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that two-thirds of Americans believe marijuana use should be legal. The study also reports that only 8% of Americans surveyed prefer to ban cannabis under all circumstances.

Yet the current policy of cannabis prohibition hinders access to cannabis for a community that overwhelmingly supports cannabis. Last year, Green Entrepreneur reported that medical cannabis was still unavailable in 34 percent of U.S. states. And as you probably know, cannabis use is still not recognized by the state.

All of this means that current cannabis laws not only deny patients access to the cannabis medications they need, but also go against the will of the people. There are so many reasons why we need to change cannabis policy. And while we are seeing a positive trend in cannabis liberalization, this policy change comes too late for many patients.

Current impact of the ban

From my experience with cannabis patients, I can tell you that there are many patients in these prohibited states who want to use cannabis to treat their symptoms and are suffering from where now. But they can’t come forward and try cannabis because they don’t want to break the law.

I recently spoke with an elderly man from Alabama who was on the verge of tears as he explained his situation. Although Alabama’s governor signed the state’s first medical marijuana law in May 2021, the state’s cannabis system is not expected to be operational until 18 months later. He explained to me that he wasn’t sure he could wait that long because he lived with chronic pain every day. He weeps for his friends and colleagues who find themselves in the same situation; all together, he says, they lose hope.

This is one of the many reasons why I advocate for free access to cannabis. Because existing laws and regulations discourage honest people in good faith from using a drug that interests them and is likely to help them.

Humans have worked with and benefited from the cannabis plant for thousands of years. It’s only been more than 80 years that we’ve been denied access to this plant. It is time to remove existing legal barriers to open up access to cannabis and empower people to take back responsibility for their own health.

Heather Dagley is a blogger and cannabis coach from Tacoma, Washington. After changing her own life with cannabis, Heather now writes about how cannabis can help others live happy and healthy lives. As a cannabis coach, she also helps her clients overcome pain, anxiety/depression, chronic stress, burnout or difficult life transitions. Their goal is to give people an honest and informed perspective on cannabis so that they are equipped to begin their own cannabis healing journey.

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