Recognizing 21 Years Of Responsible Cannabis Use

By Bailey Hirschburg

WASHINGTON: Sometimes, the big anniversaries sneak up, or pass you by without you noticing it. It was March before I noticed NORML’s groundbreaking Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use turned 21 I’m February. If these principles were a person, they’d be able to buy cannabis in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, or Washington.

Like gravity, responsible cannabis use existed before it was defined, but it got easier to see and explain once it was. A popular tactic for deflecting from legalization is opposing adult use because of the problems of underage use.

“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” This recent claim by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ is a typical example of deflection. Adults can’t be trusted with weed because a child couldn’t handle it. If true, firearms, cars, and a stiff drink would quickly come next as too risky to legalize. Which is why after over a decade studying and articulating the need for cannabis legalization I haven’t met anyone advocating for legal youth access. In fact, the Justice Dept’s Cole memo, outlining federal expectations for legal state marijuana regulations includes some version of several principles.

I represent cannabis consumers in Olympia as Legislative Associate for Washington NORML PAC in part by applying these principles to the development and enforcement of public policies around pot. This traditional vision of cannabis os made of five principles.

I. Adults Only

Cannabis consumption is for adults only. It is irresponsible to provide cannabis to children.

Most American states that have legalized have set the age at 21, similar to alcohol. In the Netherlands the age is 18. Canada is also exploring age 18, similar to tobacco, voting, or military service. While the ideal age of adulthood has flexibility based on the individual, maturity needs to be established before recreational cannabis consumption is acceptable. 

II. No Driving

The responsible cannabis consumer does not operate a motor vehicle or other dangerous machinery while impaired by cannabis, nor (like other responsible citizens) while impaired by any other substance or condition, including some medicines and fatigue.

Cannabis use can lead to inebriation impacting motor skills, timing, and judgement. Combined with other drugs these effects are even stronger. Avoiding operating machinery whenever you’re impaired by drugs or fatigue is a key principle of responsible use. It’s also important to remember that cannabis impacts infrequent user longer. As a regular consumer, I’m typically over inebriation within an hour of smoking. Edibles or infused beverages last longer, so I wouldn’t drive for the remainder of the day after eating them. However, an infrequent consumer may find the high persists so they should wait several more hours before driving.

III. Set and Setting

The responsible cannabis user will carefully consider his/her set and setting, regulating use accordingly.

When cannabis is illegal everywhere, it can seem like splitting hairs to worry about set. the people with or around you, or the setting, which is the type of location. Smoking with a friend on their balcony is different than smoking during a county fair. Subjecting others to your smoke or vape without permission or consideration helps portray consumers as rude and irresponsible. It doesn’t take many lapses in judgement to make a bad impression for all consumers. This is just as true with tobacco smoke, or public intoxication which can be civil offenses without criminalizing cigarettes or beer.

IV. Resist Abuse

Use of cannabis, to the extent that it impairs health, personal development or achievement, is abuse, to be resisted by responsible cannabis users.

Recently actor Woody Harrelson, a member of NORML’s national advisory board discussed giving up cannabis after 30 years of regular use. Harrelson enjoyed awards and accolades throughout that time for his work as a performer, activist, and playwright, “[It was] 30 solid years of partying too f—ing hard,” he said. “I feel like it was keeping me from being emotionally available.” When discussing the dangers of cannabis, I describe it as “Not harmless, just less harmful.” and Harrelson’s attitude bears that out. His decades of experience with weed haven’t hindered Woody’s career, and the choice to forgo it for the immediate future is just another example of consumers recognizing and avoiding the patterns of abuse.

V. Respect Rights of Others

The responsible cannabis user does not violate the rights of others, observes accepted standards of courtesy and public propriety, and respects the preferences of those who wish to avoid cannabis entirely.

The rights of cannabis consumers have not always been respected. One could possibly develop an air of entitlement believing “You used to ignored my rights, now I can ignore yours.” But reasonable adults know this is false. Retribution is not responsible. Much like “Set and Setting”, prohibition has taught us what happens when rights aren’t respected. While our laws about public consumption need to be changed to allow for acceptable social use, but having and enforcing those laws is consistent with a responsible marijuana legalization.

By treating all use as illegal we leave less attention/resources for combating use that’s actually dangerous. Attorney General Sessions needs to understand how legal marijuana is implemented before he lumps responsible use in with youth use, abuse, and risky behavior.