The Public Perception of Cannabis Users (Compared to Drinkers)


by Petar Petrov, Staff Writer for Terpenes and Testing Magazine

Image Credits: Dina Rodriguez

The public’s opinion of cannabis has augmented by leaps and bounds over the last few years. All kinds of polls, the media’s representation of cannabis users, and the spreading legalization and leniency toward cannabis use, can all attest to that.

That being said, the stigma of the herb’s former and, in certain places, current illegal status, perhaps along with the more wondrous nature of cannabis’s reality-altering effects and the personality types that it respectively attracts, still give cannabis enthusiasts quite a controversial name.

A survey of 1,000 people by the American Addiction Center, a for-profit rehab service that focuses on the differences in the public’s perception of alcohol and cannabis users, sheds a light on a somewhat paradoxical trend – even though respondents said they view alcohol as more dangerous on several different levels, as well as more addictive than cannabis, they admitted they respected cannabis users less than alcohol drinkers.

For example, 20% of respondents would lose respect for schoolteachers who drink, whereas 31.6% would feel that way about schoolteachers who use cannabis. This difference is more pronounced for other professionals like firefightes, elected government officials, police officers, U.S. Presidents, bosses, and parents.

Some of the survey’s other most telling findings included:

  • If respondents had to choose between alcohol and cannabis being legal, 57% would choose cannabis.

  • Respondents who didn’t consume cannabis still believed alcohol is 25% more dangerous than cannabis.

  • On average, respondents viewed alcohol as significantly more addictive than cannabis.

  • On average, respondents were more concerned about alcohol consumption as it relates to appearance, health (even though not much overall), and especially public behavior than they were about cannabis consumption.

  • Alcohol was the go-to substance of the respondents in social contexts - more than 3 in 4 people would drink alcohol to celebrate and/or socialize, whereas roughly only 1 in 3 would use cannabis in such situations.

  • Overall, the only reasons why respondents, on average, would take cannabis over alcohol, was out of boredom, before sleep, or to inspire creativity. In all other scenarios, alcohol was preferred by those surveyed, including relaxation after work.

It’s worth noting that the survey specifically mentions that the data was collected via self-report which can present some bias. The findings, however, still allude to the persevering judgement toward cannabis users that isn’t tied to any misinformation about cannabis itself, but perhaps to the lifestyle, culture, and all-around associations surrounding the plant.

Cannabis has long conjured up couch potatoes who smoke their motivation away, whereas alcohol has always been seen as a catalyst for social interactions. These ideas are in line with the respondents’ preference for cannabis over alcohol when they’re bored or want to sleep. Furthermore, the creativity which respondents would spark with a joint is something that’s often explored alone, or is a personality trait that some people, especially the more conservative ones, consider inherent to weirdos.

Generally speaking, cannabis lovers tend to be in tighter, reclusive communities, especially in the past, obviously, whereas the stereotypical drinkers are usually social party animals, the “cool kids". After all, people often judge what they can’t understand, and introverts will always be less understood than extroverts, which is perhaps why cannabis enthusiasts are subjected to more judgement than drinkers.

However, with cannabis legalization and new, positive information about the herb being spread, cannabis users are becoming more sizeable, which naturally means putting them in the same bracket becomes harder. And that’s good - judgement and prejudice usually stem from generalization, and generalizing a very large group of people, especially based on one sole recreational hobby that’s quite benevolent, is just silly, not that prejudice in the first place isn’t.

Overall, cannabis naturally seems to be moving away from its status as a counter-culture symbol and more toward the mainstream, with cannabis companies having to take a more lifestyle company approach to marketing themselves if they want to resonate with millennials, according to a report, called “Cannabis: How marijuana is joining spin class, pressed juice and craft beer as a lifestyle brand,” released by trend forecaster High Pressure Zone.

“Lifestyle brands succeed because they seamlessly fit a product to a person’s lifestyle, rather than forcing a lifestyle change to fit a product,” the report says.

This shift, while for some old-school cannabis lovers may feel a bit like veering away from the plant’s cultural roots, should generally be a good thing for cannabis users’ image as a whole. Alcohol has long had the power of creative advertising behind it, with expansive campaigns tying all kinds of grand ideas and connotations to drinking, so it’s very likely that we’ll see something similar happen with cannabis in the near future.

In fact, some major players in the beverage industry are starting to dabble with options in the cannabis industry. Heineken-owned Lagunitas has released a cannabis-infused non-alcoholic beer; the alcohol-manufacturer trade organization Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) has publicly supported cannabis legalization; Constellation Brands, the parent company behind the manufacturers of Corona, invested $4 billion in a Canadian cannabis producer; while Coca-Cola admittedly keeps a vigilant eye out for opportunities in CBD-infused drinks.

Such powerhouses’ interest in the cannabis industry is bound to earn cannabis followers from various walks of life, which should certainly improve cannabis users’ images as a whole.

A similar trend is being observed in the parents’ circles, and more specifically moms who are replacing wine with cannabis, despite the stigma many of them have had to deal with.

Mainstream movies that show cannabis use in benevolent and usually humorous scenarios, involving regular and successful people, are also bound to slowly but surely disarm the public’s judgement toward cannabis users.

Overall, considering how much longer cannabis has been illegal than legal (this time around) and sullied than praised, and how long it took for the public to start discerning the nuances of the herb’s effects, it’s only natural that it will take a while longer before the same happens with cannabis users’ image.

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