Cole Porter may not have thought himself a sociologist, but this famous songwriter captured the epitome of a process called normalization in his famous song, "Anything Goes." Normalization is when something that was once considered deviant behavior (in Porter's lyrics, "a glimpse of stocking") becomes socially acceptable.
Cannabis is now the "stocking," and its use, availability and acceptance are growing in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world. Cannabis is becoming normalized.
Howard Parker, an emeritus professor of the School of Law in Manchester, England, has written extensively about the normalization of illicit drugs in England. He cites the following indicators of normalization:
Let's apply these indicators to cannabis.
Increasing Availability and State Revenue
Over the past 20 years, states have passed cannabis legislation that decriminalizes possession (14 states), provides for medical use (23 states plus Washington DC) and has legalized recreational use (4 states plus Washington DC). Patients who use cannabis for treating pain, physical or mental illness now have access to a medication that 20 years ago would not have been legal or feasible.
A 2015 study reports that legal cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the United States. The cannabis market grew 74 percent from 2013 to 2014 to a \$2.7 billion industry, with an estimated 32 percent growth in 2015. Successful growth means increased tax revenues. In 2015, cannabis tax revenues were \$66.1 million for Colorado and \$70 million for Washington; while these numbers are good for the state's bottom line, it also benefits the residents. For instance, Colorado has designated \$40 million of the tax revenues for school construction, \$12 million for youth and substance-abuse programs, and \$2 million to college scholarship funds.
Increasing Use and More Tolerant Attitudes
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in America, and its use has increased from 14.5 million Americans aged 12 and older in 2007 to 19.8 million Americans in 2013. Acceptance is also on the rise, since more and more Americans support the legalization of cannabis: 53 percent in 2015 compared to just 12 percent in 1969. A PEW Study in 2014 found that 75 percent of the public believe marijuana will be legal nationwide
Presentation in TV, Film and Music
Cannabis has been presented in movies and television for decades, but the focus has changed from the melodramatic propaganda film, "Reefer Madness," to social acceptance in movies such as "Stepmom," in which a dying character smokes marijuana to ease her cancer pain without the use being central to the plot. A recent television situation comedy, "Modern Family," introduced new neighbors as the owners of a medical marijuana dispensary with no more fanfare than if they owned a shoe store.
The music industry has also incorporated cannabis. Billboard, which tracks and reviews music, lists the top 20 cannabis-related songs, and they are not all by Bob Marley; songs range from rock and roll, to country, to jazz, to hip hop, with only one thing in common. They mention marijuana.
More Liberal Policy Shifts
Cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This means that cannabis has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," despite the growing body of evidence to the contrary. Despite federal legislation making it illegal to grow, sell or possess cannabis, 27 states have passed laws either decriminalizing cannabis or allowing for some use. According to the National Cannabis Industry Association, seven states are looking to expand current or pass new legislation regarding cannabis in 2016. California, Nevada, Maine, Arizona, Vermont and Massachusetts are looking at the possibility of legalizing recreational adult use of cannabis in 2016, and Florida is debating legislation for legalizing medical marijuana.
Parker's indicators of normalization aren't the only signs that cannabis is achieving normalization, since it is now becoming integrated into cultural events. Take cannabis-themed weddings, for example. Some wedding couples are setting aside reception areas for smoking cannabis, similar to tobacco smoking or alcohol. Some offer a catered "weed bar," where guests can partake of different varieties of cannabis or methods of cannabis delivery.
Colorado has also introduced cannabis into the tourism industry. Similar to a wine-tasting crawl, vacationers can sign up for tours that feature limo bus rides to cannabis-growing facilities, dispensaries and hotel accommodations. Some tourist packages offer discounts on purchases, as well as rides to and from the airport.
Lastly, for the tech savvy, a wide variety of cannabis-related apps are now available, including on Apple, which had banned such apps prior to 2015. According to Appcrawlr, a third-party app search program, more than 50 cannabis-related apps are available; these apps include dating opportunities, social media sites, information about specific types of cannabis and more.
Although we're no longer treating cannabis as they did in "Reefer Madness," we're not quite to the Cole Porter "anything goes" stage. At the same time, the signs are showing that the "glimpse" of the cannabis stocking may well become acceptable.