smoking marijuana

Within this presentation, I will examine the deviance behind the act of smoking or ingestion of marijuana and its relationship to American society.

Though many states have legalized various forms of marijuana usages, marijuana is still considered illegal under federal law. A federal law applies to the nation as a whole and includes all 50 states (and districts) whereas state laws only apply within that particular state (Daunt, 2014). Therefore, this creates a clash between federal legislation and state legislation. Technically, someone in Colorado, a state in which recreational marijuana use is legal, can get arrested and charged federally if the Federal government decided to do so.

23 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form (Zimmerman, 2015). One of the 3 conceptions of deviance is a law. A law is considered the strongest norm of society because it backed by official sanctions (Inderbtzin, 2013). Therefore, one can argue that in the states that have legalized marijuana usage of some form, those states have determined that the act of smoking or ingesting marijuana isn’t deviant from a political perspective. Nonetheless, the dilemma of whether marijuana usage is considered deviant still exists from a political outlook.

There are several health and economic factors that contribute to this growing debate in the United States. From a political viewpoint, there is an astounding economic incentive to legalize marijuana because by legalizing marijuana, it creates an opportunity to not only generate revenue for retailers and growers but also for the state through taxation (McGraw, 2014). This raises the question: In the eyes of the government, does deviance exist within the act of smoking or ingesting marijuana? Or is there an aspect of deviance to marijuana use, and the economic benefits that come with the legalization of marijuana outweigh the deviance associated with marijuana use?

The legalization of marijuana could potentially have a huge effect on the economy. The trade journal Medical Marijuana Business Daily estimates that within a fully legalized cannabis market, revenue from marijuana sales could reach up to $46 billion per year (Schneider, 2014). This is just an estimate however. There are many factors that could affect this large figure, especially since the current sales of marijuana today exists predominantly on the black market which makes assessing the value of the national market for marijuana very difficult to determine

There are many health effects, both short-term and long-term, that comes with the smoking or ingestion of marijuana. The intoxicating chemical in marijuana that gives its effects is tetrahydracannabinol, or THC. Short-term effects include: a feeling of euphoria (the “high”), intense relaxation, heightened sensory perception, trouble concentrating, decreased reaction time, anxiety and an increase in appetite (also known as the “munchies”) (Cox, 2014)

Long-term effects on the body are generally respiratory problems such as increased daily cough, increased phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illnesses such as bronchitis, and a greater instance of lung infections (Cox, 2014).

Several studies also indicate that heavy marijuana use can lower the ability to fight infection and can have an adverse impact on the immune system. Marijuana also can reduce sperm production in men and disrupts a woman’s menstrual cycle. However, according to a study done by Dr. Donald Tashkin, a UCLA professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine, it was determined that those who are heavy marijuana users, in fact, do not appear to be at greater risk for lung cancer. However, only about 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana. When trying to quit, users may exhibit some of the same physical symptoms of those trying to quit other types of drugs or alcohol (Cox, 2014).

Aside from some of its negative side effects, one of the major arguments for why marijuana should remain illegal is the claim that it is a gateway drug. There is a strong correlation between marijuana use and other drug use, however correlation does not prove causation (Szalavitz, 2010). Many researchers believe that the real gateway to other illicit drugs it the illegal status of marijuana rather than marijuana itself. It’s important to note that when Holland liberalized its marijuana laws the country noticed fewer young pot-smokers that eventually moved on to harder drugs compared with other nations, including the U.S. (Szalavitz, 2010).

Marijuana does have medical uses however. Medical marijuana can be used to treat cancer, glaucoma, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, seizures, anorexia, migraines, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Medical marijuana is used to relieve pain, provide therapeutic effects, improve appetite, reduce intraocular pressure, reduce muscle stiffness and reduce muscle spasms (Zimmerman, 2015). Medical marijuana is available in several different forms. It can be smoked, vaporized, ingested in a pill form or ingested as an edible version that can be added to foods such as brownies, cookies, chocolate bars and candy (Zimmerman, 2015).

By definition, unlawful drug use is considered deviant behavior. However, to what degree is this deviant behavior harmful to society? There are many sides to this growing debate. From a sociological perspective, drug use can lead to, and be a result of many things. In sociology, strain theory suggests that people engage in deviance as a result of pressure or stress that living in society brings. In fact, those who use marijuana, may even be using it to relieve stress, but does that make it deviant? Ultimately how marijuana is used determines the degree of deviance associated with marijuana.


When the norms of society are unclear a state of anomie will result. Emile Durkheim suggests that a state of anomie results from a breakdown in the regulation of goals; it’s with such lack of regulation where an individual’s aspirations become unlimited and deviance may result (Inderbitzin, 2013). In other words, when the norms of society are not clear, people may resort to other means to accomplish there goals. When people resort to other means, deviance can occur.

Robert K. Merton says there are five general adaptations to anomie; one of which is retreatism. Reatreatism is the adaptation of those who have rejected the cultural goal of success/wealth attainment and have also rejected the legitimate means to do so (Inderbitzin, 2013). As a result, these people may resort to heavy drug use to “escape” the structure of society. It’s very likely that the drugs used in this concept consists of heavier drugs than marijuana such as heroin, meth and crack/cocaine, however, when marijuana is used in this manner, it is a deviant.

Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin’s theory of differential opportunity argues that criminal and deviant behavior is learned like any other behavior and, importantly, that not everyone has the same opportunities to learn criminal skills and have criminal careers (Inderbitzin, 2013).

Cloward and Ohlin ultimately focused on lower-class neighborhoods, as it is within these neighborhoods where criminal activity flourishes and serves as a criminal learning environment for the youth within it. Cloward and Ohlin explain that there are three types of criminal and deviant subcultures, one of which is retreatist subcultures. Closely related to Merton’s concept of retreatism, retreatist subcultures are associated with drug use and the drug culture amongsome lower-class adolescents (Inderbitzin, 2013). This can be a result of the fact that those growing up within these disadvantaged communities may have very limited legitimate opportunities to obtain wealth and success and therefore may resort to the illegitimate act of drug use. Though it’s very likely that the drugs used in this environment are much harder drugs than marijuana, like meth, heroin and crack/cocaine, it is nonetheless a deviant behavior if marijuana is used in this manner.

Another way marijuana use is deviant can be seen in the concept of self-harm. Self-harm is often a way to continue living and cope with whatever is going on in their life without having to attempt suicide. Addiction to a particular drug or substance is a form of self-harm and is a form of hyperstress. As mentioned before, about 9% of marijuana users are addicted to marijuana and though it is a small percentage, when marijuana used in this manner, it is considered a form of deviance.

Ultimately, the deviance associated with marijuana use is all relative. If someone uses marijuana to relax after a long day or for its medical effects there is no deviance associated with this herb. However if someone uses marijuana and then gets behind the wheel of a car or uses it because they are addicted to it there is a degree of deviance associated with such act. Marijuana itself isn’t deviant, the people who abuse it are.

Travis Hirschi’s version of social control theory explains that in society, deviant behavior is a constant and its the absence of deviance that should be explained. He even goes as far as to say that not only are we capable, but we are also willing creators and participants in deviance (Inderbitzin, 2013). In regards to marijuana, there will always be those who use it in a deviant manner, however that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who uses marijuana abuses it in a deviant way

The deviance of marijuana is somewhat equivalent to the deviance associated with alcohol. Its effects on the body are somewhat similar in the way it alters the state of mind of the user, however how it used and in the manner it’s used ultimately defines whether it is deviant or not. Marijuana, if used appropriately, should be legalized nationwide because there is minimal deviance associated with the act of smoking or ingesting marijuana and there are huge economic opportunities that can result.