As Nevada voters prepare to decide whether or not to legalize marijuana for recreational use this Nov. 8, a number of news stories have begun asking questions like this one from the Associated Press: “Will voters add legal weed to Las Vegas’ list of vices?”
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “vice” as “bad or immoral behavior or habits; a moral flaw or weakness; a bad habit.”
The term is commonly used in relation to activities such as prostitution, gambling, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using drugs and other behaviors viewed negatively through the lens of traditional puritan values.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that using words like “vice” to describe any activity inherently casts people who engage in such activities as immoral and bad, when in truth, they may simply be struggling to overcome addiction or make a living.
But in the case of marijuana, which is now legally considered medicine in at least 25 U.S. states, the term “vice” is a real misnomer.
Peer-reviewed studies on medical marijuana have shown the drug to be an effective therapeutic treatment for patients with ALS, bipolar disorder, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Huntington’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s diseases, nausea, pain, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and Tourette’s syndrome. A mass of anecdotal reports have also shown medical cannabis to be an effective treatment for a whole host of other conditions.
And despite the federal government’s failure to acknowledge the medical value of marijuana, there are thousands of people across the country who would say marijuana has been a lifesaving medication for them. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can say the same for alcohol, gambling or tobacco.
Even when used as a recreational substance, marijuana can hardly be described as a particularly dangerous or troublesome drug. No doubt there are concerns about how marijuana consumption may affect children and youth. But moderate adult marijuana use has not been linked with any significant negative health outcomes. The negative outcomes that are associated with cannabis tend to be social in nature, often stemming from its stigmatized status as an illegal substance.
Describing marijuana as a “vice” only serves to perpetuate that stigma.