“I know I am not the first to say that cannabis is not a drug,” said Brian Leary, an attorney in Washington state who represents cannabis growers.
“But I think there are some of us who have been very vocal and have really gotten a bad rap.”
Leary was not one of the first legal marijuana activists in the United States to see the risks associated with cannabis use.
“I didn’t really see it as a ‘gateway drug’ until I went to Washington state in 2001,” Leary said.
Leary’s own experience with marijuana, however, gave him the insight that a gateway drug is no less dangerous than cannabis itself.
Learys experience with cannabis also prompted him to study the medicinal benefits of cannabis, and to find a way to address the problems associated with marijuana’s legalization.
Learies advocacy work helped him to get a position at the American Civil Liberties Union, and helped lead the group to adopt a position on cannabis legalization, which eventually led to the legalization of medical marijuana in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Leary and a colleague founded the Marijuana Policy Project, which works to educate the public on the risks and benefits of marijuana.
“When I started working on the Marijuana Rights Project, I didn’t realize how much it was going to change my life,” Learys said.
The group started with just two members, but now has more than 300 supporters.
“It has been a life-changing experience,” Learies said.
“In many ways, it has been the greatest challenge we’ve had to face.”
The marijuana activists also are not alone in their advocacy for legalization.
In the past year, lawmakers in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have introduced measures to legalize marijuana, while other states have already passed laws legalizing recreational use.
The movement is gaining momentum as people are starting to realize the risks of using cannabis recreationally, and there are calls for federal intervention to keep the drug off the streets.
However, even the cannabis advocates admit there are still major obstacles to getting people to use it responsibly.
“For some, there is a fear of getting stoned and becoming a high,” Leariness said.
But for Leary the cannabis plant is not the only substance that needs to be regulated.
“What we need to look at is how the drug gets produced, how it gets into the hands of the people, and then how we deal with the people who are producing it,” Learish said.
For example, Learies concerns with the health risks of consuming cannabis and the dangers of consuming it recreationally are not unique to his area of law.
The American Medical Association, the largest medical association in the country, has expressed similar concerns.
“We recognize the need to educate and inform the public, as well as the policy makers, about the risks inherent in cannabis use,” said AMA spokesperson Dr. Jonathan Reichert.
“As the public becomes more aware of the harms associated with this drug, and the risks to children and other users, we believe it is important to make these public health messages known and to have the public be able to make informed decisions.”
For more information about the legalization and regulation of cannabis in the U.S., visit marijuana.org.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Caller News Foundation.