How Legal Marijuana Has Changed American Lives

By Victoria Kim 08/11/17

A new series by USA Today spotlights the growing legal pot industry and its impact on individuals, communities, and everyone in between.

A participant holds up a sign at the 43rd annual Hash Bash rally in Ann Arbor,

We’ve come a long way since Reefer Madness. Scenes of marijuana-induced murder, suicide, rape, and hallucinations from the 1936 exploitation film helped shape public opinion about the dreaded “devil’s harvest” for generations.   

Today, cannabis is legal for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. And cannabis is legal for medical use in 29 states. According to USA Today, 205 million Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal in some form.

A new series by the newspaper spotlights the growing legal cannabis industry in the United States and its impact on individuals, communities, and everyone in between. The series features the stories of politicians, law enforcement, business owners, religious leaders, and more who are at the forefront of the booming industry, whether they’re for or against it.

“Our worst fears have not materialized,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who oversaw one of the first U.S. states to legalize cannabis for recreational use in 2012. “We haven’t seen a spike in usage among teenagers, we haven’t seen an outbreak of people driving while high,” the governor said in a 15-minute video titled Legal Pot in America. “That being said, I think it’s still pretty early in the experiment, and I tell other governors that they probably should wait a couple of years, and let’s make sure there are not unintended consequences that we cannot see at this moment.”

Don Knight, a gold mine engineer in Elko, Nevada, told USA Today that despite his town’s large conservative base, it has been able to shed many of marijuana’s traditionally negative stereotypes and blur the line on this issue. “If you don’t support it, don’t take that right away from other people,” said Knight. “There’s lives that have been saved by marijuana. There are people whose lives are better quality now because of the medicinal use of it.”

One individual who can attest to this is nine-year-old Annie Sharrer, whose parents—desperate to relieve their young daughter of her severe epilepsy—turned to marijuana after pharmaceutical medications failed. 

Angela and Matt Sharrer, members of an “extremely conservative” congregation at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, confided in their pastor Shawn Berkebile as they weighed the controversial treatment for Annie. 

Annie was suffering seizures, sleep deprivation, and severe pancreatitis. Her family feared she would experience major organ failure. Angela Sharrer recalled being “medically and pharmaceutically at the end of our rope.”

Pastor Berkebile met them with an open mind. “I’m not a user but I also see the value in something that naturally is occurring through God’s hands,” Berkebile said in the video. The cannabis treatment allowed Annie, in better health, to make more appearances at church. “They saw success. I saw success,” said Berkebile. 

They shared their story with the church, and Berkebile said that so far “there’s been no opposition.” The pastor is now an active cannabis advocate, speaking with the media, attending rallies and leading grassroots campaigns to spread awareness of the plant’s potential medical benefits.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr