Photo by Cannabis Culture, Flickr CC

April 20th isn’t exactly your average holiday, but ever since the late 1970s, 4/20 has been commonly associated with marijuana, as many refer to this date as “Weed Day.” Social scientists have studied marijuana use since the mid 20th century, and this has continued alongside changing norms, beliefs, and policies in the United States. In light of this, we rolled up some research on marijuana use.

In the mid 20th century, social scientists studied how social forces shape marijuana use and the norms surrounding it. Howard Becker’s famous research illustrates that learning to smoke and enjoying marijuana isn’t a simple, intuitive process. Instead, users must take cues from one another. Through this social interaction, they also form bonds and group identities. Further, their experiences and identities reflect the ways that marijuana use is culturally cast as “deviant” and sanctioned by legal penalties. This approach — understanding marijuana use, subcultures, and criminalization as social processes — is common in social science research about marijuana users.
Social norms, public attitudes, and policies about marijuana use changed considerably throughout the early 21st century. While once heavily criminalized, some new policies legalize marijuana use for medical purposes. The medicalization of marijuana is also a social process. Views of marijuana and its use shifted in response to new medical approaches, policies, and narratives. Of course, recreational use of marijuana continues, and research suggests that lines between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are neither rigid nor impermeable. For example, users may engage in marijuana use both as a medical necessity and enjoyable activity. In sum, social contexts and norms still affect marijuana use, as well as public attitudes and policies.