We need to stop Calling it ‘Recreational Use’

by Katya Kowalski


Oftentimes we are keen to distinguish between medical and recreational cannabis use. But does this distinction do more harm than good for advancing recreational reform?

Many assume that this distinction is an important one, but is it?

By no means should the medicinal properties that cannabis possesses for treating a range of health conditions must not be undervalued. 

However, are we paying enough attention to ‘recreational’ reform? Is the use of the word ‘recreational’ perhaps undervaluing its importance?

Recently, medical cannabis reform has dominated the advocacy space, driving the conversation forward. This has been incredible in terms of the positive progress we are making. We see this with symbolic advancement with time UN decision last week.

Although this moves medical reform forward, what does it do for recreational use?

Aside from the MORE Act passing in the US House, there haven’t been major calls for recreational legalisation. Perhaps this is a sign that we need to advocate stronger for recreational reform.

At the moment we might be running the risk of getting lost in the medicinal debate and not putting enough emphasis on recreational reform.

Although we see incredible momentum for medical reform, it is a balancing act. We shouldn’t let either call for reform drown out the other, we must emphasise both.

The current focus on medical reform might be making recreational cannabis use less legitimate. If you don’t have a medical prescription, does that make your cannabis use less legitimate? Viewing it in such a way will continue to stigmatise, criminalise and discriminate against people that use the drug for pleasure.

What I don’t like about the term ‘recreational’ is that it takes away the validity and legitimacy of what someone chooses to do. 

Plus, it is far more complex than that. There is a fine line between recreational and medical use with a blurred barrier between what is pain relief and enjoyment. They are two sides of the same coin – though we have to draw the line somewhere, it is difficult.

The interplay between recreational and medical cannabis is extremely complex. Recreational use is a means of relaxing – but who is to say that this isn’t also a medical experience? There is certainly a medical element to the majority of cannabis use and we shouldn’t let this degrade the legitimacy either use.

Largely speaking, we take drugs due to their pleasurable effects. We have a biochemical pursuit of happiness, many of us alter our state of consciousness with the use of psychoactive substances.

Although a distinction can be important for severe cases, we mustn’t let this distinction negatively impact recreational users.

Whilst medical reform is vital, we mustn’t believe that if everyone that ‘needs’ cannabis has it, then our work is complete. Far from it. We can’t get into the dichotomy of thinking that taking cannabis to feel happy is ‘bad’, but relieving pain which leads to happiness is ‘good’. They are both ‘good’.

The vast majority of cannabis users use the drug unproblematically, with it having a net-improvement to their life. I do hope that the push for medical reform will lead to greater openness and acceptance toward cannabis use for pleasure too.

At its core, cannabis use generally has medical properties through providing pain relief and an improvement of wellbeing.

I urge us to not see recreational and medical cannabis as two separate entities. Singling it out as ‘recreational’ use may degrade legitimacy. Acknowledging that medical and recreational use have a lot in common will help to advance both aspects of reform.

Katya Kowalski is European Stakeholder Engagement Officer at Volteface, Tweets @KowalskiKatya

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