Normalization is when something that was once considered deviant behavior becomes socially acceptable. When we take this definition and apply it to an illicit drug, we typically look for these indicators, originally proposed professor Howard Parker:

  • Increasing availability of the drug (and revenue in the United States)
  • Increasing use of a drug
  • More tolerant attitudes toward users
  • Presentation of drug cultures in TV, film and music
  • More liberal policy shifts

Now, let’s apply these indicators to marijuana in the United States.

Increasing Availability

Over the past 20 years or so, over a dozen states have passed legislation that decriminalizes possession of marijuana. A couple dozen states have passed cannabis legislation that provides for medical use, and several have even legalized recreational use of cannabis.

A 2015 study reports that legal cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the United States. The cannabis market grew 74 percent from 2013 to 2014 to a $2.7 billion industry, with an estimated 32 percent growth in 2015.

Now, patients who use marijuana to treat pain, physical or mental illness now have access to a medication that was not legal or feasible 20 years ago. Today, even non-medical patients can reap the benefits of the medicinal affects of marijuana.

Increasing Use, and More Tolerant Attitudes

This indicator is very apparent in US society; cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in America. Its use has increased from 14.5 million Americans aged 12 and older in 2007 to 19.8 million Americans in 2013.

Acceptance is also sky-rocketing. More and more Americans are supporting the legalization of cannabis. In fact, the majority of the population now supports the legalization of marijuana. Today, 53% support legalization, while only 12% supported legalization back in 1969. And whether they agree with legalization or not, a great majority believe legalization is inevitable; a study found that 75% of the public believe marijuana will be legal nationwide.

Presentation in TV, Film and Music

Cannabis has been presented in movies and television for decades, but the focus has changed from the melodramatic propaganda films like, “Reefer Madness,” to social acceptance in movies such as “Stepmom,” in which a dying character uses marijuana to ease her cancer pain – but smoking is not central to the plot. A recent television situation comedy, “Modern Family,” introduced new neighbors as the owners of a medical marijuana dispensary with no more fanfare than if they owned any other retail store.

But it’s not just film, it’s music too. Billboard, which tracks and reviews music, lists the top 20 cannabis-related songs, and they are not all by Bob Marley; songs range from rock and roll, to country, to jazz, to hip hop, with only one thing in common. They mention marijuana. There is no longer one artist, or one genre of music that talks about marijuana; it has become a part of all genres.

More Liberal Policy Shifts

Despite the growing body of evidence to the contrary, cannabis remains listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA – meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Despite federal legislation making it illegal to grow, sell or possess cannabis, 27 states have passed laws either decriminalizing cannabis or allowing for some use. There are also many more states looking to expand current or pass new legislation in regards to cannabis this year. We are seeing legalization-oriented bills passing left and right. Every day it seems, there is new news regarding the legalization of marijuana.

The Cannabis Culture

Here is an indicator that we added to Parker’s. The fact that cannabis is now becoming integrated into cultural events is huge. There are community events that welcome cannabis use, such as this yoga and meditation event. There are even “holidays” oriented around cannabis use, like 4/20. Another example is cannabis themed weddings where couples are setting aside reception areas for smoking cannabis, similar to tobacco smoking or alcohol. Some offer a catered “weed bar,” where guests can partake of different varieties of cannabis or methods of cannabis delivery.

Colorado has also introduced cannabis into the tourism industry. Similar to a wine-tasting crawl, vacationers can sign up for tours that feature limo bus rides to cannabis-growing facilities, dispensaries and hotel accommodations. Some tourist packages offer discounts on purchases, as well as rides to and from the airport.

Lastly, for the tech savvy, a wide variety of cannabis-related apps are now available, including on Apple, which had banned such apps prior to 2015. According to Appcrawlr, a third-party app search program, more than 50 cannabis-related apps are available; these apps include dating opportunities, social media sites, information about specific types of cannabis and more.


So, all of these indicators suggest that, yes, cannabis is indeed becoming normalized, and socially acceptable. We may not be there yet, but we are certainly heading in that direction.