Paula Martine Quinn
How will the Medicalization of Marijuana affect the conduct of individuals in contemporary North America?
This essay critically explores how the Medicalization of Marijuana (to make medical) is transforming the conduct of individuals and social worlds in contemporary N. America, and argues that marijuana is being deregulated for capital gain in which the state is gaining a potent form of social control (Conrad & Schneider, 1980). Social control will be used as the power to have a particular set of definitions of the world realized in both spirit (laws, moral codes, customs, habits) and through conduct (Conrad & Schneider, 1980). This RQ shows the structure/agency debate that sociologist Alan Dawe (1970) cited in (du Gay & McFall, 2008, p.4) refers to this dualism as the ‘two sociologies’. That is one concerned with structure and structural constraint the other with individual action and agency. Structural theories start with the premise that the society is outside of the individual, whilst action-agency theories start with the premise that individuals are free autonomous beings. Elias (2000 ) cited in (McFall, 2008, p29) rejects this dichotomous way and sees both the individual and society as two sides of the same coin. No one would argue that there is no social without the individual and vice versa. However, empirical evidence by (O’Brien, 2013) and (Gowan & whetstone, 2012) will show that individuals are still viewed as having agency and structure must then be viewed as a stable fixed identity that is in line with neoliberal governmentality. Theoretical resources will include (Callon & Latour, 1981, 2005) concepts of agencement that is informed by Actor Network Theory (ANT), Foucault’s (1977; 1991) Governmental theory and Bourdieu (1970) concept of habitus, that all in different ways overstate the extent to which agency is distributed as they employ thin conceptions of the individual.
The World Drug Report that was released in 2011 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, states that marijuana is used by 203 million people with North America having the second highest usage in the world (World Atlas, 2016).Yet, in the United States marijuana is classed as an illicit drug by the federal government. However, twenty four states and the District of Columbia have passed laws decriminalizing its use and moving marijuana into a medicalization (to make medical) framework rather than a criminal/deviant framework (Governing, 2016). (Conrad & Schneider, 1980: Conrad, 1992) in Badness to sickness use a micro-level analysis of the medicalization theory to explain the shifting designations of deviance. For example, gambling, drug abuse, alcoholism, sex addiction etc. This study provides the background for addressing the new societal problem of the medicalization of deviance. Whilst Conrad shows how new definitions are accepted and applied which involves the institutionalization of the new definition they do not deal with the conditions in which individuals, groups or the public embraces the medicalization process (Conrad, 1992).
However, (London, 2009) shows that the criminalization of marijuana and more importantly today’s successful marijuana movement which has resulted at the state-level medicalization of marijuana are structurally similar mechanisms for identifying, defining and altering social problems. In other words, the government is able to regulate and change the conduct of the behaviour of their citizens through the use of soft power. Foucault claims that any social world or society materialises from the process of thinking about how conduct should be governed (Open University, 2015a). In Discipline and punish (1975) Foucault argues that the ideology of surveillance and observation for correcting conduct does not stop at the prison gates rather they are entrenched in modern life through habits.
According to (Baca, 2016) sales of medical marijuana in Colorado reached nearly a billion dollars in one year. In addition, Mason Tvert, the marijuana policy project’s communications director states that all that money was being spend in the illegal drugs trade and clearly there is demand which now is being met by legitimate business men instead of criminals. As the aim of neoliberal governmentality is the “conduct of conduct” in which Foucault (1977) cited in (Watson, 2013, pp. 135-136) shows in the ‘Panopticom’ of how power is a major source of social discipline and conformity. In contemporary society CCTV cameras etc show how the systems no longer need to use force or violence. By manufacturing consent individuals learn to conduct themselves in obedient and disciplined ways that are in line with the dominant social norms of society.
For example, (O’Brien, 2013) shows how the legal-medical system is embedded in the ideology of Neoliberalism by privatisation and individualisation of responsibility. The state has been able to control at the interactional level through processes as they have moved many of the illicit drug dealers into legit business men who pay their taxes and own dispensaries. The state has ordered 24-hour surveillance cameras to be in operation in all dispensaries. They are also responsible for their own growing, production and promotional campaigns/mediation. In addition, all staff have to be monitored and have had extensive background checks done, fingerprinted etc, not only by surveillance of CCTV but taxes and receipts. The process requires mediation, matter and the individual coming together to produce the patient.
At the cultural level governmentality has been used with many of the participants talking about normative people (old people, business people etc) now using the dispensaries. In other words, they would have seen themselves as thick individuals. That is, individuals who were viewed by society as deviant regardless of social norms and customs they were non-conformists. Furthermore, individual marijuana users’ body is dominated by what it can take in or out and made to behave in a certain way, as a microcosm of social control through what Foucault refers to as bio-power or soft power. In other words, a body of knowledge and behaviour that is seen as normal and acceptable that nonetheless is contextual. Which is what is happening as marijuana gets moved from deviant to medical in which the person gets changed in to a patient.
Therefore, the conduct of the individual marijuana user is understood to be influenced by government rationality or governmentality that is conducting them as patients (Morris, 2015). This is a socio-cultural process that is happening at the structural level, cultural level and interactional level. Therefore, governmental power is not about freedom but rather the manipulation of spaces, techniques and practices in which people are expected to shape and manage their own conduct (Open University, 2015). As neoliberal governmentality continues to play a major part in Homo economicus that uses rational choice constituted as a free individual one needs to examine and critique the illusion of agency within liberal/neoliberal thought.
Historically this question points to a fault in classical liberal thought and more recently neoliberal thought (Bennett, 2010, p.94). Bennett argues that the work of Stuart Mill (2006 ), highlights the role of custom and habit for understanding sovereign power. Mill wanted to see individuals as capable of sovereignty over themselves, yet colonised people were viewed as not capable of sovereignty as they were “sunk beneath the yoke of custom”, habit and routine (Bennett, 2010, p.95). For example, the Indian caste system extends from liberal though as they cannot be given freedom as they are unable to take responsibility for themselves. The ideology of liberty, freedom and individuality was not extended to the Indians but habit was in fact used to justify colonialism. If we apply the same fault in Neoliberalism today this allegedly uses Governmental power to Homo economicus, a specific form of subjectivity of having individual freedom (Hamann, 2009).
Rather than two discursive practices such as criminalization or medicalization, in which both are in tandem with governmental power one needs to seek an alternative. As (Thomas Szasz, 1974 cited in London, 2009, p. 146) suggests if the American people were told one hundred years ago that the government had tried to regulate what chemicals they could and could not digest would have been called unconstitutional. In contemporary society people do not see the dangers associated with government having control over their private property, body and land. Under Neoliberalism the habit of smoking marijuana is not getting changed, rather who gets the money that was hidden and is now visible is what’s getting changed. As Foucault suggests “People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what they do does” (cited in Hamann, 2009, p.59).