There’s probably only a handful of 30-year olds who grew up in the US and have never smoked or otherwise consumed weed before, but I’m actually one of them. I’m not just saying that because my mother will read this, and I’m certainly not saying that I’ve never seen it or been around it. I don’t have anything against it, besides the fact that it smells pretty bad, but I’ve just never been inclined to try it.
That said, I’m quite pro-legalization.
Up until very recently, though, I didn’t really have an opinion on the matter. The legalization of marijuana didn’t directly affect me, so it wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about. I also didn’t see it as a priority in government. It seemed as though there were 101 things that were more important than whether or not people could legally get high.
Of course, as with anything, the story is so much more complicated than that.
I remember the night of the 2016 presidential election. I happened to be in Boston attending a conference. Following a day of lectures, we all hit up various bars around town for mingling, networking, and “partying.” The bar I found myself in was pretty packed, but the noise level noticeably went down as the night progressed. People’s eyes were glued to the two televisions hanging on the wall. As we all watched as Donald Trump painted the map red, the mood turned grim. Boston didn’t seem too happy about their new president.
There was a silver lining, though…
On that same night, the state of Massachusetts had voted to legalize marijuana. The election of Donald Trump and the legalization of weed were probably on equal footing that night, as far as people’s emotional responses to the election outcome.
“Yeah…Trump won. But at least we got weed.”
As of 2018, marijuana is legal for recreational use in nine states and Washington, D.C., and it’s legal for medicinal use in 21 additional states.
So as the nation slowly undoes anti-marijuana legislation, the question is when, and more importantly, why was it made illegal in the first place?
Going way, way back, marijuana, cannabis, whatever, flourished across Asia. It was revered for its psychological and physiological effects, and it was a pretty common thing. The plant, itself, is pretty incredible, as the entire thing, from the leaves to the buds to the stalk can be used in some form or another.
As the plant spread westward, it was actually brought to the American colonies by the Europeans. In Jamestown, hemp was one of the cash crops, right alongside tobacco. Interestingly, in the 5th grade when I was learning about the Jamestown settlement, it was never mentioned. Tobacco was, though.
From there, the plant proliferated. Hemp was used to make rope, fabric, canvas, and paper. Some even claim that some of our founding documents, like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.
Fast forward to the 20th century. The United States has endured a revolutionary war, a civil war, and a depression. By the 1960s, we were still in the throes of war, but we were coping. Weed was prevalent across the country, along with many other, much harder and more dangerous substances.
Lookin’ at you, heroin.
So…Richard Nixon. That guy. Openly racist and very pro-war, Nixon had a few problems to tackle – hippies (or anyone against the war), black people, Mexicans, Jews, etc. You get the picture. Of course, he couldn’t just start persecuting these people for no reason. His solution? The War on Drugs.
In 1970, Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, and marijuana was listed as a Schedule 1 drug, implying it was just as dangerous as heroin. Schedule 2, a step down from 1, includes cocaine and meth. Meth. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that the DEA finally admitted how silly that all is, but they’ve yet to declassify marijuana.
Anyway, by targeting these drugs, Nixon had a completely legal reason to criminalize and arrest common users.
Former Nixon domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, recently stated, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
And so it went. Nixon took weed – something that has been consumed for thousands of years around the world; something that literally grows out of the ground – and made it illegal.
Jumping ahead, in 2013, the Obama administration issued a memo stating that the federal government should basically focus their efforts on more serious matters than cracking down on marijuana facilities, especially in states that have legalized it. Essentially, this meant that as long as states followed certain federal guidelines, they’d be in charge of regulating marijuana use and distribution within their borders. In 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded this memo. This means that while you may be acting legally within your own state, the federal government can still arrest you. Marijuana, to this day, is illegal for both medicinal and recreational use on the national level.
Who knows why Sessions is so against weed. He said good people don’t smoke it – whatever that means. Maybe he agrees with Nixon’s reasoning behind criminalizing the drug in the first place. Maybe he’s getting a payout from the tobacco industry. Maybe he actually does believe the things he says about it. Maybe he’s just bitter. Whatever his reason, keeping marijuana illegal seems to do more harm than good.
By legalizing marijuana, state governments would be able to better regulate the distribution of it, rather than leaving it up to drug cartels and low-level dealers. Not only that, the proceeds from sales could go back into the local economy, and the national government would benefit from the taxable income.
Additionally, according to a report published by the ACLU, marijuana crackdowns cost the United States approximately $3.6 billion every year, with no noticeable decrease in its use. And if you’re black? You’re nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession, even though use is prevalent in both white and black communities. It’s almost as if our prison system isn’t quite bogged down enough…
Anti-legalization proponents seem to argue that it’s a dangerous substance that they don’t want their kids exposed to, but even that doesn’t have a ton of data to support it.
Of course marijuana can be overused and abused. So can French fries, video games, and porn. I’ve never bought that as a decent excuse to completely ban something. Popular culture’s portrayal of stoners is often an all-or-nothing image. You’re either completely sober or a high, rambling, giggling idiot. There’s no middle ground. That’s basically like saying anyone who drinks alcohol is essentially a frat guy hitting a keg, or a drunk girl crying on a bathroom floor in a Whataburger on 6th Street (in Austin). The notion of someone having a glass of wine with dinner, who is far from inebriated, would be non-existent if alcohol was portrayed in the same way.
So, let’s look at some numbers.
Stats and charts are easily misconstrued, so as always, take them with a grain of salt. That said, these numbers are so staggering, that even if they’re a bit off, they’re still terrifying.
According to the CDC, in the United States, tobacco has cost over $300 billion in economic loss, either from direct medical expenditure or lost opportunity. It is responsible for over 480,000 annual deaths with over 41,000 of those coming from diseases contracted through just second-hand smoke. It is currently the leading preventable cause of death.
And alcohol? In the US in 2015, over 10,000 traffic deaths were the result of alcohol-impairment, which accounted for about a third of all traffic deaths. According to the Washington Post, in 2014, over 30,000 Americans died from “alcohol-induced causes,” such as alcohol-poisoning and cirrhosis, not including deaths from drunk driving and violence committed under the influence.
Marijuana hasn’t killed anyone. Like…no one. In fact, there’s not even a defined lethal dose of marijuana. I did read that one time a kid leapt to his death after eating a pot cookie, but…that’s kind of it. This isolated case is certainly not the norm. One could argue that if it was legal and use was more widespread that more instances like this would occur, but let’s be real – lots of Americans are already on the stuff, enough to provide a significant sample size. If there’s one case of something crazy happening, that’s the exception, not the rule. Also, who knows what other circumstances surrounded that instance. Perhaps the cookie was laced with something else, or perhaps he already had something else in his system.
Either way, the argument that marijuana is deadly – or even dangerous – simply doesn’t hold water. Our own government institutions, such as the CDC and the DEA, know this.
In fact, the DEA seems to be very aware of the fact that marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as the government would have you think. In 1988, there was a petition to declassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug for several reasons, including the fact that aspirin, an over-the-counter painkiller has more negative side effects than marijuana, and people have died from overdosing on it. The petition also states, “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”
There you have it. Clear as day.
The end game for this is that marijuana, very likely, will eventually be legalized. With the majority of Americans, including Republicans, supporting legalization, Sessions’, and by extension the Trump administration’s, crusade against it is doing more harm than good for the party.
People want weed. Let them have it. It doesn’t hurt anyone. What’s the big deal?