It’s high time (see what I did there) that we started having a real conversation about the benefits, dangers and misconceptions about marijuana use in the United States. What started as an underhanded and racist means to control the Hispanic and black populations and as one man’s successful attempt to control the paper industry quickly became, to many people, a war on personal freedom, as Bill Hicks put it.
That brings us to the biggest misconception about the plant. Marijuana, pot or ganja (whatever your preferred name) is not the same thing as industrial hemp. Though the plants are in the same family, they are not the same thing. Smoking industrial hemp won’t do much more than give you a headache and make it hard to breathe.
This misconception was started by William Randolph Hearst and his newspapers. His goal was to preserve his paper empire by making industrial hemp, which has a higher yield and less maturation time than a tree, illegal. The easiest way to do this was to associate the plant with the “demon weed” being used for recreational purposes by America’s minority populations. During the era of prohibition, this relation was all that was needed to prompt the knee-jerk reactionaries of the government and public to quickly ban the plant.
In the hundred years or so since the first laws banning marijuana, there has been a small but vocal group of people constantly asking why. The standard answer given every time the question is asked is because it is a drug and it’s already illegal. Obviously, the proponents of marijuana legalization have never bought the circular reasoning of that argument and are finally beginning to win the war against prohibition. Medical marijuana is legal in 21 states and is on the ballot in several others. Marijuana is completely legal for recreational purposes in two states.
The “evil menace of reefer” is becoming easier and easier to acquire as time passes and the prophecy of doom for the nation that was foretold in the last century is nowhere to be seen. Children aren’t being marketed to and adults aren’t experiencing addiction rates any higher than the rates of legal drugs. Actually, when compared to intoxicants like alcohol or tobacco, the addiction rates in marijuana users are much, much lower. Unfortunately, this argument has been in use for some time and has always fallen on deaf ears. In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter was close to pushing for marijuana decriminalization. Around the same time that Carter was making this consideration, one of his aides was arrested with cocaine in his possession. Not surprisingly, Carter immediately dropped his push for decriminalization, and the entire
idea was shelved for the next two decades.
Sometime in the last two decades the majority of people have begun rethinking how they feel about marijuana. Part of this is due to our parents growing up and realizing that the plant isn’t as dangerous as they were told by their parents. The supposed “reefer madness” that would overtake anyone who tried the plant wasn’t real. Our parents grew up and became successful despite being potheads in the 1960s and 1970s. These people who grew up and didn’t go crazy because they smoked a joint or two are now the people in charge.
With all of the medical studies done on the benefits of marijuana in the last two decades and the tax revenues of states like Colorado and Washington, the powers that be are finally sitting up and taking notice. Even in Texas, Governor Rick Perry has come out in favor of decriminalization. Ten years ago, this was a political death wish in the realm of Republican politics in Texas. As with all things, money speaks very loudly and the money to be made from marijuana, from its industrial uses to its medical uses and recreational uses, is now screaming at everyone who has a slight willingness to listen.
Another unexpected source of reason when it comes to marijuana use has been the NFL. Yes, even the National Football League is looking into marijuana therapy for use in concussion treatment. Several former players, including outspoken former kicker Chris Kluwe, have gone on record to say that marijuana use in the NFL is prevalent and there is a large percentage of players who would rather use pot than opiates for their aches and pains. Even more recently than Kluwe’s statements, members of Congress have introduced bills to reschedule marijuana.
This part of the push for legalization came about because of a White House petition that garnered enough signatures to require a response from the government. Marijuana legalization is eventually going to happen, and it’s been a long time coming. Previous generations bought into the idea that pot makes you crazy, and this notion became the status quo for nearly a century. As a result, our prisons are over-crowded, our police forces are over-worked, fighting an unwinnable war on a plant, and we flush billions of dollars down the drain every year in the name of keeping our streets and children safe. All of these factors have done nothing to curb the use of marijuana in the United States and have actually only furthered the abuse legal prescription drugs, many of which are medically more dangerous than marijuana use.
As a nation, we are finally starting to ask the right questions about marijuana prohibition. We are finally seeing that it is no more dangerous than alcohol, and according to most arguments and scientific studies, is actually safer. We are finally starting to realize that prohibition didn’t work for alcohol, and that we’re being childish to think that it is any more effective when applied to marijuana. Hopefully, this push continues. After all, all we have at stake in this fight is our personal freedom to choose what goes into our bodies and millions of dollars in tax revenue.