The emancipation of Mary Jane
Weed, marijuana, cannabis, kush, tree, gas, ganja, zaza — whatever fun or formal, general or specific names you call it by, the legalization of purple haze has been a long time coming. While support for legalization is at an all-time high, controversy has emerged on whether recreational consumption of THC is equal to consuming other adult substances or if it’s only acceptable for medicinal use. Given the history of the unfounded concerns against its usage, the association of the “stoner” with delinquency is incredibly problematic. Here’s why.
Weed is no more addictive than coffee.
Marijuana doesn’t contain addictive chemicals, but the possibility for addiction is true of virtually any thing or action, and weed is no different. One can technically become addicted to weed, but regular usage isn’t interchangeable with addiction, nor is it likely to result in addiction. Using THC products to relax in the evenings or in other adult settings isn’t any more indicative of an “addiction” than a glass of wine in either of these same instances. “Marijuana Use Disorder,” or weed addiction, is characterized as an inability to stop consuming THC even when said consumption is so constant that it starts to affect one’s ability to maintain relationships, jobs and other facets of general life. Unhealthy relationships with eating, working, gambling, exercise, shopping, caffeine consumption, alcohol consumption and more are all classified as things or behaviors people can become addicted to as well. Needless to say, said substances and behaviors haven’t become frowned upon or criminalized. Addiction and even the desire for regular recreational usage aren’t a given when using THC products and vary from person to person.
Potential danger doesn’t justify criminalization.
The harm the casual user is exposed to is not a sufficient reason to be against recreational normalization. Even if a person consumes weed regularly, the potential health detriments of marijuana consumption are all quite mild — extensive research supports that no physically consumable amount of cannabis or cannabinoids can be lethal — and aren’t even as severe as those of excessive caffeine consumption. According to the warnings of medical professionals, the danger of using THC is a temporary effect on motor skills, disorientation and increased appetite — so the danger of getting high is that it may cause you to feel high. Weed overdose, also known as “greening out,” at its most extreme includes throwing up, paranoia and becoming emotional. The remedy is as simple as staying hydrated, eating and making an effort to calm down. Even if one has a bad reaction, the effects are in no way so severe that adults shouldn’t be trusted to enjoy weed responsibly and care for themselves should this happen.
There are proven benefits of weed.
Under President Nixon and the War on Drugs, weed was ridiculously listed as a Schedule 1 drug, along with LSD and heroin, which is classified as having a high potential for abuse and addiction with no benefits — ranked higher than cocaine and methamphetamine. However, in addition to a plethora of personal testimonies stating the strong preference for marijuana to cope with disorders like anxiety and depression instead of traditional medicines, there is also much scientific research to suggest that this works and that weed can successfully remedy other physical and mental ailments as well. According to The Scientific Journal, the American Medical Association initially opposed prohibition, and according to an interview with integrative oncologist David Abrams, it’s “pretty clear from anthropological and archaeological evidence that cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years… Not a day goes by I’m not recommending cannabis to patients.” Even when used consistently to treat medical disorders, the effects of long-term usage are far less severe than those of some antidepressants, which can take significantly longer to achieve their results and cause some to experience side effects like sedation, anxiety and agitation.
The stigmas are rooted in racial biases.
Where modern legal users are reaping weed’s benefits with style, states like California are attempting to release and clear records of nonviolent former weed offenders. California’s Black population is just 6%, but Black people account for a quarter of those imprisoned for weed, and the same study shows that Black and brown people are still disproportionately punished despite similar use and selling rates as white people. The racial disparities in sentencing are unsurprising given the criminalization of cannabis followed its popularization through Mexican immigrants, with the switch to its Spanish name, “marijuana,” a part of the effort to racialize its use. Harry Anslinger, former commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930-1962, said that violence associated with cannabis was absurd. However, upon realizing that this Bureau was weak sauce given its only targets were heroin and cocaine, he quickly changed his stance. Out of the 30 scientists he interviewed, 29 said that marijuana usage was unharmful, so the 30th physician became the one whose work Anslinger presented. Anslinger also claimed that Black and Latinx people were the primary users of weed and that it caused them to “forget their place” and create “satanic” jazz music; he further asserted that “Spanish speaking” users were degenerates and that cannabis use encouraged interracial dating. Aslinger’s words stuck, and even now, while around two-thirds of Americans are pro-legalization, there is a stigma of addiction and delinquency attached to weed users and an unequal rate of punishment for users.
It’s time we question the influence of racialized rhetoric and ingrained biases on our perception of weed. Use of THC products shouldn’t be shamed any more than bottomless mimosas at brunch or the quad-shot lattes half of us are chugging every morning.
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