By Dan Post
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
It's April 20, 4/20 to some. That means no one is in class, or at least those who do attend are wearing sunglasses, sipping on Slurpees and blaring Jimi Hendrix out of their iPods. And for those goody-goodies out there: Don't lie, you wish you had the balls to come to class high today. If you're reading this right now and you are stoned, then be prepared for some real mind-blowing shit. If you are not high, prepare to be educated.
According to www.urbandictionary.com, marijuana is God's gift to mankind: "God said 'let there be happiness' and there was marijuana." The White House Office of National Drug Policy defines marijuana as a "green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa)." It is used by more people than any other illegal drug (methamphetamines might be catching up). 96.6 million Americans have reported trying marijuana at least once in their lifetimes.
Marijuana makes you high. It makes you feel different. It might make you think differently. Music sounds better and more interesting - jazz, classic rock and anything labeled as psychedelic does the job. Your life might even improve in some unexpected way if you try marijuana.
But marijuana is illegal in this country. It's illegal even though alcohol and tobacco, which kill a combined 500,000 people per year, fly off the shelves in legal transactions everywhere. Plus, drunks are stupid. They get in fights, they commit a lot of date rapes and they poison themselves to death. But there has never been a reported case of death from an overdose of pot. You can toke as much as you want, and be fine the next day. You could eat a whole bag and get sick, but you wouldn't die. You can die from taking too many Tylenol. You can even die if you drink too much water. But you cannot overdose on marijuana.
So considering this, what are the reasons that marijuana is illegal? Go back in time to the Great Depression and the 1920s, and one would find the real story behind marijuana's prohibition. The simplified version is that the perpetuation of a number of racial stereotypes, combined with industrial pressure, led to the prohibition of marijuana. These included stereotypes that marijuana was the devil's harvest and contributed to integration of whites and blacks in the jazz culture of the '20s. The stereotypes also extended to Mexicans who smoked marijuana and were the "cause" of many of the nation's problems during the Depression. When big industries concerned with the huge economic potential of hemp-based products got involved, it wasn't long before marijuana was made illegal in this country.
As time has gone on since the initial illegalization, the government's anti-marijuana rhetoric has been stepped up. Now we see commercials on how kids who smoke pot are running over little girls at fast food drive-thrus, leaving their little sisters to drown in the swimming pool and shooting each other on accident during an innocent game of Russian roulette. The enforcement of marijuana laws has been stepped up too. In 2001, more than 700,000 people were arrested for marijuana related crimes, and 90 percent of those arrests were for possession. The prisons in this country are overcrowded and the education system is under funded as a result. Sentencing is even more over the top when it comes to marijuana violations. According to Eric Schlosser, author of "Reefer Madness," 15 states mandate a life sentence for certain non-violent marijuana offenses. In Alabama, the average sentence for marijuana possession is two years more than the average sentence for DUI. Which do you think is more dangerous? In Montana, a life sentence is laid down on anyone caught growing one marijuana plant.
All of this neglects some good reasons to legalize marijuana. Many believe that violent crime will actually go down (when black-market drug dealers no longer have a purpose), combined with increased economic benefits to businesses and the government from the institutionalized sale of the plant. Plus, marijuana might actually possess some positive health benefits, although no one is sure because the government prohibits scientific studies involving this illicit substance. Consider all of this the next time you blow off that guy with the legalize marijuana petition on campus and when the next marijuana initiative comes up for a vote, and marijuana policy in this country might become more sensible.
Dan Post is an anthropology and ecology senior. He can be reached at email@example.com.