Two weeks ago I talked about some common arguments used against the legalization of marijuana such as: It will make you crazy, it will seriously affect your health, it is a gateway drug and/or will make you lazy and stupid. In that same column I also discussed how none of these claims is significantly backed up by facts or scientific findings.
So why is marijuana really illegal? Well, here’s my theory.
Historically, the fact that marijuana is used by “fringe groups of society” was a major factor in making it illegal. The first state laws passed to make marijuana illegal were instituted largely in part to persecute unwelcome Mexican immigrants who used the drug.
When marijuana was made illegal across the country in 1937, racism was again a major factor. Black jazz musicians were the main fringe group targeted this time.
Henry Anslinger, the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time, had this to say: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.” and “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
As times changed, so did the fringe groups who gave reasons to keep marijuana illegal. During the Red Scare, Communists were thought to be brainwashing Americans into pacifists through marijuana. During the 60s and 70s, dirty un-American hippies were the main group associated with marijuana use.
Nowadays, the government can’t single out groups of people like that as a reason to keep marijuana illegal. But it’s still ingrained in many people’s minds that marijuana is only used by criminals and free-loaders.
Marijuana has been illegal for so long now that most people can’t remember a time when it was legal. We’ve grown up in a society where marijuana is considered a harmful drug and is basically grouped in the same category as other substances such as cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine.
Legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, are not lumped into that category, although their addictiveness and adverse health affects perhaps warrant them to be so much more than marijuana. But since tobacco and alcohol use is common in mainstream America, they are accepted by society.
But since marijuana doesn’t receive that same acceptance, it remains in the “drug” category. Something needs to be done to educate people that marijuana is not the same as cocaine, heroine or methamphetamine; is not even remotely close to cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine; and should have nothing to do with cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine, but should instead be deserving of its own distinct (legal) category like alcohol and tobacco.
However, children are taught to “just say no” to all drugs, and there is little distinction between marijuana and harder drugs. But people still try marijuana, and when they do, they often realize it’s not as bad as everyone would have them believe.
This can easily lead to the conclusion that if marijuana is illegal but didn’t hurt me, maybe the government was blowing smoke up my ass about other illegal drugs as well.
If marijuana were to become legal, the artificial connection between marijuana and much more harmful narcotics would disappear. Not only that, but the cynicism and mistrust that comes with the realization that the government has been lying to you (or at the very least manipulating the facts to get you on their side) would also be alleviated.
This would be worth having a few more kids getting high.
Andy Nicewicz is a senior political science major. His column appears every Monday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.