Apr 252012
Authors: Jesse Benn

Potheads –– we all know them. They can be found raiding convenience stores and cupboards for munchies, staring blankly at walls while having impossibly deep revelations about life and the world around them that they’ll never remember and generally acting like Cheech and Chong, The Dude or Jeff Spicoli.

The problem with everything I just said, of course, is that like with most stereotypes, the above caricatures only represent a small portion of pot smokers.

Don’t believe me?

Just look at the official U.S. government statistics on marijuana use; and the next time you meet someone between 18 and 50 years old, flip a coin. The odds of getting heads or tails are the same as the odds that the person in front of you has smoked the ganja.

That means around half your parents, your friend’s parents, your elementary, junior high and high school teachers and even (especially?) your professors.

Half the cops that pull you over, the doctors you visit, the judges you stand in front of, the politicians you vote for and the pilots that fly you around the world… flip that coin.

(By the way, even if they’re over 50, the odds are around 40 percent that they’ve been with the lovely Mary Jane.)

And that’s just the people willing to admit to a stranger that they’ve smoked the elusive and illegal green. My guess is that the actual numbers are at least a bit higher, but the stigma surrounding pot smokers, the perception that only hippies and losers smoke, combined with its unfortunate legal status, keeps people from answering honestly.

But it’s the stigma that’s the biggest problem facing advocates of realistic marijuana laws around the country.

You’ve heard the arguments for legalization before: Nobody ever overdosed smoking herb, it’s safer on a number of levels than alcohol, it has a myriad of medical benefits, it’s not a gateway drug, it’s not physically addictive, prohibition hasn’t worked… and so on. Like I said, you’ve heard it before.

So why, in the world, is reefer still illegal? Seriously.

The answer, I suspect, has a lot to do with the negative stigma perpetually stuck to the sticky-icky.

This didn’t start with Cheech and Chong or the hippie movement either. According to a PBS timeline, the 1930s brought about “a flurry of research which linked the use of marijuana with violence, crime and other socially deviant behaviors, primarily committed by ‘racially inferior’ or underclass communities.”

The underlying racial connotations of our drug policy reverberate today, evidenced by disproportionate incarceration rates for blacks and Latinos –– despite whites making up the majority of users and dealers.

Now it’s up to us, particularly the younger generation, to get rid of the stigma –– to stop pretending that the only people enjoying a bowl are the Spicoli’s of the world –– and inevitably change our nation’s drug laws.

In Colorado, the fact that pot isn’t just used by the counter-culture is prominently on display.

Take a look, for instance, at the average age of the almost 90,000 medical marijuana cardholders in the state –– 42.

Of these patients, five percent reported having HIV/AIDS, cachexia, cancer and/or glaucoma. Severe pain, the most subjective allowable condition, was reported by 94 percent of card holders.

Now, I don’t want to make light of people suffering from serious conditions that medical marijuana helps. I know and love some of them and have seen first-hand the medicinal effects marijuana can have, but, they represent a minority of medical marijuana cardholders in Colorado.

If we’re honest about it, most people who have their medical marijuana recommendation are just jumping through a hoop that brings legality and some legitimacy to their recreational marijuana use.

They’re not getting high anymore, they’re medicating.

And good on them, if more people would choose to smoke a little dope in place of other vices, like booze and prescription pills, we’d all be better off.

And if all those middle-aged people with doctors’ recommendations out there “medicating” would just be honest and admit they like to blaze a tree here and there, the stigma around it would fade away (or it would go ‘up in smoke,’ if you care for a pun).

Soon enough we’d have to admit that there’s nothing wrong with puffing some cheeba, because plenty of perfectly responsible, intelligent and successful people do it. And as the stigma surrounding herb vaporizes, realistic reform and ultimately, complete legalization or decriminalization, will finally be within reach.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who is going to miss CSU. His column runs Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:06 pm

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