Whatever you call it, marijuana and its legalisation have been hot topics in the 21st century. There’s a stark difference in both sides of this debate; those against it don’t want to admit it has certain significant benefits, while those for it don’t want to admit that while it is less harmful than drinking or smoking, it still takes its toll mentally and physically.
Wherever you seem to look, its influences are evident. Music, art, food and cinema have all seen references to marijuana lately. I know this seems like an outlandish topic to talk about and something that’s considered a pretty ‘hush-hush’ thing to discuss, but that’s what I’m trying to fix. The reason we cringe when we hear any rendition of marijuana’s many names is because we know so little about it. We’re a little afraid, and it’s okay.
To begin, I’ll try to introduce marijuana’s history briefly.
Ancient Chinese and Indian references and relics mention marijuana, telling us that it has been used for centuries to achieve euphoria. Records such as those of Chinese emperor Shen Nung reference it as a ‘psychoactive agent’ used to treat rheumatism, gout, malaria and a few other things. It also gained popularity in the Arabic world, since drinking alcohol is against the Quran.
Spanish conquests in the 15-16th century brought cannabis to America, and its growing popularity there led to people farming it right beside tobacco and opium, and later in the 19th century, as hemp replaced cotton.
The prohibition movement banned alcohol post world war 1, giving rise not only to mafia families and notorious individuals like Al Capone but also to ‘tea pads’, aka marijuana clubs. The police didn’t have a problem with these as people were not making a nuisance as some alcoholics were, so they were left to themselves for many years.
You may be wondering, ‘so if everyone was happy with it, what was the problem?’
Political agenda actually was the major factor in this entire war on drugs. By the 1940s, the federal bureau of narcotics was looking to criminalise the smoking of pot specifically to target certain racial and political groups such as the African-American community. They needed something to target, so marijuana became the next big target. This policy was typified in the presidency of Richard Nixon, who tightened the war on drugs to keep his political rivals behind bars and unfavourable racial groups down. This gave rise to the hippies, people who were advocating for a social revolution, and a symbol of rebellion against authority.
The “war on drugs” thus brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation (particularly in Hawaii and California). Beginning in 1982 the Drug Enforcement Administration turned increased attention to marijuana farms in the United States, and there was a shift to the indoor growing of plants specially developed for small size and high yield. After over a decade of decreasing use, marijuana smoking began an upward trend once more in the early 1990s, especially among teenagers. 
After the criminalization of weed, even possessing it was a crime, whether you intended to consume it or not. This made things extremely difficult for those who grew it or dealt it. This resulted in many incarcerations, punishing nonviolent offenders for a substance that was completely legal a night ago.
The “zero tolerance” climate of the Reagan and Bush administrations resulted in passage of strict laws and mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana.
Even those who wanted to research it couldn’t get their hands on it for the simple fact that it was classified a ‘Schedule I drug’, i.e., having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use.
There are many conspiracy theories that try to explain why cannabis was banned, but the most popular and widely accepted one involves William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), a US newspaper tycoon and businessman.
As it stood, William Hearst owned large swaths of forested area to provide his newspaper with the paper that it would need to print on a large scale. Around this time, hemp was growing in popularity, so much so that it threatened traditional paper mills, including those of Hearst’s. Trying to outdo his competition, Hearst brought in Harry Anslinger (Commissioner of of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics), who at Hearst’s behest wrote many articles and publications that were published in Hearst’s newspaper. These articles were generally fabricated and sensationalistic.
The scars of those policies still linger today, and the ripples of these issues have spread to almost every other country in the world as most nations enforce anti-cannabis laws.
So where does this issue stand today?
With the lack of information and studies on marijuana, many people are divided on its actual properties. Pop culture has become increasingly accepting since the 90s, with hip-hop endorsing ‘weed’ every chance it gets. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) of the United States still classifies marijuana with other potent drugs such as Heroin and Meth.
It’s difficult to draw conclusions without lab studies, but with the statistics that we have, not one person, ever, has died from overdosing or otherwise from cannabis. This is a much better outcome than widely accepted consumables such as tobacco and alcohol, which kill thousands of people annually.
Cannabis is not so much a threat to the public as it is to big businesses. Oil companies, alcohol, tobacco industries and a large number of chemical corporations would lose out a lot if hemp and cannabis products were legalised and able to be grown everywhere.
While its most popular use still remains recreationally for stimulation of the mind, if utilised properly, the plant could be an industrial atomic bomb.
The flip side
As you’ve read, cannabis has a lot of positive potential. But amidst this ‘trend’ in pop culture to glorify marijuana, it’s left a nasty trail that anti-cannabis folk often point to to validate their side of the argument. Almost every rapper in hip-hop talks about weed as if it was some kind of ‘magic drug’ that can solve any problem. This is not so.
Pre-pubescent and post-pubescent teens are smoking weed, whether it be to fall in line with what is ‘cool to do’, or to give themselves a ‘trip’. As a result, people who are dealing it often lace the drug with strands of worse drugs so that the people smoking it develop addictions and keep buying the drug, profiting the dealer.
The culture of ‘glorifying’ weed has annoyed some people, and frankly, me too. Bragging about weed is like screaming that you want to belong to a subculture. Is it a declaration of how bad-ass you are? Is it to show how laid back and relaxed you are? I’m not against weed and the recreational use of marijuana, don’t get me wrong.
In fact, a Reddit community, https://www.reddit.com/r/leaves/ actually allows users to communicate their life problems that arise with smoking weed and their pursuits to quit. Here are a few notable memoirs from that subreddit.
I’ve been smoking weed for 3 years consistently and daily for about 2. Throughout this time, I have maintained a semblance of a normal life: going to school, working, and making friends, but I’ve become complacent. I happily wore the stoner title like a badge of honor, proud of the fact that I’d somehow managed to achieve all I had while smoking as much as I did […] It makes you lethargic, tired, and lazy. It gives you anxiety, for a good reason. It has ruined your short term, and now long term memory. It has made you complacent, uninspired, and stuck. You don’t follow your dreams anymore. Probably because you don’t have them. You never challenge yourself. You are not as creative as you were. You embarrass yourself in conversation. Your sense of time is absolutely destroyed. – u/muffmashup
Like so many others here I’m in my first and worst hours of not being high all the time and it’s pretty tough. I think the biggest issue for me is that I don’t know how to be straight; literally I just get high as much as possible as often as possible and it’s been that way for half my life. Wake and bake when I don’t work, get high far enough before work to come down by the time I arrive (about 2 hours generally), spark up as soon as I’m home again (or sooner thanks to dab pens)…basically weed runs my life. Need to pick up the kid at daycare at 5? Last bowl at 3 so I don’t drive high. Need to go get groceries? Either I’m walking and get high or I’m staying home and having cereal.
Marijuana has a powerful effect on a persons reward system. Now, this is not apparent if you smoke once or twice a month, or maybe even a week, but the reason we are all here is because we can’t do that. Most of us here are 5 times a week + smokers. Many are also wake and bakers, who can’t remember the last time they went more than half a day not stoned. The only real problem with weed, and I’m honestly gonna say there is not many of them, is it wreaks havoc on your ability to enjoy life without it. How many times have you said “I’m gonna get high and then…” only to not do it and usually end up high on your couch for the rest of the evening? – u/citizenofconcern
For every person who supports the legalization of medical marijuana, there is another who strongly opposes it. Arguments from the opposition include:
- Frequent use can impair cognitive ability and short-term memory
- Insufficient evidence to support medical marijuana as an effective pain relieving agent
- Children would have easier access to a drug that could hurt them
- Marijuana carries a risk of abuse and addiction
- Could lead to a lower quality of life, as well as health problems and financial issues
- Is an excuse for drug legalization and recreational use.
Finally, coming to what can be done about the situation.
I made some earnest attempts to explain and provide solutions to the war on drugs in my past blog, ‘Hot take: The War on Drugs is a huge failure‘, but I’ll mention it again for the sake of ease.
Legalizing the drug and making it available for research will allow us to devise less potent versions of it, and to provide those affected by it the rehabilitation that they need. If we make it available as widely as tobacco or alcohol, drug dealers will be left with little to no business. Research can allow us to devise a better understanding of what the actual effects are.