The history of marijuana legalization is being written every day. But my own history started in the long ago summer of 1975 I was introduced to marijuana. The head cheerleader (pun not intended) asked me if I wanted to buy some weed. She’d never spoken to me before. Peer pressure worked its ugliness and led me to drugs. I was doing exactly what I was told not to and on my way to a life of heroin addiction on skid row. That is until I smoked the illegal and dangerous drug and realized I’d been a fed a line of shit by the system.
Naturally, I then tried everything that was supposedly bad for me. It turns out they didn’t lie about everything—some of that stuff was bad. But they certainly had lied about weed. I retreated back to the herb and left the other vices behind. Over the years, weed has been my little secret. My covert evening cocktail. I was comfortable living as an outlaw from normal society in this one respect. Weed would always be counter culture, so I too would always be counter culture.
The 1930’s. When pot made a you psychopath.
With the appearance of the “Reefer Madness” propaganda of the 1930s, marijuana had been sent underground to wait until the Vietnam War. That was when other young people also realized they’d been fed a line of shit by the system about much more than weed. So marijuana reappeared above ground as a form of protest. But protesting while high can be tiring, so eventually people smoked weed for its relaxing qualities, which made it even harder to protest because nobody likes a relaxed protester.
The people smoking weed for the aforementioned qualities tended to be a peaceful lot. And being peaceful, they began to ask themselves, “Why is it they can kick my door in and take everything I own because I smoke a naturally growing plant? It’s not like we have a meth lab in here!”( Which was a strange thing to say because that term hadn’t showed up in our language yet.)
In 1970, an organization called NORML appeared. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was the voice for those who deemed prohibition restrictive and unjust. NORML gathered a little steam, even going so far as getting then President Jimmy Carter to say, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.” But hostages in the Iranian Embassy along with failed rescue attempts doomed Carter’s administration. Therefore, we got the Ronnie and Nancy Reagan show with their “Just Say No” and drug war ideas. Once again weed was pushed underground and NORML was reduced to the back pages of Rolling Stone magazine.
Eight years of this war mentality demonized marijuana on a level that hadn’t been seen since the “Reefer Madness” days. In 1990, according to the Pew Research Center, 73% of Americans favored a mandatory death penalty for “major drug traffickers,” and 57% said police should be allowed to search the houses of “known drug dealers” without a court order. It was a dark time for potheads.
A Stoners Travel Map.
Now, 15 years into the 21st century, we have four states where you can smoke marijuana for fun. And many more are poised to follow the lead set by Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Medical marijuana is on the table in 16 states and hundreds of state and local governments are decriminalize possession, replacing criminal penalties with civil fines. There has been an astonishing shift in the way America thinks about pot. What caused this mind shift about cannabis?
The most obvious fact is that there are more marijuana smokers now than ever before. The Baby Boomer participants of the 1960s counterculture movement are now well into their 60s and 70s. Perhapsthe elder hippies don’t like the side effects of the maintenance medications they’re now being sold. Blood pressure medications can be hard to party with.
But older citizens aren’t the only one’s using cannabis. In a report with a scent of fear mongering to it, The Partnership For A Drug Free America said that 1 in 10 teens use marijuana more than 10 times a month. It could be an act of rebellion. Teens have been doing that in one way or another since the end of WWII. Or possibly, as far fetched as it sounds, maybe they just like it!
Today’s teen is of the fully connected internet generation. Much more information is out there about all aspects of marijuana. One is no longer subjected only to propaganda. The freedom of information has never been so free as it is right now, although not all of it is true and fact based because, THIS IS THE INTERNET! But the other side of marijuana’s story is finally out there for all to see and make their own decisions. Propaganda’s clamp has been permanently loosened.
A Pew Research Center chart that I talk about in the next paragraph.
The biggest reason for the change in the government’s mindset is that years of prohibition have taken their financial toll. States are spending huge amounts on prison systems full of non-violent drug offenders. In 1978 state prisons were housing 279,609 drug prisoners. In 2012 that number had skyrocketed to 1.35 million. It’s just as bad on the federal level. About half of the nearly 200,000 federal inmates have been convicted of a drug offense. This problem was even recognized by President Obama last week, when he made the largely symbolic gesture of commuting the sentences of 36 non=violent drug offenders.
The rise of the South American drug cartels can be blamed, at least partially, on America’s prohibitive drug policies. The combination of these factors have spurred U.S. Attorney General Holder to call for reduced sentences to low level drug offenders and the U.S. Justice Department’s Sentencing Committee will be meeting to amend the guidelines of Mandatory Sentencing laws enacted during the “Just Say No” days. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 will cut mandatory minimums on federal drug crimes. It appears that for the first time in a long time America realizes that large prison populations can lead to the downfall of societies. Or at least a bringing out of the guillotines.
But nationwide recreational pot is still far off and by no means a sure thing. We now need to go after the one faction in America that can push prohibition off the porch forever. Yes, I’m talking about your mother. In my capacity of armchair sociologist, I have long observed and lived among mothers. It is one of great truths of the universe that if mom isn’t okay with it, then it isn’t okay for anybody. (Look up a brief history of MADD.)
I recall the day my mother found my bag of weed, and the ensuing haircut and threat of military school. I remember her shame at her only son being a druggie. And yet, I also recall the day I held her hand after she’d been through a triple bypass heart surgery. She was heavily sedated and wearing an oxygen mask. As I was telling her goodbye and I’d see her the next day, she was trying to say something. As I leaned in close she said, “Bring me a twelve pack of beer and some marijuana!” I was amused. The two attending nurses were not.
If my mom could change her views, although it took heavy sedation to do it, then anybody could. Not long after Colorado became a legal state, I took a trip across the big flat to get high in The Rockies. What impressed me most about the “outlets” (as I was told by a native to call them) was that everyone looked so normal. Sure, there were some dreadlocked, inked-out 20-something’s bopping around, but I was very surprised to see many mom and pop types shopping for the herb.
I even approached two white, upper middle class ladies who appeared to be around the empty nest stage of life. I asked what had brought them to a weed outlet. Their answers contained the words “curious” and “nostalgia.” Could it be that Mom’s who have the kids raised are looking to go back and recapture some of their impetuous youth? Will the next generation be the first where the phrase “Grandma is such a stoner!” is commonplace? Watch for marijuana to go ultra mainstream if Mom decides she likes it.
Grandma: She rocks!
So here we are, far from the summer of 1975. Having lived as an outlaw all these years and expecting to remain an outlaw for the rest of my days. I’m a little dizzy at how quickly things have turned around for my covert cocktail. 10 years ago I’d settled myself to the fact that marijuana would never be legal in any form in my lifetime. Once again in our history, the attempt to legislate morals has resulted in full prisons. It’s good thing we got over that nasty witch burning habit. I believe Sir Winston Churchill nailed it down perfectly when he said, “You can count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”