Kush is Kool. Racism Isn’t.
Some know it as marijuana. Others as cannabis. I know it as the magical herb. Now what makes the magical herb magical? The fact that it can take you to your happy place? The fact that it makes Taco Bell a luxurious meal? No.
The magical herb is magical, because it a bridge between minorities and the general white American public. One might ask, how does a simple plant do this? Well, the magical herb doesn’t do it on it’s own. Its culture does. Marijuana culture has been an escape for anyone fed up with American culture. Marijuana culture is the ideal escape for white youth because not only is it a form of rebellion against older generations, but it is also a beautiful thing to escape to. The culture around marijuana is one that rejects the fundamental aspects of American society to favor relaxed, and loving social norms. When you sit down with people to share a joint, it doesn’t matter where the other people are from, what race they are, or even if they like Five Guys more than In-n-Out. You are there to enjoy something together. Your outside identities are left at the door.
A basic necessity of every stoner den is a Bob Marley tapestry. With a joint between his lips, and a huge smile he is the every stoner’s god. Urging people to “Get up, Stand up: stand up for your rights!” Bob Marley and his followers refuse to be stepped on by authoritative powers. People who fight for the right thing are always respected by people. However, how they go about their fight it is what makes them loved. Bob Marley holds an extremely special spot in many hearts because he was able to be an activist who was relatable to the average man. As Bob Marley’s song War opens,
Until the philosophy
Which hold one race superior
Everywhere is war
Me say war
Joint in hand, Bob Marley reminds us that “Every little thing is gonna be alright”. His “chiller” style is one of the most essential aspects of stoner culture. American culture is a rat race, and marijuana culture is a complete rejection of that. So next time your blazing (disclaimer: you should never do this because it is a federal crime) just look up at that Bob Marley poster and take a moment to appreciate the plant that is taking you to your magical place.
Now, I’m all about those chill vibes when I’m doing my thing and I don’t want to ruin yours, so I will warn you. This piece will open your eyes to the battle that has been going on behind the scenes of the magical herb. Marijuana is an incredible addition to many of our lives; however, it has ruined the lives of others. So, if injustice scares you, please just light up your nearest joint and take your reading elsewhere.
Why is it Illegal?
Today’s strict marijuana laws are in place because of racism. However, despite the fact that many minorities are still associated with marijuana, they are not the only ones who use it. Just as the “Hippie Generation” of the 1960s altered the public’s view of marijuana, today’s younger generation is causing a monumental shift in the white public’s view of marijuana.
Marijuana is not a new drug. It was renowned for its medicinal use during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The United States Pharmacopeia accepted marijuana as treatment for neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, hysteria, insanity, uterine hemorrhage tetanus, and many other maladies in 1850 until 1942. However, recreational marijuana use was not strongly established until the twentieth century. Marijuana’s sudden surge in popularity was a consequence of the Eighteenth Amendment and the succeeding Volstead Act that made the manufacture and sale of alcohol illegal. “Tea pads”, marijuana smoke houses, opened across the major cities of the United States to compensate for the prohibition of alcohol. New York City alone was estimated to have approximately 500 tea pads in 1930.
When prohibition ended, alcohol returned as America’s primary drug of choice. As a result, the recreational use of marijuana drastically decreased. However, the recreational use of marijuana remained popular along the Souther border. Mexican immigrants who had grown marijuana in Mexico continued to do so and use it recreationally when the immigrated to the United States. As a result, marijuana began to have an increasingly strong association with them. This association, however, reflected very poorly on marijuana in the eyes of the law enforcement. “Police in Texas border towns demonized the plant in racial terms as the drug of “immoral” populations”.
Manic stories linking marijuana use and crime were published in various newspapers and magazines. Marijuana was portrayed as a trigger for violence and crime among Mexican immigrants. This negatively affected the general white public’s view of marijuana. As a result, many states along the Southern border of the United States became advocates for the criminalization of marijuana and became the first to pass state laws prohibiting it.
Marijuana was not only associated with Mexicans, but Blacks as well. Marijuana accompanied Jazz music and has been passed down in some of our old favorite tunes such as Cab Calloway’s “That Funny Reefer Man”. While the music was a hit, whites could not fully subject themselves to “black culture”. They were content to watch it on the stage and hear it over the radio; however, it was nothing they would ever want to associate with. As a result, in the Eastern states, marijuana, like in the south, became the target of racism. “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”
With race tensions still running high it is no surprise how stringent marijuana laws became over the years. In 1970 the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) created a form of ranking the “dangerousness” of drugs known as scheduling. Marijuana is currently ranked as a schedule I drug, one of the most dangerous drugs. However, this ranking was not decided upon through the normal channels of drug scheduling. Marijuana was scheduled as a schedule I drug against the advise of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, a group created to study marijuana abuse in the Untied States. President Nixon openly tried to sway the committee to criminalize marijuana to the upmost extent, “You’re enough of a pro to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what the Congress feels and what the country feels, and what we’re planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell”. The conservative way is generally the “right” thing to American societal norms. As a result, even though there were no medically valid reasons to criminalize marijuana it was criminalized thus further separating whites and minorities.
Why are Views Changing?
The initial movement to openly accept marijuana began in the 1960s with the “Hippie Generation”. With their old-fashion styles and “free love”, the hippies rebelliously rejected the commercialization of American culture and stood strong in their antiwar sentiments. As a result, marijuana, the drug of the minority, was the perfect way to further separate themselves from mainstream American culture that was characterized by drinking and smoking cigarettes. Since marijuana’s near exclusive association with minorities notably expanded to the forefront of society with the hippie generation, public sentiment on marijuana softened. As a result, the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (1966) was passed only years into the shift of acceptance.
Once again, views on marijuana are changing and so are the laws around it. 76% of the population is currently living under liberalized marijuana laws. While it is still illegal at the federal level, the use of marijuana is becoming increasingly accepted across the country. This, however, was not always the case. The federal laws in the United States surrounding the initial criminalization of marijuana were created upon the basis racism. Had it not been for marijuana’s negative association with a minority group and manic stories, the fight for legalizing marijuana would not be a concern to anyone today.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. A national survey conducted in 2012 suggests that more than 111 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once, and nearly 19 million had done marijuana within the month before the survey. Interestingly, most marijuana users are in their late teens and early twenties. With a significant percentage of American adolescents using marijuana, it is safe to say that it has found its way to the heart of American society. It is simply every where you turn from the news, to movies, and of course to music. If you are up to date on the next hip thing, it is extremely likely that you are exposed to marijuana or marijuana propaganda of some sort.
Now, the real question is: why is marijuana cool?
The answer lies in the fact that it was once a drug of minorities. In the last section, we discussed how impactful racism was on the white public’s view on marijuana and ultimately the laws that controlled its use. Race is still a very large influence on the public’s view of marijuana. However, the view is changing. Rather than turning away from marijuana because of its roots in minorities, the white public is turning towards it. Smoking weed simply adds to your “street cred”, something very important to the youth of America. If you watch just about any rap music video, marijuana is glorified. Connected to sex, hard drugs, and alcohol, marijuana is portrayed in a badass light, and that makes it all the more appealing. Your average teenager looking for a crazy night isn’t going to be doing lines of coke off of a stripper’s butt, but smoking a joint? Yeah. That’s possible.
Beyond marijuana’s sex appeal, it is cool because it is not supposed to be. As the infamous Marijuana Man once said, “Do you know one of the things that makes smoking weed so great? Not just because weed is great and all, but because it’s illegal folks!…Good is lame and bad is cool!”. Most teenagers growing up had the drug talk with their parents. “Marijuana is a gateway drug. Marijuana ruins your motivation. Marijuana will turn you into your Uncle Mike”. We’ve all heard these things before, and the appeal of doing the opposite of what your parents think is best to definitely has an appeal to the younger generation.
Just as with the “Hippie Generation”, the youth of today are pushing the boundaries of the federal law with their experimentation, and, just as before, the laws are becoming much more lenient. While a single person may not seem to exert much influence on laws, as a group, generations are able to shape the nation. Change is abundant, and people love it. Each new generation comes with something better than the last. Just six years ago, the first black president was elected. What is to stop the next generation from taking it a step further?
Waka Flocka Flame running for president of the United States is not only extremely entertaining, but it also sends a very powerful message about the young generation of Americans. Waka Floka Flame is openly committing a federal crime while making his debut into the 2016 Presidential Election, but what are his consequences? More fandom. He’s viewed as a rebellious trailblazer! Rebellion is an essential part of cool. Whether it’s a motorcycle, rap music, or jay walking the “cool” thing to do is to blow off what you’re supposed to do and get away with it. Not only is rebellion at the heart of cool, but at the heart of the United States. Our country was founded on rebellion. We were tired of being stepped on, and had dreams of something better. Can Waka Flocka Flame lead our country in a completely new direction (disclaimer: no, he is not old enough). Rebellion is responsible for change, and believe me, things need to change.
The Unkool Side of Kush
While your average white stoner bro might think of weed as a ‘bridge’ to fun black culture, he may not be aware of the fact that those black people they are getting close to are being punished for that very same hobby. From 2001 to 2010, marijuana use among 18 to 25 year olds has been consistently higher amongst white individuals with 30% or more white adolescents admitting to using the drug at least one year before the study. The percentage of blacks who used marijuana from 18 to 25 with the same time criteria was consistently below 30%. While it is “cool” for whites to be adopting marijuana something very uncool is happening. The unequal distribution of punishment. In 2010 alone, more than 700 thousand blacks were arrested for marijuana possession while less than 200 thousand whites were arrested for the same “crime” for which they commit in larger numbers. The discrepancy is inexcusable especially when there are consistently more white adolescents using marijuana than black adolescents.
Marijuana laws need to change because they were created on the foundation of racism and the injustice is carrying on to today. As of August 2013, the U.S. Justice Department will not challenge states laws legalizing recreational marijuana. As a result, twenty-seven states, as well as the District of Columbia, have freely legalized medicinal marijuana, have decriminalized it, or have done both, and the change has not gone unnoticed at the federal level. President Obama himself recently said, “We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side. At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana”.
The legalization would take away a severe injustice against minorities. The United States is currently punishing the very people that the white youth are trying to emulate. The fact that blacks are 7.5 to 8.5 more likely to be arrested than whites for the possession of marijuana is appalling. President Obama directly addresses the issue when he referenced the injustice occurring in our judicial system. He begins,
I think there’s no doubt that our criminal justice system, generally, is so heavily skewed towards cracking down on non-violent drug offenders that it has not just had a terrible effect on many communities — particularly communities of color — rendering a lot of folks unemployable because they got felony records, disproportionate prison sentences.
Cool Story Bro
The youth of America is responsible for the changing views on marijuana. As marijuana becomes increasingly accepted, and more unbiased studies are conducted it is becoming more apparent that the United States’ initial marijuana laws were a hyperbolic reaction to manic stories and racist views. Marijuana had fallen through the cracks of what is an otherwise sound way of drug scheduling, and it is shocking that these laws have held up as long as they have. The old views on marijuana, which created the foundation for modern laws, were based upon untrue, manic stories. This, however, is what makes it the perfect symbol of a rebellion. Marijuana is the face of a changing America that wants to disregard illogical, antediluvian ideas in turn for a racially blind society, countercultural society: the new hippie generation.
The hot topic of the legalization of marijuana is a fad that is fostered by its popularity amongst the American youth. To put it simply, marijuana is hip. While marijuana is cool, the laws surrounding it are not. Marijuana laws are rooted in racism, and they continue to target minorities. Next time you hit your bong, Jamie, think about the 700 thousand blacks that are arrested for doing the same thing. Fairness is cool. This isn’t fair. Who is our next Martin Luther King Junior? It can be any of us. Grab a joint and join the fight. Legalization is the next step to equality. The next step to cool.