Weed Is Now Legal In My State, Yet I’m Still Paranoid
As more and more states jump on the legalization bandwagon here in America, most recently New York and my current home state of New Jersey, you would think that puffing a joint would magically become a peaceful experience instead of something you have to do in secret, but that’s not the case. I mean it’s officially legal where I live. I can’t get arrested as long as I don’t carry over a certain amount or do anything too reckless. So…. why am I still paranoid?
I’ve always wondered whether being paranoid is an inherent aspect of getting stoned or it is something that derived from years of cultural and social misinformation taught about cannabis. But if you somehow got rid of all the cliche things that get stoners truly paranoid, would we all instead be holding hands and singing kumbaya? Is a world where it becomes common practice for people to use the magic herb to connect with nature, their inner self, and their fellow man finally possible?
As wildly utopian and unrealistic as that sounds the legalization movement seems to be nudging America into the direction of making that dream into a reality. It’s no longer a crime to light up in 15 of the 50 states, and that number keeps growing. American’s in countless cities and states have come out in droves to vote and support legalization, and for many of them, medicinal dispensaries have become essential in their communities.
The cherry on top is that there is obnoxious amounts of money to be made. Colorado, the OG of legalization that is constantly pushing new boundaries, has made so much money that officials are planning to put it towards the state’s education system. And even with fear-mongering about kids consuming weed in legal states, the rate of youth marijuana usage has actually dropped in the state since legalizing it. Turns out little Billy isn’t high, he’s just a bit derpy.
But despite all the clear perks, advantages, and positive outcomes that legalization presents, it still hasn’t stopped the onslaught of lies and disinformation that comes from various opposition groups and soccer mom book clubs around the country. And this, unfortunately, makes me less optimistic about the progress of our social perception (or clear lack thereof) towards the herb.
Reefer Madness and the Paranoid White American
The reality is that America has an ugly history when it comes to pot. The term ‘marijuana’ was used in the early 1900s with the intent of pushing hate towards Mexican immigrants, whose numbers in the states rose after the Mexican Revolution.
The infamous movie Reefer Madness, released in 1936, was originally filmed by a church as a warning to the parents of their community about the marijuana menace. It eventually became loved by stoners because it’s so ridiculous, you’d have to be baked to enjoy it. But in all seriousness, it does capture the frame of mind of the American public at the time.
Then there was the war on drugs, started by Richard Nixon in 1971, which was arguably racially motivated and still impacts the country today. Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman admitted years later that the drug policies were used to help take out the hippies and black people; they knew even back then that in order to do this they had to get the public on their side. Ehrlichman went on to say: “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
Leading up through the ’90s there were countless anti-drug campaigns that used media in all forms to push anti-drug sentiments. I remember as a kid seeing the wildest commercials with young people, just like me, wilding out after using the wrong drug. Remember the one with the girl who melted into the couch every time she got baked, much to her best friend’s dismay? And I’ll never forget the girl who came home to her dog in the kitchen, who proceeded to scold her for being stoned? Even though it was designed to instill fear or guilt in me, I remember instead thinking “damn, that must be some fire weed!”
Fast forward to today, and we are seeing states legalizing it and this whole movement of mostly young people that demand this be a priority. We are even seeing states begin to release those convicted of marijuana-related charges. So much is changing, and has been steadily for some time…. But the opposition pretty much stays the same.
It’s even kind of ridiculous to think that those opposed to the herb would magically disappear as it becomes legal, and that includes all of their supposed arguments and disinformation. Think of any of the wildest rumors and lies you’ve heard about weed and I bet you can find someone still spreading them as though they were credible. The widely disproven ‘Gateway Theory’ is still touted today by politicians like Chris Christie and even current president Joe Biden (although he has recently claimed he’s evolved on the issue).
And remember how my home state of New Jersey recently legalized it? Surrounding the signing of the bill, cops in the state quickly shunned it. In this article by the president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, Chief Lou Bordi says the state has decriminalized “the use and possession of pot for kids while putting cops at risk of being arrested for simply trying to do their job.” He goes on to argue for further revisions to clear up procedures for how cops are to handle young people caught with marijuana, which is absolutely relevant, but what is with attempting to redirect the actual intent of the bill by pushing this idea that its intent was actually to get kids high? It’s lame and dishonest… yet it still happens all the time, seemingly unintentionally.
Fear has been at the core of most anti-drug and marijuana sentiments. At every turn this country has pushed the association with minorities, criminals, and drug users on a fearful and paranoid public. This dishonesty has and will continue to have lasting effects. It has also been extremely effective at building strong stereotypes in the minds of people, even when they are not in positions to enforce the law. Such as the Detroit restaurant owner who told Facebook followers “if you smell like marijuana don’t even think of stepping inside”.
It seems that every other day another young person of color is killed by police, and what are the first two things always asked? Do they have a record and were there drugs in their system. In both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s cases, and many others, marijuana use was used to somehow discredit and justify the fact that both of these brothers lost their lives for ridiculous reasons. Even now, as the George Floyd case goes on, the defense’s best case is whether or not Floyd had drugs in his system.
I guess my overall point is that while I’m excited at all the new changes going on in this country, it’s easy to grow complacent and allow your guard to be let down. But I do believe there is still a strong anti-marijuana and stoner cult in this country. This can come in the form of a cop that stops you because you smell like bud or your good old neighbor Karen who thinks calling the police on you and your friends for puffing in your backyard is her American duty. Even if someone can’t get you directly in trouble, I believe calling someone out for being a stoner can still be used as an effective tool to discredit them.
Just like those people that can’t simply come around to the idea of supporting legalization without actually having to indulge themselves, I too have been inundated with propaganda and fear about weed for most of my life. I smoked for the first time as a teenager and it changed my life, but it also became a secret. I was constantly questioning myself and whether or not I was a “good person'” because I liked things like smoking weed. I’ve made far more friends than I’ve lost because of weed, but I’ve also been judged many times because of it. And I’ve also found that being black and a stoner garners me a different kind of treatment than my white stoner compatriots from society.
As much as I want to finally puff in peace and put my secret stoner past to rest, I just don’t think we are quite there yet socially. And until we begin to have honest conversations about drugs in this country and the proper way to handle recreational use, I think it will be quite a long time until we get there. I guess until then I will just have to be perpetually paranoid.