The propaganda that marijuana is bad and will kill you is something we have all likely heard this for much of our lives. Now, as we are all adults and some begin to partake in this currently illegal substance, it’s time to have a real discussion on legalizing weed.
For starters, marijuana accounts for a whopping 0 deaths per year (NBC news), compared to 88,000 for alcohol (CDC) and 480,000 for tobacco (NIH). That being said, it’s not entirely harmless. In people under the age of 25-years-old, it can impair cognitive functioning and lead to memory problems, but a healthy adult will not any issues as long as it’s in moderation. Also, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, most people who try marijuana don’t even continue smoking marijuana, so claims of it being a “gateway drug” are outright false.
With the truth of the drug itself out there, we have to ask the question, why is it even illegal? Well it hasn’t always been so. The crop has been grown and used for centuries, and it’s been legal in the United States for most of the nation’s history. That all changed when Harry Anslinger needed a drug scapegoat in the 1930s.
Anslinger was the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and he was concerned about losing funding due to prohibition coming to a close. To save his own skin, he started claiming that marijuana caused violence, even stating, “Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters.”
The government knew this was not truly the case, but it stuck due to an even more important issue in the states: racism.
Most people at that time who smoked were people of Mexican descent who lived close to the border. The average white citizen didn’t like them, so they had no problem keeping the law in place. Eventually in the 70s, President Nixon was approached with the suggestion that marijuana be decriminalized, but he struck it down.
Here’s a quote from his former aide John Ehrlichman in 1994: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Today, the federal restrictions on marijuana exist for sadly the same reason. According to the New York Times, black people are four times as likely to be arrested for smoking pot than white people, despite both races smoking at about the same rate. So don’t chant to legalize it just because you want it to be easier to get high on the weekends. Do it because the government has been criminalizing drugs to oppress innocent people, and they’ve been doing it for decades.