Music thumping, bodies sweating, people vomiting—this is a familiar scene to most college students. The drug-fueled party is a fixture in almost every American college. At these events, the real life of the party is alcohol, derived from the Arabic word al-kuhul, the definitive social lubricant, a drug as ancient as civilization itself.
Since the first king waved a big stick and proclaimed “I am your master,” man has always enjoyed the singular pleasure of knocking back a couple brewskis with the bros.
The story of alcohol is fabled and epic in sweep, and its commodification has had considerable impacts on history (see: the Atlantic triangular trade). It continues to be consumed widely today, and its use will likely never disappear. In short, man loves his alcohol.
There is another drug which alters the mind, which enhances social interaction and which is likely to never cease being used—cannabis, known commonly as marijuana. Hailing from the misty mountains of Central/South Asia, cannabis is one of the world’s most widely consumed drugs.
While it has never been as popular as alcohol at any time in its history, cannabis has been used in various ways since antiquity. Hemp fiber and seeds have been used for clothing and food, respectively, for thousands of years. Herodotus, the first historian, wrote that the Scythians consumed its vapor in their funerary rituals.
In America today, the primary obstacle to the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana is the common, uninformed and reflexive prejudice against it and its users. This attitude of condemnation is commonly shared by people who nonchalantly celebrate the use of alcohol, a universally more dangerous and addictive drug. Double standards, man. Now, I know what you are thinking: in the name of Gilgamesh, not another legalization argument.
I will spare you the oft-treaded path of legalization advocates who cite the complete lack of overdoses, the scientific findings, etc. as evidence that marijuana should be made fully legal.
In brief, the picture of marijuana, for those who choose to accept it, is becoming increasingly benign. For those willing to make a reasoned, impartial judgment, it is impossible to deny that the harm of marijuana is grossly overstated in our culture.
But of course, it is impossible to make a reasoned, impartial judgment when you are blinded by prejudice. Like other biases, the stigma of marijuana is based on fear of the unknown, baseless conjecture, and narrow, personal experiences. People are also indoctrinated to believe that marijuana is an evil, corruptive substance from an impressionable young age.
As a result, people making reasoned arguments for legalization are commonly met with panicked objections of, “Marijuana is a gateway drug. It starts with pot, before you know it, you’ve overdosed on heroin!” I like to imagine the “gateway” of marijuana to be like the fiery black gate of Mordor. It’s dark, terrifying, and exists only in a fantasy world.
Obviously there are many people who experiment with more dangerous drugs by starting with marijuana—but is there a definite causal relationship between marijuana itself and more harmful drugs? Maybe the reason marijuana is perceived as a “gateway drug” is because it is mostly acquired (in its current condition) on the black market, where more dangerous substances are also acquired.
Maybe people who are willing to do harder drugs just happen to start with marijuana because it is the most commonly available black market drug. If marijuana were sold above-ground, this probably would not be an issue. But people who are ridden with anxiety and fear will not even consider alternative explanations.
It is impossible to do so when your mind is clouded by prejudice. Instead of considering objections, marijuana critics recoil at the idea of pot like proverbial hobbits (to extend the analogy)—creatures that live in an insular world, creatures of inveterate habit that refuse to amend or challenge their old ways. These marijuana-hobbits are not interested in listening to objections to their ideas, but in believing what is necessary to sustain their convictions.
Many of these same people will jokingly say, “I need a drink” when under stress. It is glaring hypocrisy. And if you want to see examples of hypocrisy, who but Jon Stewart should you turn to? We can always count on him for his beautifully crafted juxtapositions. In one episode of his show, he showed clips of commentators going on a tirade about the dangers of pot.
Then he rolled a clip of the Today Show. “Aaaand it’s Wine day Wednesday, best day of the week!” Next, a commercial of a man riding a surfboard out of a giant can of Coors Light, surrounded by women in bikinis. The point is clear—excepting people who abstain from alcohol on moral or religious grounds, alcohol is loved and celebrated in our mass culture.
Alcohol is so beloved in our culture that it may as well be a sacrament. Wait a second… it already is! Let us have another round, Reverend—this one is on me. Alcohol, as an institution, is so sacred that many people do not even recognize the hypocrisy in celebrating its consumption while condemning marijuana. Again, why is it acceptable for a group of adults to get smashed at a wedding, while it is an aberration for a couple of friends to hang out on a Saturday and toke?
The real question is, where does the stigma come from? Like most prejudices, it probably comes from a few superficial characteristics. Just compare the appearance and methods of ingestion of each drug. Alcohol, for all intents and purposes, is just like any other liquid.
It’s ingested in (nearly) the same way. Hence its use throughout history as a substitute for water. It tends to come in pretty, clear bottles with nice labels. Its advertisements depict suave, Don Juan-esque characters achieving Herculean feats of virility. Now compare that with marijuana. In its current, black market state, it comes in sketchy little baggies. The ways it is ingested are not exactly graceful. It stinks (Alcohol does too, but not nearly as badly).
So in essence, marijuana, like homosexuality, is “icky” to those who condemn it. It also has a working-class connotation that sends conservative old white men like Bill O’Reilly into DEFCON 1. There is no getting around it—“reefer,” from the days of Louis Armstrong (who smoked pot, and was one of the great talents of American music) has been associated with minorities and the lower class.
Compare that to expensive pills, like Jordan Belfort’s beloved Quaaludes. Of course there are rich guys who smoke weed, but the overwhelming perception among fear-mongering polemicists like O’Reilly and his ilk is the notion that weed will turn your perfect, Caucasian, middle-class angel into a do-nothing gangbanger.
The judgment that marijuana is the friend of the apathetic loser, like other attitudes, is narrow-minded. Do you think that marijuana abuse is the only thing that will keep someone from holding down a job?
Alcohol abuse is just as problematic in that domain. To continue with the already labored Tokin’—er—Tolkien analogy, Gandalf and Frodo smoke “shire-weed.”
Would you describe either of them as “unmotivated?” I did not think so. In short, the frightening projections that run through the minds of anti-marijuana crusaders are not endogenous to the drug itself, but to abuse of the drug. Like any drug, there are responsible and irresponsible users.
There is a ridiculous double-standard in our culture’s attitudes toward marijuana and alcohol. The prevailing attitude against marijuana is facile at best. It is based on class anxieties, the “icky” characteristics of the substance, stereotypes of its users, and a shallow appeal to historical precedent (It is bad because it has been illegal for x number of years), rather than a reasoned consideration of facts and evidence.
It’s about time America’s marijuana-hobbits challenged their knee-jerk anxiety about marijuana, considered the facts, and made an educated, impartial judgment.