Columnist reflects on marijuana legalization and the true meaning of 420

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By Michael Glassman Columnist This past Thursday was “marijuana holiday day” celebrated annually on April 20th (4/20). Pot-consumers from all over the world celebrate on this special day. The famous ‘420’, referring to weed smoking, originates from a group of high school students who used to toke together at 4:20pm. For decades the term wasn’t mainstream and was almost exclusively used by daily grass-smokers. Only recently has the term 420 become part of the mainstream vocabulary as weed’s stigma has faded. In 1969, according to a Pew Research poll, 84% of Americans were opposed to legalizing the sticky-icky. Today, according to a Gallup poll, 60% of Americans support legalization. This “sea change” in support for maryjane can be attributed to a few factors. First, research on the drug shows that cannabis use has the same as or lesser negative health effects as alcohol or tobacco. Former President Obama in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine said, “Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it.” Despite marijuana still being listed as a schedule 1 drug (the same as Heroin), his announcement demonstrates that scientifically marijuana isn’t that harmful. Second, marijuana and gay marriage were packaged together as supporting both or none at all. This messaging from the media and political officials increased legalization support because it pushed the issue to the front and center of people’s minds. The growth of the two movements overlapped supporters and therefore the two issues converged. Third, public support for legalization is thanks to the frontier states such as Colorado and Washington. In 2012 they were the first states to go full legalization by voter referendum. Most residents experience the benefits of the legal market. Tax-revenues increased, police officers focus on actual crime, job creation, bud-tourism (bud and breakfasts) and increased property values. The states acting as a laboratory for effective policy is exactly why other states such as Massachusetts have adopted similar plans. Fourth, legalizing nug has bipartisan support. Over 60% of self-proclaimed Democrats and moderate, liberal Republicans are in support. To show this further, libertarians or those in favor of less government intervention, argue that current marijuana laws are too restricted by the federal government. Individuals ought to smoke the ganja if they choose. Utilitarians – those who want to make everyone better off – understand that legalizing marijuana will reduce jail populations and increase tax revenues. America has the greatest prison population in the world. Lastly, one of the greatest factors for improving Devil’s Lettuce stigma is the publics’ anger towards the war on drugs. The United States is the world-leader in prisoners at over two million. Additionally, prisons are disproportionately men of color. A few writers such as Chris Hayes and Michelle Alexander suggest the drug war is a 21st century slavery system. For example, a New York Times article in 2015 titled “1.5 Missing Black Men,” says there are only 83 black men for every 100 black women because 17 men are incarcerated. In Ferguson, Missouri there are 40 missing black men for every 100 black women. Many of the ‘missing’ black men are in jail for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The American Civil Liberties Union says that in 2010 cops made one pot bust every 37 seconds. The prohibition of marijuana hasn’t been enforced equally. In the words of Senator Bernie Sanders, “an upper middle class white kid in Scarsdale, NY, has a much, much lower chance of being arrested for smoking marijuana than a lower-income black kid in Chicago or Baltimore.” More people understand how drug laws are unevenly enforced across class and race (I know because I grew up a upper middle class white kid in Scarsdale, NY). 420 is more than just a cultural phenomenon, it is representative of a fight for justice and the end to a racial and expensive drug war.

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