Why was weed outlawed in the first place? It comes down to racism, simple as that. It had nothing to do with the drug itself or its effects on people. In the early 1900s, Mexican immigrants crossed the border and brought with them their intoxication of choice: weed. Eventually, a nationwide law was passed that made it illegal everywhere. Things stayed that way until the 60s when white college kids started getting really into pot. Suddenly, they didn’t want to impose such harsh punishments on those kids.
Anti-Asian racism was also a huge motivator: in the 70s, Nixon aired his theory of drugs and societal downfall: “Drugs had retarded the growth of Eastern civilizations while alcohol was considered to be a character-building tonic to the Vikings, the Anglos and the Saxons. Asia and the Middle East, portions of Latin America, I have seen what drugs have done to those countries. Everyone knows what opium has done to the Chinese. The Indians are hopeless. Look at the North countries: the Swedes drink too much, the Finns, the British have always been heavy boozers and of course, the Irish but they survive as strong races.”
On January 1, 2018, it became legal for dispensaries in California to sell weed for recreational use. California’s policies are different from the other 8 states where there is legal weed though: For a start, they allow residents convicted of drug offenses that would not be crimes under the new order to have their records erased. In the past, if you were white and caught with weed, you were let off the hook. If you were black or Latino, then you probably got a life-ruining jail sentence.
Moving on to the tipping point for the wave of acceptance of weed and how it all started with an Asian American: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was the CNN chief medical correspondent. In August 2013 on CNN, Dr. Gupta went on CNN and publicly changed his position on weed from being against it to being completely in support of it. The reason for this was because he spent the year researching medical marijuana for a documentary called Weed and the evidence he found is what led him to a mea culpa. A few years earlier, in 2009, he wrote a piece for Time magazine called “Why I Would Vote No On Pot.” Back to his spot on CNN. He said, “Marijuana has very legitimate medical applications and in fact, marijuana is sometimes the only thing that works.” He also said this, “I calculate about 6% of the current US medical marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana. The rest are designed to investigate harm. That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture.”
Once the government lost Dr. Gupta, who verified that we’d all been lied to for the past 70 years, the war against weed was pretty much lost. It’s not just some random source when it comes from a man like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and he was willing to put his job and reputation on the line. After that, you had almost 82% of Americans in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana. (Weed The People by Bruce Barcott)
When the vote for legalization comes to your state, you are not voting to expand the corporate portfolio of rich white investors who saw a shitload of money to be made. You’re not voting to freely hand out drugs to children. You’re not voting for a deadbeat, unproductive society that does nothing but get high all day. Think of it as social justice. End the incarceration of several generations of black men who are not at all like these rich investors. White people and black people use weed in pretty equal rates but blacks definitely suffer disproportionately.
A lot of the backlash and unwillingness to legalize and decriminalize is because of bias. When it comes down to it, those not in support of weed just don’t like the kinds of people who use weed and want to see them punished. The national attitude about weed is changing along with attitudes about the criminal justice system.
In the words of Kylo Ren, “let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”
This article was originally published on Eliza Romero’s blog, Aesthetic Distance.