April 19, 2012

Reefer Madness

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In 1971, a group of students at San Rafael High School in California began congregating around the statue of dairy demigod Louis Pasteur at 4:20 p.m. each day to smoke cannabis and search for an abandoned crop of illegally grown plants. They never found it, but 4/20 became a countercultural rallying cry for smokers everywhere.

4/20 has become to pot smokers what St. Patrick’s Day is for drinkers — the same absurdity. Today, the University of Colorado at Boulder plans to shut down its entire campus to prevent the yearly congregation of 10,000 people (and ~30,000 joints) on Norlin Quad, a hazy space equivalent to the Arts Quad here at Cornell.

In Colorado, Amendment 64: The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012, seeks to enact a more sensible policy. The CDC pins the number of alcohol-induced deaths in 2009 at 24,518, excluding accidents and homicides. Why are there much stricter policies for cannabis as a drug, despite its relative safety?

Remember that picture of President Obama in a straw hat smoking a joint? Last week at the 6th Summit of the Americas, Mr. Obama said, “I know there are frustrations [with the War on Drugs] and that some call for legalization…the United States will not be going in this direction.”

Legalizing all drugs may not be the best policy, but perhaps the legalization of cannabis would be something more akin to the “middle ground” sought by presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala.

Pledging to reduce the “southbound flow of money and guns to the region” looks great on paper, but so far the United States’ actions have been focused on the supply-side. Did they sleep through ECON1101? The Mérida Initiative provides money and guns to the region; cartel profits still rise, and nothing changes.

While the profile of your average cannabis user has changed, the image has not. Look at the way Michael Phelps was demonized after pictures of him ripping a bong [like a champ] surfaced on the Internet and became an international scandal. The man won eight gold medals! Cannabis is not exactly performance enhancing, but it helps with eating 10,000 Calories a day and sleeping, though.

All forms of media are responsible for perpetuating a number of stereotypes about “stoners” that are entirely false. That engineer next to you in your Fluid Dynamics prelim could be blazed out of his mind. How about the Above the Influence commercial with the talking dog? These media campaigns receive support from tobacco and alcohol companies, Phillip Morris and Anheuser-Busch for example. The pharmaceutical industry still funds Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which is just as absurd as it reads.

Today, Ritalin, Klonopin and Oxycontin are commonplace. These are not harmless drugs by any means. Yet cannabis is still a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (1970), which means that it has a “high potential for abuse” and no medical use. While a good portion of medical marijuana patients may not have a medical need, the American Medical Association reversed its stance on marijuana in 2009 and encouraged the government to pursue cannabis research. So why Schedule I?

Those who profit from the illegality of cannabis are satisfied with the status quo. It’s like Weeds on Showtime. I hate this show, and I’m not a hater. The producers of this show have made a lot of money exploiting the image of weed and juxtaposing it with a lot of half-naked Mary-Louise Parker. I’m not sure most people understand that Weeds is just a rehashing of 1930s Reefer Madness sensationalism, when cannabis and hemp became an issue for those who sold competing goods.

The stoner film genre isn’t any better. However, that should not prevent you from enjoying a wonderful Friday with your close friends, watching a good movie (The Big Lebowski is my personal favorite) and not thinking about issues like laws regarding cannabis. To quote Chris Tucker in Friday, “I know you don’t smoke weed, I know this; but I’m gonna get you high today, ‘cause it’s Friday; you ain’t got no job… and you ain’t got shit to do.”

Prof. Carl Sagan said it best in a piece he wrote the same year those Californians coined the term 4/20: “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” It is unreasonable to expect change from the couch. To blindly continue with unsuccessful policy is the real fog of reefer madness.

Original Author: Patrick Cambre