A quick search for marijuana statistics reveals government websites focused on issues such as "behavioral risk factors," pregnancy, mental health, and hospital visits where marijuana is mentioned but not necessarily the reason for the visit. As states continue realizing the absurdity of the failed "war on drugs" by legalizing marijuana, the federal government continues its propaganda campaign with marijuana still demonized and listed as an illicit drug instead of a natural plant.
This is what makes U.S. Sen. Cory Booker's proposed Marijuana Justice Act so interesting. His bill would make marijuana legal on the federal level, not only medicinally but recreationally. But more than that, it recognizes how part of America's war on drugs has negatively affected many Americans, including a disproportionate number of people of color. The MJA would retroactively overturn existing federal marijuana sentences and expunge the records of those who have been convicted in the past.
Some may scoff at this proposal, saying that folks broke the law and should be punished, but Booker's approach suggests that the virtue of acknowledging America's treatment of marijuana and bigoted enforcement of existing laws could trump the breaking of an unjust law. It is a judgment on American policy.
This is not the first time Booker has introduced this bill. But now he is reintroducing it after announcing his campaign for president. A number of his fellow Democratic hopefuls have even signed on to the bill as co-sponsors, which speaks volumes about how our thoughts about marijuana have changed, at least in progressive circles.
Democrats are now realizing that supporting marijuana legalization could be strategic as they look to engage new voters, a group that may be larger than most people think and are not divided along red and blue lines. It is a stance that not only appeals to heady Phish listeners, but also voters aware of American inequality, libertarian-leaning voters, business-friendly voters, and of course politicians always eager to tap into new tax revenue streams.
Scott Weldon, director of Lowcountry NORML, a Charleston marijuana advocacy group, says the MJA is long overdue.
"The fact so many Democratic candidates are supporting marijuana legalization is exciting for marijuana users and advocates," Weldon says. "The war on marijuana has always stood side-by-side with oppressive and racist policies designed to benefit a few at the expense of many. As more states and, hopefully, the federal government release this miracle plant back to the public, we create a new path for stress-free enjoyment, medicine, and business."
Lowcountry NORML is focused on decriminalizing marijuana on the local level. However, they also point out the challenge marijuana legalization faces in conservative areas. Weldon says the group has encountered many individuals who want to support their cause, but will not even like their Facebook page for fear of being discovered and losing their job or being ostracized by social groups where the policy may not be as widely embraced.
The stigma against marijuana continues, with the debate confused by what amounts to propaganda to maintain the status quo.
Any public policy that creates fear for otherwise average citizens needs examination. We're not talking about violent drug dealers or sex traffickers. We're talking about youth sports coaches, lawyers, business owners, and just about anyone in any field who casually uses marijuana. They are people who need help sleeping but don't like side effects of sleep aids. We're not talking about an addictive, manufactured drug that kills people. We're talking about a plant with few proven side effects on public health that has already shown to be a valuable medical treatment and a generally harmless way to relax.
It is well past time to stop attacking marijuana and users. The roots of marijuana criminalization go back to a 1930s tax that sought to regulate and control a strange, new substance coming into the U.S. from Mexico. That law was ultimately ruled unconstitutional, but the demonization of those unknown to us continues. Does "bad hombre" sound familiar?
South Carolina runs the risk of falling behind as the rest of the country wakes up.
Check with Lowcountry NORML for information on how to contact your elected officials and urge them to support the MJA. The group also has info on active petitions and events supporting the decriminalization of marijuana in Charleston, James Island, and Folly Beach.
Ali was born in Greenville, SC but grew up in High Point, NC where he studied English/Writing at High Point University. He has called Charleston home since 2006.