By James W. Jesso
A Sudden Realization
When someone first smokes cannabis, and the conditions are right, something remarkable and concerning happens… The user is suddenly thrust upon a world of wonder, relaxation, humor, passion, creativity, and perhaps even gnosis. The cannabis trance dissolves the invisible bars of a psychic prison held together by an ignorant and incorrect drug education program and rhetoric. It opens a gateway to seeing how demented, contorted, and flat out wrong much of what they have been told about the world truly is.
Next thing you know, that same kid who was smoking marijuana starts reading about philosophy and history and questioning authority. Maybe they will even go so far as to eat LSD or magic mushrooms and reconnect themselves with an inner spiritual authority that can completely dismantle the socially conditioned obedience, stupidity, and mediocrity that it has taken generations to establish!
Ok, maybe I went too far in my parody there, but in all seriousness, that paragraph above isn’t too far from the mentality of the early years of cannabis prohibition and was a major contributor to the US President Nixon’s launching of the War On Drugs in 1971. The deviant behavior of young people in the early era of cannabis prohibition was a strong factor that led to its criminalization. During Nixon’s era, the spread of cannabis use, as well as LSD (an extension of Beat culture, which was an extension of early Jazz culture), was rampant among anti-war and civil rights activists, which was a threat to the established power that needed to be squashed.
Going back even further, in the 20s and 30s, cannabis was seen as a social danger jeopardizing racial segregation, its use was associated with young white people fraternizing with people of color, enjoying their music and attending their events, which was very concerning to the white elitist ideals of the United States government. The first US drug Czar, Harry J. Anslinger, who is responsible for the very first legislation banning cannabis use in the Untied States, is also responsible for the films like Reefer Madness, the perception of drug addiction as a criminal matter rather than a health concern, and quotes such as “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind” and “reefer makes darkies think they are as good as white men”.
Cannabis—the safest, easiest to access, and most widely known drug to the counter culture in those times (and even still)—was indeed a truly dangerous ‘gateway’ drug.
The foundations of modern day prohibition come from a history of lies, racism, unjust laws, and political rhetoric. Despite cannabis’ impending pseudo-clemency, these ever-present origins continue to echo through institutional drug education and into the minds of young people. The manner in which we educate our youth on cannabis usage remains driven by fallacious drug prohibition rhetoric.
Despite its incredibly long history of use alongside the human species, the establishment of its criminality being forged by corporate manipulation and fanatical racism, despite the reality of how reasonably mitigated and few the harms of cannabis are, it gets tossed the same category as heroin and cocaine, “illicit drugs.” This needs to change and one of the first things we need to do is to stop pretending that cannabis is a dangerous drug. It’s not.
Although making responsible choices in our usage to avoid unintentional harm is important, cannabis is a very safe drug. In fact, vastly safer than most of the drugs that will be prescribed to us by our doctors throughout the course of our lives.
We cannot continue to simply blanket all “illicit drugs” as holding the same risks and dangers. A clear differentiation between the potential harms and dangers across the vast spectrum of different drugs needs to be made (this is called “harm reduction”). When we don’t do this, and cannabis gets lumped in with the rest, then not only will the potential dangers and potential benefits of cannabis get lost in the mess of falsity, politics, and propaganda that constitute the majority of our society’s paradigm around “drugs;” but the disillusionment of youth educated into a broken drug paradigm that denigrates cannabis alongside heroin will set them up for risky behavior and dangerous choices.
We are moving in the right direction when we are moving into legalization here in Canada (although the government still has ample opportunity to make a dysfunctional mess of it all). But along with our progression into legal access for responsible adults, we as adults need to progress into educating our children how to be responsible. That starts with learning the facts (and releasing the rhetoric and lies) and speaking honestly with our youth.
In the same way that we shouldn’t teach our children Santa Clause is real knowing full well we are lying for what we pretend is their benefit but is only in favor of our own self-interest, we shouldn’t teach children cannabis is a dangerous drug like heroin and meth, knowing full well that isn’t true either.
We should educated ourselves properly so we can tell them the truth and then, in having earned their trust by way of our integrity, offer them guidance that helps them make responsible, well-informed, and mature choices.