Support drug reform? If you do these, you’re not helping your cause.

I spend quite a bit of my free time reading news articles, blogs, and other internet media about the war on drugs. While it’s great that there’s so much support out there for ending prohibition, I can’t help but notice that a lot of my fellow anti-prohibitionists are doing a lot of things that hurt the cause. Here I’ll list three of these things and try to explain why, at least in my opinion, they’re not helping.

Stop making drug reform a partisan issue

One of the biggest things I see – especially on message boards and in comment sections on articles – is well-intentioned Democrats putting all the blame on Republicans for prohibition and for less restrictive drug laws not getting passed. It’s obviously true that Democrats support drug reform at a higher rate than Republicans. I’m not arguing with the results of pretty much every poll out there on the subject. However, the GOP or even conservatism in general is NOT the problem. In fact, both 2012 presidential hopefuls that have explicitly stated their support for pot legalization (Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) are Republicans. Obama constantly dodges the issue when he’s asked about it and even on the rare occasion that he actually answers questions about it he gives a canned answer or flip flops around and changes the subject.

What I’m trying to say is, let the Republicans in on our efforts! If we keep drug reform as an exclusively liberal issue, it will be a hell of a lot harder to get anything done. For one, there are plenty of prohibitionist Democrats out there – just as there are plenty of anti-prohibition Republicans out there. The only thing accomplished by making this a partisan issue is the alienation of a lot of conservatives who would otherwise at least consider supporting an end to prohibition. There are several good arguments against prohibition on both sides of the two-party coin – in fact, I tend to favor the conservative-leaning arguments for reform myself – so why shut out a good chunk of people and arguments that can only help the cause? Getting rid of the liberal “flavor” drug reform has in a lot of people’s minds can do nothing but increase support.

Quit hiding behind medical marijuana laws

This is related to my last point about shutting out good arguments. A lot of people I’ve seen interviewed about medical marijuana (which we should really be calling medical cannabis – I’ll touch on that point later) insist that “we only support sick people having access to marijuana and are completely against personal use!” First off, 99% of the time you pretty much have to be an idiot to actually believe that. Second, people who do support legalization of personal use have an awful lot of explaining to do later on if they use that line. It would be infinitely better for them to say something along the lines of “I personally think recreational use should be allowed, but this particular bill we’re talking about now only applies to medical use.” Medical cannabis laws are a good first step towards full legalization, but it’s a lot harder to get beyond that first step if supporters have already established themselves as only supporting medical use.

Stop calling it marijuana!

This one will seem like I’m just nit-picking at first, so I’ll start off with a simple question: Who uses the word “marijuana” the most? I know it’s not the people who use it, at least not the ones I’ve met. Pretty much every pot smoker I know generally says “weed” or “bud,” with a few saying “herb,” “green,” or “ganja” in casual conversations amongst themselves. Otherwise, “pot” is overwhelmingly the word of choice. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Joe Stoner refer to the plant as “marijuana” without a humorous undertone, with the possible exception of legal contexts. “Pot” (and to a much lesser extent “weed”) also seems to be the word of choice among non-users – non-users covering a wide range of demographics, from the guy who would take a toke from time to time if his job didn’t drug test him to the guy who has no interest or opinion on the plant to the guy who thinks all pot smokers are idiots.

So I’ll ask it again – who actually says “marijuana?” The answer is hardcore prohibitionists – the “drugs are bad, m’kay?” crowd. Politicians, prosecutors, police, people in the “treatment” and drug testing industries who want to make a buck off your “addiction” whether or not you’re actually addicted – these are the people who use the word “marijuana.” Why do they call it marijuana? Why not just call the plant cannabis, its actual name? When pot first became illegal in 1937, Harry Anslinger and his prohibitionist cronies used yellow journalism to plant the seeds (no pun intended) of fear in people’s heads. This included getting people to associate cannabis with blacks and hispanics, a problem still seen in the justice system today despite statistics that show drug use to occur at similar levels across races. Below is an example of Anslinger’s taking advantage of his era’s prevalent racism:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.” Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

In fact, the word “marijuana” has its origin in the early prohibitionist movement. The word was invented not by hispanics but by racists trying to build an association between hispanics and cannabis. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read up on early 20th century medications. Cannabis was a key ingredient in a lot of these medications, and I can guarantee you that the word “marijuana” is nowhere to be found on the labels. Instead, the labels called the plant what it is – “Cannabis sativa” or “Cannabis indica.” So be careful what words you use when you talk about the legalization movement – the word “marijuana” has a built-in negative connotation that permeates through its little-known origins even today.

I hope anyone who reads this finds it helpful, or at least puts more thought into their conversations about prohibition. Smoker or not, liberal or conservative, professional protester or barely pays attention, it doesn’t matter. As long as you believe the war on drugs is a failure, you can help move things in the right direction. It doesn’t matter if you email elected officials in your state, hold up signs on the capital steps, or even casually bring it up when talking to a friend. Anything that gets people to think is a step forward.

-Cantrell

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