Sara Klimek

Does the phrase ‘reefer madness’ bring back the memory of watching black-and-white films as a kid, seeing how people supposedly stumbled about after smoking marijuana?  Do you remember sitting down in your middle-school class and listening to your teacher drone on-and-on about why you shouldn’t ever pick up a joint?  Do you associate marijuana with urban thugs, cartels, and prisons or old, white hippies smoking away the remains of the counterculture movement?


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Our perception of marijuana is changing every day as new media highlights how the drug has become a part of our lives.  We learn about it in politics as some states debate decriminalizing or legalizing the drug for recreational use.  We can watch it, in shows like Disjointed and Weeds.  Some of us even eat hemp seeds as a source of protein.  No matter how you perceive marijuana usage, there is an inarguable ambiguity that exists in our perception of marijuana and its use.  But, perhaps it’s more important to look at the ‘who’s who’ of pot.  Who is ‘allowed’ to light up?  Who is impacted most by its use?  And who decides if it is permissible?

Let’s start with an overview of marijuana.  Cannabis (the plant) is native to Central and South America.  Users often smoke the bud of the plant, which contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabinol (CBD), and over 111 other known cannabinoids.  THC is typically more psychoactive than CBD, meaning someone who smokes the bud can experience euphoria, relaxation, and a release of endorphins.  However, CBD counteracts many of these responses.  CBD has been scientifically known to decrease seizures, slow inflammation, and even stop the spread of tumors in the human body.

There is a way to isolate CBD from THC so that users do not feel the psychoactive effects, but there is no way to completely remove THC from the compound.  Under federal law, any product that contains THC is illegal, even if states have legalized the use of recreational marijuana.

And if this couldn’t get more confusing, there are still ambiguities concerning hemp and whether it is legal or not Hemp refers to the stem and leaves of the plant, which are some of the strongest materials known to man.  You can find hemp bracelets, hemp insulation, and hemp seeds on the legal market.  Under federal standards, hemp has less than .3% of THC and is legal for educational and professional purposes.  However, the criminal policies of many states limit how much hemp one can possess, and the new political administration may foreshadow an end to this ‘super material.’  

Aside from the nitty-gritty of marijuana, few people realize the vastness of conversations that it can spark up.  You can talk about its botanical anatomy, various uses, and even the intersectional influence that is taking over the cannabis industry.  For example, Ophelia Hong, an Asian American woman, learned about marijuana from her sister who suffers from an autoimmune disease.  Ophelia saw the lack of representation from people of color, seniors, and the LGBT community in the marketing of marijuana.  She united her passion of photography and desire to make the community more inclusive to all by founding Stock Pot Images.  This website displays high-quality images of marijuana and the people who use it.  She’s keen to capture people from a variety of genders, ages, orientations, vocations, and races rather than just marketing pot through images of scantily-clad women in thongs.

So why should you care about marijuana if you don’t smoke it, enjoy looking at artistic renderings of it, use products from the marijuana plant?  In short, there are a complex mess of power relations and legal issues that govern who ‘can’ use the product.  Take the recent statement from Cynthia Nixon, former actress and candidate for governor of New York.  In a video posted on her Twitter, Nixon claimed that ‘80% of New Yorkers arrested for marijuana are black or Latino.  The reality is that for white people, marijuana has been effectively legal for years. Isn’t it time to legalize it for everyone else?’

Nixon clearly calls attention to the racial inequality that exists in the possession and distribution of marijuana in the Empire State.  Like with any kind of drug possession, law enforcement retains certain biases towards individuals who they suspect may be in possession of narcotics.  Racial profiling, the physical expression of existing racial bias, occurs in all parts of our lives.  It can be implicit, meaning that we do not see the result of preconceived notions regarding race, or explicit, such as when the persecution of narcotics focuses more on communities of color than on whites.  Those who are caught with possession of narcotics more than twice can face a minimum of 90 days in prison and fines of over $5,000 (on a federal basis, certain states may have stricter policies).  Furthermore, the sale of any amount of marijuana carries more than $250,000 in fines and may result in anywhere from five years to life imprisonment.  In many less-affluent communities across the United States, marijuana distribution provides a critical source of income.


As active members of our society, we need to consider how we perceive marijuana and the people who use it.


In order for voting citizens like you and I to consider legalizing marijuana, we have to defeat both legislative blocks and societal norms that prevent us from discovering what this plant can provide.  The Washington Post estimates that the federal legalization of marijuana would generate over $132 billion dollars in revenue and over a million jobs.  Eight states have legalized the possession of marijuana, but at an immense moral cost. Marijuana is a drug, whether we like it or not.  THC can cause addiction and dependency, in the same way that big tobacco took America by storm.  Using marijuana comes with certain stigmatizations, many of which are perpetrated by years of media portrayals and, frankly, a lack of understanding of the chemical components that make marijuana what it is.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should limit ourselves in utilizing and understanding the marijuana plant.  Hemp has the potential to replace plastic packaging as a biodegradable material.  Medical use of marijuana can allow CBD oils to improve the lives of terminally-ill cancer patients and reduce seizures in children with epilepsy.  It can even be used as an intersectional way to express artistic creativity.  As active members of our society, we need to consider how we perceive marijuana and the people who use it.  By looking at the use of marijuana through a new lens, we may be able to discover the  benefits that would incur from destigmatizing its use.


Sara is an editorial intern at bSmart and student at the University of Vermont. She plans on going to environmental law school upon graduating.

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