Legalizing marijuana is something that has been discussed for decades now. Today, it is not as revolutionary as it once was to support marijuana legalization. According to a recent Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans are in favor of legal marijuana. This is the highest support the drug has gotten nationally since the drug became illegal in 1937. Though still illegal under federal law, many states have already legalized or begun legalizing recreational marijuana. It is high time North Carolina joins those states.
Marijuana has existed and been used by humans for thousands of years. In cultures all over the world, people use the plant for spiritual and medicinal purposes. It wasn’t till the 1920s with prohibition of alcohol that marijuana became popularly used recreationally in the United States.
Once prohibition ended and alcohol was legal again, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics needed to maintain its level of activity. The Bureau worked to create propaganda that depicted marijuana causing insanity in its users, as well as violence and rape towards white women. The campaign was so successful that in 1937, Congress banned marijuana at the national level despite the lack of scientific data to support the claim that marijuana causes insanity or violence.
In 1972, Richard Nixon commissioned a scientific study on marijuana to find the real effects on the brain. The commission found that excessive use of marijuana can lead to memory problems and cognitive issues. They studied the effects of different rates of usage and found that even in the heaviest users, marijuana does not cause insanity or violence, thus debunking the claim and the reason marijuana was initially illegal.
Nixon rejected their findings and began the war on drugs, in which marijuana became heavily criminalized. The President’s efforts resulted in the creation of minimum sentencing laws, which gave first-time violators years in prison. Why did they do this? John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s personal aid put it best in 1994 when he went on record to say “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying?”
It was clear that the administration could not make it illegal to be either against the Vietnam war or to be black. However, by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana, and African Americans with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, those communities could be disrupted. The government could arrest protest leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. The current drug laws are based on political chess from the Nixon era and we’re still hurting from it.
Despite the history showing that marijuana was criminalized for sinister reasons, it is still illegal in most states and under federal law. Recently, states have started either legalizing medicinal marijuana, recreational marijuana or simply decriminalizing it, which reduces the severity of punishments towards the drug. But decriminalization still is not enough.
North Carolina is historically known for growing tobacco, a crop that people smoke and kills thousands of people a year. Marijuana, a crop that people smoke and kills nobody a year, is illegal. It could be to North Carolina’s benefit to take advantage of the marijuana demand and start growing, possibly replacing tobacco as our cash crop. Along with the profits from exporting marijuana to other states, the tax dollars that would be made from legal purchases in the state could go towards fixing our nationally shamed school system.
America is still following an old law, built on political agendas, and it is only now that people are starting to realize it. More states are starting to see why keeping marijuana illegal is ridiculous and it won’t be long till it’s legalized everywhere. North Carolina should join the legal states and end the insane prohibition that has sent so many people to prison for unjust reasons.