I’m 35, so I remember the days when teachers and parents would say things like Pot will rot your mind! Well, my mind is quick and quite sharp, and I have not walked through a gateway and into addiction to another drug just because I enjoy a joint now and again.
That’s why, like many people, I’ll be participating in April 20, better known as 4/20 — a massive, worldwide celebration of weed culture, freedom and (let’s be honest here) food. And if you unfortunately suffer from cancer (hopefully you recover quickly), according to the clinical research, this medicine — not “drug” mind you — will help inspire that appetite and prompt deep, peaceful sleep.
The term 420, which is most often attributed to police codes, actually began in 1971 in Marin County, California, when five San Rafael High School pals who enjoyed pot would meet after class at 4:20 p.m. by a statute of chemist Louis Pasteur. One of the guys became a roadie with a member of the band Grateful Dead, who caught wind of the code word created by the one-time students, and the rest, they say, is history.
'Destroy your life'
April 20, then, is the annual day of the year when cannabis enthusiasts light up, nibble an edible, laugh, eat, light up again, relax and perhaps listen to some Carlos Santana or TOOL — or maybe that’s just me — often in public places, like Civic Park in Denver, which has hosted an annual event since at least 2006, long before weed was legal in the state.
But if the sight of thousands of people congregating in a public place to smoke weed and listen to music doesn’t tick off the conservative anti-marijuana jackals, the reality that more states are welcoming weed with open arms certainly gets them fuming.
Take former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who was fired by President Donald J. Trump late last year: He has regularly opined that marijuana will “destroy your life.”
“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” he said. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”
South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel recently said that nothing else had “the potential to change South Carolina in a negative way” the way medical marijuana does. Connecticut Republicans inveighed against legalization earlier this year. And the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas continues to fight even decriminalization by claiming that “marijuana lowers IQ scores, increases criminality, has no medical use when smoked, and is addictive,” against scientific evidence.
But, much to the chagrin of the naysayers and fear mongers, it’s only a matter of time before marijuana is legalized at the federal level.
Currently, more than 10 states, including Washington, D.C., have passed laws legalizing recreational use of weed and that number looks to grow — or bud or bloom.
In Wisconsin, advocates and lawmakers there are working to fully legalize cannabis, both recreationally and medicinally. In Idaho, there’s a push to get medicinal marijuana on the ballot in 2020. New York is finally examining full legalization (though it failed this year), a ballot initiative is pending in Ohio and even Texas’ Republican Party has backed decriminalization initiatives.
What’s prompting these moves by lawmakers and citizens to decriminalize, legalize and approve medical marijuana isn’t only the booming weed industry, which brings in millions of dollars to states every year. (In 2018, the State of Colorado received $200 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales alone.) There’s also a wave of clinical research coming in that demonstrates the medicinal benefits of cannabis for those who suffer often debilitating maladies.
A new study in Minnesota found cancer patients benefited significantly from consuming cannabis. The benefits include increased appetite, decreased fatigue, less pain, a reduction in nausea and vomiting and far better sleep.
“It is encouraging to see this evidence that Minnesota’s medical cannabis program is helping cancer patients,” Jan Malcolm, state Health Commissioner, said following the release of the research.
Used responsibly and moderately
Yet there are still those who continue to demonize the plant and ignore the incontrovertible medical benefits of cannabis. Most of it focuses on usage among children (which no one is advocating) and the effects on a small percentage of heavy users (though few still support alcohol prohibitions despite its deleterious effects on a small percentage of heavy users).
True, there is empirical research demonstrating that daily smoking of potent weed can lead to a higher risk of psychosis. But weed is just like any other intoxicant, from alcohol to caffeine: It must be used responsibly and moderately and by adults and the potential for misuse by a few people doesn’t justify the criminalization of a substance for everyone.
The pros of decriminalizing marijuana — medical access, the end of disproportionate policy against minority populations, regulation of quality and taxation — clearly outweigh the cons, even if dotty, anti-weed apologists continue to claim that marijuana is “a gateway drug.”
But if marijuana is a gateway to anything it’s a gateway to a better quality of life for those who just want to eat, sleep, and feel better again. There’s a rush of research that says cannabis is good for you in moderation, we should pay close attention and listen to the science, the scientists and the patients, not the sourpuss pessimists and prohibitionists. Especially not on 420.
Simon Moya-Smith is an Oglala Lakota and Chicano journalist. His new book, “Your Spirit Animal is a Jackass,” published by Minnesota University Press, will be available in 2019
This piece was first published by NBC Think.