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Vivian McPeak

On this 420 holiday it is time to finally end the “pot shaming”

Another year has rolled by and another stoner’s holiday is here (as if anyone really needs an excuse to light up for the smoky celebration). Millions of high quality pot enthusiasts will be enthusiastically seeking a quality high. In the eight states that have flipped, recreational stores will be slinging bud as fast as they can process payments as a new growth industry struggles to satisfy the supply and demand aspects of the market

One thing we can predict that will also accompany the spectacle of the 420 celebrations will be media pot shaming in all of its glorious forms. However, that is finally starting to change.

The Giggle Factor

For some reason the media has not been able to resist the curious urge to embed a double entendre in the captions of every cannabis related news story. For decades we have seen headlines such as “Is legalization just a smokescreen?” or “State delivers harsh toke of reality to activists.” There is really no other subject that gets that same treatment.

There has been something inherently funny about all things cannabis to non-users. For decades pot activists have been subjected to ridicule and “potshots,” and anyone who has been out in the public collecting signatures or generally advocating for legalization has heard all the jokes that don’t seem to apply to the enthusiasts of other substances.

While it is nice that cannabis seems to bring a smile to the faces of many people who are not a part of the culture, it is still a subtle form of prejudice and dismissal akin to that which other racial, cultural, and religious minorities often receive.

Often in media interviews or political talk shows when a commentator wants to characterize someone’s ideas or concepts as absolutely childish or asinine they will say things like, “well, I don’t know what he’s been smoking, but…”, as if any thought generated by a pot smoker has no possibility of credibility or accuracy. Never have we heard something like, “well, I don’t know what she’s been drinking but…” even though alcohol, for example, can cloud a person’s judgment or decision making.

Let’s forget the reality that some of the greatest art, music, and writing has been generated by people who were ravenous consumers of pot, or that the supposed deadbeat losers who smoke pot have managed to force legalization in more than half of America’s states. Pretty good for a bunch of unmotivated slackers!

The Cultural Judgements

While tobacco and alcohol are responsible for thousands of deaths annually Americans who imbibe these substances are not in any way exposed to the degree of prejudice and bigotry that cannabis users have grown to expect.

Pot smokers have known damned well that they had better hide their use if they were looking to find a job or housing because the stigma attached to cannabis is so great that even casual users will be judged as if they were addicts.

Cannabis users still risk the loss of child custody in many communities, and those who are arrested and convicted of pot “ crimes” are routinely required to complete drug treatment programs whether or not they exhibited any history or signs of addiction. All pot use is considered abuse by some healthcare professionals and treatment “experts.”

Then there is the way that some mainstream folks associate cannabis with the counter-culture, as if that is an indication of some dismissive factor, or some relegation of cannabis use to the lower social classes. An entire article could be written about the way that cannabis users have been judged by holier than thou tobacco and alcohol users who supported prohibition. After all, pot smokers were using an addictive drug, something these folks were just too smart and responsible to even consider. Right?

And you’d think people with dreadlock hair in tie-dyes and Birkenstocks had caused the majority of wars and environmental damage on the planet the way mainstream folks laugh at them from their glass houses. I think some of the finest and most responsible human beings dress that way and it should be nothing to be ashamed of. The 1960’s cultural associations have been successfully used to demonize pot for decades. It needs to stop.

The Reefer Madness double standards

We can expect news articles that focus on the dangers of cannabis, citing issues like stoned driving, suicidal teens, a propensity to schizophrenia, and other health dangers. While there may be some truth to the reports, these “dangers” will be presented as if they are taking place in a vacuum. The implication in many of these pieces will be that legalization creates societal problems that are so threatening that perhaps prohibition is a good policy.

Well, prohibition is not a good policy for several reasons, but the most striking reason may be that prohibition does not eliminate or even really reduce use. Then there are the racial inequalities that result in a disproportionate degree of people of color and the economically underprivileged wallowing in jails and prisons. And there are also the constitutional erosion that prohibition creates, treating pot smokers like they are second class citizens subject to a heightened and disproportionate degree of enforcement and persecution.

The biggest reason that prohibition is bad , however, is that there is nothing criminal about getting high.

The reality is that alcohol abuse causes many more suicides than cannabis ever has, and alcohol can cause signs and symptoms of mental illness including depression, anxiety, psychosis, and antisocial behavior. These can happen during alcohol intoxication and also during withdrawal. Some pharmaceutical drugs come with warnings about the proclivity to suicide that they can elicit in the patients taking them.

Tobacco use is potentially deadly for every single long term smoker as well as anyone inhaling their second hand smoke. Now it is being reported that residual “third hand smoke” is deadly for children for up to 5 years. Every year thousands of people who are using tobacco products exactly how they are intended to be used die from the effects of their tobacco consumption. Thousands more suffer from a variety of deadly diseases directly attributed to their tobacco use. It is reported that the single biggest form of roadside litter is discarded cigarette butts, potentially poisoning wildlife.

Pharmaceutical drugs kill thousands annually. It is common for television commercials advertising pharmaceuticals to include a long list of potential side effects featuring a litany of  potential life threatening complications.

But you will not hear many people suggesting we put people who drink alcohol, take pharmaceutical drugs, or use tobacco into jails and prisons by the hundreds of thousands. You will not hear those people demonized and stereotyped in any fashion similar to cannabis enthusiasts.

Millions of Americans routinely expose their children to their tobacco or alcohol use, but if a pot smoker does the same thing they may risk a criminal conviction. If a small child eats a pack of cigarettes or drinks a bottle of alcohol it could kill them, but should a child get a hold of a cannabis edible (which cannot kill them at all) it is treated like a life threatening situation by law enforcement and health professionals. Of course, alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis should be stored far out of children’s reach at all times.

All of this inequality is because of the way society views cannabis and people who use the herb either medicinally or recreationally. Cannabis enthusiasts have been treated on par with some of the most violent criminals in society for decades despite the fact that the dangers of cannabis pale in comparison with these other substances.

While nobody wants to see children using pot the irony is that in states that have legalized it kids have a much harder time accessing ganja. Anyone truly concerned about youth use should be an ardent supporter of legalization.

Now that we have several states selling cannabis to adults over the counter there is enough data to reveal that the concerns about legal cannabis sales were exaggeration, hyperbole, and outright fantasy, generated by decades of state sanctioned scapegoating, character assassination, bigotry, and prejudice.

All the cannabis culture has been asking for is equality. If somebody screws up on pot and does something wrong they should pay for it, but the consequences should be in proportion to the act and equal to comparable consequences for the users of other substances. It is time to end the pot shaming and treat people who use cannabis like the otherwise normal Americans they are.

Lately there has been a big shift in the way the media reports about cannabis. Now that the recreational weed industry is a billion dollar industry a sense of legitimacy has been established and that is reflected in a more serious tone in many recent news media reports.

It’s about time. Simply put, we are never going to go away. We are here to stay.  In fact, we are growing like a plant in fertile soil, and our seeds are dropping everywhere. Let’s roach the pot-shaming and allow cannabis enthusiasts the respect and the dignity that they deserve, just like anybody else.

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