As states like Washington and Colorado legalize cannabis for recreational purposes and many other states begin to realize the medical potential of cannabis, it is apparent that the future looks bright for bud. Yet the road to nationwide decriminalization is not without its bumps. With the exception of the two states mentioned, the country is still sluggish in its attempts to decriminalize cannabis completely. Even California, known as the cannabis capital of America, has yet to legalize recreational cannabis and is seeing the constant closure of medical marijuana dispensaries. Even here in Riverside, dispensaries seem to disappear without a trace; the G6 dispensary, to name one, is now only a faded dream to cannabis smokers.
What is clear is the nation’s hesitance toward complete decriminalization. While many argue that this is purely the government’s doing, “the man” shouldn’t solely be to blame. A potentially more potent obstacle for cannabis is the decades of association with the slacker and stoner, “It’s 4:20 somewhere” lifestyle that can hinder cannabis’ acceptance into mainstream American society, with supposed connections to lazy lifestyles and, for you older folks, reefer madness. According to the Washington Post, a majority of people now find marijuana to be less harmful to one’s health than alcohol and are supporting its legalization. So our country is moving in the right direction in terms of legalizing a product that has no reason to be illegal. But still, the younger generation and its perpetuation of stoner stereotypes can leave those skeptical few to see cannabis as something inherently wrong. So, rather than direct government prevention, cannabis legalization is threatened by the stereotypes that are circulated by the government of the past and the cannabis culture itself.
Conservative America, and its media especially, is determined if nothing else. They always manage to pull out excuses, like rabbits out of a hat, to keep cannabis’ unwarranted villainous reputation. Right Side News, the self-dubbed, “Right News for Americans” published an article claiming that the liberal media constantly tries to cover-up cannabis’ role in developing mental illnesses in criminals; the author cited a doctor who stated that “none of my work involved the study of marijuana use.” The same author wrote another article for RenewAmerica.com with the title, “Pothead gets 25 years for trying to kill Obama.” Articles such as these plague the national psyche, making cannabis into a scapegoat, attributing tragic events to a drug no less harmful than caffeine. These types of articles will always be posted by radical conservatives, but what is truly problematic is a biased media’s ability to infect the population with skewed opinions, potentially preventing curious new patients from trying cannabis as a medicine in fear of becoming a schizophrenic president-stalker.
It’s safe to say that cannabis and its users tend to not take themselves too seriously, with cannabis strains bearing names like “Grand Daddy Kush” and “Alaskan Thunderfuck.” Although these names are fun and pretty hilarious, from a conservative standpoint, they can be perceived as crass and immature, reinforcing cannabis as the dreaded “dope” rather than a remedy for the physically ill and good time for the mentally chill. However, these strain names show the nature of cannabis culture: It forfeits the uptight in favor of a more easygoing persona. Unlike the prescription drugs that pharmaceutical companies push to their patients with rigid, medical names, cannabis realizes its place in the more laidback part of the community.
Still, these strain names are just a single example of how stoner culture can alienate skeptical patients. The reality is especially apparent in social media with the “4/20 everyday,” #wakenbake mentality that seems to influence our generation’s stoners. Cannabis, just like anything recreational, can be abused and by posting those kinds of phrases only shows conservative America that it is being abused.
Yet, among the cannabis aficionados reading this, you may be wondering why stoner culture, which is perfectly delightful as is, should cater to “conservative America.” Cannabis culture shouldn’t change to please the conservatives, but seeing how slowly legalization is moving across the nation means there are still misconceptions lingering in the public mind, and to simply perpetuate what is wrong with drug culture further justifies the unjust, unlawful war on drugs.
Cannabis culture and its reception are truly in the eyes of the beholder, but as cannabis legalization steadily ventures across America, some changes to accommodate the skeptical are bound to be made. I hope cannabis culture persists for those willing to embrace it and those curious enough to partake in it, because it is a culture centered around camaraderie and tranquility, characteristics needed in contemporary American society. Even with a culture that can be seen as problematic, it is partly the responsibility of mainstream society to see beyond the persisting stereotypes and biased news.
Luckily for us, cannabis is now being taken seriously for its medical benefits and its lack of negative side effects compared to alcohol and tobacco, and the ignorance that for so long shrouded our country is now gradually dissolving. Perhaps, within our own lifetimes, we will see cannabis legalization nationwide. Maybe by then popular music will actually be good music, maybe Taco Bell will come up with even more flavors of Doritos tacos — and maybe, just maybe, war will become obsolete and humankind will begin to approach each other with unconditional love and equality. But until then, there is always Colorado.