The Many Different Faces Of Marijuana In America

Jun 12, 2013

On Tues­day, Ver­mont moved to decrim­i­nal­ize the pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana for quan­ti­ties up to an ounce, replac­ing poten­tial prison time for arrests with fines. Peter Shum­lin, the state’s gov­er­nor, made a telling dis­tinc­tion between weed and “harder” drugs when he announced the move. “This leg­is­la­tion allows our courts and law enforce­ment to focus their lim­ited resources more effec­tively to fight highly addic­tive opi­ates such as heroin and pre­scrip­tion drugs that are tear­ing apart fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties,” he said. The idea that weed isn’t that big a deal and that gov­ern­ments need to read­just their pri­or­i­ties is pretty com­mon. There’s lit­tle vocal anti-pot gov­ern­ment out­cry, no tem­per­ance move­ment ana­log for cannabis. Recent polls have found that a major­ity of Amer­i­cans think mar­i­juana should be legal­ized. Even our main­stream faces of stoner cul­ture are gen­er­ally silly, harm­less and ami­able (Jeff Spi­coli, Cheech & Chong, Harold & Kumar, and what­ever Snoop is call­ing him­self these days) except when they’re revered and saintly (read: Bob Mar­ley). On TV, there was Weeds, a dram­edy about an upper-middle-class widow who starts sell­ing mar­i­juana to make ends meet. Change the drug to some­thing else like heroin or meth, drugs with more sin­is­ter rep­u­ta­tions, and it becomes some­thing much darker. You’d pretty much have to go all the way back to Reefer Mad­ness to find a widely seen film that por­trayed pot as dan­ger­ous or threat­en­ing. (And the whole rea­son we all know about that movie is because the con­cerns at its cen­ter are often mocked as kitschy and histri­onic.) Mona Lynch, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine who stud­ies the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, says that stereo­types of mar­i­juana usage in pop­u­lar cul­ture don’t come across as very threat­en­ing. “There’s not a lot of uproar around mar­i­juana [as] a crush­ing prob­lem,” she says. But this image of weed use as benign recre­ation or banal nui­sance doesn’t square with another great fact of Amer­i­can life — the War on Drugs. And more and more, that War on Drugs means mar­i­juana. Ezekiel Edwards, the direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union’s Crim­i­nal Law Reform Project, says that 10 years ago, mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion arrests made up 37 per­cent of all drug arrests. And now? “Half of all drug arrests are now marijuana-related,” he says — and 9 in 10 of those are for pos­ses­sion. The focus of the con­tin­u­ing law enforce­ment bat­tle on mar­i­juana lands dis­pro­por­tion­ately on peo­ple of color. The ACLU crunched some Jus­tice Depart­ment num­bers on drug arrests, and released a much-discussed report last week on their find­ings. The upshot: African-Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for pos­sess­ing mar­i­juana than whites, even though blacks and whites con­sume weed at about the same rate. For blacks — and black men in par­tic­u­lar — mar­i­juana is a gate­way drug into the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. “The thing that was shock­ing about the report was the per­va­sive­ness, that this [dis­par­ity in arrests] is hap­pen­ing every­where,” Lynch tells me. “It’s hap­pen­ing in small towns, big towns, urban and rural.” Both Edwards and Lynch say that part of the rea­son mar­i­juana is get­ting more atten­tion from law enforce­ment agen­cies is that police depart­ments are being sub­si­dized with lots of fed­eral dol­lars to stop drugs, but the crack epi­demic has since waned. “Insti­tu­tions don’t like to shrink,” Lynch says. “It’s actu­ally a reverse kind of pat­tern — drug arrests are going up [even] as crime drops.” At the same time that marijuana’s become a more cen­tral focus of the War on Drugs, there are plenty of busi­ness types who are already mak­ing their plans for sell­ing mar­i­juana after, uh, all the smoke clears. They’re try­ing to give pot an alto­gether new face: as a widely avail­able com­mer­cial prod­uct backed by big busi­ness. No one knows what that mar­ket might even look like quite yet, but it could be incred­i­bly lucra­tive. Might you be able to cop some weed at your super­mar­ket behind the counter with cig­a­rettes? Would your favorite cof­fee shop start sell­ing some “extra spe­cial” lattes? What about an over-the-counter headache med­i­cine pack­aged in a box with a lit­tle green leaf in the cor­ner? Seri­ously — it might not be that far-fetched. Don Pel­licer, a com­pany that hopes to open mar­i­juana stores in Wash­ing­ton and Col­orado, is look­ing for investors. Vicente Fox, the for­mer pres­i­dent of Mex­ico, was a guest speaker at a Don Pel­licer event last week, and has said that he would grow mar­i­juana if weren’t against the law. “Once it’s legit­i­mate and legal, sure, I could do it,” he told reporters. “I’m a farmer. Pro­duc­ers of all types can par­tic­i­pate.” (Fox, it’s worth not­ing, used to run Coca-Cola in Mex­ico, and its sales jumped by 50 per­cent dur­ing his tenure.) There are already vend­ing machine com­pa­nies work­ing on cannabis-dispensing kiosks for retail stores for the peo­ple who don’t want the has­sle of humor­ing those talky con­nois­seur types. “The way we see it, when you walk into a shop, you don’t need the expert or afi­cionado to help with selec­tion,” says the head of one such vend­ing com­pany. “The peo­ple who are using this in the recre­ational space — they know what they want, and they don’t want to hear the whole spiel every time.” And there are all the indus­trial, non-psychoactive appli­ca­tions. Hemp fiber, which is espe­cially strong, is already used in all sorts of tex­tiles. One researcher told writer Doug Fine that a decade after weed became legal, a domes­tic hemp indus­try would sprout up in the United States to the tune of $50 bil­lion a year — which would out­pace the esti­mates of what smok­able reefer would bring in. “When America’s 100 mil­lion cannabis afi­ciona­dos (17 mil­lion reg­u­lar par­tak­ers) are freed from deal­ers, some are going to pick up a six-pack of joints at the cor­ner store before head­ing to a bar­be­cue, and oth­ers are going to seek out organ­i­cally grown heir­loom strains for their veg­etable dip,” Fine wrote. So now we have to rec­on­cile the many dif­fer­ent faces of mar­i­juana — a jokey, pop-culture sta­ple, a con­tin­u­ing fas­ci­na­tion of law enforce­ment agen­cies whose atten­tions fall dis­pro­por­tion­ately on peo­ple of color, and the poten­tial cash crop of a bright, green future. Which of these will give way? Or will any of them? Source: National Pub­lic Radio (US) Author: Gene Demby Pub­lished: June 12, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 National Pub­lic Radio Web­site: http://​www​.npr​.org/ Con­tact: http://​www​.npr​.org/​c​o​n​t​a​ct/

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The Many Dif­fer­ent Faces Of Mar­i­juana In America

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