Marijuana has always had a strange way of bringing people together--inspiring sudden friendships in the back rows of concerts, crossing boundaries of age and class, and even forging an unlikely bond between a New York Times columnist and her "marijuana miyagi." Jazz legend Louis Armstrong sums it up nicely: "That's one reason we appreciated pot...the warmth it always brought forth from the other person."
Of course, weed's unifying magic hasn't always prevailed. The criminalization of marijuana has been one of the most divisive issues in American politics for decades. But I think that our latest election (and the discourse leading up to it) has shown that pot is quickly becoming less polarizing in the political world. In fact, it's one of the only things that the parties seem to agree on. And I believe that's because voters are starting to discover that legal cannabis has benefits beyond getting high. Here are a few:
- More justice in the justice system. Marijuana prohibition is rooted in racism, so it's no surprise that weed-related arrests and incarcerations disproportionately affect people of color. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, although data reflects that blacks and whites use marijuana at about the same rate, blacks have been nearly four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana use. Legalizing won't solve the core of this problem, but it will help reduce or eliminate incarceration for simply enjoying cannabis. Additionally, if we put fewer people in jail, we'll also save a lot of money. Jeffrey Miron, a Professor of Economics at Harvard, estimates that legalizing marijuana would save taxpayers $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition.
"People hear the word 'marijuana' and they think Woodstock, they think tie-dye, they think dreadlocks," Correia told the Los Angeles Times. "It is not. These are legitimate businesses producing revenue, creating jobs. I want to be the face of it. I want to be what Congress sees."
Correia's attitude toward advocacy sounds a lot like my attitude toward entrepreneurship in the marijuana industry (though, unlike Correia, my business-minded approach coexists happily with enjoying the occasional cannabis-infused soda). I believe the way forward for marijuana is to walk away from the stereotypes and stigmas that that have accumulated over the years, and to recognize cannabis for what it is: a plant that has a lot of potential. Potential to create a new American industry, to unclog our courts, to fund our police and schools, and to respect individual choice. And it seems that, slowly but surely, the rest of the country is starting to agree.