How “Recreational Marijuana” Divides Us
Following up on my recent articles about calls for unity within the cannabis community, I’d like to talk about the term “recreational marijuana”.
It’s a strange term. Nobody refers to themselves as a “recreational (cigarette) smoker”. There are no “recreational smokers” because all use of cigarettes is the same; what other kind of smoker is there?
Likewise, there are no “recreational drinkers”, although sometimes people will refer to themselves as “social drinkers”. What’s the difference? Well, “social drinker” stands in contrast to “alcoholic”. “Social drinker” is a badge one wears to signify he’s not a “problem drinker”. Yet, still, “recreational drinker” doesn’t work, because whether one drinks socially or to excess, drinking is always presumably done for the same reason – fun.
But “recreational marijuana consumer” is, by definition, a term of division. It is a badge used to signify those people who are not “medical marijuana consumers” or “sacramental marijuana consumers” (or, for that matter, “industrial hemp consumers”, but that’s a different subset based on a different plant, so we’ll table that part of the discussion.)
It wasn’t always thus. Prior to marijuana prohibition, you were just a “cannabis consumer”, and it was coming in the form of patent medicines. Yes, there were some who smoked marijuana, like, say, Louis Armstrong, but their cannabis use made them a “marijuana smoker” (or a “viper”, in the parlance of the times). Nevertheless, pot smokers were all the same and why they were using it did not matter.
But as medical marijuana re-emerged in the 1970s, there now became a need to distinguish the “patient” from the “pothead”, because we decided, through the Supreme Court in Robert Randall’s case leading up to the California Compassionate Use Act and the rest of the state medical marijuana laws, that some of the people using marijuana had a legitimate-enough excuse that they shouldn’t be put in a cage.
That division was amplified in the rhetoric of those fighting to make the “medical marijuana” distinction. “We’re Patients, Not Criminals” was a popular tagline for bumper stickers, t-shirts, and campaign speeches, and medical marijuana supporters ignored the tacit implication that if you’re not a patient, then you must be a criminal. It wasn’t just that we’re all pot smokers, but the sick and dying should be cared for first. The framing of medical marijuana ensured that so-called recreational marijuana consumers still deserved to be caged.
“Medical marijuana” and “sacramental marijuana”, meanwhile, implicitly support the frame that one must have a legitimate excuse to use marijuana, otherwise one belongs in a cage. In addition to separating the so-called recreational consumer from those worthy of protection from arrest, those terms also separate the people within those groups on the basis of where they fall on some outside observer’s spectrum of respectability. Elderly cancer patient, sure, you’re a medical consumer, but teenager with anxiety, maybe not. Black Rastafarian with knee-length dreadlocks, sure, you’re a sacramental consumer, but white guy who joined “The Church of Cannabis” formed a few years ago, maybe not.
“Recreational” also sets up a frame to dismiss the civil rights issue we’re discussing and place it instead in the realm of a discretionary thrill. “Recreational” is four-wheeling or scuba diving or hiking – things you do, not rights you own. “Recreational marijuana consumers” are just hedonists looking for a thrill, fighting for the right to get high, who have no medical or spiritual justification for doing so.
So hereon, let’s start rebuilding the unity by clearing our frames from those that separate us. There aren’t “medical consumers”, “sacramental consumers”, and “recreational consumers”. There are just “adult marijuana consumers” who enjoy marijuana for “personal use”. “Adult” and “personal” are frames that invoke rights and privacy, rather than suggesting we need approval for our use of marijuana.
Fighting for “adult marijuana consumers’ personal use” frees us from the inherent division of the other terms. Your personal use may be medical, spiritual, or just for fun; the reason why is irrelevant. No authority has the jurisdiction over what you put in your body and do with your mind, period.