In Pot We Trust
Sometimes it can be difficult to understand why our opponents are so strongly opposed to marijuana legalization.
We bring up the statistics that show marijuana is safer than alcohol, and we can’t understand how they can accept so easily the dangers inherent in the most dangerous recreational drug, yet think there is some terrible danger in allowing the most benign recreational drug.
We show how cannabis has never killed anyone in seven thousand years and has myriad uses as a medicine, yet those who begrudgingly accept that it keeps chemo patients from puking and epileptic kids from seizing still insist that cannabis only is allowed as the medicine of last resort, after all other pharmaceuticals and surgeries have been tried.
We demonstrate how marijuana prohibition falls disproportionately upon young and minority communities, destroying lives with a criminal record and propping up a violent, tax-evading underground market, but to the extent we have a few states where voters have recognized those issues, they still insist that cannabis use and cultivation be severely limited and hidden from the public.
It makes no sense if you are, like me, a fan of using facts, science, reason, compassion, truth, evidence, and logic for basing your decision.
But once you recognize the war on marijuana for what it is, it makes perfect sense.
For me, it’s easy to see, because I am an atheist who grew up in Idaho. The Gem State is a mighty religious place, dominated in my corner by Mormons and Nazarenes. You know the former as the religion so dedicated to the “body is a temple” idea that they reject not only alcohol and tobacco, but also caffeine. You may know the latter as the religion that forbids dancing, makeup, and provocative music.
Our First Amendment guarantees us the right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion. You can be an atheist like me, an orthodox Jew, a devout Muslim, you can even worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster (are you touched by His Noodly Appendage?) But you will never have any doubt that you are living in a Christian-dominant country.
When I’d fly into Boise, where I lived most my young adult life, the first thing you see descending out of the clouds is a thirty-foot lighted cross that sits upon a bluff called Table Rock. You can see that cross from just about anywhere you’re standing in Boise. It’s on private land, so it seems constitutionally legit. But I can tell you if someone proposed a thirty-foot lighted red pentagram on their private property, visible all around town, there’d be a furor that would probably end with taking both down.
That’s the kind of mentality we’re dealing with from marijuana’s opponents.
When you walk around your town, there’s no doubt you see numerous Christian churches. Flip through your TV channels and I’ll bet you find four or five dedicated to spreading the Christian religion. Pull some money out of your pocket and you’ll see “In God We Trust” on every bit of it. This time of the year, you’ll hear music everywhere you go shopping reminding you of the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. Maybe it seems very natural and acceptable to you; as an atheist, it reminds me viscerally that I am part of a loathed minority.
When we propose marijuana legalization, to our opponents, we’re not just changing a law, we’re changing the culture.
When you walk around your town, there’s no doubt you see numerous taverns and pubs. Flip through your TV channels and I’ll bet you find four or five commercials dedicated to promoting beer drinking. Walk into any convenience store and you’ll see a well-stocked beer aisle in every one. This time of year, you’ll even be offered a terrible egg-based alcoholic drink made specifically for the season.
With legalization, it’s as jarring to their cultural mindset as if we proposed putting up that thirty-foot lighted pentagram, changing our money to say “In Goddess We Trust”, and playing Druidic folks songs over mall loudspeakers as we shop for our Saturnalia gifts.
That’s why they insist that our cultivation be kept out of public view. That’s why they can’t handle the idea of social use clubs, especially if comingled with alcohol. That’s why there must be stiff penalties for smoking marijuana in public. That’s why medical use must be severely controlled and restrained.
For if we actually treated marijuana like alcohol, it would become culturally acceptable. Just like some Christians bristle at our culture slowly recognizing that other religions exist by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, some people feel like accepting other substance users’ rights somehow demeans or diminishes their own.
For them, the world of legal marijuana must feel like Dearborn, Michigan. When they walk down the streets of Dearborn, where they’d expect to see churches, tie-wearing missionaries, and perhaps a kosher deli, they see mosques, hijab-wearing women, and perhaps a halal deli. They can’t help but realize they are a minority Christian in a majority-Muslim neighborhood. It’s one thing to say you believe in the Constitutional freedom of religion, quite another to experience from the minority point of view.