“Why do you think weed is so popular?” I ask close friend and confidant Jessica Banks via text message on a Saturday evening.
“Fine time to ask,” she responds swiftly. “I’m high right now. The feeling it produces is euphoric and enlightening. All the most awesome things become too good to be true.”
Banks is far from unique in her stance on marijuana use: a recent study places marijuana use on college campuses at a 35-year high. In 2014, almost 6 percent of college students admitted to smoking pot on a daily basis up from 3.5 percent in 2007, riding a wave that shows no signs of cresting anytime soon. These figures are far from a shock to anyone who has been staying in touch with the news; every day marijuana use is discussed by everyone from politicians to educators to law enforcers to users.
“I’m not shocked,” Banks says when I hit her with the statistic. “It reduces anxiety a lot, too.”
The Texas A&M University-Commerce campus has been far from immune from the uptick in Marijuana use; as reported in a cover story last year, drug arrests by UPD alone have risen from 13 in 2011 to 80 in 2013. Annoyed residents in residence hall New Pride have complained about the smell of weed in the air vents just five weeks into the new semester. Rumors of cops cracking down on the still illegal substance in Texas abound while claims that individuals smoking weed while leisurely walking down the campus sidewalks after sundown have arisen. Just two weeks ago, Wakka Flocka Flame, whose very name is an allusion to Marijuana use, performed a wild set at the A&M-Commerce block party.
Proponents for the legalization of Marijuana have drastically increased in number since it was first put to ballot in November 2010 in California (where it barely failed). Since then, four states (Alaska, Oregon, Colorado and Washington) plus Washington D.C. have legalized the recreational use of the drug while 19 others are allowing it for medicinal use. The effects have been immediate. Colorado (which has been using the revenue from marijuana sales as funding for schools and roads), for instance, has made so much revenue over the last year from Marijuana taxes, that they are considering refunding up to $30 million to its residents according to a recent article in the Huffington Post.
Supporters argue that the criminalization of Marijuana has led to the severely inflated prison system in the United States where laws like California’s Three Strikes Law can land people in prison for years or even lifelong terms for smoking weed. In a figure released in 2014, half of the federal inmates were in prison for drug-related offenses while state pens housed 53 percent for these nonviolent crimes. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have noted that the War on Drugs created by President Reagan and continued by President George H. W. Bush in the 1980s and ‘90s respectively has led to this astronomical figure and that it unfairly targets minorities and the poor. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush even admitted to smoking pot in his youth and that the laws are damaging to minorities. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has also admitted to smoking weed “twice” and that while it isn’t his thing “it is a lot of other people’s thing.”
However, critics argue that Marijuana serves as a gateway to “hard” drugs like Cocaine and Heroin and suggest that it should remain illegal. Republican candidate for president Carly Fiorina blamed the drug and others for the death of one of her daughters during the CNN Republican debate. Men in law enforcement also worry about the effects the drug could cause on drivers. Texas governor Greg Abbott has followed through on his campaign promise to continue to enforce the criminalization of weed users in Texas even as states across the country continue to decriminalize it. “I will see Texas continuing to lead the way of diverting away from activity that involves drug use and helping people lead more productive lives,” he said earlier this year.
But how did Marijuana become so popular? After Mexican immigrants introduced its recreational use in the 1910s (which accounts for the j in the formerly spelled Marihuana), it was heavily criminalized and pretty effectively stomped out by the 1950s according to a Bob Fox, a graduate from East Texas State University in 1960.
“I don’t ever remember seeing it” Fox said. “I don’t want to say it wasn’t there, but I don’t remember ever coming into contact with it. I knew a lot of people who drank heavily, but not that.”
But with the launch of the Hippy movement in the later ‘60s, Marijuana use become much more widespread and accepted. Though it remained illegal, possession of weed began becoming a less punishable offense as early as 1970 with the repeal of most mandatory minimum prison sentences for its possession. Though the War on Drugs heavily impacted most Americans’ views on other drugs, Marijuana use persisted and was eventually legalized for medical use in California in 1996.
Since then, the drug has continued to receive a more and more favorable view as millennials and a new way of thinking about Marijuana use come of age. Now more than half of the American public believes that recreational Marijuana use should be legal, a stark contrast to even 10 years ago when only 35 percent believed the same. Texas A&M University-Commerce student Glenn Stevenson, who we spoke to last year, is one of those individuals.
“By keeping it illegal, all we do is empower criminals,” Stevenson said. “We’re not stopping people from smoking. We’re not making people more moral, healthy, anything. We’re just taking something away from the government and giving it to the cartels. And they’re bringing it over here by the ton. Literally. And corrupting our children and shooting people.
“We’ve got alcohol legalized which everyone knows is way, way worse. You never hear about anyone smoking themselves to death.”
Stevenson believes that the only reason Marijuana use is dangerous at all is because of the smoke inhalation that comes with its use. But he also believes that if it was legalized there would be more of an opportunity for the substance to be consumed in less harmful ways.
“There’d be a lot more people eating it,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson suggested that there are many misconceptions about individuals who smoke weed including that they’re lazy stoners that don’t do anything else. In his view, people that smoke marijuana are just normal people who happen to enjoy an illegal substance.
“You break people down into a stereotype,” Stevenson said. “The hippy. The slow-talking, stammering fellow who barely even knows where he’s at. When in reality, most people are smoking weed and they just have the sense about them to not be all stoned in public. There are a lot of times where we want to be chill. But it doesn’t make you stupid. It does not mean you’re going to live in your mom’s house forever.”
However, senior A&M-Commerce student Roy Hobbs, who used Marijuana off and on for multiple years before completely swearing off of it in 2011, holds a different view about the drug. Citing the popular Instagram account Humans of New York, Hobbs tells the story of a teacher whose biggest concern isn’t hard drug use; it’s Marijuana.
“He said that Marijuana is the worst one,” Hobbs said, “Because students are unable to relate or experiment mentally or physically or whatever outside the use of the drug. So they’re physically limiting their human capabilities of experimenting with life. Because of that, the way students look at life is through the use of a drug.
“The drug can open up a world where you can talk philosophically about anything. It can provide enjoyment. However, all of these experiences are tagged with the drug that’s attached to it, that you use. That can be great for a social activity or an idea, maybe. But our personal experiences have shaped our life in a unique way like no one else’s. And by using this drug it’s creating a more uniform perspective. So by doing that, those students are limiting how they can experiment with life. So in that sense, I think it’s a bad thing.”
Despite his views on how the drug affects the potential for quality of life, Hobbs admits that the strain on law enforcement and government funding for extended prison sentences for nonviolent crime has been a problem facing our country. In Hobbs opinion, the ideal situation calls for the legalization of Marijuana, but with heavy regulation including drug free zones like college campuses.
For one reason or another, this view that weed should be decriminalized is becoming a bipartisan issue. When asked why he thinks the national viewpoint on Marijuana use has changed so rapidly over the course of the last several years, Stevenson cites one major influence: education.
“With the expansion of the internet, more and more people find out the truth about it,” Stevenson said. “They find out about the experiments that ‘proved’ that it’s bad for you. Like the stupid experiment about killing brain cells. That’s bogus. When you learn about it, you’re like ‘Oh. It’s just fine.’”
When I spoke with Stevenson a year ago, he made what at the time seemed like a bold prediction: that the recreational use of Marijuana will be legalized nationally by 2024. However, after a year of change in how the drug is viewed in society, he now isn’t sure that it’ll even take that long.
“I’ve thought that for three years now,” Stevenson said. “And I’ll be thinking about it for nine more until it happens. If anything, at this point I think that maybe it won’t take that long. But I’m still confident about that number.”