The Social Enigma of Marijuana Legalization


As we look towards the future of this country, more specifically the state of Illinois, we can see drastic changes being made on issues like taxation, healthcare, crime and even, marijuana – a shift that would have been shocking even a decade ago.

When I first heard about the legalization effort in Illinois I was, to say the least, excited. I wasn’t very involved with the community, but I supported their pursuit of happiness. There would soon be less crowded jails, less worry about my friends getting arrested, and less stigma around its usage. My friends were vocal too, many of whom were under 18. I got a call from my brother soon after, talking about how great this is and how he’s now much less worried about legal and social repercussions. Three weeks later, he was suspended for smoking. Not for smoking marijuana, but for cigarettes. 

I was not angry. I was not disappointed. I was just confused. I thought about whether this made any sense. Is marijuana really a gateway drug? My brother was a good kid and he had told me how great weed was, and I had not thought he smoked before then. How could he have possibly concluded that tobacco was ok? I always thought that marijuana could not possibly be a gateway drug, but the suspension made me question my stance.

After consulting with my brother, I realized that in this situation, marijuana was not a gateway on its own. There was no introduction to tobacco from marijuana. He simply smoked cigarettes because smoking marijuana “is just, like, not cool anymore, dude.”

The legal changes that made my brother’s usage of marijuana “not cool”, encouraged societal change. When one’s own government supports an idea, a societal greenlight, or an intangible token of legitimacy, is given to it. Depending on the movement, this can be good and bad. In the case of marijuana, its illegality attracted people to it so that they could seem rebellious and cool. But, that portion of marijuana culture will be lost soon due to societal normalization, leading tobacco and other unsafe substances to fill that void. Things such as cigarettes are legal, but the disapproval of its use in my brother’s case served much the same purpose that marijuana’s illegal status used to.

I am no scientist by any means, but if individuals are going to use any kind of drug marijuana is relatively safe. But, sadly, the efforts to legalize marijuana indirectly promote unsafe alternative substances to fill the societal void left in the wake of marijuana’s legalization. There are many downsides to the current laws in most states regarding marijuana, as 52% of all drug arrests are for this drug, with most of these arrests falling disproportionately on low income minority communities. However, in moving too far in the other direction we risk the societal shift towards unsafe alternatives such as tobacco.

It’s easy to legalize a single substance, yet it is impossible to ensure other substances don’t fill that void. The punitive measures against harmful substances have created demand for them by making them appear alluring and mysterious. Clearly, simply declaring things illegal will not solve the issues, but legalizing vices leads to its own issues, with people looking for the next “edgy” product. We can never truly encompass every cultural situation and create an equitable interpretation on paper, and that should be acknowledged when enacting drug legislation, specifically with marijuana. 

Author’s note: 

Of course, not everybody uses marijuana because of this specific culture. Recreational users have their own motivations for using the substance, as well as their own cultural values and intentions. This analysis in no way reflects every user’s incentive and rationale. In the same sense, no piece of legislation could ever reflect them either. In this analysis I merely tell my perspective through my own frame of reference.

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