Friday, February 25, 2011

Legalize Don't Criticize

Pro-marijuana events have taken a hit over recent years. They are attracting much smaller crowds and societal pressures regarding marijuana use have scared many potential activists away. What remains is a core group of activists who attend every event, yet these people oftentimes end up preaching to the choir: themselves. Of course the media gives their usual apathetic coverage of the events, so the average citizen misses the point altogether. What they see is a bunch of potheads bitching about not being able to engage in illegal behavior. That is if they care to look at it at all.

The fact is, without some form of mainstream acceptance our rallies and marches have minimal impact. Many activists refuse to believe this and continue to organize without adding much to the bigger picture. Groups such as NORML tend to separate themselves from the recreational user and concentrate on political lobbies. And while they can be seen passing a joint with the common folk, their focus is clearly elsewhere. What separates the haves from the have-nots is mainstream support. Progressive thinking comes from progressive people. Does this mean Michiganders are conservative? Of course it does. And that requires a totally different approach.

The difference between liberal and conservative thinkers is that one thinks for themselves while the other thinks what they’re told to. And in spite of the fact that Michigan gave their support to John Kerry in the last election, they are doomed to think inside the box. To illustrate this, let’s look at the Ann Arbor Hash Bash.

The Hash Bash began as a student project at the University Of Michigan, a premier institute of higher learning, in 1972. It has since become a major pro-marijuana event, attracting such stoner-alumni as Tommy Chong & John Sinclair. Its reputation reached a peak when High Times, America’s pro-pot magazine, began sending their staff to cover the event. In the mid to late 70s the Hash Bash was a true cultural phenomenon, attracting thousands of activists and curious thrill seekers. Marijuana was openly smoked (as it should be) and there was a very low incidence of problems for the city. Some would say that the Hash Bash brought economic strength to the area, especially the restaurants and bars, and that our culture was a relatively well behaved bunch.

The residents of Ann Arbor didn’t really mind all the freaks that descended on their fine city every April. After all, it was only once a year, and they probably looked forward to the colorful pageant that is the marijuana culture. But at some point local politicians began frowning on the event. They saw it as a black eye to the city that so many “criminals”, many of which came from outside the area, chose to practice their negative behavior within their boundaries. Of course Michigan government, which has been in the grip of corrupt conservatives for quite some time, agreed, and the disassembling of our precious resource began. The arrests went up dramatically, and soon those swing voters, the weekend pot smokers, disappeared. The Hash Bash of 2005, while not generating many arrests, made nary a ripple in the minds and hearts of those who still believe that possession of a joint is a jailable offense. The crowd, a soggy crew of diehards, did their best to put the issue out there, and God love ‘em for that, but the lack of numbers downplayed any long term effect.

We need to get the people out to these kinds of events in droves. There needs to be thousands of chanting activists holding signs and decrying the inhumane laws surrounding marijuana. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, business owners, religious leaders. They all need to show up. But how to do that?

First of all, the average citizen does not feel personally affected by marijuana prohibition. They probably never bought or tried a hemp product, most were never busted for a marijuana offense, at least in adulthood, and many have bought into the gateway drug theory, which states that marijuana leads to progressively more dangerous drugs. They may not demonize the weed, but they certainly don’t support its legalization. News reports showing marijuana busts always feature footage of confiscated guns and shady characters, further condemning it for the average viewer. But we are compassionate. Right? We care about our fellow humans (I know, it’s a stretch). So the medical marijuana patient should be someone they at least respect. The problem is, medical marijuana is usually reserved for critically ill patients, making it a last resort for many. But the medical issue is certainly intriguing. Extra effort should be made to get these people out on the front line, not as poster children, but as symbols of the practicality of marijuana use.

The best way to get someone on your side is to demonstrate how they themselves are being affected. We know that millions of tax dollars are being wasted each year on busting potheads, many of which are honest tax-paying citizens. Illustrate this by passing out informational flyers at non-marijuana events such as concerts. Keep the flyer simple and non-offensive. For example, the phrase “Fuck The Police” should be avoided. Concentrate on the financial losses of the average tax-payer, including the cost of rehabilitation and incarceration. But get that message out into the mainstream. Work on that majority that can actually help change the laws regarding marijuana and hemp.

We know who we are. We know that we’re going to sign the petitions, march in the rallies, and support the legalization issue. But we’re not enough. This has become painfully evident by the stepping up of marijuana related arrests. We must sway the public if things are to change for the better. Even once a marginal victory is attained, the ultimate prejudice towards the pot culture will make that victory pointless.

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