One of the appeals of California is its marijuana market. From high-end dispensaries to delivery services, there is no shortage of weed here. Marijuana use is medically and recreationally legal in California, so it’s no wonder that over 4.6 million Californians smoke pot. On the national level, many people are also more tolerant of marijuana use. It’s become more prevalent in pop culture and national media; for example, the popular Comedy Central show Broad City frequently portrays its main characters smoking weed.
A significant increase in marijuana-related write-ups at Occidental, however, suggests that our school is moving backward. Laws against marijuana have and will continue to contribute to the destruction of black and brown lives, and in an ideal world, Occidental would stop enforcing them.
Between the Fall 2017 and 2018 semesters, there was an 88 percent increase in marijuana-related write-ups at Occidental. An article from The Occidental cites California’s legalization of marijuana, college policy changes and increased emphasis on marijuana in RA training as reasons for the increase. But, as a seemingly progressive institution, Occidental College should be more tolerant of marijuana use and should not enforce laws that are historically based on stereotypical beliefs.
It’s important to note that Occidental is a federally-funded institution and thus must enforce federal laws, including those against marijuana use. The school may lose its federal funding if administrators and RAs don’t enforce these laws. This, however, does not excuse the unethical nature of our marijuana policy. Though this article may not result in immediate change, we need to speak out against unjust rules to encourage the possibility of change in the future.
Under federal law, marijuana use is illegal. The law treats weed as a controlled substance like cocaine and heroin — which seems like an unfair comparison, considering that marijuana alone has never killed anyone. Cocaine and heroin, however, have destroyed and even ended the lives of thousands of people, and opioid use caused 47,600 deaths in the US in 2017. Many people believe that weed is a gateway drug to harder drugs, yet this is not the case. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the majority of people who use marijuana stop there. The journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research claims that marijuana may be able to help treat opioid addiction, so marijuana can actually be used as an exit drug.
The federal laws on marijuana are not only based on poor research but also on a racist ideology that has halted the lives of many black and brown people. The laws stem from the War on Drugs, an anti-drug initiative which resulted in a disproportionate amount of black and Latinx people in prison for small drug-related charges — even though white people use drugs at a similar rate to black people. People of color were the targets of these laws because police officers mainly enforced them in urban, low-income communities. This has lead to a prison industrial complex in the United States. By the end of 2016, U.S. adult correctional systems supervised approximately 6,613,500 persons. While in prison, many black people work for private companies for barely any money: the average minimum daily pay to prisoners is around 83 cents. Some lose their right to vote even after leaving prison, since marijuana possession is a felony in some states.
In the future, these despicable laws should not exist, and Occidental should find a new model for its marijuana policies. New York City provides an excellent example. In May 2018, the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, instructed police officers not to arrest people for smoking in public. And of course, no one should be arrested for marijuana in New York City. In Dec. 2019, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo said he is working toward legalizing marijuana in New York and that it should happen in a matter of months. Occidental should be following these steps. As it waits for federal laws to catch up, it could take a leaf from de Blasio’s book and turn a blind eye to the current federal laws.
Residential Education and Housing Services has instructed Occidental RAs to call Campus Safety every time they smell weed, but a walk through Stearns on any given day is enough to prove that’s unrealistic. In New York, no one cares about the weed smell; so, following the greatness of New Yorkers, we should focus on more important things than punishing people for using a relatively harmless drug. Let’s be more tolerant as a community and stop implementing these discriminatory laws. It may be beneficial just to look the other way.
Mithila Chandra is a sophomore Critical Theory & Social Justice and philosophy double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.