by Christopher Handwerger — Indiana University, Class of 2024
As a cannabis consumer who hails from Washington, DC, attends college in Indiana, and spends my summers working in Wyoming, NORML was an organization I had long been acquainted with. Among other things, it is the online repository of information regarding the legal status of cannabis in territories across the US; it has kept me well-informed and (largely) out of trouble.
That said, I’ve been lucky. Without question, I have not been subjected to the same scrutiny and punishments for cannabis possession and consumption that millions of others have been. I have not been a victim of the War on Drugs, nor has the majority of my family, friends, or colleagues. To be fair, I’ve been “victimized” – as society in general has been – by prohibition, and none of us are immune to the reverberations of such long-standing policy, but let us not lose sight of what lies at the heart of these issues: racism and xenophobia.
Why is it that I’ve been largely immune to the vindictive consequences of prohibition and criminalization? That’s how the policy was designed, I’d argue.
As a cishet white male that hails from a background of economic privilege, it is no wonder to me that I have not personally felt the wrath of the “justice” system when it comes to my use of cannabis. Those behind bars for cannabis-related offenses are overwhelmingly BIPOC and overwhelmingly hail from poor communities. This has been the case from prohibition’s inception. The Nixon administration then doubled down on this policy, as later acknowledged by former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” he admitted. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
There is no mystery here, and there should be no controversy either. I want to make a better world for myself, my family, my countrymen, and everyone else that I share this human condition with. I want to free those incarcerated for illegitimate “offenses” related to cannabis. I want those with medical conditions that are treatable by cannabis and its extracts to be able to address their afflictions as they choose, and I want the medical and scientific communities to have the ability to further investigate the applications of cannabis free from political interference. I want all Americans, regardless of their identity, to be free to use cannabis without fear, whether it be medically or recreationally. Those are my aims.
I chose to work for NORML this spring because I believe that the destigmatization and legalization of cannabis are crucial to creating a more just, equitable, knowledgeable, and free society. I think that we can achieve these goals by embracing the truth about cannabis rather than by fear-mongering, by ending the War on Drugs, by freeing those behind bars who have been convicted of cannabis-related crimes, by expunging criminal convictions related to cannabis, by utilizing the popular momentum that the legalization movement has across the board, and by smoking with those who are important to you.
NORML has been fighting to achieve many of these goals for more than 50 years, and as we inch closer and closer to the finish line – the inevitable end to cannabis prohibition – I want to be actively working to get us there.