MARIJUANA: the dried leaves and female flowers of the hemp plant

marijuana

It seems as if there are more inches of newsprint given over to the issue of the legalization of marijuana these days than to the civil war in Syria, the Russian threats to Ukraine, or the various tragedies around the world.   It is the “darling” topic of the media.

I suppose it all “took off” when Colorado made its dramatic move to legalize marijuana, thus putting a crimp in the airlines industry’s flights to the Netherlands.   Since that memorable day there have been state after state that have begun debating the legalization issue…or at least taking a look at the archaic legislation which surrounds this weed…especially the criminal penalties prescribed for its possession or use.

My first “encounter” with marijuana came in the second grade.  No…I didn’t smoke pot when I was 8 years old.  In fact, I’ve never smoked pot.  But it was in second grade that Mrs. Kennedy, our substitute teacher following the resignation of my true love, Miss Freeburn, taught us various ethnic songs.  Among them was the catchy tune, La Cucaracha.

La cucaracha, la cucaracha
Ya no puede caminar
Porque no tiene, porque le falta
Marijuana que fumar.”

We never were taught the lyrics in English.

The cockroach, the cockroach
Now he can’t go traveling
Because he doesn’t have, because he lacks
Marijuana to smoke.”

But someone in the 2nd grade class asked the question, “What is that word marijuana?”  In a very matter-of-fact way, Mrs. Kennedy said, “Oh, it’s just some drug that Mexicans smoke.”    That was all the explanation that was necessary.   It never went any further than that.   And, to the best of my knowledge, the incidence of smoking marijuana never took place in my school all the way through high school.  (Remember…this was the 40’s and 50’s. )  But as I have come to be aware of the significance of that word as an adult, the memory of that twenty seconds of conversation in my 2nd grade classroom remains with me, clear as a bell.

The significance of the plant has increased steadily over the years, to the point that it is shockingly common for friends of ours in their 60’s and 70’s to  talk openly and without reservation about their activity of smoking pot on a fairly regular basis.  It’s clear to me that this is an activity that is no longer subterranean.   The image of people sneaking into the “bad sections” of the city to buy pot from “dealers” with one leg of their jeans rolled up on a streetcorner is fast becoming archaic also.   In fact, people purchase marijuana openly and without hesitation in their office buildings, by shop-at-home-couriers, and…since Colorado…from recreational marijuana shops.

It became much more open when medical marijuana became legal in many states, including Rhode Island where I live today.   But the recreational use of the drug is fast becoming a normal feature, and it feels what it must have felt like when alcohol again became legal in the United States after the unfortunate attempt to ban its sale and use during the period we have come to know as Prohibition.   The attempt to legislate morality failed miserably during that period, and it would appear that the same thing may be said in the future about the prohibition against the legal sale and use of marijuana.

Many (myself included) have mixed feelings about the move to legalization.   I am not unaware of the potential misuse of marijuana, especially by children and youth.   Excess is the key word.   But the reality is that the use of  marjuana falls into the same category as alcohol.   It is probably inappropriate for children and young people to have free access to it during the period in their lives when they are experimenting with all kinds of things, and embracing excess as the mantra of what it means to be young and carefree.   But it is increasingly difficult to justify the prohibition of marijuana for recreational use by adults.   I suspect the day is coming when it will be available legally on a national level.   There will continue to be abuses of it, just as there are frequent and common abuses of alcohol.   But the occasional and temperate use of marijuana as a form of entertainment, much like a cocktail before dinner or a few beers during a ball game, is probably in our future.

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Illustration Credit:  Patricia Calhoun

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