It’s been called many things — weed, dope, ganja, Mary Jane, reefer — the list goes on and on. But they all mean the same thing: marijuana.
Although the drug has been illegal for close to a century now, it hasn’t stopped people from using it. Even our pop culture is chock full of references to it. Whether it’s from television sitcoms or music or large scale movies, marijuana use has been a part of our culture for as long as anyone can remember.
Although marijuana has played its role in our media as an outlet for comedic relief, in reality, it generally brings a negative and criminal connotation with it. That stigma may be changing though.
The recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington has shown a definite change in the public’s view on the substance.
According to a Gallup poll from Oct. 22, 58 percent of the general population of the U.S. is in favor of legalizing marijuana, a figure that’s nearly quadrupled in the last 40 years. Additionally, for the first time in American history, the pro-legalization vote outnumbers those against legalization. But the question looms as to why the opinion has shifted relatively quickly over more than a few decades.
“I think what we have is about two generations of people that, through mechanisms of pop and pot culture, pot’s become a pretty accessible experimental drug,” Edward Greene, Ph.D. candidate in sociology, said. “I think that what many have found is that it doesn’t add up, in reality, to what we’ve been told about it since the 1930s.”
Greene said he believes that over the last two generations, starting around the ’60s and ’70s, young people who have experimented with the narcotic have found discrepancies in the information that political groups against the drug have relentlessly propagandized.
According to the same Gallup poll mentioned, all age groups between 18 and 64 hold a majority percentage for legalization, as opposed to the 65 years and older group that still holds a majority vote against legalization.
Whatever the reason for the uprise in support of the drug, the recent state level legalization in Colorado and Washington brings up many questions about regulation and taxation on the newly endorsed product.
According to a USA Today article by Jolie Lee from Nov. 4, last week, Colorado voters approved a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana to be used for marijuana regulation, as well as a 15 percent special tax to fund public school construction. These new taxes are expected to generate nearly $34 million in revenue for the state in their first year and up to $67 million the following year.
To give some perspective on tobacco taxation, Colorado’s current sales tax on cigarettes is 2.9 percent, in addition to a state tax of $1.01 per pack sold.
Some believe these new taxes will help to regulate the drug’s distribution and boost the economy but others are more skeptical about the reasons for the high taxation.
“The question to ask is ‘what is the goal of the tax? To gain revenue?’” Tracy Turner, associate professor of economics, said. “The highest rate may not bring the highest revenue.”
Turner said she is curious about the state’s motive for the high tax rate on the product. According to Turner, if the state’s goal is to gain the most revenue from the tax, then the rate should be set at a more reasonable level. If the tax is to deter users, however, then a high rate may be seen as a logical option. Either way, the tax was voted in by Colorado’s own voters.
One popular opinion for the legalization debate is the new taxable product has the potential to create economic growth in the states that it is legalized in.
“The benefit is it could create economic activity,” Turner said. “A new industry is growing that could create jobs and economic activity and could contribute to economic growth, but I am not sure how it might affect labor productivity.”
Our neighbors to the west have come a long way with their policy reforms on medicinal and recreational marijuana laws, but where does Kansas stand on the issue? The Marijuana Policy Project, a political organization seeking to reform marijuana legislation, states Kansas has some of the most severe marijuana laws in the country. According to MMP, individuals caught in possession of any amount of cannabis can wind up with a sentence of up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for the first offense, and up to three and a half years in prison and a $100,000 fine for subsequent offenses.
“With respect to its voting constituents, this is a conservative red state, period,” Greene said. “They have made their position clear. This is a zero tolerance state. They will lock up repeat offenders for years over the possession of marijuana.”
Earlier this year, two bills to reform Kansas’ medicinal marijuana policies for the seriously ill went before legislature. These bills did not receive a hearing or even a vote before they were dismissed.
Despite Kansas’ harsh policies on marijuana use, studies are showing that, as a whole, the idea of legalization is becoming more popular with the public. Americans 18 to 29 years old hold the largest percentage of acceptance by a 67 percent vote for legalization. Although this is a large portion of the college age demographic, it’s not too hard to find those on campus who still oppose the movement.
“I just think legalization would just lead to an increase in users, and our country has spent a long time trying to reduce the usage of marijuana,” Ashlee Wolters, sophomore in mass communications, said. “Why legalize it now? Also, I feel it is a substance too often people, especially teenagers, abuse. It is a drug that makes people do things they wouldn’t normally do if they weren’t high. Plus, most people won’t do it just because it is illegal.”
While there are still many out there who oppose the idea of legalizing marijuana, statistics show that the acceptance of legalization is at an all-time high.
“I think that it really outlines a state’s self-determination politically,” Greene said. “I think [the legalization in Colorado and Washington] offers us a perspective in how much of a democracy we’re willing to live in.”
With all that said, before you slap on Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” jump on the pineapple express and ride its sweet steam to the nearest Cheetos retailer, keep in mind that marijuana use is still 100 percent illegal in the state of Kansas.