Why was Weed Made Illegal in the First Place?
Weed has been illegal around North America since the 1930s, and there are likely dozens of reasons for this. The true cultural and political motivations for cannabis prohibition have developed a mythical dimension in public discourse. Class, race and gender figure into the removal of weed from public life and the role of these factors continues to spark discussion. The question you may want to consider however, is, why was cannabis use criminalized throughout the modern and postmodern eras, despite its integral role in personal and cultural development for centuries?
As culture attempts to grapple with the role that weed plays in liberating consciousness even today, we can be sure that the legal classification of substances remains intimately tied to the means of production in a given society. It goes without saying that the demands of industrial capitalism center on the values of efficiency, rationality and productivity. Standardized, mass-produced, consumer-capitalist markets trade the often dehumanizing experience of labour under capitalism with ease-of-use, novelty, and meritocratic platitudes.
The mass-consumption of alcohol and caffeine, both legal drugs, is completely normalized with both substances playing key roles in the sedation and stimulation of human capital. Perhaps there is something to be said if sedated and over-stimulated states of mind are the altered states of consciousness we desire and accept as normal. Intuitively, we know that drugs which alert us to the duties that await us and make us more efficient, or instead, numb us out to forget the time spent on high-alert performing duties toward some end which you feel yourself alienated from, are essentially insufficient.
Unlike alcohol and caffeine, weed goes beyond narrow escapist and utilitarian purposes. Weed expands your level of awareness, both internal and external, to the extent that you are engaged both mentally and spiritually with the task at hand. The criminalization of weed is nothing short of a war on our vibes. The war on our vibes manifests in all sorts of distracting, dissociative and dehumanizing cultural habits we accept as typical. As the natural human inclination toward boredom is artificially overcome with the introduction of an accelerated, never-ending stream of entertainment at your fingertips, your ability to access deep attention is dwindling. Alcohol, as we know, does not improve your ability to experience engaged, focussed states. Consumer capitalism thrives on the perpetual dissociative state of the average consumer subject: dazed, and looking for their next hit of [blank]. A slave to incessant desire, the consumer-subject is compelled by greed, guilt, or duty to continue working harder and harder to satisfy needs which can never be satisfied.
Weed might have been illegal because, as many smokers will note, it often encourages critical thinking or even further, the questioning of authority. It is not uncommon for the content of a stoned conversation or even a quiet introspective moment to lead to the challenging of power-structures inherent in the society around you. The 1960s counterculture may have drawn this relation all too explicitly as suddenly, their movement actually did threaten the legitimacy of authoritative figures dictating the structure of millions of people’s everyday existence.
Weed facilitates an openness of heart and of mind that undermines the monopoly of power currently dominating the structure of social reality. Noticing its tremendous potential for cultural reinvigoration is the first step towards its reintegration in society. Because weed was illegal for purposes likely related to reinforcing the status-quo of a docile, one-dimensionally-minded, obedient labor-force, we should seek to remedy these outcomes in the next year when it is finally legalized. Creative co-construction of the world we want to live in becomes our responsibility if the task we want to entertain is the undermining of old structures. When you tear something down, you have to build something new in its place.