Ringing in the 2014 new year meant lighting up more than just fireworks for Colorado residents. On Jan. 1, companies opened their doors to recreational marijuana users for the first time in U.S. history, in response to the state’s 55 percent vote in favor in 2012.
I spoke with a graduate student from The University of Southern Mississippi who recently returned from Colorado where he got to experience first-hand what this level of legalization was like.
“You walk into a shop and it looks like your average bar,” said a USM graduate student who visited Colorado. “Just like liquor bottles they have jars of pot everywhere. It’s strange walking down the street seeing people just toke up freely. I saw a guy smoking a joint walk past four cops who were just sitting there, talking.”
So far, only Colorado and Washington, which opens its dispensaries later in 2014, have legalized the recreational usage of marijuana. Yet, according to fowardprogressives.com, as of Jan. 21 Louisiana lawmakers will meet to discuss legalization, potentially joining the six other states that already have the issue on their agenda.
Recently President Barack Obama had an interview published in the “The New Yorker” in which he made remarks supporting Colorado and Washington’s decisions. He said marijuana is not very different from the cigarettes that he smoked as a young person and it is important for this issue to go forward.
Now that more states are thinking of hashing out the hash, with the president’s apparent blessing, some would say the people are getting exactly what they asked for. But is the grass, in fact, always greener on the other side?
Unlike alcohol, marijuana is a relatively new product for the legal market to learn how to control. With that comes the responsibility of finding out what laws will and will not work over the next five to ten years. Here’s the law that definitely doesn’t work:
According to norml.org, Colorado residents can be ticketed if they are found driving with more than 5 nanograms of THC (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) per milliliter in their blood. The problem? THC is stored in the body’s fat cells, meaning that regular smokers can have THC in their body for days, weeks or even months without being high. THC levels also subjectively vary from smoker to smoker depending on his or her girth and tolerance level.
Consider author David Bienenstock who wrote an article in motherboard.vice.com, in which he addressed this issue by smoking an expensive bud, Red Congolese, a sought-after sativa-dominant hybrid, the day before and having his blood tested 14 hours later. His results? A whopping 35 nanograms of THC were still in his bloodstream even after the point of him being too impaired to drive had passed.
This law is obviously unjust and based upon seemingly arbitrary standards. If this were to become a normative guideline for other states, how long would we have to wait to collect the information and technology to make it more accurate? I decided to go around Hattiesburg to discuss this issue with Southern Miss alumni and students.
I interviewed the same graduate student who spoke with me about his recent trip to Colorado. He wished to remain anonymous but told me his bachelor’s degree was in criminal justice.
Q: Is it better to adopt a flawed law and hope the changes come over time or should the rest of the country wait and see how Colorado and Washington handle this first before legalizing marijuana themselves?
A: You’re going to be putting some people in jail that don’t deserve it. But that’s already happening right now with non-violent drug offenders, so any minimization that you can do on that is for the good even if you have to work out some kinks later.
Q: Would you wait a certain period of time after smoking if it were legalized in this way?
A: If it were legal, I’d do it the legal way. Just like alcohol, you’re never going to catch me drunk driving. Ever.
Sophomore biology major Thomas Wilson gave almost an exact opposite response.
Q: Given this law would you still be a smoker? How do you think it would affect your life?
A: For me personally, I longboard. I would longboard more probably. I would bike more. But I would also ignore this law. If you’re going to use a recreational narcotic regularly then you have to have enough responsibility to then make good choices about how you are driving, how much you are driving and the amount you consume.
Q: What would it take for legalization to come to Mississippi?
A: We have a lot of traditional people who like to associate marijuana with the counter culture. I think it would be hard to convince people but if we raised awareness about the medical facts first and the legalization of the medical usage perhaps over time we would have more people understanding that a recreational user isn’t going to harm the public.
USM alumna Emily Edwards commented on the nature of what legalization would mean for our society.
“Not only do I think the crime rate would go down, but I think that the money that we were to legalize it the money that we would tax would be very helpful to our society,” Edwards said. “Especially with the education system here in the south. We could improve the education system all the while eliminating a hype.”
Q: What do you think about the current limit Colorado has put in place for impaired driving after smoking?
A: Just like if someone were prescribed pain killers they could still get behind the wheel. They could still get a DUI. If anybody is driving destructively they should be pulled over and given a ticket. Bottom line.
The issue of marijuana legalization has stepped into the limelight of an exciting new era for our nation, one in which states are beginning to listen to the demands of their citizens by taking action. Now that legal recreational usage is a reality for Colorado, the number of users will, no doubt, be increasing. This begs the question: Are Colorado residents actually allowed to smoke recreationally or do they now only face a new challenge that seeks to criminalize their choice to do so?