19 Feb. 2014
Marijuana, the Social Stimulant
In today’s world, oppression stunts minority ideas, groups, and movements that try to course through different cultures. For the last one hundred years in this nation, marijuana has been an enemy to drug agencies, government officials, and presidential administrations, despite increasing support. Smoke Signals, a book about the oppressive and beneficial history of marijuana, is written as an effective argument while highlighting the plant in many different social settings.
Cannabis use can be traced back to the Neolithic Period (10,200-4500 BC). Since then, nearly every culture continued to use marijuana for personal reasons, causing information to surge throughout the world. Some cultivate marijuana for the stems and stalk that produce cordage and cloth, while others eat the marijuana seeds for the essential fatty acids and protein. The first reference to medical-marijuana dates back to 2700BC. The emperor of China recommended the “Supreme Elixir of Immortality” for nearly a hundred different sicknesses. Chinese marijuana activists viewed marijuana as a healing herb; others viewed it as everything from holy anointing oil to psychoactive intoxicants.
In the early nineteenth century, African-Americans benefitted from anything that relieved the stress of plantation capitalism. For Louis Armstrong, music and marijuana was the escape from the misery. He agreed that a few puffs of that good shuzzit helped him live and let live (12). Armstrong, a hero of his race, prominently endured the southern hate while keeping a strong, positive spirit as he composed beauty up on the stage. Armstrong created musical masterpieces no one had heard, all because he fell in with The Vipers— the marijuana-enthused, musical fraternity.
Marijuana not only benefitted the lives of African-Americans struggling with oppression; the herb provided more than the cerebral “high” in Jamaica. Rastafarian faith, unique to a large part of Jamaica, emphasized universal brotherhood, moral rectitude, and a natural lifestyle away from alcohol, however, marijuana was smoked throughout the day as a holy “wisdom weed.” The Rasta apostle Bob Marley, known for smoking marijuana while writing and playing music, provided the world with reggae marijuana music. A Jamaican-centered, long-term marijuana use study concluded that no significant differences between ganja smokers and nonsmokers were present with basic skills and responses. Different presidential administrations rejected studies like these, that proved medical-marijuana potential, to protect the illusion that marijuana crippled America.
American culture exploited marijuana for nearly every use. People who found relief in marijuana stood for their rights. Social gatherings like Hempfest promoted marijuana-law reform when thousands of people gathered and enjoyed themselves in the company of other marijuana users. In retaliation, the iron fist of different drug czars, presidents, and the authorities ruled anyone who had ties to marijuana. They enforced a zero-tolerance policy in America while other countries approached marijuana with a different strategy.
Instead of moving towards prohibition, countries like the Netherlands, Canada, and Israel, worked towards decriminalization— the policy that removes the marijuana smoker from the criminal justice system. Many countries found consistent evidence that marijuana benefitted patients with terminal illnesses or troubling symptoms. The medical-marijuana movement has been the core of marijuana law reform ever since.
Marijuana offered aid to anybody who needed support after an injury, treatment, or stressful day. The euphoric “high” relaxed users because of the receptors that affect the brain and central nervous system. Cannabinoid receptors are unique sites in the brain that individually function when they sense cues marijuana has entered the body. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana activates certain receptors in the memory, movement, cognition, appetite, and emotional processes in the brain. Marijuana is known to effectively assist patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (by calming and focusing), schizophrenia (by decreasing anxiety, relaxing, and increasing self-worth), chemotherapy side effects (by reducing nausea and increasing appetite) and many other illnesses. The Cannabis Buyer’s Club continually reached to customers to provide the help they were looking for pharmaceutically and socially. Clubs like these would unfairly be targeted because of the “war on drugs” declared by Nixon.
The stubbornness of the DEA resulted in a political and legal war against marijuana activists. Even with federal opposition, positive marijuana recognition slowly started to take over the citizens. Increased activism motivated more support state by state, leading to pro-pot rallies, ballots for propositions, and a growing call for law reformation. Instead of support, the DEA answered with harsher laws, severer penalties, and absurd propaganda. President terms seemed to crescendo into more incarcerations, flooding our justice system with non-violent offenders instead of focusing on bigger issues. The black market profited from a federal prohibition of marijuana, thus inducing businessmen and entrepreneurs around the nation.
Marijuana demand was rising, causing the cannabusiness to skyrocket. Different strains of marijuana were crafted to meet the needs of consumers; marijuana reached a level of artistry comparable to the wine industry (137). Hemp, paralleled with marijuana despite almost no psychoactive potential, showed promise of being a billion-dollar crop until anti-hemp groups patented different synthetic fibers. Even with strict eradication, marijuana remained America’s top cash crop, worth over thirty-six billion dollars in 2006. The street value of California’s pot plants topped over a third of the entire United States yield (308). Pro-marijuana enthusiasts rally behind medical marijuana, but the economics of the drug also provides another strong motive for marijuana legalization.
This illustration of national, economic debt relief that marijuana offers is one of the author’s idea of support he uses to present his strong argument. When evaluating an argument one must ask, was it convincing?
A clear, convincing argument must have the proper characteristics. A detailed support summary for the author’s claims must be clear and present from the beginning. The logic and reasoning behind the information the author presents must complement the factual evidence and sincere emotional appeal. The argument needs to be established with a purpose, audience, voice, and thesis that act together in harmony. An argument with weak transitions and poor organization will come second to a structured, well thought-out one. Author Martin Lee does an excellent job capturing the reader’s interests while presenting an argument with outstanding refinement and intention.
“… a social history of marijuana- medical, recreational, and scientific,” (imprinted on the cover) gave me a clear idea on the author’s focus without even opening the book. Smoke Signals contained many stories detailing the oppressive history of marijuana. “Anslinger took great pride in his role as the arch nemesis of marijuana smokers. His influence on public policy would be felt long after death stiffened his fingers in 1975” (48). By profiling Anslinger’s harsh rule, Lee showed the reputation marijuana had. Lee’s endless claim of fact was an effective strategy to steer the reader in the direction he intended. He chose each story carefully to prove a point.
Lee constantly talked about all the rejected medical marijuana studies that proved potential benefits. The government claimed that not enough sufficient information could be collected. Oxford Journal states:
With regard to marijuana, sociopolitical factors have intervened in this scientific process. Three major lay perspectives appear to dominate the societal view of marijuana—the ‘reefer madness’ camp holding the view that there are no redeeming attributes to the ‘evil weed’, the ‘innocuous’ camp who consider it to be a harmless recreational substance and the ‘medical marijuana’ camp that believes marijuana to be a panacea for a multitude of aches, pains and chronic diseases with, of course, every shade of opinion in-between. (Ponto)
Because marijuana was controversial during this time, pressure from higher authority dictated results and publications. Lee, throughout the book, shows that the opinion of the government often reflected the illusion that marijuana is just an “evil weed,” while not giving any credit to accounts of scientific results.
Lee often uses ironic statements to logically show the irrational reasoning behind the government “Repeat drug offenders were denied parole consideration—a truly draconian twist considering that rapists and murderers were granted parole” (64). He makes statements like these calling out how marijuana was identified worse than murder or rape. He also makes a strong emotional appeal in select stories by profiling marijuana users who were raided and cruelly justified. “Kubby, dying of a canerous condition that could trigger a heart attack or stroke at any moment… SWAT members hauled him and his wife to jail… Three days without reefer nearly did him in… Captors mocked his request for medicinal cannabis and went out of their way to punish him” (280). By choosing different stories, all related to each other, I was able to visualize the author’s claim of value. Marijuana’s history has become misunderstood and misinterpreted, leading to this contorted mess.
Lee, knowing of this complex marijuana situation, made a clear purpose to inform, entertain, and persuade. Many of us are familiar with the notion that marijuana is one of the worst things possible. Lee showed that he wanted to clear misconceptions while showcasing entertaining stories, thus persuading the target audience toward supporting marijuana. Lee has chosen an audience of “engaged,” voting citizens to capture with his stories and information. By showing the potential benefits marijuana offers, he raises curiosity in the reader. Lee chose the stories hoping that the audience would understand his standpoint. By uniquely arguing without a claim of policy, he leaves the audience with a motive to vote for marijuana law reform. While telling the stories, he used an informal, almost comical, voice to complement his purpose. With his voice I find one of the few flaws in his argument. Lee effectively argues that marijuana offers untapped potential if legalized, however, to an audience of “engaged” citizens the comical slang may be off putting to some readers. “In private conversations with his inner circle, Tricky Dick [Nixon] also savaged African Americans” (119). However, the informality of his voice clearly shows his stance on marijuana. Lee’s purpose, audience, and voice, all efficiently come together to support the thesis—that marijuana’s rich, oppressive, and complicated history led it to become such a debatable topic in America. Although the thesis is never literally disclosed in the book, the underlying assumptions revolve around his thesis and core of the argument.
Although difficult at times, clarifying the assumptions of the author is a key part of evaluating an argument. The author never bluntly states that he supports marijuana legalization and decriminalization, but through his voice and choice of quotes from marijuana enthusiasts you can assume that he supports anti-prohibition of marijuana. “ ‘A substance should be judged by the actual harm it poses to the community… the use of marijuana is not a societal problem… America needs to end pot Prohibition.’ Said Wooldridge,” (2). When Lee frequently chooses quotes like Wooldridge’s, you can assume he has the same perspective. Along with assumptions, Lee efficiently demonstrates his main claim and thesis through his distinct, unique organization.
Lee follows an uncommon organization to his book; he does not abide to the traditional style. Although Lee moves forward in time decade by decade, he moves through the topics in a matter of pages. Lee focuses on a spiraling technique to effectively flow throughout the book. By circling back to main points, he emphasizes and refreshes our minds with the main focuses while smoothly transitioning to new ideas. He would transition between stories to touch all the aspects of marijuana within each chapter. For a class discussing an author’s argument style, a unique organization fits perfectly. I spent more time discussing Lee’s unique organization than any other part of his writing style. By forcing the readers to study the style, draw diagrams, and dissect his organization, Lee allows the reader to make the connections between chapters and major points, hence providing a better argument.
A large part of his argument strength comes from the details of marijuana he explores. One aspect you can pull from every focus is the socialization of marijuana.
Marijuana not only provides outstanding medical relief to the willing patients, but it also offers a social aspect of the drug that is often overlooked (“Marijuana Use”). The socialization factor, the effect of marijuana that causes people to socialize and enjoy the company of others, played a huge part in marijuana’s history of activism. Different social settings around the nation have produced different benefits.
In the 1920s, Jazz was growing along with marijuana use in the musicians and people of show business (Miller). The jazz club offered a place where people could smoke marijuana, socialize, and enjoy the entertainment. Marijuana would soon become an integral part of the jazz era while music in the background offered a relaxing social setting. Musicians under the influence of marijuana would experiment with different beats and sounds; listeners, also under the influence, would find the music more imaginative and unique. With jazz on the rise, a growing number of white fans found themselves socializing with African Americans at the clubs (Cronin). Marijuana has always been associated with minorities and crazy behavior; the black and white socialization along with relaxing jazz music provided a fun, marijuana-enthused atmosphere—nothing crazy if you ask me. Working towards racial integration, pot smokers and jazz musicians were brought together by the weed that disrupted social barriers. Had jazz clubs not been targeted by authorities and been allowed to grow, racial integration and socialization may have come sooner. Jazz clubs would pave the way for other social clubs that offered marijuana enthusiasts the wellbeing of the drug.
Dennis Peron, the figurehead for the legality of cannabis throughout the nineties, founded the Cannabis Buyer’s Club (Fuhrman). Peron founded the club after he was jailed and forced to watch his lover painfully pass away without the support of Peron’s marijuana. Peron clarified that the Cannabis Buyer’s Club was not only about smoking grass. He thought that even in this age of high-technology medicine, social isolation is bad for one’s health (237). The Club was even therapeutic by design; wheelchair-bound patients could actively hang out, smoke, and make friends with other chronically ill individuals. Peron used no delivery system, forcing patients in need to get out of the house and socialize to receive marijuana. The social aspect of the club improved the quality of life and perhaps extended the lives of many members. It offered people a fun atmosphere before they died, a social extravaganza that eased the last few years of life. Many cannabis clubs soon opened up through California after Peron, obviously proving marijuana’s social and medical benefits, Marijuana activism has grown throughout this nation over the years, leading to more social events, organizations, and clubs like Peron’s.
As a result of strong marijuana activists, pro-pot rallies around the world allow the marijuana enthusiast to partake in events like the London Hemp Fair and Hempfest. People of all shapes and sizes come to these rallies to bask in the glory of marijuana and make new friends while listening to live music. These rallies support more than smokers getting together and lighting up; they are about the freedom of choice and human rights. The vibrant, social atmosphere provides exhibits and booths selling food, clothing, and other marijuana products. Speakers on stages promote marijuana law reform or the industrial uses of hemp. Hempfest emerged from the 90’s and grew to become the largest marijuana rally in the world. “No political or human rights movement in America has made it this far without eventually winning. It’s just a matter of time” (393). Hempfest has grown from five hundred people in the first year of operation to well over 200,000 people in 2013’s rally (Johnson). Marijuana’s history— complex, contorted, and misunderstood— is starting to move away from tyranny while gaining national support. In an interview with Vivian Mcpeak, the founder of Hempfest, he said, “Hempfest evolved past a political statement, it is now a cultural celebration offering outstanding fun, marketing for vendors, and a fierce stance for our beliefs” (McPeak). As social events like Hempfest grow, anti-marijuana officials will feel more pressure to bring about a new marijuana policy.
While many of these social gatherings happen only once a year, marijuana use among teenagers happens daily. Twenty-first century kids are constantly under pressure from school, work, and personal affairs. Some kids smoke to relieve the stress that accompanies the day, others smoke at parties to socialize, make friends, and enjoy themselves. Even with the anti-drug programs, over half of high school graduates smoke or have smoked marijuana at least once (Miller). Marijuana has been the choice drug of many teenagers and young adults to cope with stress, leading to detailed scientific research. In many surveys and tests, relaxation and stress relief were the two most common benefits of cannabis use (Chaboya). No matter what is said or done, teenagers will use marijuana for their own personal preferences. Marijuana is evaluated as a horrific drug, not a social stimulant or stress reliever; lies are not an effective way to keep our youth from using illicit substances. Hempfest addresses marijuana and minors with a harm-reduction method—the method that worked for many countries, one that emphasizes on smart and safe use, not fear, because marijuana is impossible to prohibit (McPeak). Prohibition failed in the thirties and it is not working now. A plant that relieves stress provides a fun, friend-making atmosphere among peers, and that has never been linked to an overdose or cancer should be reevaluated to reflect the actual potential, not the misinterpretations. Marijuana provides the appropriate social and personal benefits people are searching for. Why limit that?
While anti-marijuana prohibitionists have struggled with pro-pot assembly, the mindset of the nation is slowly moving towards legalizing marijuana. Author Martin Lee has constructed a strong argument, through a careful selection of examples, to inform and persuade his readers to reach for marijuana law reform. He showcased many potential benefits while clearing up misconceptions that many of us have grown to learn. Marijuana provides relief to the recurring or first-time user for medicinal purposes or personal enjoyment; marijuana shows benefits in almost every different social setting. Whether it’s a jazz club, party, or a large pro-pot rally, marijuana will enrich your personal experience, masking the worries of life while providing an excellent level of enjoyment.
Chaboya, Jan. “Cannabis Used for Stress Relief.” Medicalmarijuana.com. Medical Marijuana, 2 May 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.
Cronin, Russel. “The History of Music and Marijuana.” Cannabisculture.com. Cannabis Culture Magazine, 7 Sept. 2004. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.
Fuhrman, Rose. “San Francisco Cannabis Buyer’s Club.” Cannabisculture.com. Cannabis Culture Magazine, 5 Nov. 1995. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.
Johnson, Gene. “Hempfest 2013: Cops Dealing Doritos, Guides to Legal Marijuana Use at Pro-Pot Festival.” TheHuffingtonPost.com. The Huffington Post, 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.
Lee, Martin A. Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational, and Scientific. New York: Scribner, 2012. Print.
“Marijuana Use and its Effects.” Druglibrary.org. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, 29 Mar. 2003. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.
McPeak, Vivian. Personal Interview. 18 Feb. 2014.
Miller, Scott. “A Brief History of Marijuana.” Newlinetheatre.com. New Line Theatre, 24 Aug. 2003. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.
Ponto, Laura. “Challenges of Marijuana Research.” Oxford Journals 5 (2006): 1081-1083. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.