Thoughts on Marijuana, and 420 at CU

Grab a cup of coffee, folks. Pull up a chair and let’s have a little chat about cannabis. Or marijuana. Or weed. Dope. Grass. Whatever you want to call it. I’m going to refer to it as marijuana because that’s the term that we use at work.

Yes, at work. Because part of my job duties include working with alcohol and other drug issues. My boss is the most educated person I know on the subjects of alcohol and marijuana. In the last year, he has had me gather over 100 (no exaggeration) scholarly articles published on marijuana research – pros and cons. And then I see him sitting in his office between meetings pouring over each page with a highlighter, and he loves to call out to my office interesting things he learns.

All of this to say that I know more about marijuana and the issues around it than I ever set out to know, and I have some thoughts and opinions on it.  Here they are in no particular order and with no particular organization and with very little proof-reading before hitting “Publish”.

Marijuana is safer than alcohol.  True!  There are more crimes, assaults, injuries, and property destruction that occur as a result of consuming alcohol than consuming marijuana. 

(EDITED TO ADD THIS:)  But to those that say marijuana should be legal because alcohol is legal, that’s like saying we should let kids play with knives because they’re already in a room full of bombs. 

Marijuana is harmless or, as I saw in a video interview of someone today, “The most benign substance on the face of the planet.”  Psht, SOOO false!  Even if you take away all the chemicals that get you buzzed, we’re still talking about inhaling smoke into your lungs.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s tobacco, marijuana, or dried organic orange peels, breathing smoke isn’t a great idea.  

Even if you don’t smoke it and choose to eat it instead, research has shown that marijuana impacts brain development.  If you have underlying predisposition to mental health issues, it can exacerbate them.  One of the side effects my boss likes to point out because it makes half the room sit up and take notice is testicular shrinkage.

It should be noted that marijuana is fat-soluble so it can stay in your system for weeks.  You can’t stop smoking Friday in order to cram for an exam you have on Monday; your mental capacity will still be impaired for that test.  Marijuana also affects your brain’s ability to create new short-term memories; you won’t forget those childhood piano lessons, but if you go to class high you’re definitely not getting your money’s worth on that university education.

I am in favor of medicinal uses of marijuana.  Yes there are side effects (see previous paragraphs), but prescription drugs also have side effects.

That said, the medical marijuana (MMJ) industry is a joke.  Undercover investigators have found that you don’t have to really be sick to get an MMJ card.  They’ll fake medical records, for a fee.  They’ll be happy to take your money.  Are there people with legitimate reasons to use MMJ?  Yes!  But I doubt they make up even 50% of the MMJ cards out there in Colorado.  Frankly, it’s an insult to people who have real medical conditions that could be addressed by marijuana such as cancer and chronic pain. 

Legalizing marijuana?  Honestly, I don’t really care.  People drink alcohol to excess, and that’s legal.  People also consume small amounts safely.  I believe that the same can probably true of marijuana.  Personally, I would never consume it recreationally, but that is my own personal choice and everyone’s allowed to make their own decisions.  I don’t drink, either – maybe two drinks per year.  I’d love it if people realized that they didn’t HAVE to smoke (or drink!!) to enjoy life or to handle their problems.  I think both are just convenient ways to escape while there are much healthier coping options out there.  I’d be thrilled if neither existed. But that’s not the world we live in.

Regarding the argument that marijuana is okay because it’s “natural”, I respond with so are asbestos, hemlock, arsenic, rattlesnake poison, and dog poop – but you won’t see me trying to say consuming them is good for you and completely harmless!

So tomorrow is April 20.  And I live in Boulder.  Home of the world-famous 4/20 gathering on the CU campus.  I remember being a sophomore at CU and seeing something scrawled on the corner of the chalkboard in a lecture room: April 20, 4:20PM, Farrand Field.  Innocent girl that I was, I turned to my friend (@ajaxarch) and asked what that meant.  He said it was people smoking marijuana.  I shrugged and turned back to my notes.

I studied architecture, and the ENVD building had large studio windows from which you could view Farrand Field.  When the date and time arrived, some of our classmates went outside to join the crowd of a few hundred while the rest of us watched bemusedly out the windows while scrolling our maylines up and down the drafting tables.

Fast forward ten years and now the gathering has moved to a larger field and draws over ten thousand people by some estimates.

There’s been a number of times I’ve told people I’m from Boulder or from CU and their first response has been, “Oh yeah.  *smirk*  4/20.”  It irritates the heck out of me.  (Can you tell by this blog post?)  Rather than associating my home and alma mater with the gorgeous scenery, the crazy number of astrophysicists and other scientists, the healthy lifestyle, the green scene, Nobel prizes, or even the funny hippies, their first thought is this gathering of pot-smokers on MY campus.

I also get irritated when people call the 4/20 gathering a protest of marijuana laws.  Anyone who calls it that hasn’t looked very closely – as I have had the chance to do for several years.  Sure, a crowd gathers throughout the day.  And then it exponentially grows at about 4:10, a huge cloud of smoke rises at 4:20, and people disperse at 4:40.  Trampolines are brought.  Beach balls.  Every kind of musical instrument imaginable.  I have no doubt that some people truly are trying to protest and really WANT this to be a protest.  But it’s not.  It’s a party.  Get real.

If I was a strong proponent of MMJ or marijuana legalization, I would hate the 4/20 gathering.  Because it doesn’t show people offering up legitimate and coherent reasons for legalization.  Instead you get thousands of people giggling, spinning in circles, and saying, “Man, weed is, like, awesome, man,” or, “I’m really baked right now.”  Yeah, that’s the kind of image I want associated with my movement…  Watch this video and listen to the things people are saying especially after 3:24, but also note at 1:22 the person who also wishes it WAS actually a legit protest.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHwyfTHQcCE

If this is truly a protest, if you truly want to change the laws, why on Earth wouldn’t you go protest at a government building?  There are no lawmakers at CU.  Go to the county courthouse!  Go to the state capital building (they’ve got a MUCH bigger lawn for you to spread out on)!

Is the 4/20 gathering pretty much peaceful?  Yes.  Can’t argue with that.

But putting ten thousand plus inebriated people in one location is never safe.  There’s always the potential with that many people in one place for something to happen.  Not to mention traffic in and out of Boulder is a nightmare – and you’ve got stoned people behind the wheel.

So the university doesn’t like the reputation that 4/20 gives the campus, and based on the way people respond to me (see earlier in this post), I don’t blame them at all.  And the university would like to stomp out the gathering.

Let’s back up for just a moment here and remember that CU is still technically a government entity (regardless of how much funding it receives, but that’s another blog post…).  And government laws still say that smoking marijuana in public is illegal.  Plus, CU is a school and thus is bound by many requirements of the drug free schools act to work to prohibit and eliminate substance use on campus.  If CU doesn’t comply, they lose all their federal funding – which, in case you didn’t know, is about 25% of their budget.  Of course CU can’t just turn their back and let this happen!  The university would get shut down faster than it would take for someone on the quad to give you bus directions to Pearl Street at 4:25PM.  (Sorry, you won’t get that joke if you’re not from Boulder.  The answer is the Skip or the Hop buses go straight there.  And as evidenced by that video earlier, many folks have difficulty stringing sentences together after their tokes.)

This year, the university has taken the unprecedented step to say that those without a CU ID card are banned from campus tomorrow.  To the people who say that’s not fair because CU is public university funded by tax-payer dollars, the fact that your taxes support something does not make it yours to do with as you wish.  Try using that argument to get onto a military base.  Or live in an elementary school or library.  Or drive the wrong way on city streets just because your tax dollars paid for them.  You cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, or obstruct emergency egress.  As a friend of mine says, “The right for me to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.”  There are certain limits to our civil liberties which are reasonable, and I feel that the university is well within its rights to limit access to campus in order to preserve its function and mission.

This is getting long (I did tell you at the beginning to grab a cup of coffee), so here’s a few summary points:

  • If you want to protest, do so!  But do it without breaking laws and making yourself look silly; then people might actually listen to what you have to say.
  • If you want to protest, do so!  But do it where it actually makes a difference.
  • Don’t call the 4/20 gathering at CU a protest; it’s not.  A protest involves doing more than showing up for 30 minutes. 
  • I wish that more people knew how to enjoy life without substance use – marijuana, alcohol, or otherwise.
  • I think medical use of marijuana is appropriate but that the current industry needs some major overhaul to legitimize it. 
  • If you want to smoke marijuana, fine, I don’t care.  But when your actions affect my reputation, I think I have the right to object and say I’m not okay with that. 

I try to be pretty open-minded, and I actually think I have only gotten moreso in recent years (thanks in great part to living in weird Boulder!).  But this issue just annoys the heck out of me.  If only we could harness a FRACTION of the passion and feelings of indignancy that people have about their “right” to gather tomorrow to light up and channel it into something like clean water or ending sex slavery…

There.  I’m done.  I’ll shut up now.  Discuss amongst yourself, if you wish.

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3 Responses to Thoughts on Marijuana, and 420 at CU

  1. Do they charge people to replace BuffOne Cards? I’m not a student at CU Boulder yet but I’m a little curious how it would work if I had class on 4/20 when I start attending and don’t have a BuffOne card. Am I screwed?

    Thanks for posting on my blog. Your points there (and here) are valid and I wholeheartedly agree with them.

    • Alissa says:

      If you lose your card, a replacment is $5. So it’s no biggie. Thanks for the comment!

      • No problem. I’m hoping to get my BFA at CU Boulder (after all, I’m kinda disillusioned with Metro) and if this 4/20 fiasco is going to be a recurring thing (hope it won’t be), just want to make sure I’m fully prepared. ^_^

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