On Wednesday, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta revealed to Piers Morgan that his opinion on marijuana and its place in American society had changed. He now supports the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical purposes. Gupta’s change of heart is reflective of the changing approach towards the drug by those who for years argued it had no legitimate purpose in the U.S. It also illuminates the growing incorporation of marijuana and marijuana culture into American society at large.
As the facts about marijuana and its ultimately benign nature continue to disseminate, the arguments against its usage are showing cracks in their armor. Arguably the most intensely persecuted drug in America for the past few decades, marijuana developed a reputation as a severely troublesome and dangerous substance. Since the mid-'90s, however, it has received outspoken support from within the medical community (leading to its legalization for medical purposes in several states), and has slowly seen support for its legalization among the general public outgrow opposition.
Gupta’s endorsement of marijuana makes pained excuses such as, “I didn’t look hard enough until now,” and “I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof.” It is difficult to believe, however, that an intellectual such as Gupta would be so ignorant as to overlook the absurdities American drug policy based upon good faith. More likely, given the recent legalization of recreational marijuana usage in two states, along with shifting public opinion on usage, it is presently a safe and potentially lucrative time to come out in support of the drug.
Mainstream support for legalization is growing in the political arena, and either due to support for the drug itself or opposition to the problems raised by its prohibition, many political figures are attaching themselves to the legalization. Instead of facing ostracism, marijuana users are now celebrated in film, television, and print. Support for and usage of marijuana has been a casual badge of honor in Hollywood for years. Zach Galifianakis casually lit a joint on Real Time with Bill Maher to show his solidarity for marijuana legalization, and rappers like Wiz Khalifa have even made a career out of endorsing marijuana. It’s clear that using the drug is basically mainstream, and sooner rather than later, experts, politicians, and anyone with a reputation to protect won’t need to temper their support with affirmations of personal dissatisfaction. So what happens to the marijuana counterculture now that it’s simply pop culture?
Counterculture could start to shift its attention to a different illicit drug. For example, MDMA, known recently by its street name “molly,” has been growing in popularity, and is increasingly glamorized in hip-hop. If flirting with marijuana is no longer edgy, it stands to reason that rule-breakers and attention-seekers would gravitate towards something like this, which does involve a significant level of risk. However, even as the counterculture shifts towards another substance and a different experience, the marijuana subculture could continue to thrive and even transform. Perhaps the pioneers of a mainstream marijuana subculture will take their cues from the best practices of dispensaries, cigar aficionados, and alcohol connoisseurs and we’ll be able to enjoy the latest blend from marijuana’s version of Dogfish Head.
America is yet again on the cusp of a major change in perspective that is long overdue. Cheers.