At Whitt’s End: Is there hope for the toke?


Joe Whitt, Columnist

As many of you are aware, April 20th is the (un)official national holiday of smoking reefer, dope, grass, marihoochie, steve nash—whatever you rascal kids call it these days.

Today is the marijuana enthusiast’s herb homage. All across the nation, at this very moment, stoners are packing bong bowls, rolling copious amounts of blunts and doobies and eating delectable assortments of marijuana infused treats with a sense of pride and camaraderie.

Terrifying and vile, I know.

And let’s be honest with ourselves, these dope fiends that I’m speaking of don’t exist in some fairy tale place either. They are right here among us, lurking. Unbeknownst to most of us, these reefer-heads are your fellow students, faculty and staff, administrators and Wayne locals and officials.

They operate within our society mostly undetected and discreetly. So beware! These individuals will likely be loitering around campus and the Wayne community today with funny looking smiles and ravenous hunger.

I’m poking fun at the situation, but on a more serious note, the fact that this holiday is recognized by a sizeable population and is practiced with vigor should demand attention, once again, to our failed war on marijuana in Nebraska and our nation, more broadly.

To be clear, I’m not writing about this topic to encourage or condone marijuana use. Rather, I’m writing this column as a concerned citizen seeking a more sensible drug policy. Whether we like it or not, the marijuana culture of America is intricately infused within our society, and it is seemingly here to stay—the 4/20 counter-culture celebration is a clear reflection of it.

Despite efforts to prohibit marijuana usage throughout the past several decades, the demand for it as a medicine and recreational drug has hardly faltered—this fact alone says it all. We need to be more innovative in how we manage substance use in this nation. The 1950’s called, they want their norms back.

Already, there has been several precedents set by other nations and states. For example, in 2001 Portugal eliminated criminal penalties for low-level possession and consumption of all drugs, including marijuana, and treats drug-related offenses as a mental health issue rather than a criminal offense. Instead of incarceration and incrimination, offenders merely pay a fine, and they are offered treatment programs instead of a criminal record.

The effects of this policy have been staggering. Contrary to the prior belief, the country has not seen any significant increase in drug use. Similarly, there has been a decrease in problematic and adolescent drug use, a decrease in incarceration, and increase in individuals seeking treatment.

Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, and four of these states have also decriminalized recreational use as well.

There are obvious advantages to decriminalization including massive increases in state revenue for education (Colorado) as well as medicinal treatment for individuals who truly need the healing power of marijuana for their well-being.

While there are, indeed, lingering concerns in these states that deserve attention and no system is entirely perfect yet, the evidence is still pointing in one clear direction—the move toward decriminalization solves more problems than it creates. Nebraska should use these exemplars in crafting its own appropriate policy.

No prohibition on illicit substances has ever been truly successful; we tried it with alcohol in the 1920’s, and it failed miserably. The same can be said with our prohibition of marijuana. People will continue obtaining and using marijuana, regardless of legality—let’s find a method of marijuana management that is more practical.

Let’s pursue a policy that educates responsible marijuana consumption for those who choose to use, medicates those in need and rehabilitates those suffering from addiction.