Tue. Apr 7th, 2020

The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Marijuana decriminalization: legal change needed to end social stigma

3 min read

Virginia's legalization of marijuana follows the curtails of states like California. (@thoughtcatalouge | Unsplash)

By Emelie Wiedner

Staff Writer

There’s a stigma that surrounds the use of marijuana. Aside from recreational use, even medicinal purposes are met with hesitation and distaste. It’s time to correct the marijuana stereotype.  

Marijuana is officially, and finally, decriminalized in the state of Virginia.

Decriminalizing marijuana will make the 30,000 people convicted each year of marijuana-related crimes no longer criminals. Decriminalization also has a lot of benefits; saving money on jail costs, reducing the population of prisoners, less harmful punishments on those who use drugs, and combating the stigma of drug use. Starting July 1, the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will no longer be punishable by jail time, and instead, there will be a set $25 fine for those in possession of the drug. This new bill will also prohibit employers and universities from asking about any violations so that those who were previously convicted no longer have to disclose their past charges related to marijuana.

This is a small stepping stone on the path to legalize marijuana. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, the same as heroin and ecstasy.

As a California native, I’ve been surrounded by a much more liberal state of mind, especially concerning marijuana since it is legal for recreational use in California at the age of 21. Traveling back and forth between Virginia and California has allowed me to see just how different the two states are in relation to their policies and politics.

California passed the Marijuana Act in 2016 and it was approved two years later making the drug officially legal in 2018.

Visiting San Francisco after the law was passed, I walked down Haight-Ashbury, a street infamous for its 1960s hippie history with many record stores, vintage boutiques and cafes. This time, instead of smelling like coffee and incense from the many stores that sell things like crystals and Grateful Dead merch, it just smelled like weed. A lot of weed.

Coming back home after seeing the difference between walking down the street in California and walking down the street in Virginia really opened my eyes to how differently marijuana laws can affect different states. If someone were smoking marijuana while walking around in downtown Fredericksburg, they may not get arrested now but they will have to pay a fine. But seeing someone smoke marijuana in California was completely normal– people smoke joints in public like they’re cigarettes.

Seeing someone smoke a joint in public in Virginia is not only taboo because it’s illegal but because of the negative stigma that surrounds the drug. Many states are reluctant to legalize it because of the controversies on whether or not marijuana is healthy for individuals and society.

The reality is that marijuana is still a drug and people will most likely always have negative feelings towards it. But there is also another reality that is often shaded– normalizing usage in the eyes of the law will make it more acceptable socially, like in California, and finally erase the negative stigma behind marijuana use, giving those who have been harshly charged a chance at a new start.

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