“Can I get some of that good kush?”
A student recalls a police officer asking this during one of her very first nights out at Lehigh. She was at a party, a police officer was in the vicinity and instead of asking the leasers to turn down the music, he smelled weed and inquired about getting some.
“Can I get a hit?”
Students stand huddled in a circle in their backyard, passing around a joint. Regardless of this outdoor public action, they are not afraid of potential consequences and instead are carefree — enjoying the high from the devil’s lettuce.
It is no secret recreational marijuana use is popular on Lehigh’s campus and among college students nationwide. Whether they smoke to relax, treat anxieties or socialize with friends, students can be found blazing on any given day without a qualm.
Regardless of its illicit status, marijuana is, in many situations, an integral part of students’ social routines.
What not everyone might recognize is that marijuana is a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD. Since 1970, the federal government has considered marijuana to be one of the most dangerous illegal substances. This remains the case even though 29 states have declared medicinal marijuana use legal.
In Pennsylvania, under Act 16 of 2016 — The Medical Marijuana Program — marijuana became legal for “Pennsylvania resident(s) with a serious medical condition.” Recreational marijuana still remains illegal.
Within Pennsylvania, the Bethlehem city council, specifically, is working to lighten penalties for marijuana possession.
However, this does not eliminate the enforcement of civil and criminal laws related to the possession and use of the drug, which is still a punishable crime.
On Lehigh’s campus — and most college campuses — students might forget that harsh marijuana laws are impacting thousands of people’s lives.
Most students at this school have the privilege of never having to worry about being sent to jail for weed possession charges. Their status in society, permits them an unspoken free pass when it comes to puffing and passing.
The idea of legalizing marijuana is appealing to many students because it would eliminate the vaguely looming fear that they could be caught and fined.
But this threat is minor, in the grand scheme of things. There are more important reasons to push for weed legalization.
This position of privilege is the opposite of many Americans’ experiences with using and possessing pot — especially regarding the racial disparity.
In 2016, 653,249 people were arrested in the United States for a marijuana law violation, and 84 percent of them were arrested for possession.
While marijuana-related arrests have declined dramatically in the states where pot is legal, people of color are still facing disproportionally higher arrest rates compared to white people. This disparity in marijuana use is racially fueled and is a problem embedded in the criminal justice system.
While decriminalization might not make a huge difference for most Lehigh students, it would save hundreds of thousands of people of color from having to serve huge chunks of their lives behind bars for mere possession.
Recognizing this widespread problem should spark a desire to legalize weed throughout our country. This change is not for college students who would have an added bonus of being able to smoke on their front porch as a cop car drives by, but for the people who cannot find jobs because they are labeled as dangerous and unproductive after serving years of jail time for possession.
The criminalization of weed has been used to systematically oppress minorities throughout American history.
The fight for decriminalization, or legalization, goes beyond the desire to blaze up whenever stressed out students feel like it. It will decrease incarceration rates for harmless actions that are deemed just as severe as murder or rape.
Let’s fight to legalize for the right reason.