Column: Hypocrisy surrounding marijuana use
Last week celebrity Billy Ray Cyrus posted an image of his wife standing in front of a large safe that contained multiple bags of marijuana on Twitter.
He captioned the image:
“Yes! Like I said yesterday @TishCyrus...my how the times they are a changing #CrAzYMaMa.”
Immediately, the image sparked criticism.
Twitter user and political news anchor Soledad O’Brien replied to the tweet with the caption:
“Think of all the people incarcerated right now on marijuana charges. And you wonder why so many people understand that criminal justice is often neither fair nor just.”
Another user also replied to Cyrus’s tweet with:
“The main argument that resonated throughout the replies were consistent with particular themes: criminal justice, white privilege, and inconsistent criminalization of marijuana.”
While Cyrus and his wife reside in California where marijuana is legal, not all states follow those legalities.
Nearby in Arizona, marijuana is legal only if it is prescribed for medical purposes. One could be arrested for its possession which particularly highlights the hypocrisy of criminal justice. Inconsistent mindsets and frameworks surround marijuana. The law and law enforcement groups could insinuate or even enforce jail time, while just a mere border away citizens do not have repercussions.
Dr. Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health remarked on the grounding of national laws surrounding criminalization of drugs, including marijuana, "The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded.”
The reasoning behind the criminalization and its criticism is due to misconceptions from both sides.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has data regarding the “safety” of the drug. Marijuana is considered less dangerous than alcohol, but is more “likely” to harm its users says Jonathan P. Caulkins.
In contrast, alcohol, opioids and heroine are linked to violent behavior. In turn, one of the largest causes of mass incarceration, marijuana, is not known to have these effects. However, it has been studied to create [a] “dependence, and some mental health problems; and it is correlated in disconcerting ways with a wide variety of other behavioral, mental, and physical health outcomes.”
Safer, but not full-stop safe.
This, while remarked upon in the Twitter replies, was not the major concern.
In the United States, the majority of drug related arrests and imprisonments is 21 percent. According to the American Civil Liberties Foundation, of those arrests made, it is found that African Americans are three times as likely to get arrested and serve jail time for possession of marijuana compared to white Americans. This numerical figure emulates the racial bias and white privilege that exists in the United States.
White privilege is another key issue that twitter users commented on.
One twitter user replied directly to Trish Cyrus’s statement defending herself. Cyrus clarified that “First of all … my husband @billyraycyrus is INSANE,” then posted,
“Second, this picture is also insane, and third this is NOT my weed or my house. Hahah. But if it was, that would be amazing for so many reasons!”
The response to this tweet:
“Well yeah ’cause you don’t have to spend your life in prison for it,” a critic responded. “Others had to suffer and die for you to enjoy this ‘freedom’ our ‘government’ decided to ‘give’ us. But you know, pose like a t*** by all that weed ’cause YOLO and all that crap, right?”
Other critics gravitated towards Cyrus and his privilege.
“Certainly notable that while the majority of those incarcerated on marijuana related charges are nonwhite, the overwhelming majority of those profiting off of the new legalized marijuana industry are white and male.”
While the legality of marijuana is a divisive topic, though 60 percent of Americans have polled in favor of the nationwide legalization, the underlying issues aren’t actually about marijuana at all.
Consider the issue of the legalization of marijuana as a foundation. The landscape is riddled with fault lines, i.e. racial bias, privilege, scientific and societal misconceptions. The foundation cannot be built into any structure, new laws, social framework, etc., upon on such an unstable ground. Either remove the fault lines or address them in a way that solidifies the foundation, like scientific studies and public awareness of both benefits and health risks, to create stability.
Cyrus’s tweet is a fissure in an existent fault line.