Marijuana is the new hot topic in the United States. Whether it’s medicinal or recreational, states all over the country are legalizing cannabis. But there is a clear line on the map where cannabis hasn’t been able to enter the scene. Some call it the Bible Belt, some say it’s the Mason-Dixon line, but no matter what you call it: there’s no legal cannabis the South. The conservative rural south will always exist, but what makes these southern, hard-working people opposed to cannabis legislation? Is religion playing a part in people’s distaste for cannabis? Has a deep fear been ingrained into Southerners’ heads? Or is it that Southerners just don’t want to smoke weed?
Smoking cannabis first became popular in America in 1910. It was introduced to Americans by Mexican refugees who were trying to escape from the Mexican revolution. Its popularity wasn’t only with Mexican immigrants but also in the African American community (Mcnearny). With racism still in full swing and Prohibition repealed, white lawmakers targeted marijuana and criminalized “the production, sale, possession, and consumption of the drug” (Warf, Reefer Madness). According to an article by Alison McNearny, “twenty-nine states had outlawed marijuana by 1931, and in 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, essentially making the plant illegal in the United States.”
Marijuana propaganda began showing up everywhere. There were informational signs, movies, and pamphlets made that showed different ways of cannabis ruining lives. This scared the white working-class American people and instilled a deep fear into society. Reefer Madness was one movie made to strike fear in Americans. This 1936 film depicts characters using marijuana and, subsequently, going insane. These false depictions of marijuana and its effects permeated society creating urgency and fear in the hearts of the American citizen.
Though lawmakers have been opposed to marijuana for a long time, there has always been a push from other parties to prove that marijuana isn’t the “devil’s harvest” (Propaganda Ad). Medical personnel have consistently found marijuana not to be as bad as lawmakers make it out to be. One person who consistently ignored the medical field was Harry Anslinger: the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), and its head for the next three decades. Anslinger repeatedly rejected clinical analyses that concluded marijuana did not induce violent behavior or lead to the use of more addictive drugs (Warf). If he had listened to the doctors, maybe more patients in pain could be healed.
Take the case of Charlotte Figi. Charlotte was just three months old when she had her first seizure. Her parents Matt and Paige were terrified. She was rushed to the hospital, but the doctors found nothing wrong. Despite the doctor’s prognosis, Charlotte continued to have seizures. After five years of pain, seizures, medical bills, and treatment, the hospital could not do more. Charlotte’s father Matt decided to leave the army so he and Paige could take care of their girl. They began to research cannabis. This process wasn’t easy. They were repeatedly denied by doctors who weren’t sure about the effects on children or were concerned about the legality. They finally found a doctor who would work with them. They acquired marijuana that contained high levels of cannabidiol (or CBD, the non-psychoactive part of marijuana) and extracted the oils from the flower. Results were seen immediately after one dose. Charlotte went from having three to four seizures an hour to not having one for seven days. Charlotte is now doing well and the Figi family remained intact. Luckily for the Charlotte and her family, they lived in Colorado where medicinal marijuana has been legal since 2000 (Young). If they had lived in the South, Charlotte may not have had the chance to live.
Though other states are moving past it, fear and misguided knowledge has not left the South. According to DISA, a website created to inform people of their workplace rights, 10 states (20% of the country) have made cannabis fully legal, and medicinal marijuana is legal in 34 states (68% of the country). Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and both Carolinas are a few of the states where marijuana is fully illegal.
This group of states could be called “the South” or states below the Mason-Dixon line, but Bible Belt states is more accurate. The propaganda produced in the anti-marijuana age often depicted the devil with marijuana or had headlines that said “the smoke of hell! Devil’s harvest” (Propaganda Ad). In a census done by Pew Research center, it was concluded that 76% of the South identified as Christian. The propaganda created a sense of fear that smoking marijuana will send you to Hell. These Christian Southerners had a good reason to stay away from marijuana; who wants to be eternally damned? After a little research, it was clear to see that these fears are unprecedented. “The plant called hemp is proper for Christians to use for food, medicine, and enjoyment (Gen. 1:12)” (House). There are recurring themes in the Bible that state that God is ok with the use of everything that is created. That isn’t to say it should all be used without caution, but it surely doesn’t mean one puff of marijuana is equivalent to eternal damnation.
It’s time for Southern policy makers to legalize marijuana and enjoy the economic benefits. Since the legalization of cannabis, California has made over $2.75 billion in sales (DePietro). When states legalize marijuana, a boom in economy follows. Business Insider’s “Every US State Economy Ranked Worst to Best” list has seven Southern states in the top ten worst economies. Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kansas, Arkansas, and Tennessee have not legalized marijuana and all of them are ranked poorly. With a change in policy and information on cannabis, these states could benefit from legalizing marijuana. Not only would the economy boom and jobs be created, patients would be able to get their much-needed medicine and people could recreationally enjoy marijuana.
As more research is conducted, it seems illogical to remain in a society that isn’t allowing patients to get the medicine they need. If not legalized recreationally, the Southern states at the very least need to update policy and allow these people who are in pain to get access to marijuana. By not reforming the current cannabis policies, lawmakers in the Southern states are blatantly disregarding their citizens health and well-being.
It’s time for Southern states to journey out of their comfort zone and begin to rewrite policy on marijuana. Cannabis is not something that should be feared, but something that can be used to relax and to heal. Citizens all over will be grateful the South has caught up to the rest of the country.
BY ELIJA HALLER