4/20 Special: Why I compare legalising cannabis to gay rights

This blog post was originally written for my Medium page, where I get more political. For the most part, it’s the same blog post but improved. I decided to add even more information and provide an update on the state of legal cannabis in Europe, which still has a long ways to go.

The state of legal cannabis in Europe: A 2023 update

Call me a cynic, but whenever I read news about cannabis legalisation in Europe, I take it about as seriously as whenever Ray or Dave Davies would talk about a Kinks reunion or Noel or Liam Gallagher talk about an Oasis reunion. As in I’m not getting my hopes up. Not holding my breath. I’m half joking with that comparison, but in all seriousness what’s going on right now gives credence to that comparison. I’ve seen news stories praising Portugal for decriminalising drugs, Spain for having cannabis clubs, Malta and Luxembourg for legalising cannabis (however there are no dispensaries like in various US states or Canada), and now Germany for merely talking about legalising cannabis even though the status quo still remains. And of course everyone knows all about Amsterdam and its “420 friendliness” – well it no longer has the monopoly on that. Moral of the story: read beyond the headline and comb through the fine print.

And now we come to the country I live in, Ireland. There’s been a lot of talk about this Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use. There have been claims of Ireland having a “health-led” approach (only applies to first time offenders in limited cases though), but as long as people are threatened with jail sentences for drug use, that is not “health-led”, if anything, it’s harming people’s health. It’s being chaired by a man who is surrounded by “reefer madness” types, and honestly this is like having a Citizens’ Assembly on gay rights chaired by someone from the Catholic Church (there are a lot of closeted homosexuals and bisexuals in there, but they’ve got a lot of internalised homophobia). It’s like having a Holocaust museum with no Jewish people in leadership. I am a firm believer in “nothing about us without us”. I do not expect anything good to come out of it as this is a country that lets paedophiles and violent criminals get away with such heinous crimes, meanwhile if you’re caught with a microscopic amount of marijuana it’s “right to jail”, as Raul said in Parks and Recreation.

In the media it seems like decriminalisation is dominating the conversation and some people are content to stop there. Here’s why they’re wrong…

Why Decriminalisation is not as much progress as you’d think

Decriminalisation is the worst of both worlds. It has none of the benefits of legalisation like ensuring safety and harm reduction and the government getting tax revenue, and almost all of the downsides of criminalisation: weed remains unregulated and criminals keep profiting off of it. Now, keep in mind not all decriminalisation approaches are created equal. They can range from the Netherlands’ policy of tolerance to policies I’ve seen in the US such as fining people for possessing cannabis. Remember that a fine is merely a fee for the rich to do a thing, which means that it’s a crime if you’re poor. What happens if you can’t pay your fines? You go to jail, which still ruins your life. Cannabis under this system can still be adulterated and unsafe, where the strains on offer are basically “you want it or not?”.

Another proposal is homegrow allowed + cannabis social clubs. Here’s the problem with that approach: no regulation, the government continues missing out on tax revenue, cannabis use is swept under the rug, plus with the social clubs, how do we ensure there is no discrimination? In a cannabis social club you can more easily discriminate as it’s a private club, while a licensed dispensary can’t without consequences as it’s a business: they’d get sued, review-bombed, basically cancelled. Might as well go the whole nine yards and legalise and have a Canadian style system. The operations will still remain in the hands of gangsters. Decriminalisation serves the gangsters and no one else. Makes me wonder if there are politicians in cahoots with drug dealers. Anything’s possible in this world!

When you really dissect what it means to decriminalise marijuana, you begin to find that it’s not out of the kindness of the government’s heart that they are doing this. It’s merely a cost cutting measure. Don’t just take it from me. There’s a great article from Slate about this called “Less Harsh Punishments, More People Punished”. To sum up the article, decriminalisation seems like a compassionate stepping stone to progress because it keeps people out of jail and reduces arrests for misdemeanours, but the truth is that with these less harsh punishments, more people find themselves in the net of people being punished. When an offence is decriminalised, the government don’t need to spend taxpayer money on public defenders and they do save money by locking fewer people up in jail, although if you don’t pay your fine you can end up in jail, kinda counterintuitive if you think about it, wouldn’t it make more sense to have people work off their fines through community service if they truly can’t afford to pay? It’s a cost-cutting measure because writing tickets takes less time and effort and hence costs less money. Still, decriminalisation does not get enforced evenly and equally, yet another form of discrimination. It’s a postcode lottery. All depends which side of the train tracks you live on. Poor areas are targets of broken windows policing. Those who are low income are more likely to find themselves being targeted by police and on the receiving end of a fine. Meanwhile those in more affluent neighbourhoods find that the police are more lenient towards them.

Even less harsh punishments are still punishments because as Malcolm Feeley wrote in the 70s, “the process is the punishment”. Even just being fined or having to go to court is embarrassing and can ruin your reputation. Sure, it may not be the trial of the century or the crime of the century, but still.

You’ll see how this “less harsh punishments, more people punished” principle applies in the gay rights analogy later in the blog post

Why I, a bisexual, compare drug legalisation and gay liberation

I always like to come up with new thought experiments and ways of persuasion when it comes to talking about the issues I care about. In this case, it all starts with this idea that the law isn’t always right. It’s good and necessary to question authority and the law. The question shouldn’t be “is it legal or not?” but rather “is the law right or wrong?” and “is the law ethical?” What is legal and what is right doesn’t always align. Any person with a working brain can understand this.

All sorts of atrocious things were legal at one point. Slavery was legal. The Holocaust was legal. Child labour was legal (and it seems to be coming back). Colonisation was legal. Sexual harassment was legal. Gay and trans panic defence laws are still on the books. It’s also still legal to pay disabled employees less than minimum wage. Why? Because some people in power said so and those in power are often bad people.

And plenty of things that aren’t bad at all were once illegal. Homosexuality was illegal (still is in over 70 countries). Hiding Jewish people during the Holocaust was illegal. Interracial marriage was illegal. Helping slaves escape was illegal. Women voting was illegal.

A lot of people love to make the cop out when it comes to the legalisation of drugs debate that “I don’t really care if you smoke weed, but the law’s the law! If you smoke weed, you go to jail.” Yes, that is the law right now, but guess what has been done in the past? Laws have been changed. We can right the wrongs of the past going forward. I notice the same energy between people who think like this and people I talked to when I was a teenager who were against gay marriage and would say things like “I don’t care if you’re gay, but marriage is between a man and a woman because the law and the Bible says so.”

Do you agree that it was right for gay people to have been executed, jailed, castrated, or fined? It was the law at that time. So by your logic, well they shouldn’t have been doing “one up the bum, no harm done” if they didn’t want to be punished. Even though being gay harms no one. Similarly, smoking weed harms no one. Homophobic laws are wrong, as are these backwards prohibition laws.

Now some people will come at me and go “But Angie, people are born gay — it’s biology! Being a stoner is a choice. That’s a false equivalence.” And in response to that I say it’s a bad argument, actually a homophobic one when you think about it and the marijuana issue is a matter of biology too!

Why is the “born this way” argument homophobic? Because it implies that there is something inherently shameful about being gay and that “well they can’t help it” so we can’t hate them for that. Let’s take a step back and think about it. Why is having homosexual attraction seen as inferior? What makes it inferior? Why is heterosexual the default? Why is heterosexual seen as better? Who is a gay relationship hurting? Even if someone chooses to be gay or bisexual, what is the problem? Wouldn’t it still be wrong to discriminate even if it was a choice? In short, it doesn’t matter if being gay is a choice or not. Being gay is okay! It’s not like because a characteristic is immutable, a bigot is gonna go “Welp guess I can’t be bigoted against you now!”. Some people are just TFGs, too far gone, and no argument you use will convince them, and that’s the way it is. Best thing to do with the TFGs is don’t engage. Not today, Satan, not today!

Religion is a choice in places where you have freedom of religion. I used to be Jewish, but I left the religion when I was 10. That was my choice. I chose to be an atheist. If someone discriminates against me for being an atheist, it is still wrong even though I chose to be an atheist. Did you know that atheists are one of the least trusted groups in society? Did you know that in some parts of the US, atheists cannot run for office and you can’t join the Boy Scouts if you’re an atheist? And if you’re an atheist ex-Muslim in a Muslim country? You could end up disowned by your family, or even worse, dead.

Heck, there are a lot of things about people that are choices: hairstyle, tattoos, piercings, any other body modifications, subculture. It’s still wrong to fire/not hire someone for having tattoos or piercings or having an unconventional hairstyle, provided their body modifications or hairstyle doesn’t interfere with their job. I remember when I was a kid people would say “you’ll never get a job with tattoos” and now you’re the odd one out if you don’t have a tattoo! Oh how things have changed! How many men out there feel the need to cut their hair shorter before a job interview so they could “make a good first impression”? Self expression is important. Without self expression, life would be boring!

Next, let’s talk about how the prohibition of marijuana is actually a biology issue. Just like homophobic laws banning something that is what is popularly believed to be someone’s nature, laws that ban marijuana are banning nature itself. What do I mean by this? Well where does marijuana come from? Say it with me… Plants! Plants which grow naturally on this planet and in nature. So isn’t it ludicrous to ban something that grows completely naturally? It’s just as ridiculous to ban marijuana as it is to ban bananas, avocados, or chocolate. Yup, because some people in charge think a plant is stinky and makes you act funny they be like “ban it!”. Which oddly enough creates hostile conditions so people can’t research and develop new marijuana strains that are less stinky. Research into the effects of smoking marijuana is also hindered.

As well, this plant in question is one that many people find beneficial for their health, be it mental health or physical health. Anecdotally, I can say that when I was in California, a state where marijuana is legal, I did not experience any cramps (this was before my hysterectomy, by the way) or back pain whatsoever, and I did not need to wear my corset at all — while ordinarily I’d need to in order to function without pain. These days I rarely leave the house without it. On top of that, I’ve had anxiety for ¾ of my life and I have difficulty sleeping, but my anxiety improves when I have access to cannabis. I am someone who refuses to take medicine whenever possible since I don’t react well to it and I don’t trust big pharma. So why is someone like me not able to get a prescription for back pain, anxiety, and insomnia? Why should I have to go through a treatment treadmill and go through Olmec’s Temple from Legends of the Hidden Temple or the Aggro Crag on Nickelodeon Guts just to get what I need? Isn’t my lived experience enough evidence?

As someone who is bisexual, I am not offended at all by this comparison. If anything, I’m more offended by straight people condescendingly speaking over me and telling me that I’m “wrong”. If anything, I think that when we draw comparisons between different social justice issues, it helps us understand each other better and this increases solidarity and we need solidarity now more than ever before: I scratch your back, you scratch mine. If we put ourselves in other people’s shoes more, I think the world would be a better place. I will often make connections, comparisons, and draw parallels between different situations that you may not think about comparing because at the end of the day, we’re not that different after all and when we find patterns we can come to a better understanding of the world. History repeats itself, after all.

The Rolling Stones’ “We Love You” and Gay History

Fine, you want to hear someone else make the exact same comparison I did? Look no further than The Rolling Stones and their music video for “We Love You”. What a way to flip off the establishment. To think that only a decade before this, Elvis was in trouble for “doing the wrong movements” and had to go into the Army to “clean up his image”, and now you have a rock band being like fuck this, we’re not going into hiding. You can’t silence us.

Three members of the band were arrested for possession of marijuana and were even given lengthy sentences (which were later dropped). This actually did end up screwing The Rolling Stones over to some extent. You might know how The Kinks were banned from touring the US for 4 years due to multiple complaints from industry people. Well, The Rolling Stones didn’t tour the US for almost 3 years and that is because of Brian Jones’ multiple marijuana convictions making it impossible for him to get a visa to tour. His lawyers were basically useless and told him to plead guilty, basically ending his career as an international rock star. This eventually led to Brian Jones being fired from the band, and he died not long after that (some even speculate that he was murdered). Much like the gay men we’ll be talking about below, Brian Jones’ drug possession convictions ultimately led to his demise, so I’d argue the comparison of The Rolling Stones and Oscar Wilde made in the video isn’t completely hyperbolic. Brian Jones’ friend Stash de Rola said “I blame the police, as a tool of stupidly conservative reactionary climate, for provoking this crisis that led to his estrangement from the Stones and his ultimate demise.”

In this interview with Glide Magazine, Stash de Rola said:

“The arrests were a deliberate campaign by the establishment. It’s been established clearly by people who were in the know that it was a deliberate campaign to decapitate the Rolling Stones, who were considered a menace to society. This extraordinary arrest, which was really on completely trumped up charges, deliberately timed to coincide with Mick and Keith’s trial, which was front page news that day, and they leaked it to the press that we would be arrested as well. You see, if they could get Brian Jones out of the way, that was three of the Rolling Stones out and the band would disappear. This was the goal that they were pursuing. It actually backfired but in the process it cost Brian his life.”

Do you think of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones as criminals? If you’re a serious, reasonable person, probably not. But what if it was your neighbour, co-worker, classmate, someone from your church/temple/synagogue/mosque/what have you? Would you look at them differently than a rock star? What’s the difference between a rock star and an ordinary person in your community? Money, and a bit of talent.

“We Love You” was written as a thank you to the fans and contemporaries who supported The Rolling Stones during this controversial time. The timing of the release of this song and music video is of note. The year it came out was 1967, the year that homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales. Pay special attention to the decriminalised part — gay men were still being arrested post-1967 and gay bars and bathhouses were regularly raided – and Scotland and Northern Ireland decriminalised it later, in 1980 and 1982, respectively. Tom Robinson sang about that in his famous song, “Glad To Be Gay”. In fact, there were even more arrests in the 70s and 80s!

So sit back and watch as they close down our clubs
Arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubs
Make sure your boyfriend’s at least 21
So only your friends and your brothers get done
Lie to your workmates and lie to your folks
Put down the queens and tell anti-queer jokes
Gay Lib’s ridiculous, join the laughter
‘The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?
‘”

– Tom Robinson

The UK is where the most famous cases of gay men being fined or jailed for just being gay happened. Keep in mind these are not the only cases. This is just a handful of them. There were many other gay and bisexual men who were victimised by institutionalised homophobia, but because they were private individuals their stories are not known, but please do keep this in mind. Institutionalised homophobia was not that long ago. In fact, if you believe that slavery and Jim Crow was recent history, then so are these homophobic laws that caused harm to our community. If you look at the timelines of civil rights and gay liberation, you’ll find they are contemporaneous.

Eccentric 1960s record producer Joe Meek, basically the British Phil Spector, for better or worse, was fined £15 for having gay sex. This arrest affected him for the rest of his life, with the Kray Twins blackmailing him over his sexuality (The Krays were both bisexual). Beatles manager Brian Epstein was arrested in 1957, a decade before gay sex was legalised in England. In 1967, he died of a drug overdose at just 32 years old. Want another Beatles connection? The man who played Paul’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night, Wilfrid Brambell, was arrested in a public toilet in Shepherd’s Bush in 1962 for cottaging. He was fined 25 guineas and given a conditional discharge. While they weren’t jailed or castrated like what happened in the following examples, the process is the punishment. They were arrested for no reason, fined for no reason, and humiliated for no reason. It was still unjust.

Before this, it didn’t matter how well-respected, successful, or rich you were, if you were outed as gay and got in big trouble for it, your life was over. That’s what happened in the three following examples:

WWII codebreaker Alan Turing was one of the most famous cases of all and the most heartbreaking. One day in 1952, at the age of 39, while out with his 19 year old boyfriend, Arnold Murray, his house was burglarised. When he made a report to the police, he initially hid the fact, but later mentioned he had a boyfriend and then he and his boyfriend were arrested. He was given a choice between prison and probation. Because he chose probation, he was chemically castrated (not unlike what currently happens to gay men in Iran), had a criminal record for no good reason, and he lost his security pass and even his job at the Government Communications Headquarters. Not even being a WWII hero saved him. The institutionalised homophobia he experienced ultimately led to his suicide two years later. Decades later, in 2017, when they pardoned gay and bisexual men, they named the amnesty law the Alan Turing Law.

Even if they pardoned all gay and bisexual men straight away in 1967, Alan Turing would not have qualified for a posthumous pardon. Had Alan Turing lived in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, he could have ended up just like Peter Wells, a gay man who was arrested at the age of 26 for having an 18 year old boyfriend – both were consenting adults, and yet he still ended up behind bars for two and a half years. Peter Wells was murdered at the age of 31 or 32. The age of consent was not equalised for decades.

Now let’s go back one century. Exactly 100 years before John Lennon was born, an artist named Simeon Solomon was born, on the 9th of October 1840. He was born into a prominent, well-off Jewish family in England. His older siblings, Abraham and Rebecca, were also painters. His father, Michael Solomon, was a wealthy merchant and one of he first Jews to be admitted to the Freedom of the City of London. As a child, his older brother taught him painting and he started attending an art academy when he was just 11. As a teenager, when he was attending the Royal Academy, he was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and at just 18 years old, he had his first exhibition there, at the Royal Academy and he met his idol, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Within a few years, he surpassed his older brother in popularity. Some themes in his paintings were Jewish life, homosexuality, and androgyny. He explored his own sexuality through his art. He was doing well for himself until one night in February 1873, he and a 60-year-old working class man named George Roberts were arrested in a public toilet just off of Oxford Street. The two were found guilty of attempted sodomy and after six weeks of detention, Simeon Solomon was released to his cousin on a £100 surety and luckily this trial wasn’t publicised. Meanwhile George Roberts spent two years in jail. His family sent him to two mental hospitals, because keep in mind, in the old days, being gay was seen as a mental illness. He travelled to Paris, and once again was arrested for having sex in a public toilet with a male prostitute. He served three months in jail and went back to England. Galleries stopped displaying his work, with some of his work even being destroyed because of homophobic attitudes, and he lost his reputation. By 1879, he ended up in a workhouse (in those days, there was no welfare state, so that’s where the poor went). He continued painting and drawing even during this time with a prolific output. He became an alcoholic and lived in poverty, depending on the kindness of a few friends and family who stood by him. He died in a workhouse in 1905, at the age of 64. One of those cases where a celebrity lost everything.

Finally, we have the famous story, as discussed in the Rolling Stones’ music video, the downfall of Oscar Wilde. You might have read some of his work in English class and if you’ve seen Velvet Goldmine (great movie btw), he’s totally referenced a lot. I think he’s a great example of a person who was born way too early. He was born in Dublin to a doctor father and an activist mother. He studied classics at Trinity and Oxford before going on to be a successful poet and author. He was a proto-rock star: he went on tour speaking about aestheticism, dressed stylishly, stood out for being really tall (almost the same height as Abraham Lincoln), had super long hair for the time (basically the blueprint for rock and roll fashion, especially the Peacock Revolution), and lived like a rock star: extravagant and hedonistic. The trajectory of his fame was like that of Simeon Solomon, a meteoric rise to fame and then it all came crashing down at once. Like quite a few historical gay men (some argue he was bisexual), he had a wife and children, but had affairs with other men outside his marriage. One of the most notable ones being Lord Alfred Douglas, also known as Bosie. This relationship was just the beginning of Wilde’s downfall. Toxic relationship and bad influence. Bosie’s father sent a card to Wilde saying that he was a sodomite and Bosie encouraged his boyfriend to sue him. Wilde took the bait, ignoring the advice from his friends to leave it and run away from homophobic Victorian England. The Marquess of Queensberry was like “I’m about to end this man’s whole career”. After his lawsuit against the Marquess of Queensberry was an epic fail, he was arrested for having sex with other males and he was tried at the Old Bailey – a trial of the century. In the end he was sentenced to two years of hard labour, the harshest sentence possible in this case. They wanted to make an example of a famous gay man. An injury in jail ultimately led to him dying of meningitis a few years later in Paris. He lost everything. Worse yet, his family suffered and their lives would never be the same again. His wife and children’s surnames were changed to Holland. He has one grandson, Merlin Holland, and a great grandson, Lucian Holland, who are both still alive, as of me writing this blog post.

Now let’s be honest, no serious person sees any of these men as criminals, for being gay that is. Joe Meek murdered his landlady, but that had nothing to do with him being gay. However, it’s not so simple for Oscar Wilde. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s dishonest if I whitewash the story and gloss over the fact that some of the males he was with were underage. If they were all consenting adults, there would be no problem. Some people blame Bosie for this, but Wilde was well into his 30s when this was going on and he had agency and it was on him to say no. There is no excuse for those actions. Some will argue that in the Victorian Era, the age of consent was lower than it is today (another example of the law being wrong), and had Wilde been straight and it were females, he would not have been arrested – the age difference still would have been creepy and wrong. It is also important to note in recent history the age of consent for gay/bisexual men was higher because of homophobia.

Why Legalisation matters

The Rolling Stones used the Oscar Wilde trial as a metaphor for their getting in trouble for smoking weed and you can see Mick, Keith, and Marianne re-enacting it with articles of the Stones’ arrests being juxtaposed in the video. Funny enough, in 1895, weed was not only legal, but actually really easy to purchase. You could even buy harder drugs quite easily then. It’s actually funny that such a prudish, intolerant society was okay with drugs. No doubt did The Rolling Stones make a comparison between the two trials. Remember in the examples above, these gay men often lost everything: their reputation, opportunities, money, friends, family. Their lives were never the same again and often they died relatively young and shells of their former selves. But what about those who are victims of the racist, classist failure that is the War on Drugs?

Similarly, a person who is caught with marijuana, even just a “simple” possession charge, can lose everything. Although in this case, money and connections can help you. Money gets you Better Call Saul or if you’re broke but lucky enough to have lawyer family, you get My Cousin Vinny. Anyway, what can you lose if you are convicted of possession of marijuana?

  • Well, for starters, you can lose your job. Lots of jobs do not want to have someone with a criminal record and if you lose your job, good luck getting a new one! Many jobs do background checks and they’ll see you as sus if you have a marijuana charge. As well, many jobs drug test and if marijuana comes up positive, bye bye job offer! And the job that you end up getting is more than likely going to be one with poverty wages and no benefits. And that’s why people go back to committing crimes, since that’s their only means of survival. No job means you can’t afford to live. You might end up homeless all because of one “mistake”. As well, court dates and arrests can result in missed work and in this day and age you need those hours at work to be able to make ends meet. Many people can’t afford to miss a shift.
  • You lose your reputation, especially if the story makes it into the newspaper. Your name and mugshot is plastered on the internet, and remember that the internet never forgets and that everyone does a Google search on you. There will always be some people who will think lesser of you because you have a marijuana charge on your record, or even an arrest. Even if the charges are dropped or you’re acquitted, the process of being arrested, fingerprinted, and having a mugshot taken is a punishment in and of itself.
  • Going to jail is traumatising. Sure prison conditions aren’t literally the same as in the 19th century, but going to prison or jail is still dehumanising and you lose your freedom. You’re locked away and don’t get to see your loved ones unless it’s visitation day and that’s if they decide to visit. Your movements are controlled. You don’t get to enjoy the simple everyday pleasures of life like walking outside in the fresh breeze, eating your favourite foods, or listening to your favourite music. You are no longer a person with a name, you get called ‘inmate’ or your prisoner number. You lose your sense of self. You have no privacy, you’re constantly being watched. You’re surrounded by violence and you might even become a victim of violence in there too. The dismal surroundings bring down your mood even more. Studies have shown that prison changes people psychologically. And the sad part is not enough people care because they see prison as a place where “those people” go and they’re not like “those people” because they see people who go to prison as subhuman – “us and them”, opposite of solidarity.
  • You could lose your driving licence. This can mean that you’ll have a harder time keeping a job and doing normal everyday things if you don’t live in an area with adequate public transport. If you are a gig economy worker who needs a car to do your job, you lose your job. If you drive a car without a licence, you could get in even more trouble.
  • If you’re a parent, you can have your kids taken away from you. Even if you keep the weed far far away from the reach of your children. Maybe you still have custody of your children, but let’s say you want to chaperone a field trip or school dance, be their troop leader for scouts, or coach their sports team. You might not be able to do that because they will do a background check and see that marijuana charge.
  • You’re gonna be on the hook for a lot of fines, court fees, and legal fees and if you can’t pay them off, you might end up in jail again, which is actually counterintuitive when you do a surface level analysis, but it’s actually a feature, not a bug in the system. Because look at the wording of the 13th Amendment: slavery is abolished except as punishment for a crime. The reason the government started this War on Drugs is to keep slavery going on and for that they need bodies in prisons and going after stoners is an easy way to do that. As for other countries, many of these financial costs still apply.
  • If you like to travel, it’s going to be more difficult, or maybe even impossible. You may have the privilege of having a first world passport, but that doesn’t mean anything if you have a marijuana charge on your record. If you want to travel outside the country, you might have to apply for visas, which are expensive and time consuming to apply for, and even then there’s no guarantee you’ll be granted one or allowed entry in the country. Instead of just being able to enter on a visa waiver programme, you’re stuck filling out paperwork and paying lots of fees. If you choose to lie about your record and you’re caught, you might be banned from entering the country you want to travel to in the future.
  • For young people, you could lose your future. It’s possible you might lose your scholarships and financial aid for university. You could be expelled or suspended from your university. Your career prospects can be hindered. For example, if you want to work with children – for example you want to be a schoolteacher, you may not be able to do that with a marijuana charge on your record.
  • And this one’s for the immigrants/foreigners. You have even more to lose if you have a marijuana charge on your record, yes even if you’re a permanent resident. You could have your visa cancelled or when it comes time to renew it, they refuse to renew it. You could be deported and banned from entering the country you live in and may even call home. If you have family in your new country, you may never get to see them again or you have to spend big bucks to fly them over to visit you. Even if you are not deported and your visa is not cancelled, if you have any hopes of becoming a naturalised citizen, you can kiss those hopes and dreams goodbye because your citizenship application can be rejected all because you smoked weed that one time. It happened to Neil Young! And if Neil Young couldn’t easily get American citizenship with his huge net worth and fame, what chance does an ordinary person have?

And here’s the kicker, sometimes when they legalise weed, they do not pardon all those who have (non-violent) marijuana charges on their record. Those who are wrongfully deported are not allowed back in the country. Mistakes like this have been made in the past. When gay sex was legalised, gay and bisexual men who were convicted did not get pardoned for decades, in the case of the UK, and in the case of the US there are still no pardons. When women won the right to vote, suffragettes were not pardoned. We can’t change the past, but we can act now and do what we can to right the wrongs of the past and make amends to create a better future. It’s never too late to do the right thing. We can learn from the mistakes of the past. Gay and bisexual men deserved pardons straight away. Suffragettes deserved pardons straight away. Politicians must do the right thing now and legalise weed ASAP and pardon all those with non-violent marijuana convictions. No delays. Decriminalisation is not enough and to compare once again with gay rights, it is like when they stopped jailing gay people and instead started fining them. Being gay is not a crime. Smoking weed is not a crime. This is why we need a clean slate initiative for all those with drugs charges.

Another important thing we need is protections for those who use marijuana. Employers shouldn’t be micromanaging your life. Your workplace doesn’t own you. They only pay you for the hours you’re working. They shouldn’t get to control you when you’re not on the clock. Getting high on the weekends is no different from getting drunk on the weekends. Workplaces certainly don’t fire people for drinking alcohol on their free time. Here’s yet another parallel with the LGBT rights movement. When gay marriage was made legal, it didn’t always come with anti-discrimination protections for gay and bisexual people. So someone could get married to the love of their life and end up with a pink slip the next day and without anti-discrimination laws, they have no recourse. Of course, classism in the courts is another can of worms we could open and another topic for another time.

One other thing to note is that not all of The Rolling Stones are heterosexual. This isn’t straight people trivialising gay rights. It’s not a trivialisation at all. Brian Jones was bisexual, or bicurious at the bare minimum (he had a crush on Dave Davies). Mick Jagger had multiple flings with men in the 60s and 70s, once again he’s bisexual or at the very least, bicurious. Their song “She’s a Rainbow” was the inspiration behind the pride flag. Therefore, The Rolling Stones are gay icons, end of story.

Still not convinced of the parallels? Well, I guess I’ll end this blog post with something that will inspire some hope in you. Think back to earlier in the 21st century, if you showed support for gay people you were ostracised, there was almost no gay representation in the media, gay people were on the fringes of society, the government didn’t have any protections for LGBT people, there were no equal rights for gay people. Thanks to the work of so many trailblazing activists, gay marriage was passed in more and more places: a rainbow wave! While you can’t legislate away prejudice, attitudes changed and gay people found themselves being more and more included in society and issues that affected their community were no longer just seen as niche. Gay rights became part of the mainstream discussion and supporting gay people became the popular opinion. I’d like to think we’ve made our gay forefathers proud with the progress that’s been made. Similarly, supporting legalisation of cannabis was a controversial opinion that few were brave enough to come out publicly to support. The brilliant Carl Sagan wrote essays in support of cannabis over 50 years ago, but only under a pseudonym because he feared losing his job. Heck, there’s even a strain named after him. Trailblazers in some progressive US states, like Colorado and Washington legalised marijuana and that led to other dominos falling, a green rush! Similar to gay rights, there was popularity among the common people, but the politicians of course with a lot of things were out of touch with the people, but eventually they catch on. I just hope they learn from the past. Marijuana legalisation is now a hot button issue that has become part of the mainstream conversation. If it becomes federally legalised in the US I have no doubt that they’ll want to expand their businesses to Europe, to tap into that huge market. Who doesn’t like money? All I ask is that you don’t stop at half measures, they’ll aggravate the problem and only lead to complacency. The transition is more difficult than the end result, so do it in one fell swoop. Cripple the black market, reduce crime, and keep people safe. To quote Queen, “I want it all and I want it now”. To quote Sam Cooke, I firmly believe “a change is gonna come”.