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The Marijuana Debate: Let’s Check In & Other Fun Facts

It’s no question that marijuana is quite the popular drug among college students. Hell, it’s pretty popular among people of all ages nowadays (see stats below). From Snoop Dogg music videos to Blockbuster hits like Pineapple Express, marijuana and its “stoner” culture has become a popular topic among our generation. It’s not unusual to hear weed casually referenced in a sit-com or even to smell it on the person next to you in class who decided to “wake and bake.” You can even find magazines and trade papers dedicated strictly to the topic of pot.

The other day I caught myself in the middle of a conversation when someone used the term “doja.” To avoid awkwardness, I did the usual smile and nod, acting like I knew what he was talking about. Naturally, I Googled the term when I got home, and immediately I felt naïve that I wasn’t up-to-snuff on marijuana street names. Then I came to find out I wasn’t up-to-snuff on a lot about the drug itself. And I probably should be a little more informed considering the vast media coverage of the drug policy reforms going on.

In a recent HC survey of college women, we found that 68% of the respondents are pro-legalization of marijuana. But of the people who said they were pro-legalization, only 10% said they were “very informed” on the subject. Glad to know I’m not alone!

Here is a general overview – a little study guide if you will – on some of the history, health effects, as well as some interesting statistics on doja, herb, and weed – or whatever you want to call it, as well as where things stand politically with the drug at this point.

What exactly is marijuana?

Marijuana is the mind-altering substance produced from a plant with the scientific name Cannabis sativa. The United Nations World Drug Report 2010 reported cannabis to be the most widely used illicit substance in the world. Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant. Weed is used because its primary active chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), may induce relaxation and heighten the senses. Sinsemilla (a Spanish word), hashish (“hash” for short), and hash oil are stronger forms of marijuana, containing five to ten times as much THC.

Where did the name “marijuana” come from?

The word marijuana is said to have derived from the Mexican Spanish term marihuana according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  It has also been cited as a Mexican slang term for Cannabis that was derived from the Spanish pronunciation of the names “Mary” and “Jane” – which were used by Mexican military as slang for prostitutes or brothels.

What are some other not-so-commonly-used names for the drug?

We rarely see this drug referred to as “cannabis” in modern pop-culture. People have thought of much more clever terms. You may hear marijuana called by street names such as pot, herb, weed, grass, Mary Jane, or chronic. The National Drug Intelligence Center came up with this quick chart of terms:

We also asked college women which slang names they most often use and here’s what they said:

Do more men or women smoke weed in college?

It’s pretty common to think of the typical stoner as a grungy male college student, eating potato chips and playing video games in a hazy apartment. And those suspicions prove correct. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found in a 2010 study that, “In sum, male college students tend to use most substances, licit and illicit, more than their female counterparts…males are also more frequent users of alcohol and marijuana.” It was also reported that daily marijuana use is much higher among male college students compared to female college students.

However, a recent HC article “The Weed Files: College Girls and Marijuana” examined a study that proved girls now begin smoking marijuana earlier than boys, and sometimes abuse it at a higher level.

At what age are people starting to use marijuana?

So when exactly do people start smoking weed nowadays? Do they start at their best friend’s bar mitzvah in middle school, or at their first fraternity party in college?

In an HC survey, we found out that 69% of respondents used marijuana for the first time in high school. The NIDA also reported in a 2010 press release, “Marijuana use is rising; ecstasy use is beginning to rise; and alcohol use is declining among U.S. teens.”

This means that a majority of students are entering college already having tried marijuana at least once, if not using it regularly. Over 75% of the respondents admitted to ever having used marijuana and almost half of the respondents told us they smoke weed at least once a month. It’s safe to say that weed is not a secret, but in fact a social norm.

Since Obama took office, the idea to legalize marijuana has been at the forefront of drug policy reforms. Where do students stand?

With more generations filtering into the higher education system with experience and knowledge of this drug, and with political activism at high levels across campuses nationwide, most college students have adopted a reformist attitude that goes right in hand with the drug policy debate.

Janet Brooks, a senior at the University of Oregon and an active member of the student government, supports the legalization. “Marijuana is so prevalent in our society, especially among college students, and it always has been. The major benefit to marijuana becoming legal is the potential revenue gain for the United States. Legalizing it could boost our economy out of this recession. It would also allow the government to control the distribution and regulation,” she says.

We interviewed Stacia Cosner who is the Associate Director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an international grassroots network of students whose aim is to make sense of the War on Drugs and political policies.

The SSDP group “neither encourages nor condemns drug use. Rather, we seek to reduce the harms caused by drug abuse and drug policies. As young people, we strive toward a just and compassionate society where drug abuse is treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.”

It’s no question that violence is connected with drugs and particularly drug trafficking. Cosner touched on the subject of regulation, “Black market violence would be dramatically reduced; money from marijuana sales would no longer go into the hands of criminals. Young people & minorities would no longer be unfairly targeted by aggressive law enforcement.”

Contrastingly, Lauren Briggs, a junior at the University of Oregon, thinks that legalization laws should not be at the forefront of political debate. “I think there are much greater issues to consider that trump the marijuana debate. It’s not that I ‘hate’ weed, but I think that this issue is distracting from greater ones like the War on Terror and illegal immigration.”


Why should we care about the legalization debate?

As taxpayers, the War on Drugs directly affects us. One point to consider when discussing the legalization of marijuana is the amount of money we as taxpayers lose to keep these marijuana “criminals” in jail.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, taxpayers pay an estimated $1 billion annually to house the estimated 50,000 state and federal inmates serving time for marijuana and related offenses. That’s straight out of our pockets!

On top of that, the U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion in 2010 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second, reported the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Political author Jim Hightower of “The Hightower Lowdown” argues, “By even the most conservative estimate, the outlay from us taxpayers now tops $10 billion a year in direct spending just to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users and sellers, not counting such indirect costs as militarizing our border with Mexico in a hopeless effort to stop marijuana imports.”

Bottom line: a lot of our money is going towards the War on Drugs and we should always remain informed and aware.

What’s really important for college students, however, is to understand that if you’re caught using or possessing marijuana you could lose your federal financial aid eligibility (due to the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty). And, of course, your future could be on the line due to a drug charge related to marijuana.

Where is the debate right now?

Marijuana has been successfully legalized for medicinal purposes in the following fifteen states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, DC, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Campaigns supporting the legalization of marijuana have been put on hold, it seems, although there is always more talk. The next time the nation will be seriously considering legalization will be when they vote in the 2012 Presidential Election.

We’ve seen the arguments for legalizing marijuana, but what are some negatives? 

As for cons, there hasn’t been much research proving marijuana to be a deadly drug. In fact, The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse concluded, "A careful search of the literature and testimony of the nation's health officials has not revealed a single human fatality in the United States proven to have resulted solely from ingestion of marijuana.”

Some refer to marijuana as a “gateway drug.” This means that should someone become comfortable with smoking pot, what will keep them from turning to harder, more life-threatening substances? An anonymous surveyor commented, “I definitely disagree, but I'm sure you're more likely to try harder drugs if you smoke pot and enjoy it…But I think it has a lot more to do with the individual person and not the drug itself.”

Taken from the Prop 19 website, Joseph McNamara, former San Jose Police Chief, advocates the legalization by stating, “Like an increasing number of law enforcers, I have learned that most bad things about marijuana—especially the violence made inevitable by an obscenely profitable black market—are caused by the prohibition, not by the plant.”

When Cosner was asked to explain the negative affects she said, “It would be naïve to think that marijuana use would not increase a bit as soon as the change were made so that it would be legally available to adults over the age of 18.  However, I believe that the relative harms of an increase in responsible use are worth the risk in order to eliminate the negative consequences of marijuana prohibition as they currently stand.”

Did you know?

  • In 2009, approximately 17 million people or 7% of the U.S. population were considered current users by consuming marijuana at least once per month.
  • Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, among others, admit they have smoked marijuana.
  • Approximately 100 million Americans have tried marijuana at least once, and more than 25 million have smoked it in the last year.
  • Globally, the number of people who had used cannabis at least once in 2008 is estimated between 129 and 191 million, or 2.9% to 4.3% of the world population aged 15 to 64.
  • In 2003, Canada became the first country in the world to offer medical marijuana to pain-suffering patients.
  • In 1996, California became the first U.S. state to legally allow medical marijuana for patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation.
  • In 1619, the first law in the American colonies regarding marijuana actually required farmers to grow the hemp plant. Once harvested, hemp was useful for clothing, sails, and rope.
  • Cannabis seeds were used as a food source in China as early as 6000 B.C.
  • About 40% of high school students in the U.S. report using marijuana at least once in their life, and 20% report using it regularly.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that from 2002 to 2009, the number of “current” (monthly) marijuana increased and grew by +11.7%.
  • With all these stats, which ones do you think are the most shocking? Do you think marijuana should be legal?  Leave a comment!


Stacia Cosner, Associate Director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy & Member of the NORML Women’s Alliance Steering Committee

Janet Brooks – student at University of Oregon

Lauren Briggs – student at University of Oregon

Anonymous college students across the country 

Peter Fried, Barbara Watkinson, Deborah James, and Robert Gray: Canadian Medical Association Journal, April 2, 2002











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Ainslie Forsum is in her junior year at the University of Oregon, majoring in Journalism with a focus in Magazine and Public Relations. The last two summers she has completed marketing internships with Variety in Los Angeles and Seventeen Magazine in New York. Although she loves the exciting lifestyle of event planning and public relations, she has always had a soft spot for writing. She enjoys a good challenge of wit, preferably over a cup of coffee, which has become a dietary staple in her life. When she’s not at Starbucks, she can be found perusing travel magazines planning her next adventure abroad, trying out a new recipe in the kitchen or catching up with her favorite celeb gossip site, Perez Hilton. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in magazine journalism.
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