BY: NEIL BEDOLLA
Our culture certainly reflects the attitudes and beliefs that are accepted in society. Now more than ever we are seeing a wide acceptance of recreational drug use throughout our media. Take a short trip to YouTube and you’ll uncover a plethora of music videos encouraging drinking purple drank, popping molly, and smoking marijuana. As a society, our current attitudes on drugs are influenced by earlier generations. In the ‘40s and ‘50s marijuana was considered dangerous and was categorized with drugs like heroin, according to Dr. Fred Turner, director of undergraduate studies in communication at Stanford University and an expert in American cultural history.
Likewise, our current attitudes on marijuana and other recreational drugs were influenced by previous generations, specifically the ‘60s and the counterculture movement, according to Turner.
“Drug use in the 1960s marked the beginning of thinking of ourselves and minds as a sign of social change,” Turner said. “Drugs were seen as a means of freeing yourself from the bureaucratic mainstream”.
The social change challenged by the counter-culture movement has had lasting effects to this day. Instead of freeing ourselves from the bureaucratic mainstream and conservatism, drugs are becoming the mainstream.
Society is becoming more accustomed to drug references as the years pass. Today, hip-hop and rap encourage “smoking blunts with that good kush” like it’s ice cream, and despite its season finale, families continue to watch America’s favorite drug-kingpin, Walter White of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”
Drugs are more prevalent in our media than they were in the ‘60s, according to Turner.
“Drugs are seen as part of everyday life,” said Turner. “Even negative portrayals of drugs in media are proof that they are becoming more acceptable.”
Utilizing drugs in the ‘60s also had a political meaning, but we can question the political significance of using drugs today. The answer can be seen through the various states that have decriminalized or already enacted legislation legalizing and regulating the recreational use of marijuana. Over 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and currently Colorado and Washington have legislation allowing recreational marijuana usage, according to governing.com, a database for state and local government statistics.
The trend is expected to grow, according to Lynne Lynan, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
“The marijuana policy movement is expected to move marijuana the way alcohol and tobacco is currently regulated,” Lynan said. “Long-term we want to move all drugs out of the criminal justice system and into the medical field, decriminalizing all drugs in the future.”
Lynan said the problem is the way we approach drugs.
“First and foremost, our drug policies have led to a system of mass incarceration, 25% of the world's incarcerated population is in the United States, said Lynan. “Second, substance abuse problems should not be handled by our jails.”
Instead Lynan advocates approaching our drug problem as a problem best handled by our medical field. She said people with a drug dependency problem usually come out in a worse condition and the chances of them living a successful life greatly decreases based on our response to the problem.
Lynan also believes our current attitudes on drugs and policies are generational issues.
“Young people overwhelmingly believe in legalizing it (marijuana),” said Lynan. “Aside from the medical benefits, the policy of legalizing marijuana is so that we will have less people incarcerated and more money spent on social services”.
The freedom from the bureaucratic mainstream the youth of the ‘60s hoped to accomplish may also be taking effect. Alongside ongoing studies that have clarified marijuana as less harmful as previously though, the new attitude has brought the culture of drug use—or at least tolerance— above ground.