Bill Maher proclaimed that pot is the new gay marriage, and that is the next obvious civil rights issue that needs to fall.
After discussing how pot is the next civil rights issue, but the Democrats are too afraid to act on it, Maher said,
If Republicans were smart, they would steal marijuana from the Democrats as a freedom issue. Of course, they’re not smart, so they won’t. Because they’re squares living in a Reefer Madness cartoon. A cartoon where millions of Americans are trapped in a no man’s land where a pot dispensary can sell you weed if you have a “card” from a “doctor” certifies that you have a “disease,” which is just don’t ask, don’t tell for pot smokers. And it creates a culture of dishonesty that gives a bad name to people like me who genuinely suffer from whatever I told them I have.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about the three quarters of a million people who arrested for simple possession every year. And the fact that blacks are arrested at a rate of seven times the rate of whites, which is a subtle way to suppress the black vote, because 48 states limit voting rights for convicted felons. Only two states do not. Maine and Vermont, and Maine’s black population consists of a bear.
Look. We all put something in our mouth that we’re not always proud of, but that makes us happy. Gay barriers fell when Americans realized gays were their neighbors, their friends, their family members, their co-workers. Certainly, that must also be true of potheads. We all know at least one. In fact, I bet there is one pothead that you all know. Oh, not any more, but here he is back in high school with his stoner posse, the Choom Gang posing with a cake that I’m guessing didn’t last long. And it makes me curious why he “evolved” so much on gay marriage, but has actually escalated the war on pot. At the Correspondents’ dinner he joked, “I remember when Buzzfeed was something that I did in college around 2 AM,” which killed in the room, but perhaps not so funny to all the young lives ruined for doing the same thing he did back in Honolulu. A simple pot conviction can foreclose on opportunities to vote, get a job, go to college, or qualify for housing. How can our first black president, and our first pothead president be aware of that, and just look the other way? If anyone can say smoking pot won’t ruin your life, it’s the guy who smoked bales of it, and then became leader of the free world.
The reason why President Obama won’t evolve on pot as a national issue is because no one is making him. Obama shifted on gay marriage because a very well organized national movement got involved with politics, and created the change that they wanted. The marijuana legalization movement is at a different stage of development. The pot movement resembles the same sex marriage movement five or ten years ago. Bill Maher was right. Pot legalization is bound to happen because the next generation of voters don’t hold the same beliefs about pot that older Americans do, but advocates have some serious work to do before they get there.
Republicans are stopping any progress on legalization, because they are stuck in the just say no era, but once the pot legalization movement breaks through in conservative strongholds, a national shift will soon follow. Gays broke through a decades long wall of opposition through effective use of the media and entertainment. One of the things holding marijuana legalization movement back is that most media and entertainment portrayals of users rest on the old Cheech and Chong stereotype.
If people like Bill Maher want to change the national perception of marijuana, they need to address the stereotype of pot users. Screaming fix it, Obama is a very easy, but also a lazy way of thinking. Maher made an outstanding argument for why criminalization ruins lives, but the bigger issue for the legalization movement is that they must change the cultural perception that marijuana users are bad people who are doing something wrong.
Pot activists should take heart in the fact that at one time not too long ago in this country, homosexuality was a crime. Our history of social change proves that change when fought for hard enough, and long enough does eventually come. If the marijuana legalization movement wants to be successful, they are going to have to change the attitudes of others nationwide, before they can change the law.