Did you ever write a paper in college that you felt was graded unfairly due to personal bias?
Well that is my story today.
A little background… I attended California State University Long Beach where I majored in Sociology with an emphasis in deviance and social control, and I minored in criminal justice.
I wrote Legalize It in the fall of 2005 for my Sociology 356 class. I don’t remember the specifics, but the assignment was to argue a point using sociological theory to back it up. I chose to argue that marijuana would someday be legal in the United States based on Karl Mannheim’s theory of Ideology and Utopia (sorry Mom & Dad). I’m going to let you read it for yourself, then I will tell you what my professor said about it. So without further adieu, I present to you…
The legalization of cannabis, more commonly known as marijuana, is a utopia in today’s society based on Karl Mannheim’s theory of Ideology and Utopia. Mannheim says, “the utopias of today may become the realities of tomorrow,” (Mannheim, 302) which means that something is “truly utopian [if it is] realizable in the future” (Mannheim, 303). Although the U.S. government has convinced the majority of Americans that cannabis has a negative impact on society, there are many legitimate reasons to have a utopian view on the possiblity of legalization.
First I would like to explain the difference between ideology and utopia according to Mannheim. The distinguishing feature is that one has the possibility of taking place in society while the other does not. The most widely accepted definition of utopia is that it is impractical, while ideology is understood as a reflection of the needs in a society. In Mannheim’s perspective, utopias can become reality and ideologies cannot.
“Ideologies are the situationally transcendent ideas which never succeed […Utopias] succeed through counteractivity in transforming the existing historical reality.” (Mannheim, 299-300)
Based on this understanding, utopias can change the current order of society through the activism of social groups standing up to society’s power structures. As more and more Americans become educated about cannabis, and realize that is has multiple benefits that truly outweigh any possible “evil” that we are told is possesses, the idea of legalization of cannabis as utopian will grow stronger.
Cannabis was legal in the United States at one time. It was used medicinally as early as the 1850s, and even sold in drugstores (Wishnia, 14). “By 1880, there were ‘hashish parlors’ in New York and other U.S. cities” (Wishnia, 14). In 1914 El Paso, Texas was the first city to outlaw cannabis, and in 1937 it was banned through the entire country. The prohibition of cannabis can be compred to that of alcohol, which was enacted in 1919 and repealed in 1933. In fact, the consumption of alcohol has been shown to be more harmful than that of illegal drugs.
“A twenty-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 1979 through 1998, illegal drugs were the cause of just over 44,000 deaths, compared with 380,000 whose deaths could be tied to alcohol.” (Cartwright)
That is 336,000 more deaths related to alcohol than deaths related to drugs, and that includes drugs like heroin and cocaine. Additionally, there is no record of anyone ever dying from the consumption of cannabis alone. “According tot he prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, ‘it would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat… then alcohol or tobacco'” (Patterson).
The most prominent and convincing reason to legalize cannabis is the medical use it provides. Though critics argue that the medicinal use of cannabis is a smokescreen that allows people to “get high” without legal repercussions, the facts show that its medicinal status is legitimate.
“Medicine was one of cannabis’ earliest uses, and its healing properties are now being re-examined for appetite stimulation for AIDS patients, relieving the spasms from multiple sclerosis, and reducing the nausea from cancer chemotherapy.” (Wishnia, 48)
In light of these medicinal uses of cannabis, many social groups are in support of legalization. According to http://www.drugwarfacts.org/medicalm.htm; examples of such groups are Kaiser Permanente, The Lymphoma Foundation of America, The American Academy of Family Physicians, and The National Association of People with AIDS. Popular talk show host, Montel Williams, suffers from multiple sclerosis and is a strong supporter of the legalization movement. Williams openly discusses his own use of medical cannabis on his talk show and explains that he uses it because it eases the pain, depression, and sleeping disorders that are associated with MS. On November 1, 2005 possession of up to one ounce of cannabis was legalized for adults over the age of 21 in Denver, Colorado. This was an enormous victory in the struggle to end prohibition of cannabis because it shows that people are in support of changing the current social order. This latest conquest also proves that the legalization of cannabis is utopian, because “not until certain social groups embody these [ideas] into their actual conduct, and try to realize them, do [they] become utopian” (Mannheim, 298).
In comparing cannabis prohibition to that of alcohol prohibition I have shown that the perceived “evil” of cannabis is even less of a threat to society than alcohol, which is legal.
“The [marijuana] user primarily harms himself. When he harms others, we do something about it, just as we arrest those who drink and drive. We arrest them now for the act of drinking but for the act of driving drunk.” (Cartwright)
When you hear about a crime being committed one of the first questions asked is whether the person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This implies that a person can be equally affected by either drugs or alcohol, so if a person has the right to legally impair himself with one, why not the other? By providing examples of groups that support the movement to legalize and examples of the unmistakable progress these groups are making, I have proven that the legalization of cannabis is absolutely realizable and therefore utopian. In the words of Karl Mannheim, “utopias are often only premature truths” (302). Cannabis may be illegal today, but the possibility that it will be legal in the future is a strong one.
Anybody still with me?! Ok, so here is my professor’s response (and my sources)…
He gave me an 88 out of 100, and I firmly believe I did not receive an A because my professor did not agree with the legalization of cannabis. Nine years after writing this paper I feel even more strongly that my professor was biased. What do you think? Did I make a valid argument for legalization of marijuana as utopian based on Karl Mannheim’s theory? Or did I simply make a case for people to be able to “light up”?