Legalize It – My Professor Was Wrong

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…

Legalize It
Abigail Orr

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; 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)…

"Well I'm not sure how much you've 'proven' but you do make a case for people to light up. (He crossed out "personally") While I find your argument coherent and entertaining it seems a bit superficial.  For instance, if your talking about utopian movements a bit more about the legalization campaign as a social movement attempting to change how people think rather than a call for everyone to get stoned would be more effective."

“Well I’m not sure how much you’ve ‘proven’ but you do make a case for people to light up. (He crossed out “personally”) While I find your argument coherent and entertaining it seems a bit superficial. For instance, if your talking about utopian movements a bit more about the legalization campaign as a social movement attempting to change how people think rather than a call for everyone to get stoned would be more effective.”

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”?



26 thoughts on “Legalize It – My Professor Was Wrong

  1. I’m a CSU professor, albeit in another field at another campus. I would have given it an A or A- (just trying to be kind to the professor). You can’t “prove” a particular philosophical stance, you can only present a strong argument *for* it, which you have done. It’s well-written as well, which REALLY helps. Also? I find it interesting that s/he scratched out the word “personally” — I think that goes to your belief that s/he was allowing personal bias to color his/her grading. Also? S/he mispelled “you’re” (not to be snarky or anything — I grade and comment on most assignments electronically and make plenty of typos!). 🙂


  2. You are correct. You did indeed prove your thesis. Your professor graded from personal bias. I wouldn’t allow this to bother me, though. Personal bias will always exist. Know that you are correct and do not allow his idiocy (or others’ idiocy) affect your ideals, performance and continued education. You rock!


  3. I concur with HD – you cannot “prove” philosophical opinion. But, while I think your paper was very well written, I’m not sure you DID focus enough on the social movement of legalizing cannabis. Perhaps focusing more on the recent legalization of marijuana throughout the US (and less on the medical statistics) would have strengthened your point. I think your paper would have been more effective as a case for the growing social acceptance of marijuana than as a “reasoning” for its legalization. Also, you could look at decriminalization being more prudent than legalization in many ways. Fining users of cannabis would provide funds for cities / states, increasing the profit for local government, instead of arresting “law-breakers” and wasting tax payers’ dollars to prosecute and imprison them.

    That said, I would have given you, at the very least, an A-. The professor clearly had “personal” reasons involved in the grade he gave you.


    • Well thank you for your comprehensive response! Keep in mind that I wrote this nine years ago, so a lot has changed since then! But i definitely appreciate your perspective! Thank you for taking the time!


      • I’m an English teacher, and I think you made your point quite well. Like you said, though, everyone has their personal biases – and that’s about the paper itself, too! Like, I’m (clearly) a stickler for homophones in academic settings. People should be able to use your/you’re and there/their/they’re correctly in academia, so I grade on that pretty hard. Other teachers have their pet peeves, so they grade on them harder than other aspects. Grading papers is, unfortunately, super subjective. Had this professor followed a rubric of some kind, that probably would give you more insight as to why you didn’t get the grade you deserved.

        Additionally, professors can sometimes be dumb, just like the rest of us 🙂 Regardless, I thought you articulated yourself very well!


      • Thank you! I really appreciate your comment 😊 I find it especially suspect that he crossed out “personally” in his critique of my paper! And misuse of your/you’re & there/their/they’re drives me nuts too!!!


  4. I can’t comment on the validity of your paper’s arguments, as English was never my strong point in school. But I had a similar experience of perceived teacher bias in music class. I wrote a report on my perception of the latest computer-based music technology available (Fairlight CMI in the 80s), with as much research as I could get hold of and even visiting a local studio for a demo and talk to the producers using one.
    I felt outrage when my teacher scored me “averagely” and commented that he thought it just copied from promotional material.
    I suppose his devotedness to classical music blinded him to the future which has come all too true.
    On a side note, he used to arrive at school in his white sports car, windows down blaring classical music, at a time when others would have thumping 80s rock instead.


    • Yes, I suppose teachers are human too 😉 and therefore have their own bias/beliefs. It just seems to me that when you take on the position of college professor you should work extra hard at leaving your personal bias at home, especially when grading! Mostly I find it funny that what I said in my paper has basically come true! Kind of like, “in your face Mr. Professor!!!” Haha, is that immature?!


  5. Hahaha I’m with 4t4m4t4 whatever that name means. Your paper was fine, depends on the grading rubric and I wonder if any other kids in the class felt the same judgement. Either way I think you can move on now officially (because it IS legal in some states!)


  6. This reminds me of teachers who ask students to write a persuasive paper on My Life Hero, or The Person I Admire Most, and then freak out if the student chooses Jesus or Hitler (both of which I have had happen). It is the quality of the arguments that matters, not the topic. Plus, it is not good that no rubric was used (yes, they were around back then) to pinpoint where points were deducted. And both the ‘personally’ and the ‘your’ turned me off this professor. You have a few typos, too, but nothing major that detracts from meaning.


    • Thank you for such a great comment! As I remember, the professor was not one of my favorites to begin with 🙂 The typos were probably from when I typed it up on wordpress lol (damnit!) Thanks again for reading!


  7. Not only do I think you wrote a fantastic paper but I agree with what your saying, bias and legalization. I have a similar concern because I will be giving a speech on the necessary legalization of medical marijuana here in Florida, which is entails the problem possible bias by my grader the professor.


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