Jennifer Wagner Chartier: When did marijuana become so commonplace?

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Jennifer WagnerAt the risk of writing a column that’s going to make me sound old, I’d like to pose a question that’s been on my mind lately: Does everyone smoke pot everywhere and all the time these days?

People are smoking in their cars in the Fashion Mall parking lot.

The smell wafts out of many houses when I walk around our neighborhood.

At the grocery the other day, I was convinced there was a marijuana aisle next to the ice cream aisle.

Let me be clear: I don’t particularly care. This isn’t a column advocating for or against legalization. It’s just that 1980s me, with my Trapper Keeper and Lisa Frank stickers, doesn’t understand how we got here seemingly overnight.

Growing up during the “war on drugs,” I was firmly convinced that just one breath of weed smoke would have me hooked on cocaine the rest of my life. Gateway drug, you know?

(We were similarly convinced that touching raw chicken meat would kill us, and the hotel mini bar was reserved for millionaires; just looking at that thing was going to bankrupt the family.)

When I went off to college, my parents tried to explain to me that I would be able to identify the smell of marijuana because of its similarity to burned leaves—and that I should be concerned about getting caught hanging around pot-smoking people because I might also get in trouble.

Indiana is one of 12 states that have yet to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use, a topic lawmakers have been discussing as one for an interim study committee this year. Legalization has consistently high levels of support among Hoosiers, but candidates and elected officials show no sign of changing course.

What’s strange is that this used to feel like a partisan issue, with “law and order” folks on the right talking about stoners, and hippies on the left getting high all day. Lines were drawn. Assumptions were made.

Yet in 2021, it wasn’t a big donor on the left who made headlines with a major contribution to help launch the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, a not-for-profit with a vision “to bring together advocates for second chances, for stronger communities, and for better business to enact durable policies that solve the problems that criminalized cannabis have created within American society.”

The billionaire backing that project was none other than Charles Koch, one of the most influential Republican political players in recent history.

At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, when and how did this incredible shift happen? Do we owe it to CBD and the emergence of health- and medical-related benefits from cannabis? Did smoking marijuana slowly make the leap from counterculture to mainstream, and I just didn’t notice? Is this the byproduct of a renewed focus on criminal justice reform that’s led to more progressive drug policies?

Like I said, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.

I’m mostly just perplexed how one of the biggest “no-no’s” of my generation is now so commonplace that you can’t escape the smell of burned leaves no matter where you go.•

__________

Chartier is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and owner of Mass Ave Public Relations. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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