As recently as November 2012, Colorado and Washington passed legislation to approve NON-medical uses of marijuana i.e. smoking or ingesting it for strictly recreational reasons. While it is still considered a Schedule I (highest priority) controlled substance at a federal level, the United States government has shown an increasing reluctance to trample on states rights. The cost of enforcing federal law in 20 states that currently allow medical marijuana is certainly a factor – but public opinion polls now routinely show a majority of Americans think it is not a worthwhile matter for police to pursue. Many states have passed statutes to make it “the lowest priority” for local law enforcement. Less than a generation ago this level of decriminalization of marijuana was almost unthinkable.
The unintended consequence for rappers is that advocating or promoting marijuana is no longer the act of rebellion against authority it used to be. When the worst consequence of a cop catching you smoking is (at most) a polite warning, a citation or a small fine you can’t really smoke weed as a middle finger to the law or the establishment. After all legalization is still not universal, and while the standards for getting a medical prescription seem lax (one walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard will tell you that much) it still requires a moral decision to come up with a bogus reason.
The point is here is that hip-hop has always had a high tolerance (pun intended) but back in the day Cypress Hill always had a political agenda to go along with their recreational use – even simple and short statements like “Legalize It” went a long way. As the atmosphere of increasing tolerance toward smoking pot, taking hits from the bong, rolling up a joint, getting higher than Wiz Khalifa, lighting the Phillie blunt, inhaling the kush, whatever your choice – hip-hop needs to develop a more nuanced response to the changing climate of marijuana legalization.
The message delivered for the last twenty years has clearly had an effect on the climate, but rappers should change the message from mere recreational enjoyment to factual reasons why legalization is better. There are studies widely available showing that marijuana use is less damaging than alcohol use, but rappers continue to brag about drinking to copious (and brain damaging) excess. There are taxation benefits to legalizing marijuana that could go directly into social welfare programs as well. Any fears about impaired driving could be laid to rest by the fact that legalizing it doesn’t make it any different than pain medication – you can be “impaired” by any substance and the same laws apply. But hip-hop needs to educate its audience in a new way than the previous generation did – simply enjoying the high in a Styles P way doesn’t suffice now.