This is a story of weed.
Many years ago, back when I was a wide-eyed youngster who’d just joined college, a group of classmates were introduced to a very strange substance. It looked like dried green twigs, and the sly fellow who proceeded to crush it into a powder wore a wide grin. He placed the powder in the middle of a small sheet of paper, twirled it into a cigarette, and offered it to an apprehensive looking student from Mumbai.
A few minutes later, as the student began to laugh and enjoy himself, someone mentioned one of the colloquial terms for this substance. A Malayali in the group looked stunned. “Wait,” he asked in disbelief, “this is kanjaav?”
His disbelief was understandable. He’d expected the infamous drug to be deadly, its consumption a terrible, nightmarish sight. He’d expected Resident Evil and was instead watching Teletubbies.
That’s the problem. We need to tell Malayalis the truth about kanjaav.
If you went to college in India sometime during the past decade or so, I’m sure you’ve probably run into a Weed Advocate. These are the fellows who grab any opportunity in order to passionately advocate for the legalization and promotion of marijuana. They’ll begin their rants with a cryptic question or a provocative statement. Something like: Did you know that weed was criminalised to protect the paper industry?
If you engaged them (or didn’t actively escape their sphere of influence) they’d proceed to give you an imperfect history class, with facts distorted through the hazy recollection of previous conversations and oversimplification of complex Wikipedia entries. Their central thesis, however, was exceedingly straightforward and stubbornly unshakeable.
Weed is good. Weed is being demonised. Weed needs to be legalised.
For these advocates, Snoop Dogg provided the soundtrack, Bob Marley the iconography, and the Netherlands the dream location. It could get very tiring very fast if you spent time with them. Sure, they injected a little variety into their conversations by introducing you to new topics. For example, had you heard about the Illuminati? And how they control everyone in the music industry?
It was easy to dismiss these weed advocates. Their sense of dressing, speech pattern, personal hygiene, and academic record often did it for them. Sure, not everyone who smoked weed was lost, or as someone once quipped: Not everyone who smokes pot is a pothead.
But the general stigma remained. Those who smoked weed could not be taken seriously, because they were actively derailing their life. Or at least, maintaining a general sense of stagnancy.
Also Read: THE (STRANGE) CIRCLE OF (MALAYALI) LIFE
However, as many Weed Advocates cheerfully quoted over the years, there’s plenty of research and legislation around the world that seem to support what these conspiracy theorists have been saying for ages.
It turns out that marijuana has a lot of medicinal value. In many countries, you can be prescribed medicinal marijuana, and many patients have sworn that consuming the magic herb is far better for pain management than anything the pharmaceutical industry could offer them. Today, a medical professional will instruct you on the particular strain of marijuana you need as well as the various choices available with regards to consuming it. There are dispensaries that would make a Weed Advocate weep in joy and probably die from a heart attack.
But none of that is the case in Kerala.
Because within God’s own country, it’s still the early 1980s, and we seem to be following Ronald Reagan’s policy of Just Say No when it comes to the infamous “kanjaav”.
In fact, a friend of mine who came to the Gulf from Kerala told me just how fanatical parts of society were about clamping down on marijuana consumption. Sure, it’s illegal throughout almost all parts of India, but attitudes towards it vary greatly from state to state. In Himachal Pradesh, for example, you could smoke hash out in public without getting stares from passers-by. Nobody would dare do that in Kerala.
In fact, even walking around with a Bob Marley keychain is enough to trigger a vicious response. It’s been reported that police officers clamp down hard on youngsters brandishing any form of paraphernalia that is deemed to have connections to marijuana.
Right now many of you are wondering the same thing: So what do you think should change? I can understand if there’s a bit of anger and annoyance in that question because you probably have a negative opinion regarding marijuana.
That’s understandable. I’m not here to argue that weed is good. Neither am I saying that it is bad. In fact, that’s precisely what the issue is. We’ve all been given the verdict. None of us have been given the facts.
Let’s say there are two major camps: Team Anslinger and Team Marley (Good on ya if you get that reference).
Team Anslinger believes kanjaav is a terrible substance. A drug that destroys the mind and corrupts the soul. If left unchecked, it will destroy the youth, evaporate their futures and eliminate all goodness in their hearts.
Team Marley believes marijuana is a magical herb that human beings should rightfully consume. It’s the solution to countless problems, both within the individual and society at large. It is being unfairly demonized, and it’s time to put an end to this charade.
I believe both camps hold portions of the truth, but they are incomplete on their own. Yes, what follows is my personal opinion, and PinkLungi has no involvement with it. But hear me out.
Think about how your opinion of kanjaav was formed. Did you watch news reports on the T.V. or hear your parents read out loud from the newspaper about how huge quantities of this drug had been captured by the Narcotics Bureau during a particular raid? Did you identify with some of the characters in the stories, such as the powerful and protective police officers who stopped this drug, and not with the shadier looking ones such as the dealers, suppliers, and users of weed? Did you hear how a particular yuvav committed a crime while under the influence of this kanjaav?
Many of us grew up with that perception. And therefore it became easy for us to decide that marijuana was a terrible drug that would destroy society.
And once we formed this impression, it became pretty difficult to listen to anything anyone who loved weed had to say. I’m guilty of this as well. When the pothead in college told me the paper industry is the reason weed is illegal, I laughed out loud.
Also Read: WHY WE NEED BETTER MALAYALAM T.V. SERIALS
Almost a decade later, I’m listening to an NPR podcast about William Randolph Hearst, the hugely influential newspaper publisher in America who began a campaign to demonise ‘marijuana’ (a term that was literally coined in the 1930s), and ensure that it was criminalised. There were many motives, but here’s one of the strongest: hemp (the plant that produces cannabis) could destroy the paper industry. Because paper made hemp pulp was cheaper and superior in quality compared to wood pulp. Not to mention, hemp can be used to produce over 500 different products.
It was astonishing to read about this. It felt a tiny bit like discovering that Illuminati was real, or that aliens had already landed.
Then I read about reefer madness, and suddenly the social perceptions towards marijuana in Kerala made a lot more sense. This wasn’t a uniquely Malayali response. This was something that had been manufactured and transmitted to societies all over the world.
Reefer Madness was a 1936 propaganda film released in the U.S. that showed what happened when youngsters smoked marijuana. Critics have called it a blatant attempt at demonizing the substance, and now marijuana advocates cite the film when talking about cannabis policy reform.
The reasons and examples of how marijuana has been demonized would end up taking the form of a book. But to put it briefly, this substance was vilified in the United States, not for health reasons, but more so for racial ones. There’s an infamous tape of President Nixon talking about the real reason for America’s “War on Drugs”. It wasn’t to save society. But rather to keep white society away from other racial groups.
So why am I mentioning all of this to you, my fellow Malayali? Well, if you are part of Team Anslinger, I’m hoping this will make you think and reflect.
If you are a parent who’s discovered that your child has been consuming marijuana, wouldn’t it be better to have a clearer picture of the truth? There are countless tales in our state of youngsters being thrown out of their houses because they dared to try weed. Of course, I’m not saying weed should be encouraged. Far from it! But if you are a parent who gently chides your kid for drinking with his friends, but flips out when you find out they’ve had weed, that is an issue. It’s an issue because you are normalising alcohol and demonising marijuana simultaneously. You can raise your kids the way you want. But you need to know the facts.
I’m mentioning all of this because many of us are guilty of falling for Reefer Madness. We’ve judged those college kids who enjoy weed, we’ve alienated those neighbors who support its legalisation, and we’ve condemned anyone who has any real or perceived association with the substance. All because we’ve got a wrong idea about marijuana.
But isn’t it illegal? Yes, it definitely is. And you’d definitely not want anyone you know to be indulging in illegal activity. But let’s be honest. Illegal is not the same thing as immoral. If you were in a conservative state in India, and saw one neighbor procuring and consuming beef, while another did so with marijuana, would you be equally repulsed by them? Or would you think one was illegal and the other immoral?
Marijuana won’t be legalised in Kerala any time soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t modify our opinion about it, after acquiring all the facts and investigating deep-rooted prejudices within. Because the truth is, many Malayalis have, do, and will continue to smoke weed. The best we can do is understand them and the situation better. Simply pretending it’s a faraway evil won’t help.
And to those in Team Marley, I’d like to say: Several years back I had a dear friend who was a passionate advocate for weed. He truly believed that society should change its outlook towards this substance. He desperately wanted to shed light on the political reasons for its demonisation, the medical reasons for its long-overdue promotion.
In the next part, I’ll tell you why he was right. And also how soon after our last interaction, I found out that he had a psychotic breakdown. Because you see, even though Reefer Madness was a propaganda film, going insane from smoking too much weed is an unfortunate reality.
Check out the second part of this article by clicking here.
Author’s Note: It was only after writing this article that I read about Rhea Chakraborty being arrested. Though this article was not inspired or related to her case, perhaps some of the issues discussed have relevance…
While you’re waiting for the next part of this article, check out Marwan Razzaq’s crime thriller novel, “The Man Who Found His Shadow.” There is no marijuana in it, but lots of guns and action! Check it out on Amazon!