I kind of feel like the medical-marijuana-as-wedge-for-recreational-marijuana is a good example of how respectability politics can only get you so far (but they can indeed get you there.)
Legalization advocates have *of course* been intentionally using medical marijuana to sway public opinion, particularly the mmj needs of the most sympathetic patients, like little kids with way too many seizures (who have largely replaced the adult glaucoma and cancer patients who use to dominate the narrative).
States that allow medical marijuana don’t see tremendous increases in violent or property crime (though the quality of street marijuana for sale goes up). The respectable pot user narrative – wonderfully, blessedly – made marijuana more available to me, in safer and legal ways. But it has left others behind.
In states with medical but not recreational marijuana, anyone using without the proper paperwork – and sometimes even those who have it – is at risk of arrest and imprisonment. Even in recreational states, a lot of product goes out the back door to supplement the incomes of marijuana industry workers.
Dispensary “budtenders” are treated as low-paid variably-trained but highly legally-culpable pharmacists, responsible for checking IDs, recommending strains based on customer health needs, and keeping track of constantly changing container laws. Marijuana growing, curing, and trimming operations employ immigrant labor, frequently for subminimum wages.
And of course, millions of people sit in jail for selling small amounts of marijuana, something praised as wise business practice in marijuana industry publications. Roughly 40% of women in prison, many of them mothers of minor children, are incarcerated for engaging in or supporting the same business practice that has made “marijuana millionaires” of white men in Colorado and Washington state.
When I lived in Florida and bought weed off the street, I was engaging in criminal behavior. Now that I live in Colorado and buy weed from the dispensary, I am not. But my marijuana use is the same. My medical needs are the same. The cognitive and social consequences of my marijuana usage (or abstinence) are the same. The respectable weed user narrative lets me slip under the door of legality and be “safe”, but it leaves millions of criminal users and dealers behind.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Colorado and Washington state, with our majority white populations and generally “liberal” politics were the first states to get recreational marijuana. As white people, as states that still have a middle class, and as people with fewer religious hang ups than the South, we can consider ourselves good, responsible weed users, and can approve ballot measures to make it so. I think white people in states with higher racial minority populations are much more likely to oppose marijuana laws, recreational or medical, because they don’t want “criminals” (black and brown people) getting their hands on it.