We live in a time where controversy is contagious, and the media outlets seem to have an unlimited supply of social issues to throw our way. One of the biggest recurring themes in news headlines is the subject of marijuana and its proposed legalization in the United States.

America is great in a lot of ways, but if you’re looking for a society with homogenous social views, you’d better keep searching. We are a massive collection of states, each of which is unique in its own strange way. You wouldn’t order deep dish pizza in New York any more than you’d bring a knife to a gun fight in Texas. Likewise, there is a polarization in views on particularly incendiary topics. Marijuana is no exception.

I was fortunate enough to work in Colorado last summer, where I experienced firsthand the new policies on pot. It was prevalent enough that a foreigner visiting Colorado might have thought it was a staple in American culture. But obviously, that’s not the case. For example, don’t get caught with weed in Alabama; that felony could have you breaking rocks all day in an orange jumpsuit. Roll tide.

Some scoff at the inconsistencies that span from sea to shining sea. Why wouldn’t our government just legalize marijuana if the states’ legislations were edging toward leniency and decriminalization? Well, the truth is that it could happen. Legalization advocates believe if a few more states join Colorado, Washington and Oregon in the purple haze, Uncle Sam might cave. Recently, the pot lobby has cast a line hoping to hook New York. Somehow, they caught Alaska. Not exactly Christmas, but even so, heavy hitters such as California and Florida are currently on the fence and are wobbling back and forth in a half-baked stupor.

With how fast and efficient the legislative and executive branches have been lately, we’re not likely to see much in the way of a law before the next Halley’s Comet. But still, the idea is worth considering, even if only to humor ourselves. The prospect of legal weed is interesting to ponder from an economic and political standpoint, but let’s be selfish for a moment. What would marijuana legalization mean for the impressionable youth of America’s universities? What could college kids possibly do with all the marijuana they could afford?

To gain some perspective, I turned to a contact of mine in Colorado, one Jay Merrill. Jay is my marijuana insider. As a lifelong Colorado resident and a junior at Colorado State University, Jay has had a front row seat on this roller coaster ride. And what he had for me was interesting. 

Anti-pot activists might say that legalizing the drug could flood campuses with it, over-exposing college kids to a substance with questionable health effects. But it seems as if this is not necessarily true. Jay said that while CSU’s marijuana culture has grown, it’s mainly been among those who had already been a part of it. Legality gave those who previously partook unlawfully a legitimate voice. Articles appear in the Colorado newspapers regularly about the subject, as it has become integrated as a piece of the culture. Similar to Jay, those who did not partake still chose not to do and have not become an overnight minority just because the law has changed.

Call me an optimist, but I tend to think that people are smart enough to do a quick risk-reward analysis before making a decision. Giving college kids access to legal marijuana probably won’t foster a generation of junkies. Those who did not partake before will mostly likely not do so just because it is legal. College kids are old enough to decide what constitutes right and wrong for themselves. Let them make their own decisions.

Just like students all over the nation, Richmond kids have been exposed to marijuana. A few of our Spiders really love their Mary Jane, but I daresay most consciously give it a miss. Marijuana won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to the temptations that college students face in their academic careers. Richmond won’t start pumping out second-rate hippie bums all of a sudden.

Many of us will never use marijuana and may not even care at all about the controversy surrounding it. I personally will never touch the stuff. Rydal Elementary School used “shock and awe” picture tactics to scare third-grade me into submission. However, it is important to recognize the greater significance of the issue. The country is changing, and a drug that was generally denounced only a decade earlier is now being legally grown under state supervision. It would be a hell of a task to find an impartial way to poll people, but it is a very real possibility that the majority of Americans could soon be OK with marijuana’s legalization.

This may offend some very vocal folks, but it’s important to note how this country is supposed to work. Nothing trumps the people’s voice, and if legalization is the future, democracy will lead the way there. I don’t know the industrial or economic ramifications of such a decision, but I’m willing to bet America is robust enough to handle it. So whether you’re a recreational user or a B-school brat looking to challenge Philip Morris in the new marketplace (good luck), big changes to the marijuana industry are not too far down the line.

Contact reporter Joe DiBello at joe.dibello@richmond.edu