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Photo from Ida County, Iowa Sheriff’s office

When I was a kid, drug education was handled by an entity called D.A.R.E. I remember the lessons well. In 5th or 6th grade, they touted the evils of drug use and highlighted of course the notorious, the evil, the gateway drug: marijuana. It’s become something of a joke amongst our generation these past 10 years, with 20-30 somethings proudly wearing their old D.A.R.E. t-shirts while lighting up a fat one. Said t-shirts can be found for a pretty penny at your local thrift store, but an original from your childhood is always better.

Last month my home state of Colorado became one of the first to legalize marijuana, and less than a month later, D.A.R.E. released a statement claiming they would no longer be teaching children about pot:

“For the general population of 5th/6th grade students, the topic of marijuana is not age appropriate. Most students in this age group have no basis of reference to the substance. Research has found that teaching children about drugs which they have never heard of or have no real life understanding of may stimulate their interest or curiosity about the substance.”

Ummm….yep. How much “research” did it take to figure that one out? We could have told ya that a long time ago; in fact, you probably already knew, but it took that extra step of legalizing it to actually make it acceptable to say out loud. Change, it seems, is happening fast…or not.

D.C. is a bit odd in its opinion of marijuana, mainly because of its relationship with the federal government. Up til now, the West Coast has been more or less left to their own devices (yeah, I know Cali’s gotten some raids, but still), but with this new legalization it will be interesting to see if that remains true.

Here in D.C., medical marijuana use is technically legal. However, the opposition from the federal government has made it impossible for any dispensaries to open or for anyone to actually sell or grow. The government has made sure that zoning laws are airtight, and it has become somewhat of a fight amongst some of the local residents and the federal system (not uncommon for D.C. in a wide variety of things). But the federal government’s insistence on drug testing for employees, and even many contractors, has made much of the population afraid of the issue, leaving many residents wary of getting into the fight.

In Colorado the attitude toward pot is much like alcohol. Do it in moderation, and it’s fine. Once you start smoking before work or behind the wheel, you’ve got a problem. Seems reasonable to me, and even to my 91-year-old grandmother, who when asked if it should be legalized said, ” YES! And tax the hell out of it.” Love it, Grandma.

In D.C., however, it’s a different story. Residents here, who in every other way are outspokenly liberal, keep this particular issue well under wraps, afraid of endangering their government jobs. And if there is one thing that Americans fear, regardless of their political views, it’s losing their jobs. The federal government in this case has been very effective in their sneaky use of fear as a tactic. They’ve turned it into something dirty that divides classes, which in turn is an issue  that falls under the larger gentrification problem. In neighborhoods populated by native D.C. residents, which are primarily African American, pot smoking is fairly common. As the ever-growing white populations take over these neighborhoods, there is an urge to crack down on it or at least hide it, thus adding to an already tense dynamic. Smoking on federal land, which includes most historic areas of the city, is already a risky business. Smokers in D.C. are now finding less sanctuary in their neighborhoods as well.

So now back to Colorado. It’s unlikely residents there will experience the issue in the same way as their population contains far more snowboarders and far less federal employees. But the question of how pushy the federal government will get is still very much in play. It comes down to an issue of state’s rights. Having witnessed Federal vs. State (or in D.C.’s case, Federal vs. District) firsthand on a small scale, I am curiously awaiting a more open battle on a large one.