On a bright sunny day last August, my friends and I were walking along a small side street on our way back from the Goodwill on Figueroa. I was excitedly talking about the list of potential names I had come up with for this column. Reality hadn’t sunk in yet, and I was still reeling over the fact that someone — anyone — agreed to my having a column, much less one about weed, in the Daily Trojan.
I was shouting out names, but none of them seemed to stick until I blurted out the coveted “To Be Blunt” in a light bulb-like epiphany. Suddenly my friends turned around, shopping bags swinging, and I couldn’t contain my smile at the fact that I might just have something interesting on my hands, something worthy to say to an audience.
Since its inception, I knew my column couldn’t shy away from anything — if I werewas aiming to break down stigmas, advocate for the substance, its decriminalization and benefits, meanwhile delving into the cultural connotations of weed, I had to be everything but bland and much more than earnest, without seeming preachy. I wanted to be taken seriously, but not too seriously. Because, honestly, what’s a weed column without a few puns (hello? This column’s title?) and obligatory lighthearted jabs about how everyone should smoke weed and just, like, chill out man?
In doing so, I never considered my column would gain a life of its own, from random messages on LinkedIn from middle-aged white male startup entrepreneurs asking me if I could promote their new cannabis product that would totally revolutionize the industry to a fellow peer I had met in passing pointing at me and just saying my column name at me.
I also never dwelled on “To Be Blunt’s” impact on my job security, at least not until a couple of friends asked me if I was afraid I’d be passed up on opportunities for discussing such a taboo subject and implicating myself in the process. The truth is I considered the risk only in passing, and ultimately I’m glad I did; I’d never want to work for a company or publication that was not forward-thinking in its cannabis drug policy and progressive in how it reports on cannabis. And I’m not sorry about it.
But this doesn’t mean I’m not nervous either, both because of my penchant for leaping to the worst-case scenario and the fact that I have the residue of the fear of God inside me from my overly religious elementary school upbringing.
At the outset, I also grappled with how personal I wanted to get with this column and how much I really wanted to reveal to who knows how many readers comprising some of my peers, professors and maybe the occasional Twitter-verified journalist (I’m definitely reaching). In the end, I decided I couldn’t work at destigmatizing the substance on paper if I didn’t simultaneously work to purge the internalized stigmas I held. I have no shame in using weed as a medicinal — and occasionally recreational — substance, and I’ve written at length about the personal ways it has transformed not only my life but the lives of those around me, too.
But as with all good things, “To Be Blunt” must come to an end. Perhaps that’s much too presumptuous, but I feel that I’ve covered the main bullet points of the cannabis world, from its racialized history to its global cultural significance and healing properties.
And this leads me to my parting words, as I say farewell to this column and close this chapter in my journey as a writer. There’s so much I could still say through this platform and so many topics within the world of weed that I have yet to discuss: the rise of cannabis within the makeup and skincare industry (rapid and overwhelmingly white), if cannabis actually lowers IQ (nope) and the correlation between schizophrenia and heavy use (that we’re not sure of yet), to name a few.
But ultimately, I hope I’ve conveyed the importance of global decriminalization and legalization; I hope I’ve emphasized the vital need for rapid restorative justice for those currently incarcerated for petty drug charges and equity programs for cannabis entrepreneurs of color. At the very least, I hope this column taught you something, changed your perspective on the substance and made you smile.
As I move onto greener pastures (had to throw one more pun at you, not sorry about it), the fight for cannabis justice is not over. Cannabis is on the ballot in five states, with an additional six pending campaigns for 2022. Weed taxes in legal states fund police departments, which only terrorize marginalized communities of color and contribute to the expansion of the weed-to-police pipeline, making it clear that the War on Drugs is far from over.
Cannabis is just a cog in the larger machine of institutionalized racism, and each of us can and should do so much more to educate ourselves and spread awareness about the need to make cannabis accessible, non-criminalized and just.
Natalie Oganesyan is a senior writing about weed culture and politics. Her column, “To Be Blunt,” ran every other Thursday.