When it comes to cannabis being kept illegal, there are theories that this is in order to maintain false class consciousness in society. There is the idea that criminalising cannabis is within the interests of the Establishment as it helps to uphold capitalism. So what is the significance of marijuana and its social influence?
Author, lecturer, philosopher and weed enthusiast Terence McKenna said that cannabis could “induce higher consciousness, bring a sense of mental clarity and make the expression of deep thought easier.” According to this theory, marijuana use is a threat to institutions that rely on the dulling of the masses. In McKenna’s short film, A Cannabis Conversation, he explains how the Establishment is threatened by the consciousness enhancing effect of cannabis. This is why the legalisation of cannabis is incompatible with the maintenance of class suppression in a capitalist society which relies on dulling and distracting the masses, and a possible explanation for institutions continuing to criminalise the plant despite its harmless (and even beneficial) properties.
In the film, he continues with his insight about how, in the absence of effects of cannabis, the values and anxieties of the bourgeois (ruling class) become consuming and demanding of his attention. People, without marijuana, attend more to society’s norms and therefore conform to them. It becomes more easy to fall into the trap of consumerism and false class consciousness, as described in Marxist theory. The term “false consciousness” was coined in 1920 by Hungarian Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács. This refers to the perception of the proletariat (working class) that they are in a better position that they actually are, and the tactic of distraction by the bourgeoisie so that the working class never have the opportunity to gain a true insight of the societal imbalance and therefore mobilise in a revolution.
False consciousness explains why the proletariat have not all become socialist revolutionaries. So what if cannabis is the antithesis of false consciousness? What if it is the key to unlocking awareness amongst the masses, and its legal status reflects the interests of the bourgeoisie? Marijuana might not be the be-all-and-end-all of enlightening people about their own oppression, but it could very well be a catalyst. A means of helping people to ignore the bourgeoisie propaganda and distractions, and to help people process the information. There is the argument that, provided with sufficient information and enough time to process it, we can all come to understand the inequality.
When Terence spoke about cannabis during a speech in 1993, he describes the power of consciousness with the plant. He mentions how part of the effect of the plant is the way it inspires you to question things and not take things at face value. This level of introspection is in direct opposition to the Establishment (or the ruling class), who expect the masses to lap up their propaganda without a second thought. If cannabis truly can increase someone’s level of introspection, it makes the plant a notable threat to society as it stands.
While McKenna’s other opinions may be more controversial, the suggestion that cannabis could be the key to unlocking class consciousness and is therefore a threat to institutions and the bourgeoisie poses an interesting thought. Some socialists would argue that in today’s climate, corporations are finding ways to capitalise on marijuana for profit, and that this outweighs its possibility of conscious-altering effects among the rest of the population. This would explain recent trends, particularly in America, of companies being in favour of legalisation.