Cannabis Legalization

One of today’s largest debates in the United States is whether or not to legalize marijuana. Personally, I believe that the legalization of cannabis would be largely beneficial to the United States, with very few detriments in comparison to the advantages. Cannabis is currently classified in most states as a Schedule I Drug, meaning that it is in the same category as dangerous hard drugs like LSD, Heroin, and MDMA.

In my research, the arguments against marijuana legalization tend to be fairly unfounded. First, many argue that the exposure of the younger generation to legal marijuana usage would increase underage smoking. In reality, the opposite is true. Legalizing marijuana would allow the government to introduce a minimum smoking age, and an overall decrease in underage use would result. Similar to alcohol, there would of course still be some underage usage, but with ID checks on age for legal purchase the trending of usage among underage smokers would decrease. Second, there is an argument that many users would experience lowered motivation, causing loss of jobs and failure in school. However, unless marijuana is irresponsibly used, there is no reason that it would cause this. Of course, if someone is smoking during school or work hours, then they would experience a decrease in productivity. The same is true of alcohol use, sleeping, ditching school, eating too much, or anything else used in excess at improper times. Marijuana is not the cause of motivation deficiencies, irresponsible use is. Third, many argue that marijuana would cause more road accidents. In reality, marijuana is much less impairing than alcohol. It is still a concern, but would easily be combated with a DUI law similar to that used for alcohol. Fourth, people have said that marijuana will cause mental deterioration and make people “stupid.” In truth, studies have found no correlation between marijuana usage and lowered intelligence. Many studies have even shown beneficial mental effects, including an increase in creativity and decrease in memory loss as one grows older. Fifth, a common argument is that the use of marijuana is somehow immoral. To that, I would just like to say that it is not the responsibility of anyone to attempt to control someone else’s moral choices.

Beyond the reasons listed above, there are a lot of other advantages to legalizing cannabis. Firstly, as proven by alcohol prohibition, banning the use of a substance simply doesn’t work. People are going to smoke marijuana whether or not it is legal. Secondly, marijuana is not dangerous. It is far healthier to use marijuana than any other major drug, including tobacco or alcohol. Marijuana is not linked to violence or abuse, whereas alcohol or hard drugs are. Instead, marijuana tends to have more of a calming influence. Furthermore, in contrast to alcohol and cigarette usage, marijuana is not addictive. It is true that it can become habitually used, but you will not experience withdrawals when you quit. Additionally, it is virtually impossible to have a fatal overdose on marijuana. Third, the criminal justice system would benefit from the legalization of marijuana. Jailing is hugely expensive. The national average spending per inmate is $31,286 in a year. In 2012, there were 658,000 people arrested for possession. Imagine, with that number of inmates added to the jail system per year, the cost of prison for marijuana-related incarcerations alone. The numbers are astronomical. By legalizing marijuana, the money going towards jails and prisons would experience a huge decrease, saving funding for other government programs. Fourth, the legal sale of marijuana would help to lower illegal purchase. Most people would choose a legal option if it is available. This would keep the money out of the hands of drug lords and gangs, and add money directly to the United States economy. Along this line, taxation of marijuana would bring in huge profits to the government. Taxes for marijuana are high. Colorado demands a 10% marijuana tax, 2.9% state sales tax, and any local taxes. This brings it up to over 13% tax on the price of marijuana. In fact, in the first six months of 2014, Colorado brought in $25 million from marijuana revenue. Country-wide legalization would draw huge amounts of funding. Fifth, marijuana is hugely useful for a number of medical uses but with both medical and recreational usage banned by most states, it is largely inaccessible. With its effects against memory loss, decrease in pain, and its calming qualities, marijuana is successful in treating symptoms and increasing the quality of life for patients. Marijuana is used to treat symptoms of alcoholism and alcohol abuse, alzheimer’s, anorexia, cancer, epilepsy and seizures, insomnia, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, OCD, anxiety and panic disorders, and a whole plethora of other medical issues.

Overall, the benefits for the legalization of cannabis far outweigh the (virtually nonexistent) detriments. I believe firmly that permitting the legal sale and use of marijuana across the country would have positive effects on citizens and government alike.


The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers by Christian Hendrichson and Ruth Delaney


What It’s Like to Live With Depression

May is Mental Illness Awareness Month, and in honor of that I wanted to take my post this week to talk about mental illness in my own life. One of the reasons I think it’s important to talk about mental illness in such a personal capacity is that it tends to be such a taboo topic. In my opinion, the more open I am about my own mental illnesses, the more open other people will be with questions and their own experiences. Mental illness is, contrary to the belief of many, a real illness with difficult and trying effects on those who live with one. By talking about it, awareness can continue to be spread and the idea that mental illness is “just an excuse” can be eradicated.

A lot of you are aware that I’m a person who has mental illness. More specifically, I have four that have been diagnosed so far: Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terms, I’d invite you to do a little Googling or even come to me personally. I’m more than happy to talk about it or answer any questions, as long as the topic is handled with respect.

I’ve had depressive symptoms since early elementary school, but I wasn’t officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder until around six months ago. It’s been a mixed experience. It’s good to know that the things I go through emotionally have a cause, and can be treated and worked with to improve them. However, I’ve had a really difficult time adjusting to the idea that my depression and anxiety isn’t temporary, but a disease that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. I’ve been in the process of finding a medication that works for me, albeit without much success. I’ve been in therapy for about seven months now, the second time in my life that I’ve needed to go see a regular therapist. I’m working on getting better and finding healthy and effective coping mechanisms, but even with these measures depression is not a pleasant experience to have to go through.

Many people in my life have asked me what depression feels like. Depression, firstly, is different for everyone and manifests a wide range of symptoms with varying intensities for each person. However, even within my own self, depression takes a variety of forms and that’s a bit of what I wanted to talk about today.

Depression is exhaustion. I feel tired all the time, a large contributing factor to the seventy-two cups of coffee I down per day. This exhaustion makes it extremely hard to function. It’s often really difficult to concentrate on tasks, such as school or work, because all I can focus on is not falling asleep. With this tiredness and lack of concentration, simple daily tasks become very hard to accomplish. On a bad day, a ten page reading can take an hour and a half (and normally, I’m a very fast reader.) Cleaning my room for thirty minutes requires an hour long nap to recover from the exertion. A ten minute conversation is draining. Sometimes, even, it’s even too hard to get out of bed because the thought of having to lift my limbs is exhausting.

Depression is loneliness. It is the fear that you are alone and friendless, even when surrounded by those you love. It is the isolation of your disease, when others don’t quite grasp the concept of what you are going through. It is the inability to reach out for help from others.

Depression is hopelessness. It is the fear and, at times, even acceptance that life will not get better. It seems as though I am a failure at school, at art, at social activities, at life in general. It is the feeling that I have disappointed myself, my friends and family, and everyone else I know.

Depression is numb. Sometimes there is no feeling except to want to feel anything. There are days when, even if I received the worst of news, I would feel nothing towards it even if I wanted to. I don’t feel happy, I don’t feel sad, I don’t feel anything. These are some of the worst days.

Depression is overwhelming sadness. It can be about a specific thing or event. Alternatively, it can be about nothing at all, just a blanket of miserableness. And sometimes it will hit you out of nowhere. You could be having a great time and suddenly mid-laugh it hits you and you can’t smile anymore.

Depression affects every area of your life and you can’t help it, as much as you would like to. It is a mental disease, and because your brain is the organ that controls all of your feelings and actions, no area remains untouched. You can learn to function better through it and you can learn different techniques to improve your mood, but it is a long and tedious process that is not guaranteed to help all the time.

All of you know someone with some sort of mental illness, whether you are aware of it or not. I plead that all of you take time to research and try to understand better about mental illness. Google can be a great resource. You can talk to people. More than anything, however, try to be understanding and sensitive to those you know who may have a mental illness. They know how it affects them personally better than any website or any other person. If you can try to understand and support them, then you can help them through their difficult experiences.


How To Start Writing

For me, writing is one of the best ways to express myself and put my experiences and feelings out into the world. I’ve written poems, short stories, journals, essays, novels, and most recently this blog. I’ve been a writer for years and years, even as early as my elementary school days.

I’ve had a number of people over the years who have asked me how to get started with writing. Here are a few pieces of advice I’ve found that are really helpful to me.

Just start writing.

Grab your laptop or a notebook and just start writing. Write whatever comes to mind and don’t stop. It’s more about getting your brain flowing than anything, so don’t be worried about messing up. You can’t automatically write one of the century’s greatest novels, but if you can get your brain working and flowing you’re one step closer.

One of the most helpful exercises I do is called a “quick write.” Set a timer for ten minutes, and don’t allow yourself to stop moving your pen or fingers for the entire time. A lot of it will come out junk, I won’t lie. I’ve had whole pages of nothing but the word ‘watermelon.’ But, in between the garbage, you come up with something really great. Whether that’s a short phrase, a poem, or an entire story plot, it gives you some place to start.

Practice, practice, practice.

The more you write, the better your writing will become. It’s all about practice. Take time to write every day, learn new vocabulary words, work on your grammar, etc. It will improve your writing by tenfold.

One thing I try to do is write for at least fifteen minutes a day. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but writing every day helps improve your writing, creativity, and is even good for your brain because it helps with mental stimulation. Additionally, this helps get you in the habit of writing. If you write for fifteen minutes every day, you’ll end up writing much more than if you sit down and write for three hours once a month.

Outlines will save your life.

After you’ve come up with an idea for a story, essay, poem, or whatever it is that you want to write, make an outline. It is tedious, but I’ve found that it is very helpful for me to have a sort of road map to follow when I’m writing for a few reasons.

If I have an outline, I feel much less rushed to complete a project. I don’t have to worry about forgetting what else I have to write, because it’s all on paper in front of me. I can take the time to expand upon what I want to say, and really delve into each section of my writing without worry.

Additionally, I like it because I can see the progress that I am making. An outline makes it much easier to track what you’ve already done and what you have left to do.

Furthermore, an outline gives you insight into the future of your project. If you know where your writing is headed, you can tie in connections such as foreshadowing or themes much more effectively.

Write about things you care about.

The more passionate about something you are, the easier it will be to write about. It can be something as simple as your dog or your family, or something as complicated as an emotion or an entire story. It’s a lot easier for me to write about my family than it is for me to write about the cell structure of a pine tree. If you write from your heart, your writing will be exponentially better and you’ll have more satisfaction from it.

Write first, edit later.

Don’t worry so much about being perfect. Get your story, article, poem, etc. written down, and then worry about polishing it. If you go back to edit every time you write a sentence or a line, you’ll never end up getting anything done. It’s much easier and faster if you write everything first and then go back and edit it once you’re finished.

Carry around a notebook or notepad.

If you decide that writing is for you, then start carrying around a notebook or a small notepad. If you see something inspirational, write it down. If you think of something you would really like to write about, write it down. If you see someone who might make a good character, if you overhear a conversation to use in a story, if you find a building you like the looks of, write it down. Carrying a notebook allows you to be able to immediately jot down anything you can draw from, whether it’s an experience, a fleeting thought, a random stranger, an interesting conversation, or anything else. This way you won’t forget these little inspirations. When you’re writing, your own life is the biggest pool you have to draw from. Pay attention and write everything down.

Finally, forget everything I’ve said.

My system isn’t everyone’s. Experiment around and find out what works best for you. No two people are the same, and no two writers will work in the same way.

Eight Lessons From My Sophomore Year

I recently finished my sophomore year at the University of Utah. It was a year for the books, in the best and worst sense. I went through a huge breakup. I declared a double major in Political Science and Journalism. I made friends and lost friends. I learned to weight-lift. I struggled with easily the worst bout of depression and anxiety I’ve ever had to go through. I came out as queer. I rediscovered my passion for painting and art. And so much more…

Even beyond my schooling and classes, there was a lot of learning and a lot of growth. I’d like to share with you some of my lessons from sophomore year.


1. Don’t hold on to people who don’t treat you like you deserve.

There are going to be people who don’t treat you right, who are mean to you, use you, exclude you, devalue you, don’t give you the same amount of effort you put in. And these people are not worth your time. It doesn’t matter if you think you love them, you think they’re your best friend, you’re dating, you’re family, or you feel like they are otherwise important in your life. If someone treats you with anything other than what you deserve, they don’t need to be anywhere near you. You deserve respect, love, and kindness, and if you aren’t receiving that from someone, leave.

Trust me, I know how hard that can be. It’s painful to leave behind someone you care about, whether or not they hold you in the same esteem. It’s hard to lose people, and it’s easy to blame yourself for it. Here’s the thing: if you are being treated like something “less” it’s not your problem. It’s theirs. You are the most important person in your life, more than any girlfriend or boyfriend, friend, acquaintance, family member, or anything else. Anyone in your life who treats you like less than what you deserve doesn’t need to be there.


2. You don’t need to be perfect immediately. Improvement is what matters.

It’s a pretty well-accepted fact that everyone has flaws. People are really good at seeing their own and judging themselves over it. It’s easy to come down hard on yourself based off of these inadequacies alone, and much harder to realize that you are so much more than the sum of your imperfections.

Having flaws is okay. The important thing is to recognize them and improve them, and that’s the best you can do. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get better immediately. It takes time. If you’re trying, that’s what matters most.


3. Mental Health is more important than anything else. Take care of yourself.

No matter what anyone says, the most important thing you have to do is take care of yourself and your mental health. When someone has a physical illness, no one bats an eye if they take a night off or skip a few days of class. Mental illness should be the same way.

Sometimes you can’t concentrate. Sometimes it’s just too hard to go outside. Sometimes you can’t even get out of bed. If you’re having a hard time, it’s alright to step back and recuperate. Get feeling better and get feeling safe, and then worry about everything else.


4. Don’t change for anyone.

You are wonderful and important and unique just the way you are. It’s not your job to change yourself for anyone. Any change you go through should come from within.

Don’t change simply because people might like you better a certain way. You’ll find people who like you just as you are, with all of your wonderful complexities, and you’ll all be better off. In all reality, if someone asks you to change it’s because they’re not happy with themselves.

The hardest thing to do is learning to use yourself as a marker instead of others. Everyone looks around thinking that “they’re prettier” or “they’re smarter” or “they’re cooler.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it traps you where you are. Everyone will be better at something than you are, and when you look around and see all the different people that are better than you in different areas you start to think you’re no good at anything. If you use yourself as a marker instead, it’s exponentially easier to see your improvements and your progress and to keep moving forward.


5. Learn to say sorry.

If you mess up, admit it. Apologize sincerely and emphatically. Your pride isn’t worth someone else’s pain.


6. Take time for yourself.

Make time in your life to do the things that you love, whether that’s hanging out with friends or family, watching a movie, doing art, going on a hike, playing video games, exercising, learning something outside of school, going on a fieldtrip, or whatever it is that you love. A life with all work and no play is not worth it and, beyond that, unhealthy. Every person needs some time to destress, kick back, or have fun in their own way.


7. Forgive not only others, but yourself as well.

Forgiveness is more for you than it is for anyone else. It’s a relief, a lightening of your conscience.

It’s pretty easy to forgive someone if they are apologetic and really feel bad about the damage they’ve done. Everyone messes up, and if they have a desire to fix that, then chances are that they deserve a second chance.

It’s a lot harder to forgive if they don’t feel sorry or if the hurt was something very large. Despite this, I think that forgiveness is still valuable. You don’t have to forget what happened. If someone really hurts you, you don’t have to let them back in. However, it’s a huge relief off of your chest if you can erase that bitterness from your life. Holding grudges wastes energy. Being angry sucks away from your other emotions. If you can recognize the hurt that was caused to you and learn to forgive despite it, you’ll feel much better.

It’s even harder, but arguably more important, to learn to forgive yourself. People mess up, and you aren’t excluded from that. Chances are that you’re going to end up hurting someone pretty badly or doing something you aren’t proud of. It’s important, first of all, to recognize your wrongs and apologize. But after that is through, despite the outcome, it’s necessary to understand that you are fallible. Try to learn from your mistakes, but learn to to forgive yourself for them as well.


8. A little self-confidence goes a long way.

Learn to love yourself unconditionally. You mess up, you cry, you fail, you have bad parts along with your good parts. It’s not always easy to be happy with who you are, especially when you have imperfections. Like I said before, all you can do is work on your flaws and try to become the person you want to be. Strive towards your future self, but learn to love your present self just as unequivocally.