There aren’t very many famous scientists in the world—for some reason, celebrity and peer-reviewed research don’t go hand-in-hand—but where popular culture and rational inquiry intersect, the resulting Venn diagram is pro-marijuana.
On Monday, prominent astrophysicist (and Twitter personality) Neil deGrasse Tyson joined the ranks of learned academics to endorse cannabis legalization. Who knew—there isn’t an intellectually honest argument in support of drug prohibition and the carceral state to be had.
Speaking during a Facebook Live event broadcast from Cornell University, Tyson—who counted legendary researcher and television presenter Carl Sagan as a prized mentor—responded to a question on the topic from Marijuana Majority chairman and Massroots political reporter Tom Angell in the affirmative.
“If you really analyze it, relative to other things that are legal, there’s no reason for it to ever have been made illegal in the system of laws,” Tyson said. “Alcohol is legal, and it can mess you up way more than smoking a few jays.”
Not entirely a full-throated endorsement, but entirely consistent with the scientist’s musings on the topic to date.
Unlike Sagan, whom Tyson met during a campus tour of Cornell University and who became a mentor of sorts during his early academic career, Tyson will never be mistaken for a poster child for recreational drug use.
As the Washington Post observed, during a 2015 Reddit AMA, Tyson spoke of the pursuit of “the least-altered state of awareness… because that one is most likely to be closest to reality.”
Sagan, one of America’s most famous (and famously parodied, albeit lovingly) public intellectuals for several decades, had an affinity for the marijuana plant that has rightly become legendary.
In 1969, he penned a pseudonymous love letter to the cannabis plant, under the moniker Mr. X, that’s since become an indispensable entry in the pro-marijuana canon. Marijuana was not only relatively benign at worst—at best, it was an incomparable tool, of great value to the thinker in search of new observations.
“I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs,” Sagan wrote. “My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover.”
Along with the realities on distant worlds, Sagan dreamed of when marijuana would be available over-the-counter, specifically in cigarette-like packs with the suggested dose for consumers printed on the label.
We’re somewhat there, but Sagan’s vision was as sound as his judgment.
As he knew then, “the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”
Still. Tyson is offering what Sagan knew and what a majority of Americans realize. Banning marijuana makes no sense, helps no one aside from those who profit on its prohibition and the human suffering than ensues.
And you don’t need to be a legendary mind with far-out perceptions of time and space to grasp that.