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Kendra Outler, MD, MPH

Founder, Uzima Health & Wellness

TO BE IN LOVE WITH MARY JANE

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The Billboard ‘s Greatest R&B Singers of All Time will immediately start an argument. The list highlights musicians with an enduring musical legacy and game changing influence. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince will always make the list. However, we still debate the ranking order of the names of these musical icons. A quick review of the editors for The Billboard and this list is created by a largely White group of music and media critics and not from the votes of ordinary folks like you and me.

In a senior English course I took at Morehouse College, my professor, Dr. Stephens declared that the work of Robert Beck, a former American pimp, who later became a writer was just as good as the work of Charles Dickens. Therefore, he declared that part of our required reading was Pimp by Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck’s pen name). Dr. Stephens challenged us as we read works by 20th Century Black Male writers to answer, who determines what is great literature or not. In the Billboard’s 35 Greatest R&B Singers of All Time, there is a Black male singer missing. This is none other than James Ambrose Johnson Jr., who we affectionally know as Rick James.

Rick James was by all accords taboo, but he spoke to us. No one can deny that he has an enduring legacy. However, he did not play by anyone’s rules. With his beaded bangs and disco pimped out bodysuits, he interpreted our intimate thoughts into song. Rick James released a song in 1978 that professed the love that many had or have with Mary Jane. Can you imagine being 10 or 11 and hearing on the radio:

I'm in love with Mary Jane
She's my main thing
She makes me feel alright
She makes my heart sing

Then he begs for an answer with “Do you love me Mary Jane? And warns her not to play no games. It is a Rick James classic. This ode to weed or marijuana has been sampled by other artist but never reproduced. It was the truth.

This psychoactive drug harvested from the cannabis plant has many nicknames, including “Mary Jane”, “weed” and “kunga”. Cannabis has been with mankind for over 12,000 years. From the classical Greeks to the Romans, from the Middle East to the Western Hemisphere, the history of this plant is exhaustive. By the time I heard about it, I was 10 years old walking my neighborhood in Houston, Texas and seeing the guys washing cars belting out the words “Marrryy Jaaannne! I love her just the same!!” At 16 these young men and girls were falling hard for her.

Do ya? Do ya? Do ya? Do ya? Do ya? Do ya?
Now do you think you love me Mary Jane?

A dried bud of weed is sold usually for recreational use. The psychoactive effects of cannabis are known to be triphasic in nature. This means it primarily promotes a state of relaxation from the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) component in it, with secondary effects including some introspection to anxiety and paranoia. Finally, it causes hunger and an increase in heart rate. If you listen to the words of Rick James, he describes all these affects in lyrical terms. When compared to nicotine and alcohol, weed has been deemed to be less addictive. However, daily use can turn on the user and create dependency and psychological withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and insomnia. Mary Jane creates many debates whether it is a drug of good use or only abuse.

Many have tried Mary Jane. President Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris both admitted to having smoked weed in their youth. Marijuana is the most commonly used federally illicit drug in the United States, with over 48. 2 million people having admitted to using it at least once in 2019, according to the CDC. Researchers estimate that about 3 in 10 people who use marijuana are using it as a drug of abuse. Hence for many, smoking this drug is not just a fleeting moment of juvenile rebelliousness. In my hood, this gateway drug led to more addictions and imprisonments. Contrary to the words in the song, it did not take those using it to paradise.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 essentially made cannabis illegal across the United States. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis. States like Oregon since 1973 have decriminalized using THC. The complexity of the states’ legal position on the drug verses a person’s right to use it for medical reasons continues to be hotly contested. The stripping of Sha’carri Richardson of her place on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team due to her admission of marijuana use sparked a huge debate. Even though she was in a state that allowed it and stated she needed it to cope with her grief over the recent loss of her mother; the organization that she “worked” for as an Olympic athlete, USA Track and Field, de facto terminated her. She was not allowed to defend her title as the fastest female sprinter in the summer Olympics. This sparked a huge argument and uproar from her fans and fans of the
sport. Despites chants of “let her run”, the rules of the organization won, THC is a banned substance, and Sha’carri suffered the price of using marijuana while competing.

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I'm in love with Mary Jane, I'm not the only one
If Mary wanna play around, I let her have her fun
She's not the kind of girl that you can just tie down
She likes to spread her love and turn your head around

Today, this drug is legal in 29 states and Washington, DC. There are few subjects like who is the greatest singer, writer, athlete, and use of cannabis that can create a stirring debate. The drug continues to be investigated to see if it truly is a “wonder drug”. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has shown that the FDA has approved a few drugs that are compounded with THC, like epidolex used for a rare seizure disorder and dronabinal used for nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. Medical marijuana continues to be widely utilized by patients with chronic pain, difficult to treat autism, and post traumatic stress disorder. The frontier expansion of cannabis and how to utilize its by-product, THC, is definitely proving to be here to stay and continue making its mark on every generation. We continue to be in love with Mary Jane.