It’s time for a reality check. Why is a substance that is safer than peanuts (Drug Enforcement Agency Judge Francis Young, Sept. 6, 1988, Docket #86-22) the subject of such unjustified condemnation and punished by mandatory sentences for simple possession that exceed those given to some murderers and rapists?
A quick look through the history of marijuana prohibition will reveal that prejudice, not science, was responsible for outlawing possession of this harmless weed. The word marijuana was introduced by Hearst newspapers to demonize cannabis, a substance that was widely used by millions of Americans before prohibition without harmful side effects.
The birth of “Reefer Madness” was an invention to sell newspapers and to protect corporate interests that were threatened by superior hemp products. Discrimination against Mexican laborers during the depression and black jazz musicians was used to sell the ban. Harry Anslinger, the Head of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was an unrepentant racist who made outlandish statements to persuade Congress to pass the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937.
Some of Anslinger’s statements are too repugnant to print, but here are some samples of his “tamer” remarks:
• There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes and entertainers.
• Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.
• The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.
• Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.
• Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.
• You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.
I suppose it is somehow reassuring that Congress was just as inept and lazy in 1937 as they are today. When the Marihuana Stamp Act was called for a vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, a Representative from New York asked what the Bill was about. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn, replied, “I don’t know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it’s a narcotic of some kind.”
A committee member blatantly misrepresented that the American Medical Association endorsed the bill, when, in fact, they strongly opposed it. AMA representative, Dr. William C. Woodward testified, “We cannot understand yet, Mr. Chairman, why this bill should have been prepared in secret for two years without any intimation, even, to the profession, that it was being prepared.”
Thirty years later, President Richard Nixon placed marijuana on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act as a way to repress the Anti-War Protestors. Nixon’s White House Counsel, John Erlichman revealed the truth in his memoirs, “We understood that drugs (marijuana) were not the health problems we were making them out to be, but it was such a perfect issue for the Nixon White House that we couldn’t resist it.” (Lee, Martin A., “Smoke Signals,” Scribner, pg.119)
To bolster his flimsy position, Nixon commissioned the Schafer Committee to thoroughly investigate the dangers of marijuana. Unfortunately for him, they came back with a recommendation to decriminalize possession.
Here are the conclusions of the reports:
The Commission feels that the criminalization of possession of marihuana for personal use is socially self-defeating as a means of achieving this objective. We have attempted to balance individual freedom on one hand and the obligation of the state to consider the wider social good on the other.
We believe our recommended scheme will permit society to exercise its control and influence in ways most useful and efficient, meanwhile reserving to the individual American his sense of privacy, his sense of individuality, and, within the context of all interacting and interdependent society, his options to select his own life style, values, goals and opportunities.
Nixon chose to ignore the report and we as a Country have spent billions upon billions of dollars incarcerating people for a law that even its makers know to be unjust.
It only took thirteen years to rollback Alcohol Prohibition.
After fighting a losing battle to eradicate cannabis for 100 years, it has only grown in popularity. Isn’t it time to stop the insanity?
Patricia Smith is chair of Americans for Safe Access Nevada County. For more information, please visit www.asa-nc.com.