The U.S. War on Marijuana
By Steve Van Wormer (California)
The versatile plant that produces marijuana has been used for millennia around all around the world. The plant and its by-products have had historic applications in social ceremonies, religion, industry and medicine. The United States is well known for being the "land of the free", but not when it comes to Marijuana. The federal government, guided by special interest groups, has conducted a rigorous and systematic campaign of disinformation and criminalization against marijuana that has lasted through the majority of the twentieth century and continues today.
The usefulness of hemp was not lost upon the founders of our country. In 1619 the Jamestown colony, the first European colony in the new world, passed a law requiring all farmers of the colony to grow hemp. Interestingly, hemp was the primary crop grown by our founding father George Washington at Mount Vernon, and a secondary crop grown by the author of the United States Constitution, Thomas Jefferson on his plantation Monticello.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the federal government was in an unprecedented period of growth and expansion of regulatory power. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed to create the Food and Drug Administration giving the government control of medicine for the first time. Over the following decade, the disinformation was disseminated heavily to the public and lawmakers by conservative special interest groups. In 1913, California passed the first state anti-marijuana law. 1914 Harrison Act passed, outlawing opiates and cocaine. Other states followed, Utah , Wyoming (1915). The United States ratified the eighteenth amendment outlawing alcohol in 1919. Encouraged by the federal, even more states passed prohibitions against marijuana, Texas (1919), Iowa (1923), Nevada, Arkansas, Washington, Oregon (1923), Louisiana (1924), New York (1927) and Nebraska (1927). In 1930 Harry J. Anslinger became the first US drug "Czar" with the title of Commissioner of Narcotics, Bureau of Narcotics, and United States Department of the Treasury. He took the short path getting there. Working as a railroad guard, in 1919 he married Martha Denniston, the niece of Andrew W. Mellon who later as Secretary of the US Treasury would appoint Anslinger to his 32 year post as Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Harry Anslinger commanded a fully funded federal department with equivalent resources to that of the FBI and he fully used those resources to advance his personal anti-marijuana agenda. He ignored and did not present any evidence that contradicted his claims when he testified before congress. I hesitate to call him a liar, he may have believed what he did tell congress at the time, but that is universally recognized today as being incorrect.
Harry J. Anslinger (Circa 1936)
Anslinger may have believed he was acting in the public interest. Incredibly, his repressive administration of the Bureau of Narcotics continued for thirty-two years through the administrations of U.S. Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
Examples of the disinformation Anslinger created and distributed include the contention that marijuana had no medical value and an unscientific notion that marijuana if present at all, was the causative factor in any criminal activity. If anyone did anything wrong and was in any way remotely connected to marijuana, or had ever smoked marijuana, it would became part of the negative national statistic. The statistics that indicated whether there was also alcohol or other contributory factors involved were not presented. Anslinger also made infamous remarks intended to incite and alarm the white majority about the negative effect of marijuana on minority Americans that he referred to as "degenerate races".
Reefer Madness (1937)
In 1936 the Propaganda film "Reefer Madness" was released. In the modern, educated eye, Reefer Madness is a comedy of epic proportions, however in 1936 it and other similar films were accepted as factual and achieved their intended effect of generating almost hysterical fear among the masses, which helped to justify the implementation of increasingly draconian measures of enforcement and punishment.
Marijuana Tax Act (1937)
In 1937 Cannabis made federally illegal in the U.S. with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. The 1951 Boggs Amendment to the Harrison Narcotic Act added mandatory sentences for offenders. Then the 1956 Narcotics Control Act adds more severe penalties.
The 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act replaced and updated all previous laws concerning narcotics and other dangerous drugs. This new act placed full federal emphasis on law enforcement. In one of the biggest untruths ever perpetuated upon the American people, this the Comprehensive DAPC Act includes the Controlled Substances Act, in which marijuana is classified a Schedule one drug along with the most dangerous drugs with no recognized medical application. To reach the conclusions of the act, federally funded research programs attempting to determine the medical value of marijuana were cancelled or scrapped and abundant independent research that conflicted with their conclusions was ignored.
The 1972 Nixon-appointed Shafer Commission urged that the use of cannabis be re-legalized, but their recommendation was ignored In 1973 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Changes Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs into the DEA. Two years later the FDA establishes Compassionate Use Program for medical marijuana.
In 1988 DEA administrative law Judge Francis Young finds after thorough hearings that marijuana has clearly established medical use and should be reclassified as a prescriptive drug. The ruling is ignored by the DEA. At almost the same time, the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act was being passed officially establishing a National Office of Drug Control Policy and the modern Drug Czar.The draconian policies of the flawed and failed war on marijuana continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The number of non-violent offenders incarcerated for simple possession of marijuana is approaching nine hundred thousand. Feeding, housing and guarding nearly a Million non-violent Americans charged with what most Americans would agree are minor-offenses places an unneeded and unreasonable financial burden on society. The families of these Americans also pay an incalculable price economically and emotionally with the loss of a love one who is often the family breadwinner. As a result, very often these families also become a financial burden on society. America never had people or money to waste. Now, during difficult economic times is perhaps the best time to reconsider the other options available for all those people. Nobody can afford to waste more money on this ill advised war on marijuana.
In the information age, it is increasingly more difficult for a special interest or other entity to perpetuate a lie on a grand a scale as has been done in the past. Reason and logic is slowly winning out over ignorance and hysteria. The present generation is no longer fooled by the anti-marijuana propaganda of a bygone era. The overwhelming majority of the population of the United States now supports marijuana for medical use and Americans that support general legalization reportedly have a very close majority.
The Obama administration has indicated a change in the right direction by stating repeatedly that federal resources will not be used prosecuting medical marijuana patients in states that have laws to allow medical marijuana.
It will be necessary to continue to watch and see how it turns out now that several political activist groups and some high ranking politicians have been advancing the cause of general legalization and the projected tax revenue that could help counter the current economic downturn in much the same way that the repeal of the eighteenth amendment helped to bring the United States out of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The current administration is to be commended for moving in the direction guided by the will of the people, but has very far yet to go. I find myself encouraged by the progress that has been made in recent years, yet still unwilling to hold my breath while waiting for this latest "Government of the People" to "Get with the program".
- Brainz http://brainz.org/420-milestones-history-marijuana/
- The National Archives. http://www.archives.gov/
- The Center for Sensible Drug Policy
- Drug Crazy Gray, Mike, Random House (1998)
- Reefer Madness (1937)
- Reefer Madness http://www.reefermadness.org/propaganda/prop.html
- Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_history_of_cannabis_in_the_United_States http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis_(drug)
- Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control Kleinman, Mark (1989)
- Concept 420 http://www.concept420.com/
- Schaffer Library http://www.druglibrary.org/Schaffer/hemp/history/first12000/13.htm
Images courtesy of:
- The National Archives. http://www.archives.gov/
- Wordpress http://wordpress.org/
- Reefer Madness London http://www.reefermadnesslondon.com
© This article is copyrighted by Medical Cannabis Journal 06-28-2010DEA
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