The Politics of Marijuana Laws
Intoxication of any kind is the opposite of what is needed in our cadres — but, like almost everything in modern America, marijuana prohibition was and is foul, dirty, deceptive, and corrupt.
by David Sims
I’VE COMMENTED much about a recent police-involved shooting in South Carolina and its social and political aftermath. The murder of Zachary Hammond was one of a great number of similar tragedies to arise from the War on Drugs. Because a young woman’s possession of marijuana was what impelled the police in Seneca to an astounding display, first of criminal incompetence and later of corruption, I think that it would be well for me to describe the history of marijuana and the reasons for which it was banned in the United States.
Marijuana goes by other names. Cannabis is the name of the genus. Hemp is what we call species in that genus that are especially well-suited as a source of textile fiber for making rope, canvas, paper, and fabric. Marijuana is the word we use when referring to the plant’s medicinal or mood-altering properties. The plant has, also, a considerable number of street names: pot, reefer, grass, weed, and so on. Besides cordage and canvas, species of cannabis provide seeds that can be used as a grain for feeding both animals and people, and the seeds can be pressed for oil that can be used in lamps and for cooking.
The plant and its many uses aren’t recent discoveries. Marijuana has been recognized and used by humans since prehistoric times, and it has been legal for use and for trade for nearly all of the past 7000 years, with the century just past being the rather ugly exception. At times, the cultivation of marijuana has been encouraged, and, once in a while, even required by law. The earliest laws in North America in connection with marijuana required farmers in the pre-Independence American colonies to grow hemp. Between the years 1763 and 1767, a Virginia farmer could be imprisoned if he didn’t grow any marijuana on his farm. In the year 1850, just before the American Civil War, there were 8327 plantations (or large farms) having more than 2000 acres of marijuana under cultivation.
The turn toward illegality in the United States began as a way of setting the blame for racial rivalries — between Whites and Mexicans in the West and between Whites and Negroes in the East — upon a convenient environmental scapegoat. California was the first state to prohibit the possession, use, and trade in “loco weed,” one of marijuana’s intentionally pejorative monikers, because it was said to incite Mexicans to violence.
However, the truth is that Mexicans were (and still are) dangerous to Whites because the two races are rivals for the possession of the lands that are, at present, the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Marijuana might remove the inhibitions of a Mexican immigrant, but not to a greater extent than alcohol would, and the actual reason for the threat to Whites by Mexicans wasn’t marijuana at all, but the simple fact that their race and ours were rivals for the same land. The rivalry is similar, in that respect, to that between the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine. (The two rivalries are dissimilar in that Israeli Jews have a national government that is solidly on their side, whereas American Whites have been betrayed by the US Government.)
Likewise, Blacks are dangerous to Whites because Whites can out-perform, and hence out-earn, Blacks in a free and civilized society. Social envy arises from economic differences — but those economic differences are, in turn, caused by differences in the relevant aptitudes. Putting the blame on marijuana for the behavior of Blacks was a convenient thing for both liberals and ambitious politicians to do.
After California banned cannabis in 1913, Wyoming followed suit in 1915, as did Texas in 1919; Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Arkansas in 1923; and Montana and Nebraska in 1927. And so it went.
As you might remember, the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in 1919 to enable the federal government to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks. A century ago, the federal government was still respecting some of the limits to its own legal authority imposed by its founding document. Back then, the courts wouldn’t have allowed a federal ban of a drug (except alcohol) because the judges accepted the idea of constitutional limits on federal legislative powers.
The drive to ban marijuana at the federal level began with the creation of the Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, significantly as part of the US Treasury Department. The recreational drug prohibitionists determined to do with tax laws what they couldn’t do directly. They’d try to burden the politically disfavored drugs so heavily with taxes that they would disappear, or so they thought, with the Bureau of Narcotics sending its agents to arrest any tax-evaders.
Of course, the politically disfavored drugs didn’t disappear. Instead, the trade in them moved exclusively into criminal hands, and the legislation backfired. Instead of saving anyone from the adverse effects of drug use, the drug use continued and people who had never hurt anybody started filling up the jails and the prisons and crime families and drug smugglers got rich. And richer criminals are more dangerous criminals, especially after they’ve become rich enough to influence the political regime from which the laws come. Do you suppose that the criminal syndicates who sell illegal drugs want those drugs legalized? Hell no. The drug lords lobby legislatures (and intimidate them where they can) so that the products they sell will stay illegal and so that the market will, therefore, remain their monopoly.
Harry J. Anslinger was the first boss of the Bureau of Narcotics. He was ambitious and wanted to become a very important man. He quickly realized that his office wouldn’t receive enough funding to make him as important as he wanted to be, unless he convinced law-makers that marijuana was a danger to the public welfare on the same level as cocaine and heroin. So he began an anti-marijuana campaign of lies and scare-propaganda. Anslinger said, among other things:
“Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”
“Marijuana leads to pacifism.”
“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”
“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
You’ll notice that his statements aren’t entirely consistent with each other. How does marijuana cause someone to be a violent pacifist? What is a violent pacifist, anyway?
The active chemical in marijuana is tetrahydracannibanol (THC). In most White people, a moderate consumption of THC causes a calm, relaxed feeling, an easy good humor, a disinclination to work, some loss of muscular coordination, some loss of good judgment, a reduction in the ability to concentrate, and a feeling of being hungry. It doesn’t cause violence unless the person using it is a violent person already.
A marijuana high reportedly feels better than being drunk. And whereas the use of marijuana does have adverse effects, the extent to which those effects are experienced is usually less than what a person drunk on alcohol experiences.
People shouldn’t drive vehicles, shoot guns, or use chainsaws while under the influence of marijuana. Someone whose job requires a strong mental focus (e.g., computer programmers) won’t be able to make their best effort if they have recently smoked a joint. But for after-hours or weekend recreation, the joint is no worse than the cocktail.
The only reason for why marijuana would be a “gateway drug” is the fact that it is illegal, and therefore the same people who sell the more dangerous and addictive illegal drugs would also be the only vendors for marijuana. Where marijuana is legal for trade and for recreational use, anybody can grow it and sell it. Which means that users of marijuana can get their dime-bags and their joints from somebody who isn’t a criminal, from someone who isn’t also pushing cocaine and heroin.
The media joined the deceptive anti-marijuana crusade because of a conflict of interest. Specifically, their duty to inform the public with reasonable accuracy and completeness was at odds with the investments their stockholders had made in timber. Among the many things marijuana can provide more cheaply than conventional sources can is paper. An acre of cannabis can produce four times as much paper as an acre of timber can. And whereas trees require 10 to 50 years to grow to a useful size, marijuana matures in only four months. Newspapers use a lot of paper. The owners of newspapers had vertically integrated themselves an interest in wood-pulp paper industry, and they didn’t want any alternative paper made from legal marijuana to lessen their profits.
And likely the same could be said about the alcohol and tobacco industries. What they offered people, marijuana could better. So those invested in alcohol or in tobacco wanted marijuana to remain illegal, and whether by fair means or foul wasn’t a significant concern of theirs.
Likewise, since marijuana does have medicinal value, and since it can be easily grown by anybody, the pharmaceutical industry saw legal marijuana as a threat to their profits, and its agents lobbied for laws banning it.
Also, the petrofuels companies wanted to deny farmers a crop from which they could make their own fuel more cheaply than they could buy it commercially. From an acre of cannabis could be made almost twice the biofuel that could be made from an acre of corn.
As you can see, every reason for banning marijuana was dirty, rooted in greed and justified with lies.
When marijuana became generally illegal throughout the United States about 1960, the crusade against it went international with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs Treaty of 1961. Forty countries ratified it. The treaty defined marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with cocaine and opiates.
The parasitical privately owned prison corporations appeared in the 1980s, and with their rise capitalists acquired a financial interest in the incarceration of US citizens. It is in the interest of the owners of private prison companies to keep incarceration rates high because the state pays them a profitable fee for each prisoner that their private prisons confine. The criminalization of marijuana, together with no-tolerance and three-strikes laws, was very profitable for Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, Inc.
It wasn’t the use of marijuana that caused problems. Rather, the banning of marijuana caused death, misery, political corruption, rise in crime, and economic waste that would not otherwise have occurred. The cost in lives and in wealth would be difficult to estimate, but the total would indisputably be very great. Slowly, very slowly, the world is waking up to the fact that marijuana should never have been outlawed. The prohibition of marijuana never was needed in the first place, inasmuch as the “reasons” for it were mostly lies.
All along, there have been people who knew that the official position on marijuana was based on corruption and lies, but the majority of people didn’t know because they hadn’t used marijuana and didn’t have the political acumen to detect when they were being lied to. So the various hustlers among politicians and capitalists were able to deceive the gullible, and things stayed that way for more than half a century.
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