The War on Cannabis: Who Loses, Who Benefits?

The War On Cannabis: Who Loses, Who Benefits?

From the day of its inception, the War on Cannabis has been a disaster for America. It has played a fundamental role in the architecture for the larger War on Drugs. Considered as a whole, this war can fairly be described as a generationally evolving series of wasteful and ineffective policies. In attempting to regulate the legislative needs and desires of mankind, the United States government has caused great harm to be done, in terms both of the law and of medical recourse to help for pain. It is a classic case of the old cliché, a treatment worse than its “disease”. Crimes have been committed in the name of fighting crime. Resources have been massively wasted. The futures of millions have been ruined in the eyes of the law. The question of why remains sobering in its implications. Anti-cannabis legislation was ostensibly created to safeguard the public and keep cannabis from menacing its health, but its effects have done more damage than the act their purpose was to prevent.

The question of whether the herb’s use constitutes a peril to public safety is a real concern. It is only logical for people to pay attention to alerts regarding something that might affect their health. As alerts on the matter have been so often raised, it is only natural for people to have health concerns about drugs, including cannabis. In a Health, Risk, and Safety article titled Cannabis, risk, and normalization: Evidence from a Canadian study of socially integrated, adult cannabis users, we are told that evidence pointing to the harmfulness of cannabis use has never been more abundant (213). Public concern is still highly prevalent, and many experts remain unconvinced that cannabis should be considered safe.

Whether that is true is not the issue here, however. We note only that widespread panic about cannabis was not scientifically based. The issue was never raised by the medical community of the United States. The Medical Science Monitor informs us that cannabis was routinely prescribed by American physicians. It enjoyed legal status in the United States until 1937. This is when U.S. legislature passed the first federal law against cannabis – the Marihuana Tax Act. Empirical approaches to solving the problem of cannabis addiction kept proving it was not a problem. The American Medical Association did not support the new law, and their advice was belittled and ignored. Science was not on the side of the anti-cannabis crusaders. Other rationales were needed and were manufactured where they could not be found.

The approach of the new Threat or Menace campaign was exemplified in Reefer Madness, the famous anti-cannabis public alert movie released in 1936. Self-described cannabis journalist Matthew Green paints a wild yet perfectly accurate picture of its contents in his article “Reefer Madness! The Twisted History of America’s Marijuana Laws.”. The movie exhibits an insane “reefer addict” portrayed in maniacal relief, smoking his way to murder as he enjoys the frenetic tunes of a piano-playing hostage. This law was based on artificially manufactured moral panic, as opposed to sound law or science. It was eventually discarded as being unconstitutional (Leary v. United States, 1969), but not before it set the foundation for the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which was far more comprehensive than the old law, although it continued to rely on selective or pseudoscience and public disinformation.

The tone of the new policy was set from the start by the prejudices of Anslinger, which was to prove disastrous for the cannabis community. Laura Smith, the managing editor at Timeline, paints an unforgiving picture of Anslinger in her piece “How A Racist Hatemonger Masterminded America’s War on Drugs”. He is shown there to be a xenophobic, culturally intolerant, and deeply racist man, one who used his power arbitrarily and in the worst ways. His power over his bureau, and over the anti-cannabis campaign, was completely unilateral. Historian John C. McWilliams stated in his book aboutAnslinger, The Protectors,“ Anslinger was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (2).” His ideas about the existing social order laid the foundation for the policies he would set. He had a simple goal, but one that was far-reaching in its implications; a one-man crusade to protect American values as he saw them. His worldview held that change was coming too fast, and the anti-cannabis crusade provided him with a high-powered excuse to slow it down. The next step was to use this bitter project to hamstring progressive causes and people by making crimes out of acts that were not criminal. In this way, Anslinger laid the groundwork in place for an endemic legal injustice.

Racism was inherent in the new legislature. The approach was displayed by the confusion caused by a new word for cannabis, “Marihuana” (The more common spelling now is Marijuana) The Tax Act was named after this incorrect term, used as an associative trick based on racism and phonetics. It worked because the word sounded Mexican. Mexicans were unpopular and mistrusted, so tying public perceptions of the plant to Mexican immigrants was an easy way to scare white America. The FBN also targeted jazz musicians and lied about them without remorse. They created images of insane, weed-stinking black men on an unending quest for mayhem and white women; these also did nothing to set Caucasian minds at ease. Racial fear has always been a historically effective way to goad America’s ethnic majority off the path of common sense and decency. The War on Cannabis stands out as a noteworthy example of this tendency.

Shortly before the MTA was passed, a new governmental organization, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was created to deal with the growing problem of drug addiction in America (Deitsch). Its first commissioner Harry J. Anslinger discarded science and medicine with glee. “Doctors,” he said, “cannot treat addicts, even if they want to.” He chose instead to call for “tough judges not afraid to take killer-pushers and throw away the key.” FBN techniques developed to disseminate the new way proved effective, allowing Anslinger’s perspective to set the tone for subsequent anti-cannabis legislation. Anslinger was a skillful administrator, and he had resources. His ideas caught on and manifested physically in the dehumanizing propaganda used by the FBN to scare anti-cannabis legislature past Congress. The aftershocks of FBN anti-cannabis disinformation are ubiquitous even today, living proof of the program’s success. Celebrating openly a pro-cannabis lifestyle is still enough to get you targeted. It’s easy to get busted, it’s hard to get a job. The way society perceives the users of cannabis today still comes largely from stereotypes based on exaggerated caricatures created during this era. These unfair and cartoonish notions have evolved and generalized over the years, becoming institutionalized as more people became invested in them. They have been used to degrade and delegitimize progressive causes and their advocates.

The propaganda employed by the FBN had been successful, so much so that it started a genuine public panic, and people were demanding that something be done. This gave Anslinger both the lawful right, and the means to pound his enemies into the ground. He was not long in finding his first sacrificial lamb. The first victim of the new policy was selected in 1937, just after the new law took effect. A draconian sentence of four years in prison for an ounce of weed was handed down to Samuel L. Caldwell of Boulder, Colorado. A precedent of insane harshness was set that endured in American courtrooms to this very day. It added greatly to the foundation of the original architecture of the greater War on Drugs, as conceived of and created by President Richard Nixon’s administration.

The Nixon era vigorously continued the judicial legacy of brutality applied to the cannabis community. Like Harry Anslinger had forty years prior, the administration targeted cannabis because its occupants knew liberals could be legally hamstrung as a consequence for using it. The concept was strategic, and its straightforward goal was the same as in the past-to keep conservatives in power at any cost. Neither fair play nor the health of democracy was considered, freedom was injured, and the resultant degradation of our system worked to the detriment of all Americans, whether they smoke pot or not. Chief Nixon White House adviser John Ehrlichman came to some of the same conclusions later in life. He spoke out frankly on the subject to Dan Baum of Harper’s Magazine years after the impeachment of Nixon. He laid out flatly their motives for taking aim at cannabis.

“Look, back in ’68, we had two enemies, you get me? The antiwar left, and the blacks. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war, and we couldn’t make it illegal to be black. But by heavily penalizing the use of marijuana and heroin, we were able to disrupt
those communities. We were able to bust up their meetings, raid their offices, vilify them night after night on the evening news… Did we know we were lying about the drugs themselves? Of course we did.”.

Nixon’s work was built upon famously by the next Republican administration, that of Ronald Reagan. First Lady Nancy Reagan’s iconic “Just Say No” commercial typified the new approach, which was just like the old approach, but newly equipped with a spiffy slogan. In pursuing the anti-cannabis campaign, the Reagan administration was zealous in their willingness to apply suppression through the courts to the cannabis community. A TIME Magazine article from 1988 gives us a look at how it was. “The Reagan Administration calls its new drug policy ‘zero tolerance,’ meaning that planes, vehicles, and vessels may be confiscated for carrying even the tiniest amount of a controlled substance.” It goes on to tell the story of a captain whose boat was seized for a tenth of an ounce of cannabis. Things were so bad during that time for users of the herb that the case can hardly be overstated. Ardor for the arts of slander and libel grew in the government to an extent that left little room for conspiracy theories. Every possible medium was employed to spread Just Say No. Commercials, posters, the sides of buses. School programs like DARE, which stood for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, ensured that no young mind in America could miss the point. The net effects of all the anti-drug campaigning proved to be the same as in the past-untouched and rising rates of use, and black and poor people receiving disproportionately long sentences for small amounts of weed.

Subsequent presidents such as Bill Clinton were left with little choice but to compete with Reagan’s paternalistic style of law and order, and so the status quo remained intact. It was not until the election of Barack Obama that the prerequisite conditions for the monumental decision of 2012 legalizing recreational cannabis in the first two American states, Oregon and Washington, were met at long last. There is no doubt that it was a monumental decision. It represented the reversal of a hundred years worth of American legal policy and a tremendous amount of human struggling. The change, by that point, had been nearly a century in coming. Cannabis laws have been hamstringing the left for that entire time and they still are. Improvements have come, but they are highly incomplete. The threat of things reverting to their former miserable state overshadows all the progress that has been made in this area. Realization of the harm caused in the cannabis prohibition era has been highlighted in the nation’s modern consciousness. More and more people are coming to see how important it is to prevent the reassertion of the destructive and unfair status quo.

The history of the War on Cannabis is representative of a great many other social ills inside American life. The racist, reactionary, right-wing attitudes that created the original campaign are still alive and well in modern American jurisprudence. In the name of punishment and the spirit of human sacrifice, medical science has been stymied and suppressed, people have been ruined and jailed, and our prison system has been afflicted to the point where it has poisoned our political system. It is, simply stated, a historical and ongoing eyesore. Change has come but is far from secure, and a great deal of harm remains unaddressed.

Works Cited

ACLU ProCon.org, 2009. Leary v. United States 
	https://aclu.procon.org/view.background-resource.php?resourceID=003427
Bonnie, Richard J., Whitebread, Charles H., 1974. “The Marijuana Conviction: A History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States.” 
	https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=185042  
Dagen, Chelsea, 2017. The Distortion of Drugs: War, Discrimination, and Profit.
	https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi 
Deitsch, Robert, 2003. “Hemp: American History Revisited- The Plant With A Divided History.”
Vdocuments.mx, vdocuments.mx/documents/hemp-american-history-revisited-the-plant-with-a-divided-history.html.
Dickinson, Tim, 2016. “Why America Can't Quit The Drug War.” 
	https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/why-america-cant-quit-the-	drug-war-	47203/
Downs, David, 2016. “The Science behind the DEA's Long War on Marijuana.”
	www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-behind-the-dea-s-long-war-on-	marijuana/.
Duff, Cameron, Erickson, Patricia G., 2014. “Cannabis, risk, and normalization: Evidence from a Canadian study of socially integrated, adult cannabis users.”		
Glick, Daniel, 2016. “80 Years Ago This Week, Marijuana Prohibition Began With These Arrests.” 
	https://www.leafly.com/news/politics/drug-war-prisoners-1-2-true-story-moses-	sam-two-	denver 
Green, Matthew, 2008. “Reefer Madness! The Twisted History of America’s Marijuana Laws.”
	https://www.kqed.org/lowdown/24153/reefer-madness-the-twisted-history-of-	americas-weed- laws-
King, Ryan, Mauer, Mark, 2006. "The war on marijuana: The transformation of the war on drugs in the 1990s."
Komp, Ellen, 2011. “Mark Twain's Hasheesh Experience in San Francisco.” 
	https://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Mark-Twain-s-hasheesh-experience-in-S-	F-	2328992.php
Jennifer Robeson, 2002. “Who Smoked Pot? You May Be Surprised.”
	https://news.gallup.com/poll/6394/who-smoked-pot-may-surprised.aspx
Smith, Laura, 2018. “How A Racist Hatemonger Masterminded America’s War on Drugs.” 

Marijuana and Malice- Sessions Schemes to Attack Medical Cannabis.

The medical marijuana industry is in danger of suffering yet another assault on its livelihood and belief system by the federal government. If the new attack is attempted, it will be spearheaded by Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Back in the 1980’s, Sessions said of the Ku Klux Klan that he thought they were OK, until he heard they smoked marijuana. He hasn’t changed.

In May, Sessions drafted a letter to congressional leaders. He was requesting them to repeal the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which protects cannabis dispensaries in legal states from federal prosecution. Sessions has been looking for a way to get around this and go after medical-marijuana businesses from the first day he got the job.

Even among his fellow Republicans this approach has been roundly criticized. It is largely viewed as out of touch with the times, representative of a 1982 way of thinking that the rest of the party has long since abandoned. But Sessions recently doubled down on it.

He expounded on his anti-marijuana view in response to a reporter’s question during a press conference in San Diego recently. Building on previous comments he’s made, Sessions in effect was stating that use of cannabis is automatically the same thing as drug abuse, and that cannabis is anything but medicine.

According to Reuters, Sessions reminded everyone in the room that the federal law banning the sale of marijuana “remains in effect,” and that “I’ve never felt that we should legalize marijuana.” That’s pretty unequivocal, which is good. The enemy at the gates is less to be feared, for he wears his banner openly.

The War on Drugs did not start with Nancy Reagan, or even close to her time, although she is the one to make the phrase immortal. It has been in the process of evolving from the very start. Regulatory legislature is never far behind anything useful, fun, or cool.

Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy was an Irish doctor studying in India in the 1830s. He found that cannabis extracts could help lessen stomach pain and vomiting in people suffering from cholera.

By the late 1800s, cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout Europe and the United States to treat stomach problems and other ailments.

Drug use for medicinal and recreational purposes has been happening in the United States since the country’s inception, and in fairness, it should be stated that this does serve some useful function. A certain amount of conservatism is good for a society. However, there is a line past which any philosophy becomes a perversion of itself. When science and reason fall by the wayside to suit some agenda, that agenda has already ceased to be worthwhile.

The War on Drugs has been one of the cruelest and most catastrophic policies ever conceived of by a government on its people. There are over two hundred thousand people in the federal prison system today, and a solid half of them are currently there for drug crimes. Between October 2012 and September 2013, 27.6 percent of drug offenders were locked up for crimes related to marijuana. It’s a sickening state of affairs, and no mistake.

The government has known from Day One that weed doesn’t really hurt peopleCannabis was originally introduced in North America as the common hemp plant during the seventeenth century. By the early nineteenth century we had an established and evolving medical commentary on the medicinal and intoxicating properties of cannabis.

However, this did not stop people like newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst from portraying it as a novel menace, dank and potent. One article in the San Francisco Examiner around the time included the phrase, “If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster marijuana, he would drop dead of fright!” Look below. That look hideous to you? Those are Animal Cookies, friends and neighbors. They may well have dropped Frankenstein, but not for good, and things might have improved between him and his bride.

Image result for girl scout cookies weed
Animal Cookies

Domestic concern over cannabis seems to have originated in the Southwest in the late 1800’s due to the same type of anti- Mexican sentiment that recently led to all the uproar over Trump unsettling the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals(DACA) Act. It began increasing after the First World War.

In the same year the war started, the first comprehensive attempt at federal drug enforcement was officially signed into law. Known as the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, it turned a few hundred thousand harmless junkies into criminals overnight.

In 1919 the Supreme Court upheld the HNA decision and applied more rigorous standards to it, outlawing addiction-maintenance for pleasure or comfort. Then as now, this led to national restrictions on physicians and pharmacists, who were widely(and unjustly) held responsible for America’s ever-growing problems with drug addiction.

This interpretation and enforcement of this unfortunate law effectively eliminated any legitimate role for the medical profession in treatment for Americans who had drug addictions until well into the 1960’s. The issue remained untreated and grew worse increasingly. Soon, a large scale problem had been manufactured right out of the blue- and the government was to require new powers in order to solve it.

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was the next step in their solution. It was an agency of the United States Department of the Treasury, after an act of June 14, 1930. Its purpose was to consolidate the functions of the Federal Narcotics Control Board and the Narcotic Division, the agencies responsible for the enforcement of the aforementioned legislature.

Under the leadership of its first Commissioner, Harry J. Anslinger, whom Jeff Sessions is often compared to, the FBN took an unfortunate and draconian position regarding addiction. It is not a disease, they said, and the person with an addiction, therefore, was not a patient. If the addict was not a patient, then according to the HNA, he must be a criminal.

It should be noted that there were many financial and trade-based reasons for the passing of these laws, but the big reason it scared the regular people so much is the way in which the addicts themselves were portrayed in the emerging national narrative. A great deal of disinformation was spread about these people, and the reality of their conduct was not a considered factor to the people in charge of pumping it out.

People with addictions generally were considered members of a criminal underclass. Mexicans who smoked marijuana were greatly feared. It was said that the drug gave them “unholy strength, and a bloodthirsty nature”. Black jazz-players and exotic Chinese opium-dens were caricatured and demonized as well. These fears were fed to the public systematically, fanned, and encouraged. Racism and drug laws have gone hand in hand from the start.

The HNA was passed and upheld for the same reasons described by Lee Atwater when describing the “Southern Strategy” he intended to get Reagan reelected with in 1984. The process by which rich whites take advantage of the malcontented poor ones, i.e. Trump voters, is deserving of the greatest attention we can give it. These are the techniques they use to keep us split up and squabbling.

Alerting people to the growing threat supposedly posed by cannabis was of paramount importance if the law was to have its desired effect. So a series of propaganda films were made on the subject. The most famous of these was 1936’s “Reefer Madness”.

After a lurid national propaganda campaign against the “evil weed,” Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937(MTA). The statute effectively criminalized marijuana, restricting possession of the drug to individuals who paid a simple possession tax, for which you were then issued an official government stamp.

Anyone was allowed to have marijuana, so long as they had their Marihuana Tax Stamp. And all you had to do to get one was to go down to the courthouse with your pot and register it. The only trouble was, before you had the stamp, your grass could get you sent to prison. So once you got there, instead of a stamp, you’d get a hefty jail sentence. The first person in America to be caught with marijuana after the passing of the MTA was one Samuel R. Caldwell, of Boulder, Colorado. He was sentenced to four years hard labor at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

Locking up drug offenders is one of the big stories behind mass incarceration. The other is that prison is a finishing school for people who have made bad choices to end up becoming lifelong criminals. Young people get into trouble with drugs, and have to go sit in the same holding cells as murderers and pederasts. They end up doing things they never thought they would have to, just to survive.

Once in the system, it’s hard to get back out. “The increase in U.S. incarceration rates over the past 40 years is preponderantly the result of increases both in the likelihood of imprisonment and in lengths of prison sentences,” the National Research Council wrote in one report regarding this matter.

At present, the war on drugs paradigm and the brutally unnecessary enforcement agencies created to uphold and maintain it are under greater attack than perhaps ever before. This is especially true for marijuana prohibition. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have passed state-level legalization measures. A developing legal market for marijuana is already thriving and healthy. Voters in Washington, D.C., have moved to do the same, despite pushback from Congress.

All of this has been made possible so far by federal adherence to the  a bipartisan legislature which has blocked the use of federal funding to be used in the prosecution of cannabis companies. But in the end, it’s only a Band-Aid, and there are ominous signs that the tide may be shifting. All the chaos going on everyplace gives Sessions plenty of cover from the public eye, as he goes weaseling out the ammo he needs to shut down legal-weed operations.

The House Rules Committee last month blocked a vote on the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. This may adversely affect exemptions for pot businesses in legal states. This amendment has to be voted on and added to the budget every year. The blockage of this vote by the House may keep the amendment out of the 2018 budget, paving the way for Sessions to wreak havoc by using federal dollars to prosecute medical-cannabis businesses.

And this is where we have to ask ourselves: Where do we draw the line? We have passed the point of no return. We are going to stand up together and let the government that we are done letting our children be dragged off to monster factories, over a joint. We’re done letting this natural and fun activity be dragged through the mud, and even used as a weapon to hurt liberals with. The whole thing was designed in the first place, as a strategy to hamstring the lives of voters who Nixon saw as reliably Democratic, according to White House tapes.

Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman said, “We had two enemies- the antiwar left, and the blacks.  We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs themselves? Of course we did.”

The 1830’s were now quite some time ago, and it is time for the country to move on. Two hundred years worth of debate, about a question that was answered before humans could write, is a good deal more than enough. Jeff Sessions is going to have to learn right along with the rest of the Trump administration that the 1980’s are over.

America has bigger problems, when it comes to its prison system. It needs to be doing all it can to remedy the fact of more than 700 Americans for every 100,000 being prisoners. We’re not going back to kicking holes in people’s futures over this kind of thing. Cannabis is a gift from the heavens, and we are very grateful for it. To Jeff Sessions, Mr Attorney General, sir, I respectfully request, on behalf of the entire cannabis community, that you just leave us alone.