“A lie cannot live.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now surely, if a law is to have any validity at all, it must be founded in truth, yes? But what happens when a lie is a law's foundation? What happens when that lie is told and retold and retold again... well, obviously if a lie is told often enough it becomes accepted as truth.
That is exactly what has happened with the laws against cannabis (and yes, cannabis is pot, marijuana... even hemp). And this phenomenon of history is very well covered withing the drug policy reform arena. One of my favorite versions comes from my friend Pete Guither over at his blog Drug WarRant. If you are tepid in the least about your opposition to Prohibition stop by Pete's and be renewed. In fact if there is room, grab a place on Pete's couch. (inside joke there... if you've ever seen the anti-pot commercial, "Pete's couch," you'll get it...)
Pete's version of the history of pot's Prohibition is here: Why is Marijuana Illegal?
And knowing Pete won't mind, rather than write up things all over again I'm just going to borrow snippets from his work.
So come on along and relearn some history:
Those who voted on the legal fate of this plant never had the facts, but were dependent on information supplied by those who had a specific agenda to deceive lawmakers. You'll see below that the very first federal vote to prohibit marijuana was based entirely on a documented lie on the floor of the Senate.
You'll also see that the history of marijuana's criminalization is filled with:
Protection of Corporate Profits
Ignorant, Incompetent, and/or Corrupt Legislators
Personal Career Advancement and Greed
"A documented lie on the floor of the Senate"... ummm... I think some folks call that perjury.
OK... lets continue on with this fantastic journey:
America's first marijuana law was enacted at Jamestown Colony, Virginia in 1619. It was a law "ordering" all farmers to grow Indian hempseed. There were several other "must grow" laws over the next 200 years (you could be jailed for not growing hemp during times of shortage in Virginia between 1763 and 1767), and during most of that time, hemp was legal tender (you could even pay your taxes with hemp -- try that today!) Hemp was such a critical crop for a number of purposes (including essential war requirements - rope, etc.) that the government went out of its way to encourage growth.
The United States Census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp "plantations" (minimum 2,000-acre farm) growing cannabis hemp for cloth, canvas and even the cordage used for baling cotton.
In the early 1900s, the western states developed significant tensions regarding the influx of Mexican-Americans. The revolution in Mexico in 1910 spilled over the border, with General Pershing's army clashing with bandit Pancho Villa. Later in that decade, bad feelings developed between the small farmer and the large farms that used cheaper Mexican labor. Then, the depression came and increased tensions, as jobs and welfare resources became scarce.
One of the "differences" seized upon during this time was the fact that many Mexicans smoked marijuana and had brought the plant with them.
However, the first state law outlawing marijuana did so not because of Mexicans using the drug. Oddly enough, it was because of Mormons using it. Mormons who traveled to Mexico in 1910 came back to Salt Lake City with marijuana. The church was not pleased and ruled against use of the drug. Since the state of Utah automatically enshrined church doctrine into law, the first state marijuana prohibition was established in 1915. (Today, Senator Orrin Hatch serves as the prohibition arm of this heavily church-influenced state.)
Other states quickly followed suit with marijuana prohibition laws, including Wyoming (1915), Texas (1919), Iowa (1923), Nevada (1923), Oregon (1923), Washington (1923), Arkansas (1923), and Nebraska (1927). These laws tended to be specifically targeted against the Mexican-American population.
See, its getting ugly already and we he haven't gotten to the serious campaign of perjury. Lies and bigotry... a great foundation upon which to build our laws. Not...
In the eastern states, the "problem" was attributed to a combination of Latin Americans and black jazz musicians. Marijuana and jazz traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where marijuana became an indispensable part of the music scene, even entering the language of the black hits of the time (Louis Armstrong's "Muggles", Cab Calloway's "That Funny Reefer Man", Fats Waller's "Viper's Drag").
Again, racism was part of the charge against marijuana, as newspapers in 1934 editorialized: "Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men's shadows and look at a white woman twice."
So, if you are white, and your child is starting to look like a black jazz musician... check their room, they may be smoking pot!
In 1930, a new division in the Treasury Department was established -- the Federal Bureau of Narcotics -- and Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana.
Harry J. Anslinger
Anslinger was an extremely ambitious man, and he recognized the Bureau of Narcotics as an amazing career opportunity -- a new government agency with the opportunity to define both the problem and the solution. He immediately realized that opiates and cocaine wouldn't be enough to help build his agency, so he latched on to marijuana and started to work on making it illegal at the federal level.
Anslinger immediately drew upon the themes of racism and violence to draw national attention to the problem he wanted to create. He also promoted and frequently read from "Gore Files" -- wild reefer-madness-style exploitation tales of ax murderers on marijuana and sex and... Negroes.
Are you detecting the trend here? Well, just wait. Now comes the titillation... exciting yellow journalism from the Wm Randolph Hearst media empire (and you thought the tabloids were weird...), from the San Francisco Examiner:
"Marihuana makes fiends of boys in thirty days -- Hashish goads users to bloodlust."
"By the tons it is coming into this country -- the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms.... Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him...."
On the farm, in the barnyard... this is what is called manure. And people bought it! They bought this outrageous pack of lies and it is a legacy that has been built on for 70 years... and they still buy it today!
But wait... where would this story be without Richard "Dick" Nixon?
(hey, and I'm sorry if this is a bit long, but it is a topic I've been studying for over a decade and it takes some time to explain)
So, how does Tricky Dick come into this farcical play of life? Remember those White House tapes? Yep...
Once-Secret "Nixon Tapes" Show Why the U.S. Outlawed Pot
Congress, when it passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, temporarily labeled marijuana a "Schedule I substance" -- a flatly illegal drug with no approved medical purposes. But Congress acknowledged that it did not know enough about marijuana to permanently relegate it to Schedule I, and so they created a presidential commission to review the research and recommend a long-term strategy. President Nixon got to appoint the bulk of the commissioners. Not surprisingly, he loaded it with drug warriors. Nixon appointed Raymond Shafer, former Republican Governor of Pennsylvania, as Chairman. As a former prosecutor, Shafer had a "law and order," drug warrior reputation. Nixon also appointed nine Commissioners, including the dean of a law school, the head of a mental health hospital, and a retired Chicago police captain. Along with the Nixon appointees, two senators and two congressmen from each party served on the Commission.
It is a Presiden't perogative to make appointments as he (so far, only hims, all white, no hers) sees fit. And in this case he stacked the deck. But ya know what? the truth won out...
The Shafer Commission -- officially known as the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse -- took its job seriously. They launched fifty research projects, polled the public and members of the criminal justice community, and took thousands of pages of testimony. Their work is still the most comprehensive review of marijuana ever conducted by the federal government.
After reviewing all the evidence, these drug warriors were forced to come to a different conclusion than they had at first expected. Rather than harshly condemning marijuana, they started talking about legalization.
What!?!?!? Law and order types? Swayed by the truth of their own research...? Wow. How times have changed...
[...] in the end, the Shafer Commission issued a report that tried to correct the "extensive degree of misinformation," to "demythologize" and "desymbolize" marijuana. They reported finding that marijuana did not cause crime or aggression, lead to harder drug use or create significant biochemical, mental or physical abnormalities. They concluded: "Marihuana's relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it."
The most important recommendation of the Commission was the decriminalization of possession or non-profit transfer of marijuana. Decriminalization meant there would be no punishment -- criminal or civil -- under state or federal law.
Nixon reacted strongly to the report. In a recorded conversation on March 21, the day before the Commission released its report, Nixon said, "We need, and I use the word 'all out war,' on all fronts ... we have to attack on all fronts." Nixon and his advisors went on to plan a speech about why he opposed marijuana legalization, and proposed that he do "a drug thing every week" during the 1972 presidential election year. Nixon wanted a "Goddamn strong statement about marijuana ... that just tears the ass out of them."
Aaah... and those White House tapes...
Nixon's private comments about marijuana showed he was the epitome of misinformation and prejudice. He believed marijuana led to hard drugs, despite the evidence to the contrary. He saw marijuana as tied to "radical demonstrators." He believed that "the Jews," especially "Jewish psychiatrists" were behind advocacy for legalization, asking advisor Bob Haldeman, "What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob?" He made a bizarre distinction between marijuana and alcohol, saying people use marijuana "to get high" while "a person drinks to have fun."
He also saw marijuana as part of the culture war that was destroying the United States, and claimed that Communists were using it as a weapon. "Homosexuality, dope, immorality in general," Nixon fumed. "These are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff, they're trying to destroy us." His approach drug education was just as simplistic: "Enforce the law. You've got to scare them."
Unfortunately, Nixon did more than just "scare them," whoever they were. His marijuana war rhetoric led to a dramatic increase in arrests. One year after his "all out war" comments, marijuana arrests jumped to 420,700 a year -- a full 128,000 more than the year before. Since then, nearly 15 million people have been arrested for marijuana offenses.
(btw... thanks to Kevin Zeese and Alternet for a great report)
Now... consider all that. Is that the kind of "truth" that we found our laws upon? Yep. And that is the foundation underlying my getting fired for what I do on my day off.
Nobody said life has to be fair right? Right....
There is a 3rd part to this saga. So stay tuned...
Next: Who cares if it may cure cancer?
“We accept too damned many things on the explanations of people who could have good reasons for lying”
~ Frank Herbert