Humans Need Catnip Too: Part 1
“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous; an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” ~Carl Sagan
This entry will discuss what Rocky refers to as human catnip--you know, pot, weed, cannabis, the "M" word, etc. Basically, we're talking about the flowers (or their concentrates) of the hemp plant that have been smoked, ingested, applied topically, or vaporized for spiritual, medicinal, and recreational purposes since at least 2,700 B.C. Also, for thousands of years, the hemp stalk and seeds have been used to create a wide variety of products, like rope, paper, fabric, body care products, foods, plastics, and other building materials.
Frankly, I view responsible cannabis use as a human right, and as a safer alternative to alcohol or some prescription medications. Lying to people about cannabis for over a century has caused both mass hysteria and mass resentment. The plant's prohibition has resulted in the needless ruination of countless millions of lives. Meddling in people's business to the levels that we do in a free country is a crime in itself. The War on Drugs is enough of a failure without the inclusion of cannabis. Pot's prohibition is the worst law on the books, created and maintained by self-serving villains who dishonestly inflate the plant's real harm to society.
Despite my infinitely strong personal opinions against cannabis prohibition, I have written this with utmost care as not to include questionable theories and information. This also isn't written with the intention of telling my readers that cannabis use is 100% safe. As with alcohol, I believe humans shouldn't be using cannabis for recreational purposes before age 21. However, prohibition does not keep cannabis away from kids. Despite what politicians tell you, relaxed cannabis laws do not lead to increased adolescent use. The state of Colorado, who legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, saw a drop in their teen use rates the following year.
By the time I was a teenager, I had partial sight in just one eye and was on two medications for glaucoma. The first time I tried pot was when I was 16, but did not use it frequently until my home state passed their medical cannabis law in 1996. I've been legally blind most of my adult life. Cannabis helps preserve what eyesight I have left. Other positive effects for me are the drastic reduction of anxiety and improved sleep. The only negative side effects I suffer are not from cannabis use itself, but from the life-altering discrimination I've endured as one of California's original legal users for medical purposes.
Cannabis-related topics that will be covered here include the history of its prohibition in the United States, the effects of modern-day prohibition, debunking the myths and stereotypes, the recent victories of the global cannabis law reform movement, and my solutions for the swift transition away from prohibition and arrest. Great minds will be needed to construct a legalization model that's beneficial to us.
II. Prohibition: A Legacy of Racism, Greed, Ignorance, and Denial
Once upon a time in the United States, cannabis was used as medicine--until a selfishly crafted nationwide scare-mongering campaign was carried out. Since alcohol prohibition is referred to as the "Noble Experiment", cannabis prohibition should forever be known as the "Immoral Experiment". Similar consequences have occurred from both; such as total disrespect for the law, a rise in organized crime, and police corruption. Every cannabis advocate knows the complex tale of how it became illegal, as well as how dishonesty and a lack of respect for humanity allowed it to stay that way.
Racism was the impetus for the enactment of every single drug law in the United States during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Alcohol was associated with various European immigrant groups, Jews, and African Americans. Opium was associated with Chinese immigrants. Cocaine was associated with African Americans in the Southern United States, and the "loco weed" was associated with Mexicans. Cannabis prohibition began at the state level in the 1910's, and became illegal at the Federal level in 1937. How did it all happen?
Around 1910, fear of Mexican immigrants helped fuel the anti-cannabis crusade. The Mexican Revolution down South created an influx of people crossing the border to seek employment. They brought with them the practice of smoking raw cannabis flowers, which had not been common in the United States prior to their arrival. Further resentment towards Mexican immigrants erupted in the 1930's during the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce. Both Mexican and U.S. newspapers claimed that people would become violent after using what Mexicans knew as "marihuana". It's important to note that this term was helpful in the demonization of the plant we used to call cannabis. Phrases such as "The Marihuana Menace" began appearing on headlines across the country, leading to widespread panic.
It's no surprise that the media was even more dishonest 100 years ago than it is today. William Randolph Hearst was the main purveyor of racially motivated anti-cannabis sensationalism, as well as other forms of yellow journalism. He had reasons to hate cannabis. Losing 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa intensified his hatred of Mexicans. Printing lies about Mexicans and "marihuana" was selling papers, making him richer. Here's an example of his propaganda:
"Users of marihuana become STIMULATED as they inhale the drug and are LIKELY TO DO ANYTHING."
~William Randolph Hearst
So, the Mexican-hating Hearst teamed up with the Negro-hating Harry Anslinger to bring about nationwide prohibition of cannabis. He served as assistant head of the scandal-ridden Federal Bureau of Prohibition. In 1930, he became the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In a show of nepotism, he was given this position by his wife's uncle, Andrew Mellon. When alcohol became legal again, Anslinger had to find a new drug to lash out against. Knowing that he couldn't build his new bureaucracy on opiates and cocaine alone, he launched a full-scale attack on cannabis. He would tell tales on the radio of murders and rapes committed by cannabis "addicts", mostly African Americans. His bureau fabricated statistics about how counter-drug measures in the 1920's drastically reduced drug use. And sadly, back then, racism equalled ratings.
"Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."
"[T]he primary reason to outlaw marihuana is its effect on the degenerate races."
"You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother."
Joining these two racist men on their mission was Lammont DuPont, of the DuPont chemical and plastics empire. It is difficult to prove a direct correlation between DuPont's anti-cannabis lobbying and the financial consequences he'd suffer from a thriving hemp market. However, it is not a stretch to conclude that being the owner of a giant company allows one to greatly affect the sociopolitical climate. Here's an excerpt from the 1937 DuPont Report, which sounds like something that advocates for a bloated, out-of-control government--like Bush or Clinton--would say today:
“The revenue raising power of government may be converted into an instrument for forcing acceptance of sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganization.”
As cannabis criminalization laws were being established in all the states, the first Federal attempt at a prohibitive law was ratified in 1937. The Marihuana Tax Act required anyone who grows, sells, deals in, or gives away cannabis to register with the Internal Revenue Service and pay a special tax. Every transfer of the hemp plant or its parts would require a tax stamp, and forms in triplicate. Violations would result in fines and up to five years in prison. Anslinger himself drafted the bill, with the goal of taxing, bureaucratically regulating, and imprisoning cannabis out of existence. The bill resembles the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914.
The law passed with barely any hearings, and did its best to keep the American Medical Association (AMA) uninformed. This is another effect of referring to cannabis as the "M" word, as the medical profession was not aware that cannabis and "marihuana" were the same thing. The bill was passed largely on Anslinger's testimony as well as Hearst's racist and false articles.
In reading Anslinger's testimony, he speaks with purpose, whether what he was saying was true or not. Congress heard Marco Polo's sensational writings of boys who would be drugged with hashish so that they can be convinced to kill. He compared hashish, an ancient preparation of cannabis that is cooked, to the word assassin. Marco Polo's story is bogus, by the way. Even he couldn't mention one fatal overdose, and also states that cannabis "addicts" do not end up using other narcotics. Truthfully, one cannot fatally overdose on cannabis. Anslinger argued that murders occurred directly from cannabis use--but in those days, defense lawyers would try and craft a defense around alleged cannabis-induced insanity.
Between 1937 and 1945, emphasis on sensationalized cannabis stories subsided, and farmers were actually encouraged to grow hemp for World War II efforts. Judges at both the federal and state level, however, were encouraged to hand out severe prison sentences.
Anslinger spearheaded the ban of the Canadian movie "Drug Addict", a documentary that realistically depicted drug addicts. He even tried to convince Canada to ban it in their own country. Can't have people knowing the truth, can we?
The late 1940's and early 1950's saw two shifts in cannabis demonization came into being. First, Harry Anslinger largely abandoned his "marihuana leads to violence" argument in favor of a more en vogue slogan, "marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing." Second, that "gateway drug" theory which I'll later disprove was invoked in order to provide an explanation of rising youth drug arrests. Judges were blamed for not giving harsh enough punishment for narcotics possession, so the Boggs Act of 1951 was enacted. Many states followed the Federal government's lead and created harsh prison sentences of their own for cannabis. This is the first law that lumped "marihuana" with heroin and cocaine, thanks to that bogus gateway theory that many of today's politicians still cling to.
There was mostly a consensus amongst politicians that harsher prison sentences would halt and/or decrease the drug trade and drug addiction, and that cannabis was no different from other narcotics. At the Federal level, penalties for narcotics violations were increased again in 1956. With it came mandatory minimum sentences for all except first-time possession offenders. At the global level, the United Nations adopted a treaty between participating nations to prohibit cannabis as well as other drugs back in 1961.
In the early 1970's, the most extensive study on "marihuana" in U.S. history was performed at the behest of President Richard Nixon. Nixon himself was vehemently against cannabis use, as he associated it with hippies, war protestors, and militant African American organizations. He claimed that all "radicals" were under the influence of cannabis or other drugs.
The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse was headed by the "law and order" Governor of Pennsylvania, Raymond P. Shafer. Its report drew conclusions that didn't make Nixon very happy. Cannabis users and their behavior were studied in a neutral environment, and one of the study's conclusions was that they were actually quite intelligent. It read, “Most users, young and old, demonstrate an average or above-average degree of social functioning, academic achievement, and job performance.” The Shafer Report also stated that cannabis did not lead to harder drug use, young adults often stopped smoking weed as they enter their mid- to late twenties. And, "No significant physical, biochemical, or mental abnormalities could be attributed solely to their marihuana smoking." Criminal punishments given to cannabis users were regarded as "unjustifiable" by the report. In response, Nixon did the exact opposite of the report's recommendations and shifted efforts towards criminalizing and demonizing individual cannabis users. His Controlled Substances Act placed cannabis in the most restricted class, known as Schedule 1--which includes heroin and LSD. Even cocaine and methamphetamine are in the slightly less restrictive Schedule 2. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Nixon was a racist--in case you didn't know that already.
"You know, it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marihuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews...?"
~From the Richard Nixon Tapes
The warnings given by the Shafer Report are prophetic when juxtaposed with the lack of any progress of today's War on Weed and Other Drugs. Here are some quotes that were as true then as they are today:
“Marihuana's relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact onsociety does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.”
"...[due to] the emotionalism surrounding the topic of drugs, all levels of government have been pressured into action with little time for planning. The political pressures involved in this governmental effort have resulted in a concentration ...on the most immediate aspects of drug use and a reaction along the paths of least political resistance ... the creation of ever larger bureaucracies, ever increasing expenditures of monies, and an outpouring of publicity so that the public will know that 'something' is being done."
"The Commission believes that the contemporary American drug problem has emerged in part from our institutional response to drug use...We have failed to weave policy into the fabric of social institutions.
"Unless present policy is redirected, we will perpetuate the same problems, tolerate the same social costs, and find ourselves as we do now, no further along the road to a more rational legal and social approach than we were in 1914."
The Commission also pointed out the very distinct possibility that greed has been involved in this whole process:
"Perhaps the major consequence [of anti-drug legislating]...has been the creation, at the federal, state and community levels, of a vested interest in the perpetuation of the problem among those dispensing and receiving funds."
Next up on the list of anti-cannabis crusaders was former President Ronald Reagan. He ramped up the War on Drugs and continued the focus on punishing the drug user. Using a botched marijuana study from 1974, he went on to convince most people in the country that cannabis destroyed brain cells. In the study, monkeys were supposedly given the equivalent of 30 joints per day. Within 90 days, they died, and autopsies showed brain damage. In reality, the monkeys were suffering brain damage from lack of oxygen, as they were forced to wear gas masks for five minutes while 63 joints worth of pot smoke was pumped into them on a daily basis. That study could not be replicated and was later discredited.
Reagan's administration went on full damage control alert in 1987 when the honorable Francis Young, a Drug Enforcement Agency judge, ruled in favor of rescheduling cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA appealed its own decision twice and finally won, on some technicality that the Food and Drug Administration should have also been part of the arguments. It's clear that the bureaucracies that have grown due to cannabis prohibition rely on each other to eliminate sensible cannabis law reform, and even the medical research of cannabis.
President Bill "I didn't inhale" Clinton further ramped up the war on marijuana users, first by sharply increasing the number of arrests, and second by refusing to recognize state laws that legalized cannabis for medical purposes starting in 1996. Mr. Bill, just like most other politicians, were under the false impression that more lenient cannabis laws are responsible for increased adolescent use. I'll address that and other myths later on.
Cannabis prohibition started with the states, and is beginning to end with the states. In the present day, over 20 states have legalized the cannabis plant for medical purposes. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use and sale of recreational cannabis. Treating cannabis users like criminals has always been an emotionally charged, life-shattering drain on society. Costs have far outweighed the benefits. We will explore these costs in the next section.