The Pot Issue
End the war
Criminalizing marijuana use is (still) a losing proposition
Published: November 3, 2010
"Dope? Do you think the Russians allow dope? Hell no. ... You see, homosexuality, dope, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing this stuff; they're trying to destroy us." —Richard M. Nixon
The question isn't whether weed is inherently good or bad.
Like a lot of things in life, it has the potential to be both.
Tens of thousands here in Michigan rely on it to legally treat ailments identified by the state's two-year-old medical marijuana law, and many thousands more use it illegally to help cope with other medical issues, or simply to relieve the stress of this modern life, or to have a good time while partying with friends.
In part, it is a matter of perspective. What some consider a form of relaxation others deem to be an attempt to escape reality, a dangerous copout for the weak-willed and a sign of some moral failing.
There are also some definite dangers. It can raise a person's heart rate. Dependency is an issue for many. There are concerns it might trigger mental illness, especially among adolescents.
Many are able to use the drug responsibly. Others abuse it and have problems — either at home or on the job — as a result. On a strictly anecdotal basis, a number of people we know smoked it at one time, but don't anymore. "It makes me paranoid," they say with great consistency.
It's hard not to wonder, though, if at least some would feel less paranoid were they not committing a criminal act every time they light up. Who's to say when a neighbor might catch a whiff of what's going on and turn you in, or a random drug test at work could end a job or derail a career?
In that way, paranoia is a natural byproduct of weed in today's America.
The point is, marijuana, which as been used by humans for thousands of years, has been a significant part of mainstream American life for more than 40 years now.
And for almost as long, this country has been waging a war — not on drugs, but on people.
On our brothers and sisters. On our spouses and our kids.
It has been waging a war on us.
And it is high time that it stops, because this is a way littered with casualties, and waged at great financial cost, and with no end in sight.
It is a war whose failure was seen even as it was being declared
Marijuana had been around for a long time when Richard Nixon declared in 1971 that, along with the losing campaign then winding down in Vietnam, America would be entering another kind of war: the War on Drugs.
In part, it was a war on what had long been seen as a medicine.
Here's what Time magazine reported in 2002:
"As early as 2737 B.C., the mystical emperor Shen Neng of China was prescribing marijuana tea for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, malaria and, oddly enough, poor memory. The drug's popularity as a medicine spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and down the eastern coast of Africa, and certain Hindu sects in India used marijuana for religious purposes and stress relief. Ancient physicians prescribed marijuana for everything from pain relief to earaches to childbirth. Doctors also warned against overuse of marijuana, believing that too much consumption caused impotence, blindness and 'seeing devils.'"
By the early part of the 20th century, fear of those devils suspected to be lurking inside marijuana was beginning to attract the attention of American lawmakers. Although the federal government didn't make marijuana illegal nationwide until the late 1930s, a number of states had begun outlawing pot a decade or two earlier.
What was the concern over a plant that much of the country knew nothing about? Charles Whitebread, a law professor at the University of Southern California Law School, told a gathering of the California Judges Association in 1995 that these early attacks on marijuana had their roots firmly planted in xenophobia.
"The only thing you need to know to understand the early marijuana laws in the southwest and Rocky Mountain areas of this country is to know that, in the period just after 1914, into all of those areas was a substantial migration of Mexicans," Whitebread explained. "They had come across the border in search of better economic conditions, they worked heavily as rural laborers, beet field workers, cotton pickers, things of that sort. And with them, they had brought marijuana.
"Basically, none of the white people in these states knew anything about marijuana, and I make a distinction between white people and Mexicans to reflect a distinction that any legislator in one of these states at the time would have made. And all you had to do to find out what motivated the marijuana laws in the Rocky Mountain and southwestern states was to go to the legislative records themselves. Probably the best single statement was the statement of a proponent of Texas' first marijuana law. He said on the floor of the Texas Senate, and I quote, 'All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff (referring to marijuana) is what makes them crazy.' Or, as the proponent of Montana's first marijuana law said, (and imagine this on the floor of the state legislature) and I quote, 'Give one of these Mexican beet field workers a couple of puffs on a marijuana cigarette and he thinks he is in the bullring at Barcelona.'
"... And so what was the genesis for the early state marijuana laws in the Rocky Mountain and southwestern areas of this country? It wasn't hostility to the drug, it was hostility to the newly arrived Mexican community that used it."
By the 1930s, demonization of marijuana was reaching a crescendo. Among those leading the attack was Harry J. Anslinger — who, as head of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was the first of what would later be referred to as a drug czar. Joining him in the crusade was newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the king of yellow journalism who had purchased vast timber tracts to supply pulp for his papers and didn't want to see competition from marijuana's cousin, hemp.
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