When Oregon made history in 1973 as the first US state to decriminalize cannabis, opponents published dire predictions to expect a rise in crime and hard drug abuse. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Other states followed, first with decriminalization, and then with out-and-out legalization.
This time, California took first place, legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. As of October 2017, 29 states and Washington, DC have legal medical marijuana. More states are considering joining this trend.
Why all this fuss and bother over a simple weed?
After all, cannabis is a native plant in the Americas. It was an ingredient in many pharmaceutical remedies sold in the US before the beginning of the 20th century. What ruined pot’s medical contribution and transformed it from a helper to a menace?
The answer dates back to 1930, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), a new division in the Treasury Department, was established. Harry J. Anslinger, the first director, declared war on marijuana.
Fueling Anslinger’s smear campaign, the 1936 film Reefer Madness was pure fiction, packaged as a “cautionary tale.” It used propaganda techniques (e.g., fear, ridicule, exaggeration) to demonize marijuana use. The depiction of black musicians was quite racist, not surprising since they had been targeted by the FBN. Three slick-yet-unsavory white drug dealers host wild parties (with jazz music) to turn innocent (white) teenagers into “reefer” cigarette addicts.
The title of a 1937 film, which also demonized pot use, introduced the shock phrase Assassin of Youth into the American vocabulary and popular social consciousness.
Since they had never tried marijuana, and never suspecting a fraud, the average American gobbled up this federal smear campaign, many believing to this day that marijuana users are immoral, as well as criminal.
Because the federal government had no power to outlaw drugs in the early 1900s, high taxation became the legal loophole for federal control. (Ironically, legal marijuana is now also the source of tax revenue, under state control.)
Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon approved the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970. This neat little piece of legislation consolidated over 200 prior existing federal drug laws into a single statute. The CSA identifies five drug Schedules for state legislatures to reference, with ease, when drafting new criminal statutes.
The federal department in charge of taxing drugs (FBN) decided that marijuana was as harmful and dangerous as heroin, and classified both as Schedule 1 narcotics. (Marijuana is actually called, in scientific terms, a psychoactive – or mind-altering – substance.)
The DEA.gov website says:
“Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:
heroin, LSD, marijuana (cannabis), ecstasy, methaqualone (Quaalude), and peyote”
Supporting the federal propaganda campaign against marijuana, the American Cancer Society website’s Treatment and Support section informs us:
“At this time, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists marijuana and its cannabinoids as Schedule I controlled substances. This means that they cannot legally be prescribed, possessed, or sold under federal law. Whole or crude marijuana (including marijuana oil or hemp oil) is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any medical use. But the use of marijuana to treat some medical conditions is legal under state laws in many states.”
Even as the DEA pretends that marijuana has no redeeming value, stories abound online about “miracle cures” for cancer patients, many of them children whose doctors had lost hope for successful treatment. Studies from non-US countries are showing that marijuana’s active components actually kill cancer and other diseases.
Furthermore, if smoking marijuana caused medical problems, there would be an epidemic of cases, since so many people have been consuming pot products for so long in the US. Mainstream media headlines would be screaming about it. Have you heard of any such case, ever?
Anslinger’s successful propaganda campaign to demonize marijuana turned generations of otherwise law-abiding Americans into criminals. The impact is far-reaching; many people know someone in jail on a petty pot charge.
What is the true cost, to American society, of marijuana’s demonization over the decades? Perhaps impossible to measure in dollars, add to the criminal justice costs a decades-long, diminished, able-bodied workforce. There are still inmates whose only crime was possession of a minor amount of pot, or a pipe. Those convicted and released must live with criminal records, putting certain jobs out of reach.
There is no correlation whatsoever – much less causality – between marijuana and crime, disease, or disintegration of the social fabric.
When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana and hemp (fiber from the plant stalks), this writer predicted the state economy would improve dramatically, transforming the budget ink from red to black. Other states would “turn green with envy.” In fact, Colorado’s legalized marijuana industry added $200 million 2016 tax dollars to the state budget, as reported by Westword on May 31, 2017. This is especially impressive when you consider that 2015 revenue was over $70 million, according to an article on Time.com. That ain’t chump change.
The trend of state-level legalization of medical, recreational and hemp marijuana products has to be attributable to the overwhelming numbers of US citizens who agree that “the evil weed” is not a gateway drug to harder drugs, and certainly not worth police, court or jail time.
Marijuana is, however, an excellent source of new state revenues. Nationwide, total 2016 legal cannabis sales came to $6 BILLION. Who’s laughing all the way to the bank now?
The example set by Drug Czar Anslinger is a good reminder of the power a single person can bring against his own society. It is this one man’s head-strong, ill-conceived, and destructive influence that modern Americans are finally kicking to the curb.
We the People are, collectively, much more powerful than any individual. Our message is:
“Reefer madness? We don’t think so.”
First come state laws legalizing marijuana use. Can the fed be far behind?