Politics, Marijuana, and Big Pharma
The word Marijuana could quite possibly be one of the most controversial words in America today and merely injecting the word into a conversation causes discord; with opinions ranging from the furthest possible ends of the spectrum and everything in between. And if you’ve dared to mention the word in conversation, there are many opinionated people who will be happy to talk at length on why they are for or against marijuana being legalized in the United States. The pro-legalization crowd consists mainly of those who have been or are currently recreational users, those who see the overwhelming value of marijuana in healthcare and pain relief, and those who are against government regulation in general. The other side of the debate is supported by people who feel marijuana acts as a gateway drug, causes birth defects and health issues, and increases crime and other counterproductive actions. I’m not stereotyping either group, just offering some useful conversational pieces as to why people might choose one side or another. As a sidebar, legalization has gained strength over the last decade and several states are already seeing a developed industry and tax base from legalization.
One topic many people gravitate towards in the legalization conversation is asking the question of how it became illegal in the first place. Most assume that marijuana was made illegal through some kind of process involving scientific, medical, and government hearings and that the results demonstrated it was necessary to protect American citizens from what was deemed to be a dangerous drug. History, however tells the actual story that reeks of manipulation, intrigue, and suspicion. Those who voted on the fate of this plant never had the facts, instead dependent on information supplied by those who had a specific agenda to deceive lawmakers.
But before we discuss the current state of things, we should take a moment to look further back in the annals of history and learn about this so-called dangerous plant and its impact on the world. For most of human history, marijuana has been completely legal with its known uses going back further than 7,000 B.C. when it was used as a medicinal herb by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans for stomach ailments, cramps, and pain. The marijuana (hemp) plant was an important part of agriculture because it has an incredible number of uses including food, fabric, rope, and much more. In fact, the first marijuana law enacted in the colonies was actually a law ordering people to grow hemp due to its importance. In fact, hemp was used a legal tender in the mid-1700’s. During the 1800’s, cannabis products became a popular medicinal substance found in many pharmacies across the nation. It became a requirement to label over-the-counter medicines containing cannabis, including cocaine and heroin, with the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906, but these things were still legal. But things were about to change, starting in the early 1900’s when tensions with Mexico flared.
In 1910 the revolution in Mexico spilled over the southern border, with General Pershing’s army clashing with Pancho Villa. Tensions rose between large and small farmers as the larger farms used cheaper Mexican labor to do their work, thus making the smaller farms uncompetitive, quite similar to what we are seeing in America today. These events were followed by the Great Depression which put a stranglehold on the American economy. Politicians were looking for anyone to blame on the poor state of the nation to deflect pressure from their failing policies, and some seized on the fact that the Mexicans who were in America were smoking marijuana. California initiated the first laws against smoking prepared hemp. But the outright outlawing of marijuana seemed to originate in Salt Lake City, Utah, heavily influenced by the Church Of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. When Mormons travelled to Mexico, they returned with marijuana which infuriated church leaders who were tied to all levels of government. Other states quickly followed suit with marijuana prohibition laws, including Wyoming (1915), Texas (1919), Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Arkansas (1923), and Montana and Nebraska (1927). And although these laws tended to be specifically targeted against the Mexican-American population, they were applied to everyone.
On the Eastern side of the nation, the “problem” was attributed to Blacks and Latin Americans. Black jazz musicians were writing lyrics which hinted at marijuana use and people began to outwardly speak about how black men high on marijuana would make them bold enough to leer at white women and confront white men openly in the streets. Wild tales of “refer madness” tied marijuana to violent and dangerous behaviors. Also during this time, the United States was dealing with alcohol prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933 and marijuana was a suitable substitute for many people and usage soared. It’s important to note that Alcohol Prohibition was an actual Constitutional Amendment and therefore subject to Federal enforcement because at that time in history, the federal government did not have the power to outlaw alcohol or drugs based on heavy reliance on the tenth amendment.
The Harrison Act of 1914
Since marijuana could not be outlawed at the federal level, the decision was made to use federal taxation as a work around. The Harrison Act of 1914 regulated the production and transportation of opiates and cocaine and how they were taxed was the Federal Government’s first attempt to criminalize recreational drugs. The backers of the Harrison Act played on public fears that blacks under the influence of drugs were murdering whites and Chinamen were seducing white women with opium. Doctors quickly took notice and no longer supplied addicts with recreational drugs, but the marijuana issue was still unsettled until 1930 when a new division in the Treasury Department was established named The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, with Harry J. Anslinger as its first director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana.
Harry Anslinger & William Randolph Hearst
Anslinger quickly recognized that The Bureau of Narcotics as an amazing career opportunity. He also realized that in order to get additional funding and personnel that regulating opiates and cocaine wouldn’t be enough, so he focused his efforts on marijuana and started working on making it illegal at the federal level. His approach was a simple campaign of racism and violence to draw national attention to marijuana, creating a “problem” where one really didn’t exist. He made outlandish statements that gained traction with white America, calling out blacks, Hispanics, and other immigrant groups as degenerates who smoked marijuana and tried to have sexual relations with white women. He called marijuana highly addictive and explained how it made smokers insane criminals. He put a political spin into his narrative saying marijuana led to communist brainwashing and pacifism. Yet, none of his outlandish statements were based on facts, only his own take-no-prisoners ambition.
Harry Anslinger’s outrageous rhetoric was supported by William Randolf Hearst, the owner of a huge chain of newspapers. Hearst had lots of reasons to help. He hated Mexicans mostly due to the fact that he lost 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa. Second, he had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper in competition. Plus reprinting the obvious lies about Mexicans and how their smoking marijuana caused violence and other sordid thing sold more newspapers, making him rich. Hearst and Anslinger were then supported first by Dupont chemical company and then followed by various other pharmaceutical companies in the effort to outlaw cannabis. You see, Dupont had just patented nylon, and wanted hemp removed as competition. The pharmaceutical companies piled on because they could neither identify nor standardize cannabis dosages, and with cannabis, folks could grow their own medicine and not be forced to purchase it from large companies like theirs.
Marijuana Tax Stamp Act
After two years of secret planning, Anslinger brought a plan to Congress complete with a dossier full of sensational Hearst newspaper articles. It was a remarkably short set of hearings. The one real opposition was from Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Council of the American Medical Association. Woodward started by slamming Harry Anslinger and the Bureau of Narcotics for distorting earlier AMA statements that had nothing to do with marijuana and making them appear to be AMA endorsement for Anslinger’s view. He also reproached Bureau for using the term marijuana in the legislation and not publicizing it as a bill about cannabis or hemp. The term marijuana was not commonplace, but more of a sensationalist word used to refer to Mexicans smoking a drug and had not been connected in most people’s minds to the existing cannabis/hemp plant. It was this word substitution that kept many who may have had legitimate reasons to oppose the bill unaware of it being considered. Woodward went on to state that the AMA was opposed to the legislation and further questioned the approach of the hearings, coming close to outright accusation of misconduct by Anslinger and the committee. Unlike his opposition, he came ready to do battle, asking direct questions about where their data sources were drawn from, what experts were involved, the numbers of verified addicts, and more including why the bill was prepared in such secrecy.
Yet despite being correct in his approach, the Doctor was attacked by the committee membership which even questioned his motives in opposing the legislation. He was reprimanded for not bringing a constructive proposal, rather than criticism to the hearing. Basically he was reminded not to get in the way of something that the Federal Government was trying to do. Additional unproven statements were entered into the discussion that was primarily fear-based regurgitations of the earlier news stories. The committee went on to state that America was defenseless against the newly minted war on marijuana and that there were no laws in place for authorities to cope with fighting said war. And unfortunately that was basically it. Yellow journalism won over medical science. And on the basis of that lie, on August 2, 1937, President Roosevelt signed the bill and marijuana became illegal at the federal level. Officially known as the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act the bill made the possession or transfer of marijuana illegal throughout the United States under federal law without a tax stamp issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. Growing and selling marijuana was still legal, providing you had a tax stamp. However, the Treasury Department never issued a single tax stamps for marijuana, thus making growing, selling and possessing marijuana illegal.
Because Anslinger had vast government resources and a large public podium he was able to demonize marijuana users to promote his own personal agenda. He lied constantly, often when it was unnecessary. He and Hearst were hardcore racists, willing to say anything to ridicule or hurt anyone of color. He had the ear of lawmakers as did Hearst, and both realized that they could control the media narrative by simply not reporting any of the opposing viewpoints and overblowing those of their own (which were mostly made up.) It seems that Anslinger had more power than anyone realized. He even had the ability to circumvent the First Amendment in one case when he banned a Canadian movie called, “Drug Addict.” It was a 1946 documentary that realistically depicted drug addicts and law enforcement efforts. In the 1950’s, Anslinger once again used propaganda to scare Americans into believing marijuana was a “gateway” drug to heroin. There were a growing number of Americans using heroin then and Anslinger used that fact and turned it into to fear by claiming most marijuana users would turn into heroin addicts. He then took the bold leap and escalated this environment of fear to convince Americans that marijuana was just as bad as cocaine, opium and heroin. In 1956 the Narcotic Control Act passed which put marijuana in the same class as heroin and added even more severe penalties, once again due to Anslinger’s lies.
In 1970, the US Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act because they considered it to have "no accepted medical use." Since then, 23 of 50 US states and DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana. Proponents of medical marijuana argue that it can be a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of cancer, pain from trauma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, and possibly other conditions. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies, prominent medical organizations, major government reports, and the use of marijuana as medicine throughout world history serve as evidence to support their findings. Opponents of medical marijuana argue that it is too dangerous to use and unnecessary since various legal drugs exist to treat the same health problems They say marijuana is addictive, leads to harder drug use, interferes with fertility, impairs driving ability, and injures the lungs, immune system, and brain.
Things Never Change
Since the passage of the 1937 law, 20,000,000 Americans have been convicted of marijuana related crimes. The terms “gateway drug,” “refer madness,” “420,” “the munchies,” and “lazy stoner” has been a part of society for over fifty years mainly being used as negative towards marijuana users. Yet after looking at the history of how the legislation was enacted, many people will cry foul. Unfortunately as we all know, anything the government puts in place is often difficult to remove.
So once you see the truth behind the players and the actions involved in making marijuana illegal, it’s much easier to connect the dots to today’s political environment and see why those same underlying techniques are basically still being employed. Senators and Congressmen wanting to look tough on crime for their constituents gave the original bill life, now a different group of lawmakers continue to use keeping marijuana illegal to posture for the voters with a tough stance. Corporations, especially drug manufacturers, don’t want to see American citizens free to grow their own “medicine” as it will cut into their virtual monopoly on medication. We can already see how the natural/homeopathic segment has been rapidly growing as more people rebel against the ghastly high prices of medicine. Yellow journalism served to convey the message of fear to the public in the past. Today it’s replaced with “studies” from what seems like credible universities and medical studies that are filled with so-called potential risks of everything terrible their minds can conjure including birth defects, mental retardation, and low IQ scores. And there is a huge lobby to “prove” it has no medicinal benefit, despite the actual evidence showing the contrary. The only part of the past narrative that lost its steam was the racism part. People who enjoy marijuana recreationally come from all walks of life, both men and women, blacks, whites, Native Americans, and Asians.
Now, with the muscle provided by the internet and the opportunity to publish a counter point, the pro-marijuana community can fight back against a century of lies and deception. The so-called war on drugs has failed and been a huge waste of money. Cannabis supporters want people to know the truth in order to get a real objective discussion going on national legalization. Legalization of marijuana would greatly reduce crime along the southern border as the Mexican drug cartels would no longer have an underground market, which would lower their profits and reduce their influence. Cannabis is not the gateway drug everyone tries to call it. Let’s face it, based on the number of people who have smoked marijuana, wouldn’t we have a higher number of cocaine or heroin addicts if this were the case? Just because marijuana is usually the first drug people try does not mean it’s the gateway. Cigarettes are much more addictive than marijuana, but no one wants to talk about that. When tobacco companies are spending huge figures on lobbying and campaign contributions, politicians will do anything and everything to protect their interests. Alcohol, pharmaceutical, and tobacco companies all stand to lose revenue if marijuana is legalized and their clout is certainly part of the stone wall built around Congress.
I've been working on this for some time, but decided it was time to get it out there for commentary - some will hate it, others will love it.
I say, smoke 'em if you got 'em!