A young daughter of 6 comes upon a chrysalis emerging from its somber cocoon, an alien and curious sight! Lacking any conditioned yield she attempts to aid the angelic phoenix by peeling back part of its oppressive shell but inadvertently amputates a fragile wing. Her face flushes with blood as she realizes she has injured the poor thing, relegating it to an earthbound existence for the remainder of its mortal life.
Throughout the last hundred years or so, politicians and vocal bureaucrats have attempted to “fix” America’s drug problem but ultimately wound-up incarcerating more people than any other country in the world – more than China, which boasts around a billion more inhabitants. Drug prohibitionists from their infancy have taken a heavy-handed approach to enforcing the propaganda of drug hysteria. Yet, were these men’s motives as benevolent as our naive but well-intended stripling?
The well-documented history of marijuana prohibition in America reveals entrenched origins that illustrate lamentable human frailties such as elitism, racism, hypocrisy, and opportunism. Before a detestable and petulant man named Harry Anslinger came along in the 30s, you could walk right up to your friendly pharmacist and order a bottle of Cannabis Indica tincture or simply grow your own plants and the only thing the local lawman could say was, “Deviant!”. In documents before the 1940s, cannabis as a drug is often referred to as Indian Hemp and, in our heavily alcohol-centrist culture, it was primarily considered a vice of jazz players, blacks, and latinos at that time.
Harry J. Anslinger (may his rotted bones be consumed by rabid wolves and coyotes) dutifully procured his title as Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics shortly after his former post at the Bureau of Prohibition (of alcohol) became rife with scandal and corruption. He was appointed by Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon, his wife’s uncle, and given a budget of $100,000. At the time, the boys at the top thought Anslinger would be perceived as an “honest and incorruptible figure” and saw in him the potential for higher political office. Anslinger’s impact cannot be understated, he not only significantly influenced American drug policy but also swayed the drug policies of foreign nations, notably those that had neglected to debate the issue among themselves. Anslinger’s anti-marijuana rhetoric was truly a special breed of vitriol, here’s a taste of his silver tongue:
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.
Interestingly enough, Anslinger, prior to securing his post as the nation’s drug czar, publicly stated that cannabis was not a problem, did not harm people, and said “there is no more absurd fallacy” than the claim that cannabis makes violent berserkers out of good and decent corn-fed Americans. What could account for this rapid reversal of ideology, you ask? Critics argue that public and political support for alcohol prohibition was dwindling, and Anslinger, ever the opportunist, exploited the vacuum of power and sought a new Prohibition in which he would lead the troops against a perceived evil. After conscripting the views of 30 leading scientists regarding cannabis and it’s health effects, 29 of them stated cannabis did no harm. However, Mr. Anslinger only pursued the views of the one dissenting scientist.
After Anslinger, a predictable line of insignificant bureaucrats would sustain the drug crusade up until we get to our next leading figure in America’s dark and bloody history of marijuana prohibition; Richard Nixon. Tricky Dick not only utilized cannabis as a political scapegoat but felt the criminalization of it would marginalize two political thorns in his side, the hippies (i.e. progressives from the left) and “the blacks”. Harper’s Magazine recently published an interview from Nixon’s key policy adviser, John Ehrlichman, who was sent to prison as an outcome of his role in the Watergate scandal. “Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course we did,” confessed Ehrlichman. He went on to say that an increase in drug prosecutions would allow the Nixon Administration to go after their left-leaning opponents and “arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”
Nixon’s War on Drugs had a far greater impact on the American population that those sitting in the Oval Office at the time may have predicted. President Ronald Reagan took Nixon’s War on Drugs rhetoric and made it priority government policy, vastly increasing the budgets of the Drug Enforcement Agency and giving grants to local law enforcement agencies in states across the country. Over the next three decades, the budgets of police departments nationwide would become dependent on federal funds intended to combat drug crimes. More and more prisons were being built to house these new, non-violent offenders. Private corporations realized the potential for enormous growth in the sector and aggressively networked with state agencies to secure contracts for new prisons and jails. Eventually, the lobbyists of corporations like Corrections Corporation of America would travel to Washington, DC and strongly state their desire to keep drug laws tough and the prison sentences lengthy.
As more and more states across the U.S. either legalize recreational cannabis or allow patients to receive medical marijuana, there are still a good number of states, especially those in the south, whose politicians refuse to take action on this issue. In many senses we are still fighting the Civil War in the South. Institutional racism is a very palpable phenomenon for minorities in states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina, among others. Strict drug laws, in the eyes of a frog-faced, god-fearing Southern sheriff of a small town, are an excellent way to keep military-aged black males and drug addicts in concrete boxes when they’re not using them for cheap or often free labor. In the old days, they used to call that slavery.