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How Did We Get Here? The Roots of Pot Prohibition
Posted By admin On April 19, 2012 @ 9:00 am In Politics & Public Policy | Comments Disabled
The following is an excerpt from Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?  by Steve Fox , Paul Armentano , and Mason Tvert . It has been adapted for the Web.
Why is it that our state and federal laws embrace alcohol—a drug that is a known cause of a frightening array of adverse health effects and behaviors— while criminalizing the use of marijuana, which is seldom associated with such problems?”
Good question. After all, it wasn’t always like this. Throughout most of America’s history, marijuana and alcohol were both legal. In 1920, the federal government decided to outlaw booze, yet members of Congress had yet to enact any legal restrictions on the consumption of cannabis. However, by the 1930s the political climate had changed dramatically. In 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified, repealing alcohol prohibition. Yet just four years later, on August 2, 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Marihuana Tax Act into law, ushering in a new form of prohibition—one that remains with us to this day.So what the hell happened?
The public’s concern over the supposed marijuana menace grew, and in 1930 Congress responded by establishing the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). Selected to head this new agency was a “law and order” evangelist named Harry J. Anslinger. For the next three decades, Anslinger would single-handedly dictate U.S. drug policy. Many of his highly sensationalized views on weed linger in the public mind to this day. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Anslinger and the FBN launched an unprecedented (for the time) media campaign warning Americans of the alleged perils of pot. By this time, the drug’s use was not only popular among Mexican immigrants, but it had also become vogue among certain segments of the African American community, most notably southern jazz musicians. The Bureau warned that smoking marijuana inspired blacks and Hispanics to commit rape and engage in other acts of uninhibited violence. “His sex desires are aroused and some of the most horrible crimes result,” one widely disseminated FBN news bulletin reported. “He hears light and sees sound. To get away from it, he suddenly becomes violent and may kill.”11 Seizing upon many white Americans’ preexisting racial prejudices, Anslinger often emphasized that these alleged acts of violence were primarily directed toward Caucasian women. Anslinger further claimed that Mexican “dope peddlers” frequently offered free samples of marijuana cigarettes to children on their way home from school. “Parents beware! Your children . . . are being introduced to a new danger in the form of a drugged cigarette, marijuana,” Anslinger warned in a prominent FBN radio address. “Young [people] are slaves to the narcotic, continuing addiction until they deteriorate mentally, become insane, [and] turn to violent crime and murder.”12 Possessing a flair for the theatrical, Anslinger bragged about keeping a “gore file” consisting of outrageous, unsubstantiated, and sometimes fraudulent newspaper stories that detailed pot’s supposedly mind-altering and behavioral effects. One such account read, “While under the influence of the drug, the subject thrust his hand through his hair, and found that his fingers passed through his crackling skull and into his warm, cheesy brain.”13 Predictably, Anslinger’s and the FBN’s antipot diatribes fueled national headlines and prompted legislative action. By 1935, most states in the country had enacted laws criminalizing the possession and use of pot, and newspaper editors were frequently opining in favor of stiffer and stiffer penalties for marijuana users. As Anslinger’s rhetoric became prominent, he found additional allies who were willing to carry his crusading message to the general public. Among these were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Hearst newspaper chain—the latter of which luridly editorialized against the “insidious and insanity producing marihuana” in papers across the country.14 Members of state and local law enforcement also joined the FBN’s antimarijuana crusade. Writing in The Journal of Criminology, Wichita, Kansas, police officer L. E. Bowery asserted that the cannabis user is capable of “great feats of strength and endurance, during which no fatigue is felt.” Bowery’s overwrought screed, which for years thereafter would be hailed by advocates of prohibition as the definitive “study” of the drug, concluded: “Sexual desires are stimulated and may lead to unnatural acts, such as indecent exposure and rape. . . . [Marijuana use] ends in the destruction of brain tissues and nerve centers, and does irreparable damage. If continued, the inevitable result is insanity, which those familiar with it describe as absolutely incurable, and, without exception ending in death.”15
Mexican Family Go InsaneFive Said To Have Been Stricken By Eating Marihuana A widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant, according to doctors, who say there is no hope of saving the children’s lives and that the mother will be insane for the rest of her life. . . . Two hours after the mother and children had eaten the plants, they were stricken. Neighbors, hearing outbursts of crazed laughter, rushed to the house to find the entire family insane. Examination revealed that the narcotic marihuana was growing among the garden vegetables.10
We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. An informal inquiry shows that the Bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point. You have been told that school children are great users of marijuana cigarettes. No one has been summoned from the Children’s Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit among children. Inquiry of the Children’s Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and know nothing particularly of it. . . . Moreover, there is the Treasury Department itself, the Public Health Service. . . . Informal inquiry by me indicates that they have no record of any marijuana or cannabis addicts.18Woodward further argued that the proposed legislation would severely hamper physicians’ ability to utilize marijuana’s therapeutic potential. While acknowledging that the drug’s popularity as a prescription medicine had declined, Woodward nonetheless warned that the Marihuana Tax Act “loses sight of the fact that future investigations may show that there are substantial medical uses for cannabis.”19 Woodward’s criticisms of the bill’s intent—as well as his questions regarding whether such legislation was objectively justifiable—drew a stern rebuke from the chairman of the committee. “If you want to advise us on legislation, you ought to come here with some constructive proposals, rather than criticism, rather than trying to throw obstacles in the way of something that the federal government is trying to do,” the AMA’s counsel was told. “Is not the fact that you were not consulted your real objection to this bill?”20 Despite the AMA’s protests, the House Ways and Means Committee approved House Bill 6385. House members even went so far as to elevate Anslinger’s propaganda to Congressional findings of fact, stating: “Under the influence of this drug the will is destroyed and all power directing and controlling thought is lost. . . . [M]any violent crimes have been and are being committed by persons under the influence of this drug. . . . [S]chool children . . . have been driven to crime and insanity through the use of this drug. Its continued use results many times in impotency and insanity.”21 Anslinger made similar horrific pronouncements before members of the Senate, which spent even less time debating the measure than did the House. By June, less than three months after the bill’s introduction, the House of Representatives voted affirmatively to pass the proposal, which was described by one congressman as having “something to do with something that is called marijuana. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind.”22 Weeks later, after the Senate had approved its version of the bill, the House was asked to vote once again on the measure. Prior to the House’s final vote, one representative asked whether the American Medical Association had endorsed the proposal, to which a member of the Ways and Means Committee falsely replied that the AMA’s “Dr. Wharton [sic]” had given the measure his full support.23 Following this brief exchange of inaccurate information, Congress gave its final approval of the Marihuana Tax Act without a recorded vote. President Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed the legislation into law. The Marihuana Tax Act officially took effect on October 1, 1937—thus setting in motion the federal government’s foray into the criminal enforcement of marijuana laws that continues to this day.
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URL to article: http://www.chelseagreen.com/blogs/how-did-we-get-here-the-roots-of-pot-prohibition/
URLs in this post:
 Steve Fox: http://www.chelseagreen.com/authors/steve_fox
 Paul Armentano: http://www.chelseagreen.com/authors/paul_armentano
 Mason Tvert: http://www.chelseagreen.com/authors/mason_tvert