By Timothy Dillon
William Randolph Hearst
Photo courtesy of US Library of Congress
The prohibition of cannabis was initiated when lobbyists, acting on behalf of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst began publicly denouncing Marijuana as a dangerous plant when a growing hemp industry threatened to cut in on his empire.
Prior to flood of yellow journalism, hemp and marijuana were unregulated and grown in abundance throughout the United States. Hemp became the first mandated plant in the country’s history – even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew the stuff.
But in the early 20th century, states started making “prepared” forms of cannabis, both hemp and marijuana (known as locoweed) illegal. At first it came in the form of labeling, which identified cannabis as a medical product requiring prescription, and when improperly used was identified as a poison. It was not considered to be a criminal offense until the openly racist Harry J. Anslinger became head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
Anslinger believed that marijuana was a ploy by non-white races to seduce white women, encouraging ‘cross species’ sex. He’s actually on record, saying“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others. The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
The film Reefer Madness, released in 1936 as part of a smear campaign, depicted all of these stereotypes, painting marijuana smokers as crazed and out of control. “Madness” was the perception of the drug they wanted to implant into the public’s psyche. Yet in 1937, there was a glimmer of hope. Or was there?
The Marihuana Tax of 1937 was essentially a legal tax for people to grow and cultivate forms of cannabis. However this turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing when the US government decided to stop issuing licenses. thus making it impossible to legally grow and cultivate. Since then cannabis has been illegal (a Schedule I Controlled Substance) after nearly 4000 years of documented uses.
Pros and Cons
Let’s be reasonable for a second. Marijuana use is not for everyone. It is not the insanity-inducing drug that racist propagandists said it was, but it does alter behavior and perception in observable ways. As with all consumed substances there are risks; some studies have suggested that there is a subset of the population which is susceptible to developing schizophrenia after prolonged marijuana use. Usually these are in patients who are already predisposed to the condition, but there is still much debate over whether this is a causation effect or simply a coincidental correlation.
In addition, there has been a lot of research surrounding the effects that marijuana has on teenagers’ brains Since THC is a psychoactive chemical, it can theoretically alter the wiring of brains that are still being formed. Extended or prolonged use from a young age can have serious effects on teens.
However, these issues do not exist for people who have fully-developed brains. What this does is give us direct reason to place age restriction on the drug itself, much like we do with cigarettes and alcohol. Making it illegal makes it almost more readily available to youth, as a drug dealer is not about to card a kid who wants a joint. If a teenager wants cigarettes or beer, there is an institution set up to prevent them from gaining access to it; a common sense approach to limit youths from harming themselves. In an illegal drug market, there is no such thing.
The cons of marijuana legalization are based mainly on the fear that it would increase the number of users. What the prohibition of marijuana has established, is that making it illegal does not prevent its use, as there is an estimated annual 41 million marijuana users in the United States. It would seem that the pros for legalization depend on the government’s ability to regulate the processing, sale, and effectively the consumption of the substance It seems both a logical and economical solution.
ProhibitionCosts.org is a website in support of the legalization and taxation of marijuana based on purely economical reasons. These economists have gotten together to present reasonable data suggesting that the legalization, regulation, and taxation would lead to revenues between $10 and $14 billion a year. With this in mind, let’s go back to the first 2012 Presidential debate and consider the following: Governor Romney said he would cut the $223 million subsidy to PBS. Democrats responded by comparing this cut to the cuts that could be made to oil and gas subsidies. In a time where we are trying to figure out a way to reduce government spending and increase tax revenues simultaneously, legalizing marijuana would pay for both of these subsidies, and we would still have $5 billion to $7 billion left over to spend on reducing the deficit and support government programs. How the fiscal argument for legalization has gone so uncovered is a mystery, but the solution is self-evident.
In response to the only relevant con, we can examine the states and parts of the country that have already decriminalized marijuana consumption. So far, there has been no noticeable increase in marijuana users in those states. What decriminalization has allowed us to do is more effectively analyze the habits of the consumers and their rate of consumption. Again, there was no noticeable increase in consumption, just an increase in visibility of those who were partaking. In conclusion, there are people who want to smoke marijuana and they will do so whether or not it is legal, and all legalization would do is take away the negative consequences from being a smoker. So why has this not been a compelling argument for legalization if it is only a minority of the population who does this?
Blocked Efforts on Both Sides
The primary institution against the legalization of Marijuana is without a doubt the Drug Enforcement Administration. What is most perplexing about this, however, is that a law enforcement institution is supposed to enforce policy, not dictate it. Yet if we examine the DEA’s positions on marijuana we see that they are completely dedicated to defining the government’s perception of this drug. In fact, several sections of the agency are dedicated to declaiming any widespread affirmations of the substance.
Perhaps more egregiously, no one has seemed to succeed politically in questioning the fact that the DEA functions mainly to perpetuate the drug war (they have requested for the 2013 fiscal year $2.4 billion for such efforts)
On the other side of the debate are those who would prefer marijuana to remain illegal because it is more profitable. In the 2010 election season, California had on the statewide ballot Proposition 19 also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. The measure failed for a multitude of reasons, but one of the most interesting and important was that it failed to gain support of the Emerald Triangle. If you look at the election results on Prop 19 in 2010, you will see that Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties all voted “No” on Prop 19. However this is the largest marijuana producing region in the country.
Why would they want it to remain illegal? Because it’s profitable, and legalizing would drop the prices and profits across the state almost overnight. Furthermore, people would be able to cultivate the plant anywhere in the state, and not just in the tightly knit communities that had built themselves on the illegal drug trade. If marijuana growers and dealers are voting to keep it illegal, then it is safe to say that we are losing the war on drugs. The victims are no longer those who use marijuana but the taxpayers who are essentially driving profits for farmers through the roof.
Past Prohibition Lessons
The first major prohibition in modern times was the banning alcohol in 1919, a colossal failure of legislation. What is different between these two prohibitions is that alcohol was a legal substance that, prior to prohibition, was regulated for human consumption, while with marijuana, its uses and consumption were not fully known. So ending the prohibition of marijuana is technically uncharted territory for the nation.
When you make something illegal, in this case marijuana, you put the power into the hands of criminals, people who will seek to exploit the illegal market that the government has created. In the case of alcohol, you had the rise of organized crime. In the case of marijuana you have created networks of cultivating, harvesting, and trafficking, employing a huge number of people that is incalculable because it is unregulated. Ending marijuana prohibition would take billions away from drug dealers, cartels, and people who commit violent crimes in the name of perpetuating the war on drugs for their own profit.
Legalization by Argument of Liberty
Every 42 seconds someone is arrested in the U.S. for a marijuana related crime. That money could be put to better use, especially when, at the end of the day, marijuana use is a personal choice. If there is one argument that sits above all others in favor of the end of prohibition of marijuana it is that people ought be able to do with their bodies what they want. Just ask Representative Ron Paul:
After examining the prohibition of cannabis, it is easy to see that this problem is man made. The solution is not in the controlled extermination of this plant but rather in the regulation of it. It has become clear that there is a portion of the population that wants to enjoy cannabis, and will continue to do so.
In light of Washington and Colorado’s referendums legalizing marijuana for recreational use, it is about time we take these to be the first two dominoes toward the end of prohibition as we know it.
For more information on the prohibition of marijuana, we recommend this documentary on the subject :