It has been a long and winding road, but we are finally reaching the promised land. The state of California lifting its marijuana prohibition signals the last gasp of the racist, costly, and preposterous war on drugs. Lifting the prohibition on marijuana is something that means more than just increased access to a drug that many find helps them deal with pain and anxiety. It means that barriers may indeed be broken through, even if it means years of tireless effort and painful failures along the way.
The prohibition of marijuana was done out of a need for two of the wealthiest Americans to ruin the businesses of those threatening to become more competitive. It was then perpetuated by a president that wanted to distract from the fact that he was at the helm of an unpopular war in a time when pulling out would mean he may not win re-election. Essentially, marijuana prohibition is a symbol for the misuse of power.
The narratives surrounding marijuana as dangerous enough to become a Schedule I drug began in the 1930s with then Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon appointing Harry J. Anslinger, his niece’s husband, to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Andrew Mellon was in business with Dupont, a chemical company we have all heard of at one point or another. The introduction of fibers from marijuana plants in the form of hemp was becoming accepted as a means for competing with other products that DuPont was manufacturing,
“At this time, hemp was an enormous industry in the States, where new extraction technology was being developed that made hemp products, such as paper and fabric, cheaper than ever before. Hemp seed oil was being used to manufacture paints and varnishes. The first plastics had been manufactured from cellulose, and hemp, with its huge cellulose content, was at the forefront of the nascent plastics industry (Detwiler 2010).”
One of the more exciting possibilities was that it could compete with traditional means for manufacturing and supplying paper, which was seen as a direct threat to companies that relied on their ability to maintain a monopoly on their trade in paper, most notably newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst,
“Anslinger set about whipping up a frenzy of popular opinion against ‘the Killer Drug,’ which was mostly used by Blacks and Mexicans. By playing on people’s racism, he was able to justify the blanket ban on all forms of hemp, in spite of the fact that most industrial hemp produces very little psychoactive resin. He found vocal support from the media magnate William Randolf Hearst, a.k.a. Citizen Kane” (Detwiler 2010).” This propaganda campaign successfully led to the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.
By the time the Vietnam war began to lose steam in the mid-1960s, President Richard Nixon found himself in the unfortunate position of holding the bag. His most vocal opponents however where the type of people that could seemingly be easily undermined—hippies. His clever means of controlling this population would be to criminalize a symbol of this counter culture; that of course being marijuana. This was the birth of the War on Drugs which was simply a failed attempt to silence the opposition and criminalize those with liberal views and brown skin—nothing more.
A research study examining the effects of the War on Drugs from 1990-2002 found,
“82% of the increase in drug arrests nationally (450,000) was for marijuana offenses, and virtually all of that increase was in possession offenses. Of the nearly 700,000 arrests in 2002, 88% were for possession. Only 1 in 18 of these arrests results in a felony conviction, with the rest either being dismissed or adjudicated as a misdemeanor, meaning that a substantial amount of resources, roughly $4 billion per year for marijuana alone, is being dedicated to minor offenses (King & Mauer 2006).”
The data describing the nonsensical drain on time and resources pales in comparison to the lives that have been affected and the racist agenda that has been perpetuated in service of criminalizing the dastardly act of having brown skin. The United States Library of Medicine published an article that found,
“The racial bias inherent since the war on drugs is why three fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been African American or Latino. It accounts for why African American men have been admitted to state prison on drug charges at a rate more than thirteen times higher than that of white men notwithstanding that African Americans are no more likely to be found guilty of drug crimes than Whites. (Mays et al 2013).”
This is not an anecdotal tale of the horrors of racism, this is reality and we brown people see it in our communities every day.
On the surface, it would have appeared that fighting this battle was wrong and any efforts to take on the most powerful government in the world would fail, but those who believed they were right continued to fight the battle on behalf of us all. This is truly inspirational in an infinite number of respects.
All of us have found ourselves in the middle of battles where we know we are right. We know that if other people would only listen to us and suspend their fear we would all be better off. It is the ageless problem of seeing truth where others do not and having the courage to continue the fight in the face of opposition. You always look foolish at first. People even try to attack you for your efforts, but if you truly believe what you are doing is right — you are bullet proof.
Being brave and fighting for your goals and beliefs will always be bigger than you as an individual. Any voice within you that brings you peace at the thought of successfully reaching a goal that is bigger than yourself will inevitably be something that inspires others once you reach it. It inspires others to listen to their inner voice and fight through their own barriers. Breaking down walls through hope and perseverance is a true hero’s journey. I’d like to take a moment and send my most grateful thanks and admiration to all of those that took up the fight of marijuana prohibition and continue to do so for the benefit of a just and honest society.
Detwiler, P., Raden, K., Gil, D. and Fagan, J.M., 2010. Pushing for Support of Medical Marijuana. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/41399/PDF/1/
King, R.S. and Mauer, M., 2006. The war on marijuana: The transformation of the war on drugs in the 1990s. Harm Reduction Journal, 3(1), p.6. https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1477-7517-3-6
Mays, V.M., Johnson, D., Coles, C.N., Gellene, D. and Cochran, S.D., 2013. Using the science of psychology to target perpetrators of racism and race-based discrimination for intervention efforts: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3718570/ Preventing another Trayvon Martin tragedy. Journal for social action in counseling and psychology, 5(1), p.11.