I’ll apologize up front for doing a little cross pollination here — citing the series I just finished over at weedmapsnews.com: “Blunt Truths“. It’s about the deep down dirty truth behind the 100% pure racist illegalization of cannabis. At no point in the process did anyone EVER ask the question “But, is cannabis actually bad for anyone?” because its impact on anyone’s health was never the point of the exercise.
Who was smoking cannabis was the point. Mexicans at first in the Southwest US. After the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, a wave of Mexican war emigrees brought cannabis with them; it was part of their culture. White Americans were unfamiliar with this thing these Mexicans were smoking. Because it was different, cannabis, it scared the White Americans shitless.
The first anti-cannabis legislation was enacted in 1915 in California — written more or less by the California Pharmacology lobby who insisted cannabis was a dangerous substance right up there with heroin. When Harry Anslinger became America’s first Commissioner of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, he saw no threat in cannabis specifically because the only people smoking it (or even aware that it existed) were Mexicans. But — after cannabis use spread to New Orleans — where black jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong had taken it up because it made creating music so much more intense & satisfying — and then up the Mississippi to Memphis, Nashville, Chicago and the white world — things changed in Anslinger’s mind. White people using marijuana was a whole other question.
Anslinger saw in marijuana a way to generate money and manpower for his young, under-funded, under-manned agency. To get at that money and manpower, Anslinger invented first the whole racist marijuana mythology and then – when racism began to be less efficient — the “gateway theory” which justified continued cannabis prohibition because marijuana use invariably led to heroin addiction. Not a word of it was true.
When journalist Dan Baum interviewed Nixon henchman John Erlichman 19994 for Harpers, Ehrlichman forthrightly explained Nixon’s strategy regarding cannabis: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
One caveat though to seeing Harry Anslinger as a racist, pure & simple: it’s not true. Anslinger WAS a racist. But he also was a very talented bureaucrat. We overlook that fact about Anslinger at our peril. Anslinger’s racism was aided and abetted by his skill at turning his racism into 1) marijuana mythology and 2) legislation that criminalized huge chunks of the American population.