Poor cannabis. There’s bad press and then there’s the hatchet job that America’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, did to it.
When Anslinger first got hired in 1930, marijuana was hardly on his radar. Few Americans knew what it was. Fewer still smoked it (though many Americans benefited from its presence in various medicines). The Mexican Revolution in 1910 sent a wave of Mexican refugees across the border. They brought cannabis with them. That freaked out the white people. It wasn’t the cannabis that concerned them so much as the fact that Mexicans were smoking it and deriving pleasure from it. That meant (to the white people) that something had to be wrong with it.
Eventually, marijuana found its way to New Orleans where the black musicians assembled there were busy inventing jazz. While they couldn’t play or create on alcohol (it made their minds too fuzzy), marijuana had the opposite effect. It focused their minds and allowed their creativity to flow.
American soldiers in Vietnam encountered the same phenomenon. They were prohibited from drinking (because, as with the musicians, it fogs the mind). But, the American soldiers learned — having found marijuana both cheap and plentiful — that pot both relaxed them and focused them. They could smoke a joint then walk point in the jungle, their senses not diminished but, rather, heightened.
From time to time, New Orleans would shut down its whorehouses and banish all the musicians working at them When that happened in the mid 1920’s, musicians like Louis Armstrong headed up the Mississippi, stopping in places like Memphis and Nashville on their way to Chicago. Had all those black jazz musicians kept cannabis to themselves, that might have been the end of it. But they didn’t. Cannabis use spread to the white community — and that, from Harry Anslinger’s point of view, was a total non-starter.
Not once did Anslinger ask about marijuana’s health consequences. Even if he had, no research existed proving marijuana was good or bad for anyone’s health. But Anslinger had an agenda. He needed marijuana to be bad. And he knew that aside from the Mexicans, black jazz musicians and handful of white people using marijuana, no one knew a thing about it. Whatever Americans were going to know about cannabis would be what Harry Anslinger told them.
Virtually all of our current perceptions about cannabis flow from Harry Anslinger’s fetid imagination where every black man who smoked a joint then went on a mad raping spree (raping white women exclusively). Anslinger was a racist’s racist. But he was also a master bureaucrat who knew how to work the system.
We laugh now at Reefer Madness because it’s way over-the-top and way wrong about everything. But when Reefer Madness was released in the 1930’s, no one had that perspective. America and the world bought in to the Reefer Madness mythology.
Even in states where cannabis is now legal — like here in California — people remain squirrelly about cannabis. The thought of walking into a dispensary feels wrong to them. They worry about cannabis doing things to them, to their minds, that cannabis simply does not do.
If I get stopped by the LAPD — and they swab me — they’ll find THC in my system. The swab can’t tell how much THC is in me, what the accompanying turpene profile is (and how that might be affecting me), they can’t tell how much THC is in me or whether it’s an indica, sativa or hybrid. All the swab can tell is that there’s THC in my saliva.
We assume — because of the mythology’s enduring power that even a hit of cannabis will turn me into a danger on the highways. That’s because we apparently assume that alcohol and cannabis have the exact same effect on our brains and bodies. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Nation Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported the following to Congress in 2017 — “…research has demonstrated the potential of marijuana to impair driving related skills. It does not show a relationship between THC levels and impairment.”
Get that? Research demonstrates “potential” impairment yet doesn’t show a “relationship between THC levels and impairment”. How is that possible? It’s not. It’s a leftover prejudice. In the very next paragraph of the NHTSA’s report, it says this: “… after smoking marijuana, subjects in most of the simulator and instrumented vehicle studies on marijuana and driving typically drive slower, follow other cars at greater distances, and take fewer risks than when sober…”. “In contrast,”, the report continues, “Subjects dosed with alcohol typically drive faster, follow at closer distances, and take greater risks.”
See how differently drivers with THC in them perform vs drivers who’ve been drinking? Why do we act like they have the same effect when they don’t? When even legitimate scientific research says they don’t?
Blame Harry Anslinger. Blame us, too. We know better. We simply refuse to acknowledge what we know. It’s like we prefer the effects that bullshit has on us.