The story of marijuana prohibition is an object lesson in what happens when bullshit triumphs over truth. That should matter to us right here, right now — because we’re facing a similar situation with the Mueller Report. Truth exists within its pages — yet there are people insisting that the diametric opposite is true. Too bad they have power — and the power to push their lies hard.
Republican Representative Justin Amash from Michigan held a town hall to explain to his constituents why he broke ranks with every other Republican to demand Donald Trump’s impeachment. Representative Amash had the audacity to actually read The Mueller Report. By contrast, it seems, not a single other republican has even cracked it. Wonder why…
Instead, the Republicans have relied on AG Bill Barr’s fraudulent characterizations of the Mueller Report, its findings and its tortured reasoning for why it couldn’t “do” more. And therein lies the historical comparison. Bill Barr is the new Harry Anslinger.
Anslinger was America’s first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. A lot has been written about Anslinger recently, not all of it correct. For a more detailed analysis of Anslinger and his impact on America and the world, check out my series Blunt Truths over at Weedmaps News. Bottom line — Anslinger was a racist, top to bottom, who invested his racism in American laws. The reason we still live in Anslinger’s racist shadow is that, in addition to being a racist, Anslinger was a very good bureaucrat. He understood how the system worked and therefore how to work it.
In 1930, when Anslinger first took office, marijuana was a non-entity to most Americans. They had no idea what it was and didn’t care about it. Why would they? Prior to 1910 — when the Mexican Revolution sent Mexican war refugees heading north — Americans thought of cannabis as 1) medicine and 2) hemp. The influx of Mexicans meant an influx of Mexican culture — which included marijuana (the way WASP culture includes cocktails).
Apparently the sight of Mexicans blissing out horrified white people (and their abuse of alcohol).
Cannabis does what cannabis does. It doesn’t do what it doesn’t do. There are behaviors it “causes” and behaviors it doesn’t — because of how it works biochemically in peoples’ brains. Fact — if the crowds at football games (soccer games) all smoked cannabis instead of drinking beer, there’d be no lager louts rioting, setting cars and shops afire after matches. They’d all be hugging each other more likely. Or asleep. Happily. With no hangover in their future.
But people being happy and snoozing doesn’t “sell” anything. The first anti-cannabis laws were passed in California in 1915 — pushed hard by the Pharmacists. Funny thing? Though they were pharmacists, they weren’t thinking about whether or not cannabis could or would hurt its users. They were thinking only of its users — Mexicans. THAT, California’s pharmacists decided, was the problem.
Every single anti-cannabis measure ever passed — EVER — has been born of racism and nothing but. FACT.
As late as 1935, Harry Anslinger still didn’t give a damn about cannabis. But then something changed. Word began to filter toward Anslinger that white people were now using marijuana. During the 1920’s, cannabis use spread from the American Southwest to New Orleans where it found a very happy home amongst black jazz musicians. Musicians discovered that cannabis unleashed their creativity (whereas alcohol killed it).
Our thoughts are electrical currents flowing across the synapses in our brains. Our synapses are like digital circuits — they’re either open or closed. THC causes more of those synapses to be open. More thoughts flow through our brains. It’s not that we see more or hear more, we just become more aware of all the things we’re seeing and hearing. THC makes our brains more cognizant. That additional information flow can feel intimidating. It can feel like paranoia. But it can also make food taste incredible. It can make music sound sublime. It can make things funnier than you realized.
The truth about cannabis (and yes, yes — it’s not all positive — so what; people abuse EVERYTHING including chocolate and love) is that it’s a perfectly good product that, used responsibly by adults, produces a host of positive effects. That was not the story Harry Anslinger told about it however. The thought of white people acting like black or brown people horrified Anslinger. He leapt into action.
There is absolutely no basis in our Constitution to outlaw cannabis. None. When Anslinger bumped into that problem, he circumvented the spirit of the law by pushing through the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Very cleverly, the Tax Act imposed an onorous tax on every purchase and every sale of marijuana or hemp. To prove that you paid the tax, you had to have a stamp. The stamps were impossible to get. Therefore, everyone who thereafter bought or sold marijuana (or hemp) was a tax cheat.
Anslinger, in addition to being a very good bureaucrat, was an astute purveyor of public relations. He knew that Americans were completely ignorant about marijuana. Anything they were going to know about it would be what he told them about it. And that’s where Anslinger’s lesson about how to manipulate the American Public leaps forward in time.
The first two men arrested and convicted because of marijuana were sent away for not paying taxes. I bet that made Al Capone laugh.
Harry Anslinger lied utterly and completely when he told Americans what cannabis was. AG Bill Barr lied utterly and completely when he told Americans what the Mueller Report says.
Anslinger’s lies about cannabis have cost this country dearly — in lost money, manpower and justice. When racism’s juice began to falter in the 1950’s, Anslinger invented the “Gateway Theory” to suggest that cannabis use led to heroin use or worse. The same statistical horse shit could be used to suggest a link between coffee drinking and heroin use. Or tobacco use and heroin. Or breathing and heroin. It was dishonest and intentional. And racist.
Bill Barr is working from the exact same playbook. We The People — having been fooled once by White Bamboozlement syndrome — need to avoid a sequel. Lies need to be shot down the instant they land among us. They don’t ever go away of their own volition.