The “war on drugs” was never a war on “drugs”. Like the drug laws it was meant to epitomize, the drug war was always entirely focused on drug users. And not just the users because they were using, but on their race.
The first drug law in America was written in 1875 in San Francisco — aimed at stopping the spread of opium dens. A noble idea. No one wants to live near an opium den. And, it’s a fact, opium is highly addictive. It needs to be approached with care; even doctor’s get prescribing it horribly wrong. But the law itself — as written — wasn’t concerned with anyone’s neighborhood getting ruined. It wasn’t concerned with anyone getting addicted. In fact, it had no data on hand to justify any concerns it might have about opium’s impact on its users’ health — if it had had any such concerns which it didn’t.
The reason cited was “many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise.”
This law and virtually every opium law that followed drew an important distinction that would ripple through history.
“Though the laws affected the use and distribution of opium by Chinese immigrants, no action was taken against the producers of such products as laudanum, a tincture of opium and alcohol, commonly taken as a panacea by white Americans. The distinction between its use by white Americans and Chinese immigrants was thus based on the form in which it was ingested: Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often (but not exclusively) used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion.
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Sound familiar? Depending on whether you snorted cocaine as most white people did or smoked it as crack as lots of black people did, the drug laws treated you differently. The laws punished smoking coke far more harshly than snorting it. Same drug, same basic impact on the user — but different law and (especially) different, harsher penalty. And still not a single concern for the user him or herself and the drug’s impact on their well-being.
The very illegalization of drugs has always been about judging the drugs’ users. Let’s face it — white Europeans are the biggest bullies on the planet. They’re professional hegemonists — spreading their culture and “true faith” like an STD. But, even when the Europeans weren’t judging others because they were “others”, they were judging other Europeans for being “weak” and punishing them for their weakness.
In America, prior to enactment of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, there were no federal laws regulating drugs of any kind. The very real health concerns about opioids aside, the drug laws simply didn’t consider them or even refer to them in its legislation. It wasn’t the point. Here’s the key to the Harrison act: “The courts interpreted [it] to mean that physicians could prescribe narcotics to patients in the course of normal treatment, but not for the treatment of addiction.”
What that means for this highly addictive drug — doctors could prescribe it to relieve pain but once the cause of the pain stopped (and who is to say whether another person is feeling pain or not?), so did the opioid — regardless of what cutting it off did to the user. The law willfully condemned people to suffer. It denied their physical pain — and then wanted to punish them for ever experiencing pain to begin with.
The witchcraft trials were to women what drug laws would later be to black and brown people.
Jesus taught simply “Do Unto Others”. He didn’t say “judge them” or “force your way on them”. The meek, Jesus said, shall inherit the earth. He didn’t say they’d have to do it drug-free. Just as well, as drugs go, there are few as terrible as religion.
Marx got it wrong. Religion isn’t the opiate of the people. If all it did was sedate them, that would be bad enough. It incites them — like angel dust or meth — to mean, dangerous, soulless behavior. Religion (vs spirituality — a very different thing) doesn’t care about what’s hurting them, what’s causing them pain. It’s got its own rules and regs to push. It’s followers are there to do what they’re told not be attended to. They’re a flock of sheep after all. And no one wants an “uppity” sheep.
The painful irony is that alcohol prohibition sprang from a very progressive ideal. It was Europeans judging how Europeans behaved when effected by a European-approved intoxicant: alcohol. And alcohol was a very real problem for a lot of Americans in the latter part of the 19th century when support for prohibition began to grow. But, as we know, in the whole history of human beings, prohibition has never worked — not as intended.
In America, alcohol prohibition criminalized virtually the entire adult population and turned organized crime from a local problem to a national one. Criminal syndicates suddenly had a product to sell — alcohol — that everyone wanted but only they had. We’re still dealing with the mess.
Prohibition may stop people from using a substance because getting it is hard — but it won’t stop them from wanting it. It won’t stop them from gerryrigging ways to either get it or craft a replacement of dubious safety. In general, prohibition wants a grey world to be black & white regardless of how grey it’s always been and always will be.
In America, there was a twist: prohibition wanted the world to be white only. The opium laws (first written in San Francisco) were meant to punish Chinese people brought to America to work — who dared relax in the way they liked. Using the same racist playbook, the first marijuana laws were written to first punish “Hindoos” who “…started quite a demand for cannabis indica; they are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast; the fear is now that it is not being confined to the Hindoos alone but that they are initiating our whites into this habit.”
“Initiating our whites into this habit”. There you have it. No one cared about the Hindoos as people — just as later laws wouldn’t care about individual Mexicans or blacks using marijuana. The laws cared about the white people — about white people doing something “black” or “brown” or “yellow” did. And that was entirely unacceptable.
America’s drug laws have never, ever, EVER been about anyone’s health and always about racism with a side of hatred for “the weak”. Our drug laws mirror something demented in our religious fervor. They speak for it.
Racism is fear. Drug laws are that fear’s manifestation in the law. They’re legalized forms of institutional racism. Period.
In America, Christianity was used more as a cudgel than as a sanctuary. Slavers pointed to the bible to justify their cruelty. Bible thumpers continued pointing at their “good book” to justify miscegenation laws that prevented black people from marrying white people. They used their book to justify all sorts of racist claptrap.
Imagine the audacity of judging love. It’s as stupid and heartless as judging another person’s pain.
No wonder everyone fleeing religion needs a drink.
From the get-go, every impulse to regulate cannabis has been based on racism.
When the California Pharmacy Board amended the state’s Poison Act in 1913 to include marijuana in the “poisons” under its control, they were simply piling onto the racist legislation that began in 1875 when California passed America’s first anti-narcotics laws to “combat” opium dens. Translation: to legalize anti-Chinese racism and bigotry. Up until 1910, no one had an issue with marijuana because no one in America knew what it was.
But, a keen-eyed California racist named Henry J. Finger — a prominent member of the Pharmacy Board — saw something that needed to be stamped out quickly.
I wrote a series — Blunt Truths — for Weedmaps News (back when they were a going concern) about this very subject. I’m biased but I recommend it. At the time, Weedmaps News was being run by journalists including the former LA Times journalist who hired me to write for them — so long as I adhered to journalistic standards. In other words — I couldn’t rely on bullshit to tell the story I wanted to tell. Among the sources I relied on because of their reliability was Dale Gieringer, PhD., a NORML board member. I highly recommend his The Forgotten Origins Of Cannabis Prohibition In California. It’s loaded with fascinating information that will change the way you think about cannabis.
Considering the radical shift in how we see race relations in America that’s happening right this second — Gieringer’s insights take on greater resonance.
For a taste. Here’s Gieringer citing a correspondence between Henry Finger and Hamilton Wright (in 1911 when Wright is the chief architect of US narcotics policy) —
“Within the last year we in California have been getting a large influx of Hindoos and they have in turn started quite a demand for cannabis indica; they are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast…the fear is now that they are initiating our whites into this habit…”
Gieringer notes: “The “Hindoos,” actually East Indian immigrant of Sikh religion and Punjabi origin, had become a popular target of anti-immigrant sentiment after several boatloads arrived in San Francisco in 1910. Their arrival sparked an uproar of protest from Asian exclusionists, who pronounced them to be even more unfit for American civilization than the Chinese.” Immigration authorities quickly cut off the flow. The roughly 2000 “Hindoos” apparently became a threat. They were “widely denounced for their outlandish customs, dirty clothes, strange food, suspect morals, and especially their propensity to work for low wages… no one complained about their use of cannabis. To the contrary, their defenders portrayed them as hard-working and sober. “The taking of drugs as a habit scarcely exists among them,” wrote one observer.”
Henry Finger persisted. “By this time, another menace had appeared on the horizon: “marihuana” had begun to penetrate north of the border from Mexico, carried by immigrants and soldiers during the revolutionary disorders of 1910 – 1920 [aka The Mexican Revolution]. Though hardly known to the American public, marihuana or “loco-weed” was noticed by the pharmacy journals.”
And there you have it. The Pharmacy Board — a supposedly scientific body — was crafting legislation without an ounce of science in it. But there sure was plenty of racism.
Thus marijuana prohibition began. The legislation that followed — most of it with actual “Reefer Madness” in its heart — was driven by America’s first Commissioner of the Federal Narcotics Bureau Harry J. Anslinger — our first “drug czar”. And Anslinger behaved like a drug CZAR. Anslinger — once he came around to the “marihuana is a scourge” point of view (he started out insisting it was harmless) — invented most of what we still think about cannabis. He literally pulled it out of his ass.
His very RACIST ass.
Let’s be clear. Harry Anslinger is a villain not just because he was a racist. He’s a villain because he was also an excellent bureaucrat who knew how to manipulate the system to get what he wanted. Anslinger knew how to go to the press — as the respected, trustworthy Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — with lies (Mexicans and blacks are selling marihuana to our children) that the press would then print — which Anslinger would then hold up as proof that Mexicans and blacks were selling marihuana to our children.
Neat trick, huh?
It’s important to understand what turned Anslinger. What convinced him that cannabis was more dangerous than opium? It was the exact same thing that bothered Henry Finger — not the what, the WHO. WHO was using marijuana. So long as Mexicans and black jazz musicians kept marijuana to themselves, racists like Anslinger might have been able to tolerate it to a degree.
The trouble was white people started taking up the habit — and that was totally unacceptable to Anslinger. Cannabis was illegalized in America to keep white people from using it and to punish black and brown people for “poisoning Americans” with it.
The “gateway theory” — that cannabis is a gateway drug to heroin — is based on zero research. It’s an abuse of statistics and nothing more. But, when the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics says it, so the public thinks, it must be so! The gateway theory gained traction and acceptance. And, racist bully that he was, Anslinger used the occasion to increase the punishments for drug-related crimes — knowing full well on whose backs these new, even more cruel punishments would fall most: black people and brown people.
Anslinger retired in 1962 — on his 70th birthday. But the racism Anslinger had instilled remained. In the late 1960’s, with American soldiers returning from Vietnam with cannabis in their duffel bags, Richard Nixon declared a “War On Drugs”. Nixon — a drinker — didn’t declare a war on alcohol (though he abused it). He declared a war on everyone else’s medication — marijuana especially.
The War on Drugs was (and remains) a war on People Of Color. When Anslinger went to legislate marijuana prohibition, he bumped into a problem: there’s no constitutional basis for making marijuana illegal. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 does not, in fact, make marijuana illegal (because it couldn’t). Instead, the act imposes a very steep (in fact onerous) tax every time one bought or sold marijuana or hemp. In order to prove you’d paid the tax, you needed a stamp.
Problem was — the stamp was not available. By design. Everyone who bought or sold marijuana (or hemp) would therefore break the rule 1) by not paying the tax (who were you supposed to pay it to anyway?) and 2) by not getting the stamp. The first two arrests for “tax evasion” — occurred within 24 hours of the act’s signing — two men from Denver (Sam Caldwell and Moses Baca) were caught, one for selling, the other for buying. They both went to prison.
Our drug laws are morally wrong because they’ve got nothing to do with drugs — and never ever have.
When I was in high school back in the 70’s, marijuana was around. A guy I was friendly with was a hard core stoner; he stank of weed in class and watched us all with a strange, pleased detachment I now recognize as euphoria. On the occasions when I was in the same place and time as a lit joint, the stuff put me right to sleep.
In college, my friend Drew convinced me to use a big chunk of my semester’s money (the money my parents put into my bank account to pay for books and other incidentals) to buy a pound of marijuana that, he said, we’d sell, making both of us lots of money. I knew Drew was a fan of marijuana. I didn’t realize his fandom would cost us our profits. I made back my “investment”. Barely.
When I was in college — and in the years afterwards — coke was more appealing. It kicked things into a higher gear. That’s what we told ourselves. Frankly, considering how much that powder we were snorting was stepped on, I’d be shocked if there was anything stronger than aspirin in it. Ecstasy also was appealing. I had lots of great ecstasy trips. And one awesome experience with shrooms and a U2 concert at LA’s Colliseum.
Oh, and I drank. Wine mostly. And gin martinis. And beer. And single malt scotch. Yeah, I drank. Throw a decade-long depression into the mix and daily use of (utterly useless!) over-the-counter sleeping meds and it was probably no wonder that I couldn’t sleep for shit. I was asking too much of my poor brain.
This was about five years ago. I was beside myself for a number of reasons. Lack of sleep wasn’t helping any. I did not want to take anything pharmaceutical. That wouldn’t solve my problem; it would only exacerbate it. Living in California, where pot is legal — pot that always put me to sleep in the past — I figured, what the hell?
Long story short. From the first night where I used marijuana as my sleep aid, my life changed. I began sleeping. Now, I still don’t sleep a ton. If I can do five hours — I’m good for the day (with a couple of brief naps along the way). The mood stabilizer I started using five years ago — that helped cage my darkness, keeping it at bay — has an un-noted side effect: it gives all alcohol an unpleasant aftertaste — like grapefruit skin.
My first visit to my first dispensary put Skywalker in my hand (and in the little glass pipe I bought; I can’t roll a joint to save my or anyone’s life). On my return, I wanted to know what was in all the other glass jars filled to the brim with weed? It turned out the thing I now used every day to sleep was called “indica”. But there was also “sativas” and “hybrids”.
As I wrote about myself in Blunt Truths (the 13 part series I did for Weedmaps News), we were and remain bamboozled by a totally bullshit mythology about marijuana that was invented out of whole cloth by America’s first “drug czar”, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger. We — as a culture — are still almost entirely misinformed about cannabis — what it does to us, how it does to us, why it does to us. The law still treats cannabis like its effects on our brains was the exact same as alcohol’s.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
As I’ve learned from experience — and what a wonderful experience it’s been — cannabis can be part of your whole day if you want it to be. And I’m talking about highly productive days. Yeah, if I did nothing but smoke Skywalker or King Louis XII or Northern Lights or 9 Lb Hammer (or any of the other indicas in my collection — I like to keep a dozen or so on hand — I really, really like having choices if I can afford to), I would get very little done.
But not nothing. Funny thing about indicas. Yeah, they put me to sleep. Eventually. But I’ve gotten used to a sudden creative blast — usually after I’ve taken my second or third hit. Whatever creative problem I was working on when I quit for the day? Suddenly the answer is there.
I wrote the whole logline and concept premise for the TV show I’m about to take out a few weeks ago moments before I thought I was about to slip into bed. The wooziness was wonderful. And then the idea dropped. I walked calmly to my desk, sat down and wrote the whole thing.
Guys like Louis Armstrong (a self-avowed fan who was punished for being a fan) recognized that while you couldn’t create music or play music on booze or opium, you absolutely could on marijuana. Whereas alcohol dulled the senses and opium obliterated them, cannabis “excited” them. While it makes you feel calm and euphoric, marijuana also makes the senses more acute. You can smell more intensely, hear with more clarity and see more detail. Nuance does not get lost to a mind happily soaking in THC. If anything, a mind soaking in THC can get a little too absorbed in nuance.
If you’re creating things — a story, a song, an idea — nuance is everything. Creativity and cannabis go together brilliantly.
What scared Harry Anslinger into declaring war on marijuana (he insisted it wasn’t worth worrying about previously) was white people starting to use it.
The story of marijuna in America is another story about racism. The only reason cannabis was ever illegalized was racism. Not for two seconds did Harry Anslinger or any other moral scold determined to prohibit cannabis use ever research cannabis to prove its negative effects. They never cared about what it did to people (positive or negative). They only cared who was using it (originally).
As my wife recently told a friend who wondered what it’s like being married to a guy who’s stoned all the time, “I’ve never seen him ‘high’.”
That’s true. I know what’s meant by “high”. It’s the very real feeling of euphoria just before I fall asleep. In that sense, I get do get high every day. But, until that point, I have no interest in being “high”. I’m only interested in being productive. When I wake & bake, that baking needs to produce product. My creative day starts around 5 am with a cup of joe (I like it take-no-prisoners dark) and a bowl of sativa. In the mix this morning: Durban Poison (always!) Casey Jones, Ghost Train Haze, Willy Wonka & Alaskan Thunderfuck.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of your mind focusing in on something as the first waves of THC roll across your brain. When I really want to focus on the stuff I’m focusing on, I haul out the Trainwreck. Trainwreck’s a hybrid but there’s nothing quite like it.
Before I tried it the first time, I read somewhere that Trainwreck made you feel like cleaning your house. I thought that was funny. It’s goddamned true! Something about Trainwreck makes you super-focused and, yeah, you do get a sudden jones to clean the house. With a toothbrush (someone else’s).
It’s even better when used to write.
At the end of the day, since I no longer drink, the call goes out again to cannabis. It ain’t Miller Time, it’s Hybrids Time. Dutch Treat… Pineapple Express… Bruce Banner… Snowcap… White Widow. A friend gave me some home-grown Apple Fritter that’s awesome! Good hybrids produce feelings of calm. Of perspective.
A friend and I went to ss, LA’s first cannabis cafe not long after it opened. The line to get in was huge (this was pre-pandemic). So, interestingly, was the line to get a job there.
They didn’t serve alcohol then (don’t know if they did when they shut for the pandemic) but it wasn’t needed. The whole vibe inside the cafe was unlike anything I’d experienced before. Because there’s no alcohol, there’s less glass moving around. People aren’t there to drink (though staying hydrated is important). Consequently, there isn’t the constant clinking of glasses. Also missing — that manic edge that alcohol slowly asserts on a room.
Since I stopped drinking I have witnessed rooms filled with my friends (and rooms filled with strangers) as they devolved from easy-going coherence to alcohol-fueled testiness. The laughing gets louder and a little more crazed, uninhibited. There’s plenty of laughter in a room filled with cannabis users. Even more laughter than there is in a room filled with drinkers.
But the sound is different. Whether they were leaning forward or sitting back, everyone in that room was relaxed. Mellow. Their conversations — and their laughter — reflected the mellow more than anything. Being in a room filled with stoned people is nothing like being in a room with drunks.
Then, of course, everyone in that room (being as we were all given a 90 minute time limit after which we were vacating our table by rule), went out to the parking lot, got their keys back from the valet and drove home (or back to the office). If those people had all been drinking, there would have been the constant sound of cars smashing into each other right there where their parking lot met the street.
No such thing happened. I walked back to my car (I parked on the street), my friend walked to his car and we both drove home.
As I’ve also written about, the actual data — there IS data — says cannabis doesn’t effect how we drive under its influence the same way alcohol does. That fact befuddles researchers determined that cannabis does impact our brains the same way. As plenty of athletes already know, cannabis improves focus — which, in turn, improves performance. I smoke Durban Poison before I play tennis. It slows my thoughts down. Gives me time to process them. With DP in my head, my timing improves considerably. Seeing the ball (my bugaboo) becomes easier.
There’s a reason, once the opposition to cannabis started cracking, that the opposition fell to pieces quickly. It’s the same reason LGBTQ rights became viabe so quickly. And the same reason Black Lives suddenly Matter. The Truth has always been apparent.
Like the show X Files used to tell us, the Truth is “out there”.
The Truth also rests inside the bowl of Strawberry Durban Diesel I’m about to smoke. The one thing I know for a fact the Durban Diesel and its truth will do? They will set me free!
The leagues — all still holding onto bits and pieces of our old way of thinking about cannabis (the Harry Anslinger-inspired Reefer Madness way of seeing it) — told themselves that cannabis was good for pain relief. That’s why it was okay if their players tested positive for THC in their swabs or urine samples. For starters, not having to punish their stars for something they might be using themselves (knowing the effects) was a huge load off their, um, consciences. It also absolved them of having to justify test results that can’t tell anything beyond the presence of THC.
THC tests can’t tell you how much THC is in you. Can’t tell how long said THC has been in you. Can’t tell what exactly said THC did to your brain that makes punishment for it so important.
As I wrote in Blunt Truths, a thirteen-part series I did for WeedmapsNews (back when it existed as a thing), the story of cannabis prohibition is a story of racism and nothing but. At no point in our national conversation about cannabis did those trying to prohibit it ever back up their reasoning with science or data or anything remotely connected to them. Don’t you think they would have if they could have?
Oh, there’s “science” but it’s of the climate denying variety that could be picked apart by a kid working on a science fair project. The data — now that we’re collecting it — tells a very different story about (here’s the problem) a very different product. Different, that is, from alcohol. And other drugs that do things cannabis does not do.
Cannabis simply does not do to our brains what alcohol does. Or opiates for that matter. We need to stop acting — well, legislating and law enforcing — like it was. One of the things I wrote about in Blunt Truths was how marijuana became popularized in America. It more or less entered the country via the southwest. It had been used in Mexico for a long time already when the Mexican Revolution (started in 1910) sent a wave of Mexicans fleeing north to escape the violence.
In 1913, the very white California State Board of Pharmacy had noticed that Mexicans sometimes used marijuana to relax. Marijuana being foreign to them, these white guys decided it could only be bad — since Mexicans were already bad cos not white. They helped write the first anti-cannabis legislation. They claimed science but had none on their side. See how that works?
But, marijuana — that was different. Not “I want it to be different” different, DIFFERENT. On marijuana they felt both relaxed and deeply focused. The relaxed feeling — the euphoria — took the weight of the world from their shoulders. While the marijuana was caressing their brains — and smoking it gives you an hour-and-a-half or so of “prime time” and a few hours of much milder effect — they heard better. They articulated better the abstract musical ideas in their heads — reproducing it as notes on a trumpet or piano or glockenspiel even.
Marijuana really and truly makes its users more creative. Hell, I use indicas for sleep (I use sativas & hybrids the rest of the day). I mix & match from my collection (I like to keep a “rotation” of 8 or 9 different indica strains going) — usually doing two bowls of Skywalker or Hollow point or Paris or King Louis XIII or Afghani directly before bedtime. But, even as the indica’s sleepiness begins to envelope me in its delicious embrace, I can still get creative.
Suddenly, I’m sitting down and writing. Spewing an idea in all its glory as if I hadn’t been sleepy a minute before. I’ll sketch the thing out. Put down the pad or close the computer — and marvel at how the sleepiness, in a moment or two, returns. As if I hadn’t just been experiencing a vibrant, creative outburst.
And then I slip between the covers and sleep wonderfully. I started using cannabis a few years ago because of insomnia. Because OTC sleep meds weren’t doing anything for me. I had been using them for years and could count the number of “good” nights’ sleep on one hand. I was experiencing memory loss, too — a side effect of those drugs. Living in California, I figured what the hell. Dope had never been my thing when I was a kid — it put me to sleep. If that was the problem I was trying to solve — why not?
After putting my sleep problem to bed, I began to wonder what was in all those other jars at my local dispensary — that weren’t indicas? I had no concept back then what an indica was versus a sativa or hybrid. Like most people, what I knew about cannabis was mostly bullshit colored by Harry Anslinger, America’s first drug czar (he served as first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 all the way to 1962 when JFK shitcanned him). I had no idea that sativas had a very different effect from indicas. And what were these “hybrid” strains?
Then I discovered Durban Poison.
DP is a great working strain because the “high” is so focused but also so “smooth”. Other sativas (or sativa-dominant stains) like Crystal Coma or Green Crack deliver the same mental focus but with a little more edge. It’s kind of like feeling “extra curious” about things. Your mind wants to dig deeper still into whatever you’re thinking about. DP doesn’t prohibit one’s mind from going there, but it doesn’t automatically put your mind there.
Again — what sativas deliver to our brains is focus. It slows everything down. Think of our brains as being like digital circuits: our synapses are either open or closed. A zero or a one. THC causes more of our synapses — our digital circuitry — to be open. It’s not making us see more or hear more, but it is allowing our brains to process more. More visual input. More smell and taste input. That’s why people feel paranoid — their brains are receiving more information in real time. Some people perceive that as threatening. They think the information flowing to them means someone is watching them. It’s not a rational thought, it’s a feeling. But we go with it.
That additional flow of information to our brains also is why food tastes incredible when you’re high. It’s why smells are stronger and things just seem… funnier. That’s why people laugh so much on cannabis. You don’t just see the humor in things, you REALLY see it. And then you really, REALLY laugh.
If the fans attending a sporting event smoked cannabis instead of drinking beer, there would never be a fight in the stands because one drunk got pissed off at another. There would never be rioting after a match. People would be too busy hugging each other and saying “good match!” And the players?
Yeah — what of the players — and their experience using cannabis on the pitch or field or tennis court.
I’ve played tennis all my life. I hated it most of the time. Not tennis’ fault, that. Mine. I didn’t realize until a few years ago that I was dealing with a monstrous depression. A few days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. In the long, slow march toward oblivion that I was on, I would torture myself weekly with tennis.
My depression was filled with self-destructive loathing. If I played badly, it was because I sucked. I sucked because I always played badly — and I always played badly because I beat myself up instead of coaching myself. Long story short, my depression’s in remission. My mood stabilizer stops me from beating myself up — especially about tennis.
When I stopped beating myself up and started coaching myself instead — I got better at tennis. Well, I started to live up to my tennis-playing potential and that was awesome. It was fun, too. A shitload of fun.
Imagine it being a revelation that the sport you’ve played all your life can actually be enjoyable to play. Cannabis is the icing on that cake.
As it does with my work, cannabis focuses my brain on tennis. It relaxes me. Slows everything down. “See the ball”, I tell myself — and I find it as my tennis partner hits it and follow it all the way to my racket. “Where’s the ball?” I ask also. The ball needs to be in a specific place for me to attack it — and I need to be attacking it (rather than being attacked by it). I need to have a strategy in mind — and the cannabis does that too. I pick a spot. I attack the ball accordingly (racket back ASAP), stepping into the shot, striking the ball in “the zone” and then (most importantly but too often forgotten) following through.
I wish I was more consistent. But I’m waaaaaay better than I was — and I’m always keenly aware of exactly what I do wrong when I do things wrong.
The advantage cannabis gives me on the tennis court isn’t physical. It’s mental. I’m not being pumped up, I’m being focused. I’m being relaxed into a better performance.
And a fun experience becomes exponentially more fun.
Does cannabis give me an unfair advantage? That’s a science question, really. I sometimes think it does. But then I lose focus momentarily — because I’m still me — and I’m not so sure.
Legal Cannabis is here and it is not going away. All those dire predictions of society’s collapse? Ummmm, not quite. Just the opposite actually.
As the coronavirus pandemic proves to us every day, some people can’t be dragged kicking & screaming to a good idea even if that good idea could save their life. Full cannabis legalization is a very good idea on myriad levels. Making it illegal in the first place — one of the worst decisions EVER.
It WAS a “decision” remember. We didn’t have to do this. We shouldn’t have. But, as I wrote about extensively in the 13 part series “Blunt Truths” that I wrote for WeedmapsNews, the story of cannabis prohibition is a story of racism and nothing but. The only reason first Commissioner of America’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger sought to make “marihuana” illegal was because white people started smoking it — and racist that he was, Anslinger could not tolerate a “colored vice” infecting white people. Here’s a basic fact: at no time in the process leading up to marijiuana’s “illegalization” did Anslinger EVER look to science or medicine to back him up. That’s because science & medicine (the AMA for example) disagreed with him. Completely.
Anslinger literally INVENTED “Reefer Madness” — the ludicrous notion that marijuana turns people in to raving lunatics. In the 1930’s, as cannabis use spread (following the African American jazz musicians heading north from New Orleans to Memphis, Nashville, Chicago), Anslinger (as America’s respected Narcotics Commissioner) would go to the newspapers and tell them — no, LIE to them — that black and Latino marijuana users were turning into drug-crazed killers who were selling their poison to school children. The newspapers would then dutifully report what the august Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had told them — and Anslinger, in turn, would hold up those very newspapers as PROOF that what he was saying was true.
Anslinger’s problem: there’s no legal basis in the Constitution to criminalize cannabis. In fact, when America was founded, farmers were REQUIRED to grow hemp because it was that important a crop with multiple uses. Consequently, Anslinger was forced to circumvent the Constitution and the will of the people (via medical science) by creating “The Marijuana Tax Act Of 1937“. The act didn’t make marijuana illegal. It did however impose an onerous tax on the sale and purchase of hemp and marijuana. In order to prove that you paid the tax, you also had to have a stamp to verify your transaction. The stamp however was impossible to get.
Therefore, anyone who bought or sold hemp or marijuana — without paying the tax and without getting the stamp — was breaking the law. The first marijuana arrest came within 24 HOURS of the Tax Act’s passage. Samuel Caldwell of was arrested on October 23, 1937 in Colorado for buying a joint and not paying the tax. So it began.
Racism worked well for Anslinger for a long time. When racism’s spur began to wane however — after WWII when opiates began to wreck American lives in rising numbers (wars cause a lot of physical pain), Anslinger invented “The Gateway Theory” that said marijuana was a “gateway” to harder, worse drugs like heroin.
Mind you — to get to the idea that marijuana was a “gateway to worse” required the leap that marijuana wasn’t the scourge WORSE THAN HEROIN that Anslinger himself had TESTIFIED BEFORE CONGRESS that it was. But, hey — what’s a little perjury between racists, amiright? Especially when those racists are in Congress and legislating their racism.
The Gateway Theory became “accepted” as real. It’s not. Never was.
Then, in the late 60’s as the Vietnam War began to come apart — with tens of thousands of American troops returning with marijuana in their duffel bags — Richard Nixon declared “The War On Drugs”. Quick side note — as the African American jazz musicians in New Orleans had quickly learned, while one cannot create on alcohol or harder drugs like heroin, one becomes extraordinarily creative with THC in your brain. THC and alcohol do not work even remotely the same way when inside us.
American soldiers found that with a few hits of marijuana in them, as they went out on patrol, 1) they were calmer, more collected, 2) they were focused, 3) they were more sensually aware. Our thoughts occur as electric signals flowing across synapses. Our synapses are like digital circuits — they’re either opened or closed. Open they receive information, closed, they do not. THC causes more of our synapses to be open — and receiving information (visual, aural, taste, feel — whatever). That’s why people often feel paranoid when using cannabis. What they’re actually experiencing is an increased rush of information inside their heads. They perceive all that information coming in as someone watching them and knowing everything they’re doing.
If you don’t experience the paranoia reaction, that flow of information is nectar. Ambrosia. Gold dust.
This is the bottom line. Our brain chemistry and THC work extremely well together. Emphasis on the word “WORK”.
Here’s the part, Cannabis, where we talk about how you need to WORK for people.
For comparison’s sake, picture a sports stadium filled with people. Remember them? Remember what happened pretty regularly every time one of those stadiums drank too much and then spilled out onto the nearby streets?
Imagine how it might have been if, instead of drinking, those crowds had been using cannabis instead. No one’s rioting. No one’s fighting. At the end of the match, more likely, people are hugging (remember that) or high-fiving each other (opponents included) for having played so well and so hard. Cannabis does not make people angry or hostile the way alcohol does. We all know a few angry drunks.
I dare you to find an angry cannabis user. That is one of the reasons we use cannabis. To mitigate the triggers that make us angry and destructive. That’s why so many people use it now as part of their psychotherapy wellness regimens. I absolutely do.
The legalization process had myriad hurdles to clear. The largest unfortunately was marijuana’s bandit history. It sucks seeing the mom n pop cannabis shops die because the cost of all the regulations is so steep that only corporate players can survive. This is the price of moving cannabis from a criminal-owned-and-run business to a legitimate business that plays by The Rules.
There’s no middle ground sadly. There shouldn’t be a need for a “middle ground” but history forces things on us that reason would prevent. For now, we’ll have to endure over-regulation of the business side (who can sell, how can they sell, in what quantities, in what format) until we achieve a “critical mass” of acceptance where we realize that the overwhelming majority of our caution and regulations weren’t necessary. There’s more money to be made — via tax dollars — by letting the legitimate, mainstream marijuana marketplace find its way.
A big “for instance” — I sometimes use edibles at night. I do smoke indicas every night before bed. I used to use over-the-counter sleeping aids like Simply Sleep. But the sleep was never very good; I always awoke from what sleep I got groggy and lethargic. From the day I switched over to medical cannabis instead (I have and keep a prescription), I have slept wonderfully most nights. The smoked cannabis is great for getting me to sleep and keeping me asleep for a few hours. If I want longer sleep — that’s when edibles are good — as an add-on to the smoked cannabis.
If we were talking any pharmaceutical product, it wouldn’t even be a thought that someone with no involvement in my medication-taking would be telling me how much of a dose I can take vs how much I can’t. Prior to the crack-down on legit dispensaries here in CA, one could buy edibles with huge THC levels (pot brownies with 1000 milligrams of THC in them). Now — because of the regs — everything’s capped at 100 mg of THC. Why? No reason. Someone chose a number and there we are.
This is what I’m talking about, Legal Cannabis Business. That’s bullshit and YOU (especially you) know it.
It’s not the legal cannabis business itself that’s causing itself (and all us legal users) frustration and heartache. Yes, heartache, because cannabis IS a medicine. I use it not only for sleep but to moderate of my hypomania. I am bi-polar. I use 25 mg of lamotrigine a day to manage my depression. To manage the manic side of my brain — I use THC. It works. It works over short periods of time so that I’m never waiting to “come off it” when I need to. Hell, at any point, if I did feel I’d consumed too much THC (this has never happened to me and I doubt it ever will), I can always down a little CBD to eliminate the THC’s impact.
When you grow up, Cannabis Business, I need you to see yourself in a multi-faceted way befitting your multi-facted uses.
You need to position yourselves not so much as an adjunct to alcohol use (one really shouldn’t use the two concurrently as they cancel out each others’ effects — it’s really just humans being piggy about their indulgences), but as AN ALTERNATIVE. In the three years since I’ve stopped drinking (the lamotrigine gives all alcohol a grapefruit skin aftertaste making it completely unpalatable — an unintended, unexpected side effect), my eyes have been opened about alcohol: we (myself included when I drank) abuse the hell out of it. For real.
Cannabis also needs to get way better at messaging. It’s a big ask, I know, but the science is on cannabis’ side here. We need to get straight on something — since alcohol and THC act very differently in our brains, it follows that alcohol and THC impact us differently when we, say, get behind the wheel of a car. Alcohol impairs our motor skills. There’s data. THC? There’s no such data.
Let me be clear — where cannabis data is concerned, there’s far more we don’t know than we do. When they measure THC in experiments, they treat it as a generic when the way that THC acts in my brain depends entirely on the rest of the package it entered with (its terpene structure). Speaking entirely for myself here — since I can only speak from personal experience (365 days X 7 years of daily data gathering) — I become MORE physically coordinated with THC in my brain than when I don’t have it in me.
Example — I play tennis (well, I did before quarantine). I smoke cannabis before I play (and often during). The sativa Durban Poison is my preference. Within a few moments of a hit, after a feeling of calm descends on me, my brain focuses. The calm slows me down. The focus allows me to see the tennis ball with remarkable clarity. I can literally see the fuzz and the spin on the ball as it speeds toward me. I can break down the timing with precision. Move now. Racket back. Choose a spot across the net. Step into the shot. Follow through. Move to where you expect the “reaction shot” to go.
I just don’t play that way without the DP in my brain. I play appreciably better because I’m more focused. Alcohol does not work that way.
Just as sativas focus my brain for tennis, they focus my brain for work. Remember all those black jazz musicians from New Orleans. Louis Armstrong was one of marijuana’s first great champions (until the man took it away from him and put him in jail).
I drive with THC in me all the time (on the few occasions when I drive anymore). Hell, when we (used to) go to parties or out to dinner? My wife drinks alcohol. She’ll drive TO the party or bar and then I (because I don’t drink) do the drive home. I will have been smoking at some point during the evening. Keep in mind — marijuana doesn’t do to me what alcohol does to you. I’m not slurring my speech at the end of the night. I’m not bumping into things.
“Compared to that of alcohol, the contributions of other drugs to crash risk were minimal. In the initial data analysis, THC seemed to be a significant contributor to crash risk. However, with more sophisticated analysis controlling for variables known (based on previous research) to be associated with age, gender, race/ethnicity, and alcohol, drugs did not show a significant crash risk. The findings from this study may be surprising in light of some studies that have reported crash risk to be significantly related to drug use and driving.”
The moment you do “sophisticated analysis”, “drugs do not show a significant crash risk”. Bias shows more risk than the cannabis does.
Challenges in Estimating Crash Risk from Drug Use Conducting case-control studies to estimate the risk of crash involvement from drug use presents many difficulties. The first challenge is obtaining reliable and accurate estimates of drug use. Many studies rely on self-reporting (which have obvious inherent problems) rather than actual measurement of THC in blood or oral fluid. Also, the extent of care regarding the matching of crash-involved and control drivers varies to a large extent among studies. The more carefully controlled studies, that actually measured marijuana (THC) use by drivers rather than relying on self-reporting, and that had a high degree of control of covariates that could bias the results, generally show low risk estimates or in a few cases no risk associated with marijuana use (Elvik, 2013).
Although cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect.
And, in conclusion, it also says this:
Because of… an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively for their impairment by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies such as driving more slowly, passing less, and leaving more space between themselves and cars in front of them. Combining marijuana with alcohol eliminates the ability to use such strategies effectively, however…
If we compare apples to apples — marijuana smoking to marijuana smoking and not stupid male behavior (per the studies) or stupid behavior combined with alcohol consumption to marijuana smoking — a very different picture of cannabis, cannabis use and cannabis users emerges.
A little while ago I went to the first cannabis cafe that opened here in LA. It was AWESOME! Strange, too. In such an atmosphere, one expects to hear the hush of human voices and laughter — and the clinking of glasses. That’s missing here. The “CLINK!” because no one is toasting each other.
But the voices are there. And the laughter. But the laughter doesn’t have that increasingly manic edge that comes after alcohol use. Instead, the voices and laughter had an intimacy to them. No one needed to shout. Everyone was cool and sober and social and feeling good. The cannabis made the food taste really, really good — as cannabis (which, remember, is feeding more sensual input to your brain) invariably does.
And then, when the meal was done (diners were allotted 90 minutes and then given the heave-ho cos people were waiting to get in), just about all of us went out to the parking lot, got our keys from the valet guy, got into our cars and drove away. Some of us went home but others WENT BACK TO WORK.
Here’s the key. We drove out of the parking lot — every single one of us — with THC pumping through our brains — and (to my knowledge) not a one of us had an accident. If there WERE a string of accidents, we’d all know about it. But there weren’t. And there aren’t. That’s because cannabis effects our brains differently from how alcohol effects them.
There’s actual data — from the government no less — from the National Highway Safety Bureau that backs this up. When they actually measure how cannabis effects people behind the wheel, what they invariably get is this: while alcohol makes people drive erratically, changing speeds, swerving from their lane, cannabis has the exact opposite effect. The data says people with THC in them maintain the speed limit (consistently) and they stay in their lanes. They keep safe following distances.
In other words, unlike with alcohol, cannabis users drive mindfully.
But then, cannabis users mostly know this about cannabis. We know what cannabis does for us — and what it doesn’t do. We know how good it makes us feel and we know how productive we can be with cannabis in us.
The large and growing number of us who use and enjoy and rely on cannabis — we know for a fact that everything we were ever told about this product is bullshit. Yes, yes, yes — cannabis isn’t good for everyone. It’s not good for kids to use. And not everyone drives well on cannabis (they might not drive well without cannabis in them — the cannabis might not be the issue with their bad driving). Nothing in this world is uniform or perfect. Not even physics.
The cannabis business, being a business — will do what it needs to do to stay a business. They will respond to whatever they perceive the marketplace for its product to be. If we act like a mature, responsible, data-driven market, the cannabis business will eventually catch up with us.
First though, we have to get the rest of the culture on board with us — with the truth. I guess what I’m saying is, it isn’t so much the cannabis biz that needs to grow up here, it’s us.
I’ve written here before about my cannabis story. I wasn’t a fan in high school. Cannabis (if that’s what I was really smoking) put me to sleep.
That didn’t appeal to me as a kid. So, I avoided cannabis in favor of alcohol, cocaine and, occasionally ecstasy. Depression made sleep hard to come by as my late middle ages wore on. OTC sleep meds (like Simply Sleep) did nothing for me except make me groggy and forgetful.
I turned to cannabis because I live in California. It was (at the time) medically legal. I needed to fix my problem so I gave cannabis a shot.
“I have sleep problems,” I told that first budtender, feeling very illicit though I was doing a totally “licit” thing. “Skywalker,” they replied.
And, from that first night onward, cannabis became a part of my everyday life. I slept that night — slept well. Slept restfully. Woke up ready to face the day for the first time in years. Literally.
That was a game changer. When I returned to that dispensary a few days later, I wanted to know — what’s in all those OTHER canisters?
Turned out there were other indicas with slightly different flavors and effects. There also were sativas & hybrids.
“Sativa?” I asked.
I had no idea that cannabis wasn’t just a feel-super-good sleeping med. Depending on the strain, cannabis can be an all day product. Keeping in mind that virtually everything our culture “knows” about cannabis was racist bullshit invented first by America’s first drug czar Harry Anslinger then turned into a totally racist “War On Drugs” by Richard Nixon, it’s not shocking that, as a culture, we think cannabis & work are incompatible.
That’s because we have it in our heads that cannabis and alcohol work the same on our brains and bodies. They don’t. Not even remotely.
When cannabis began to spread from the Southwest US (in the 1910’s following the Mexican Revolution) to the South, it found a home in New Orleans where a group of African American musicians were busy inventing jazz. Artists like Louie Armstrong didn’t like to drink & play because alcohol dulls your creativity. Same goes for heroin.
Marijuana, on the other hand, had the opposite effect. Yes, there was that lovely euphoria. But cannabis, though you can get pretty “high”, it NEVER impacts your ability to reason or do physical things. Cannabis does not impact your motor skills & perceptions the way alcohol does.
As many of us have learned (through lots & lots of repetition), sativas especially focus your mind. They focus your creativity to a very fine point. You can get lots of very good work done.
I’ve written while drunk. Written while coked to the gills. It’s always crap.
Cannabis has the exact opposite effect on the mind — and subsequently the work the mind produces. In the exact same way, I discovered that a few hits of Durban Poison just before or while I play tennis takes my tennis game up a good, solid notch.
With DP in my system, everything slows down. I can see the spin on the tennis ball as it comes at me. I can see the damned fuzz on the ball. My timing becomes far more precise. I play better. Consistently. Reliably.
When I think of the destruction we caused — to people guilty of nothing other than using marijuana — I want to scream. We destroyed people — the overwhelming majority of them black or brown. But then, that was always the point of marijuana prohibition.
It should go without saying — cannabis is not for everyone. Nothing on this planet is. Let’s put that away, okay?
For most people, cannabis would be a great alternative to opioids and a great alternative to alcohol. If people attending a sporting event smoked cannabis instead of pounding down beer? Trust me, there’d never be another riot after a game ended. All the attendees would be too busy hugging each other or happily dozing.
There never ever was a “war on drugs” in America. There was however a war on drug USERS. Still is.
But let’s be clear — no one ever waged that war because they worried about anyone’s health or any impact drugs might be having on it. The “War On Drugs” launched by Richard Nixon in 1971 was, by its own admission, a war on people — because of who they were, the color of their skin and the ideas in their heads. The drug-taking part was the bullshit justification to go after them.
As we wade through more Republican bullshit — lies about everything from racism to treason — it’s important to remind ourselves just HOW bullshitty Republican bullshit is. A particularly telling example is illustrated by the story of how Harry Anslinger — while prosecuting brown and black people for using marijuana — kept Joe McCarthy’s secret that he was a hard core heroin addict.
Joe McCarthy epitomizes Republican hypocrisy, false patriotism and love of bullshit. As the piece puts it: “Because Anslinger agreed with [McCarthy’s] politics, however, he kept the addiction secret for the rest of the official’s life.”
Do as I say, not as I do. Bullshit doesn’t get any more “Republican” than that.
That’s Roy Cohn whispering sweet nothings into Joe’s ear in the photo. Roy Cohn, don’t forget, was one of Donald Trump’s mentors (until Cohn got AIDS at which point Trump abandoned Cohn).
These dots all connect — every one of them. Republican bullshit renews itself like Trumpian swamp water. The supply is as endless as it is eternal.
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.
I sure hope this isn’t up for debate: America’s war on drugs, especially its war on cannabis, was always about RACISM and nothing but.
I refer you to an excellent series (okay — I wrote it — I’m biased) called Blunt Truths over at Weedmaps News. Blunt Truths points out (with receipts) how at no time in the process of “illegalizing” cannabis did anyone creating or crafting the legislation ever ask “But, is it bad for anyone?” They specifically avoided that question because they knew for a fact the answer would be “We don’t think so — in fact, we see a multitude of ways it’s actually good for people”. That would have been the American Medical Association speaking.back in the day (before they were a political racket first and foremost). But, what did they know…?
Here’s some irony — because this story is built of irony — the very first anti-marijuana law was crafted in 1915 in California — by a group of Pharmacists. But, even as pharmacists, the law they crafted doesn’t bother with what marijuana did to anyone (they had no idea — no research existed whatsoever), what really worried them was WHO was smoking it.
Prior to 1910 — when the Mexican Revolution sent a wave of Mexican refugees fleeing north — Americans had never heard of marijuana. A few perhaps read Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s accounts of being a hashish eater but that was one white man’s experience of the “colored man’s” exotica. The Mexicans fleeing revolution brought marijuana with them because it had become part of their culture; they enjoyed it and its benefits.
Cannabis brings euphoria and happiness. It makes you laugh. Imagine how terrifying the sight of happy, laughing Latinos must have been to those poor, frightened white people — lots of alcohol already in their veins as they fearfully pounded down some more.
Marijuana spread to New Orleans in the early 20’s while jazz was being born. African American jazz musicians liked reefer because, unlike with alcohol which stifles creativity because it fogs one’s thinking, cannabis works the opposite way in our brains. Sativas especially bring mental energy and focus. The musicians took to cannabis because they could work with it in their systems and kick back with it in their systems. It was that multi-faceted a product. That was & is the truth about cannabis.
When Harry Anslinger took over as the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ first ever Commissioner in 1930, he didn’t give cannabis a second’s thought. He testified before Congress that it wasn’t a problem. And yet — by 1934, Anslinger’s tune had changed. “Marihuana” (Anslinger’s spelling) had become a demon weed capable of motivating its users to madness and mayhem. What changed exactly? White people were now using it.
When the jazz musicians were kicked out of New Orleans, they headed north, following the Mississippi at first. They landed in Memphis and Nashville. They landed in Chicago. And everywhere they landed, marihuana landed with them — where white people, intrigued by the music, were sampling the black man’s inspiration. And liking it.
THAT — right there — is why Harry Anslinger changed his mind about cannabis being a danger to the public. Anslinger’s problem was there was nothing in the Constitution justifying marijuana prohibition. Anslinger had to create a crime (he went for tax evasion — if you didn’t pay the onerous tax each time you bought or sold marijuana — and get the stamp showing you’d paid the taxes — the stamp being unavailable — you became a tax cheat) in order to institutionalize his racism but Anslinger was a dedicated racist and a top notch bureaucrat.
You know how that ended up, right?
Our gun control debate flows from the same dark wellspring of racism. Look at the people arguing most vociferously to hold onto every last weapon they can till said weapons are pried from their cold, dead fingers (per former leader Charlton Heston). Notice anything about them? Like they’re almost entirely white? There’s a reason for that.
The same people will insist with a straight face that they’re fighting the good fight on our behalf — being the militia standing up against a hostile federal government. Yeah… except that’s not what the 2nd Amendment actually says (regardless of how the gun lobby rewrote it in our heads; it STILL puts all the decision-making about gun possession (“keep” and “bear” not “own) into the hands of a “WELL REGULATED MILITIA”.
The Second Amendment is a GUN CONTROL amendment that the gun manufacturers successfully reimagined as a “have all the guns ya want” freeforall. Some day — soon, I think — we’ll toss the bullshit revisionism and go back to the amendment as written.
The RW — always racist to the marrow in their bones — insist that they’re standing up against the potential of a federal government run amok. They don’t say that when the federal government raises, pays for and deploys AN ARMY. But, in the abstract? It terrifies them. Maybe they don’t really mean “Hostile Federal Government”. Maybe what they really mean is “people of color”.
American gun lovers — in their own minds — aren’t standing up against any “government”, they’re standing up against people they perceive the government has empowered — black people. “Arm yourself because black people now have political power and probably will use it.” That is literally what they’re saying and thinking.
Just for shits n giggles — imagine how those very same people would think about guns and people arming themselves to the teeth if the majority of those arming themselves were African Americans or Latinos. Do you really think all those terrified white people could tolerate all those guns going to all those non-whites? If you do, can I borrow some money interest free forever?
Lift the veil on virtually any topic in American politics and you’ll find racism of one kind or another sitting around waiting for the call to come out and play. American racism is always happy to oblige.
I’ve searched Google & Wikipedia. I’ve searched the whole internet (every single tube of it). I even cracked an actual book. There’s no evidence anywhere that racism ever did anything good for anyone. Yet here we are, hostages of America’s racist soul.
I’ll warn ya right now — there’s a whole shitload of irony coming. Because of course.
Patrick Crusius, the El Paso shooter, published a manifesto an hour before heading out the door, armed to the teeth, his intent — hunt other humans and kill them because they’re different. His manifesto made his feelings about brown people and immigrants crystal clear. 21-year-old Mr. Crusius was angry enough to drive hours across the state of Texas to specifically shoot people coming from Mexico. Or, as Mr. Crusius would probably call them “Mexicans”.
I don’t know if Mr. Crusius smokes cannabis. I know lots & lots & LOTS of his white supremacist pals love the stuff. Why shouldn’t they? Cannabis is a great product (for adults for whom its appropriate and who are savvy about their dosing). But the fact that it IS a legal product now in places like California is in spite of the fact that it was “illegalized” back in the day specifically because of racism like Mr. Cruisius’.
In “Blunt Truths” — the series I wrote for Weedmaps News — I deep dive into the overt racism behind every bit of marijuana prohibition. At no point did anyone legislating marijuana ever ask “But, is it bad for people?” It was never about what marijuana did to anyone, it was always about WHO was smoking it. When Harry Anslinger became America’s first Commissioner of the nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he didn’t give a shit about cannabis. He said so.
White people knew little about cannabis. It wasn’t part of their culture as it was part of Mexico’s culture. Not a big part, of course — but a part. Unlike alcohol, marijuana didn’t make anyone angry or violent. It just made them feel better and happier at the end of a day’s work. Or whenever they cared to use it. The Mexican Revolution (1910) created a wave of frightened Mexicans heading north. Marijuana traveled with them. Because it was unfamiliar, it caught the attention of the already nervous white people.
Marihuana caught a ride east and landed in New Orleans where jazz was being born. The musicians doing the birthing (guys like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton) didn’t like to drink because alcohol dulled their senses and their creativity. Morphine was even worse. Marihuana however made them feel good without dulling them. Quite the contrary — reefer opened their minds. Suddenly they could hear tones and shadings and nuances they didn’t hear without the dope. They could create on marijuana. They could perform on it. They could live their lives on it.
New Orleans habitually expunged the black musicians from the city. When the city closed famed Storyville in 1918, all those talented players headed north, up the Mississippi. That same migration happened again in the late 1920’s. Those pot-smoking jazz musicians landed in Memphis, Nashville, Chicago. Each place they landed, marijuana culture started. And — here’s where it gets problematic for white people — WHITE PEOPLE started smoking it. That’s the reason behind cannabis prohibition not only in America but all around the world — for real: Cannabis was made illegal because white people started smoking it.
Harry Anslinger was a staggering racist but (the problem) a masterful bureaucrat. He overcame a veritable shitload of truth, reality and law to finally have his way and make marijuana illegal. Once he made it illegal here, he used his bureaucratic expertise to make cannabis illegal all over the world. To help accomplish that end, Anslinger invented every last bit of the marijuana mythology that still haunts us today.
Anslinger invented “reefer madness”. When, in the 1950’s his racist dog whistle stopped working as well in Congress (Anslinger had to fight a constant war for dollars to fund his agency), Anslinger invented “The Gateway Theory” to connect marijuana usage to hard drug usage. No legitimate data exists connecting those two things — emphasis on the word “legitimate”. None. Zilch.
Still, Richard Nixon used that lie to justify the (bullshit) War On Drugs. Just so we’re clear — the War On Drugs (John Haldeman even admitted this in an interview ffs!) was understood by those waging it to be a war on black people, brown people and liberal people.
Just like the raging racists who preceded them, no one ever asked “But, isn;t it actually kind of good for people?”
Racists like Mr. Crusius, Santino Legran (Gilroy Garlic Festival) & William Bowers (Tree Of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh) or bigots like Omar Mateen (the Orlando gay nightclub shooter) despise all foreign cultures (especially if black or brown people practice them). Yet — given time, these same racists will ADAPT and come to love the very cultural object they once used as the focus of their ignorance and racism.
I celebrate anyone who enjoys and revels in the many pleasures and benefits of cannabis. Ummmm — hold on there, white supremacists. I’m celebrating your cannabis celebration with an asterisk: you’re a damned hypocrite.
What this illustrates is the sheer bullshittiness of racism. Those of us hip to the amazing advantages of multi-cultralism and diversity know — things not native to white Christian culture (jazz, food with flavor, cannabis) — will eventually burrow their way in (if not to the racists then to every last bit of the culture around them). But then there’s cannabis.
Even a racist can’t not love it. I warned you there’d be irony.