Hopefully, we’ve all had a decent-enough education to know that at one point in American History, the consumption and sale of alcohol was strictly prohibited by the United States government. Fortunately, this occurred at a time in History when our government could learn from their mistakes and push “we fucked up” initiatives after stupid decisions had cost the lives of many citizens and made the bad guys more powerful.
But did you know that for most of our weird and twisted history as an independent nation, drugs were legal and commonplace all over the country? I’ll assume that you did, and that I’m not telling you anything new–but just for the sake of argument, let’s examine our bizarre (but true) history of Prohibition.
1611–Farmers in Virginia began to harvest a miracle crop called “hemp.” Its fibers were valuable in a shitload of different necessary items, and eventually, Britain (who still ran the show back then) ordered American farmers to grow as much hemp as possible. It was a cash crop and nobody–probably–knew how fun it could actually be.
Cannabis grown locally had very small traces of THC–as opposed to the shit you buy at the playground that makes you think George Lopez is funny.
Early 1800′s–That’s right, it took about 200 years for people to even fucking think about medical or recreational uses for this stuff. And it all started with an Irishman (doesn’t everything?) named William O’Shaughnessy studying medicine in India. He came to the conclusion that cannabis may actually have some medical benefits. And then…
1839–Mr. O’Shaughnessy comes to America.
1850′s–Cannabis Indica (Marijuana) becomes commonplace in Pharmacies all over America. These forms of the drug were almost entirely grown outside of America (because American cannabis was still being grown for fiber purposes); which means that the people who needed it actually got the good shit.
Because there were so many other/better/more powerful drugs available–and because cannabis was typically thought to be only a medical drug, there were virtually no examples of it being used for recreational purposes…until…
Early 1900′s–Mexican laborers began to enter into America with a recreational crop they had been toking for ages: Marijuana. America had no concrete record of previous recreational Marijuana use.
1913–In a glorious example of good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality, a handful of cities and states began to outlaw the use of Marijuana because…well, Mexicans were ‘fucking crazy.’ So, yeah, it was just about that racist.
1914–The Harrison Narcotics Act comes into play. The government over-steps its bounds and decides what’s good for the people and what they should be prohibited to imbibe.
Those chosen to select and testify against certain narcotics actually stood up for cannabis, saying that there was no evidence for any potential to be addictive or harmful. And Congress listened.
1920′s–In January of 1920, the efforts of the batshit temperance movement in the United States (led by ultra-conservative Christians and–SURPRISE–the KKK!!) paid off and the National Prohibition Act/Volstead Act/18th Amendment went into effect. It was declared “The Noble Experiment,” and it outlawed essentially any kind of contact with alcohol for consumption purposes.
Two groups benefited highly from this: The Mafia and the Catholic Church. The Mafia had a new business to exploit, and the Church–which was not effected by the ban for “freedom of religion” reasons–was one of the only places people could get some booze.
People had cannabis. It was right there for them to use whenever they wanted, and they said “fuck it, we have coke and opium.” Cannabis as both a cash crop and a medical drug started to decrease drastically in popularity to the point where people simply didn’t care for it anymore.
This was eventually paired with stories of “the evils of Marihuana (sic).” But people didn’t make the connection between the domestically grown hemp crops and the scary Mexican jumping weed.
At this point several other states began to outlaw the possession of pot…even California.
Headlines at the time read like horror stories: Mexican Family Goes Insane From Eating Marihuana. This intense shitstorm gave rise to remarkable pieces of cinematic gold like Reefer Madness, which warned that you will become a murderous, suicidal rapist if you come into contact with the killer bud.
1930–Congress establishes the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and chooses evangelist Harry Anslinger to kick ass and take names. Essentially all of the sensationalist and retarded anti-pot propaganda originated from this man’s work. And the racial tension grew from there.
1933–The National Prohibition Act (for alcohol, remember) is repealed by FDR’s Twenty-First Amendment. This accomplished the following:
-took profits from the black market and out of the hands of the Mafia.
-allowed for citizens to ease their suffering during the Great Depression.
-gave the U.S. lots of tax money that they had been missing out on for over a decade.
-decreased the production of dangerous home-made moonshine.
…but the damage was already done. Stock-car racing (Moonshine Runners) took off as a competitive sport, and now we’re stuck with NASCAR.
Mid-1930′s–A television ad campaign that vilified blacks and Hispanics–who were no doubt responsible for corrupting the quiet, saintly, white communities with this evil drug–was pumped into the minds of all concerned citizens. And that’s why your grandparents are racist.
These ads had two core motivations: to scare people away from Marijuana, and to scare Americans into a master-race of white xenophobic racists. Blacks and Mexicans stalk the streets, high on dope, looking for pure, innocent white women to rape and corrupt. True story.
By 1935 most states in the U.S. had anti-marijuana laws on the books–and pseudo-studies into the effects of pot-smoking sounded like this:
Cannabis users are capable of super-human feats of strength and should be considered extremely dangerous. Sexual desires are increased drastically which could lead to indecent exposure or rape. Marijuana causes the destruction of brain tissue which can lead to irreversible insanity ending in horrific death.
1937–Because Congress at this time believed an official ban on possession and use of Marijuana an abuse of their power, they passed the Marihuana Tax Act instead. This law stated that every transported ounce of marijuana to the general public would cost the distributor $100 in taxes.
This was meant to be a deterrent, but if it was illegal to possess pot in most places anyway, who the fuck was going to pay the tax?
At one of Congresses (only) two hearings to debate the issue, Harry Anslinger brought out the big guns, saying that marijuana was the Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. He brought in doctors who testified that even animals with prolonged exposure to marijuana were rendered “unserviceable” and were “discarded.”
When the American Medical Association stepped in, they called Anslinger out on his bullshit–saying that all of the testimony against marijuana has no supporting evidence and proposing that the Marijuana Tax Act unfairly cripples all medical research for cannabis.
And the AMA won!
Jay-Kay! In fact, Anslinger’s propaganda was adopted by Congress to be absolute fact and a major element to support their decisions about the future of marijuana in America.
The reality is that most of the people voting on the Marijuana Tax Act had very little-to-no knowledge of what Marijuana was. And with a swipe of FDR’s pen, the future of Marijuana was determined.
1940′s–Despite the apparent “dangers” of marijuana, it was still grown and cultivated by the United States government. The Office of Strategic Services, a military organization formed during WWII, used the drug’s THC content as a “truth serum” and defined it as the best and most effective they’d ever seen.
1960′s–It was by this point the marijuana’s recreational use was pretty much fully understood. Those who were growing and supplying the product had figured out how to make it more potent and…well…better.
As is the case with everything else that had been legal, and was suddenly made illegal, it got more dangerous. Not that smoking marijuana is particularly dangerous, but the varying degrees of THC content ensures that you’re never really sure how powerful your weed will be.
The transportation, sale, and manufacturing of illegal narcotics becomes a dangerous practice as well; and like alcohol prohibition, you put the entire business in the hands of criminals–as well as create criminals out of law abiding citizens who just want to get a little high.
Also, you create a stoner/hippie movement that just gets so fucking annoying.
1969–The War on Drugs is established by President Richard Nixon. It doesn’t actually go into effect until 1970 under the name: Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.
1973–The Controlled Substance Act creates the Drug Enforcement Administration to replace the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
The DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services are put in charge of determining which drugs they will go after and which drugs they won’t (using the pseudo-evidence of marijuana’s harmful properties as scientific fact).
1988–President Ronald Reagan creates the Office of National Drug Control Policy to lead and legislate the war on drugs. The head of which would be named the “Drug Czar.”
1993–The Drug Czar is raised to “cabinet-level” status by President Bill Clinton.
2009–President Obama vows to drop the title “War on Drugs” and devote significant “War on Drugs” funds to the prevention and treatment of drug abuse for the fiscal year 2011; but no official end to prohibition is in sight.
So, the next time your pothead friend starts rambling about how anti-marijuana legislation is racist and illegitimate, you’ll know that he’s absolutely right…
…but you still don’t have to fucking listen to him.
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