Monday, December 27, 2021

Because We Say So - Marijuana

Full disclosure:  I don't use marijuana.  I tried it once in college and was not impressed.  I also don't smoke cigarettes; with my tendency toward asthma, I don't like inhaling smoke.  And I no longer drink alcohol.  So I have no stake in this.

But I have always wondered:  why is it, that people can buy and consume booze and cigarettes with no issues, but for decades, if they bought marijuana, they were setting themselves up for arrest and possible prison.  It's not the addictive properties; as far as I know, pot isn't addictive, and alcohol and tobacco are.  Too much alcohol, too much tobacco, will kill you; even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration admits that “No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.”  I've lost at least 3 relatives to entirely legal tobacco use.

A very interesting post by Becky Little on (Why the US Made Marijuana Illegal) confirms what I remember reading elsewhere.  In the 19th century ("at least since the 1830s"), marijuana was a normal part of the medical pharmacy.  It has real medicinal uses; we've determined recently that it can help with epileptic seizures.  I've seen boxes in museums that were used by 19th century ship's doctors; they have a partition for marijuana.  This was a normal medical tool.  You could buy it in a pharmacy.  And yet, between 1916 and 1931, 29 states outlawed marijuana; and the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (they couldn't even spell it) banned it nationwide, in the face of objections from the American Medical Association!

Given all our recent discussions of systemic racism, I concluded that it was banned in the '30s because it was a drug largely used by people of color - I was thinking about the Harlem Renaissance in the '20s.  I was right about the systemic racism, but wrong about which people of color.  According to Ms. Little, during and after the Mexican Revolution in 1910, a lot of Mexicans immigrated to the United States.  These Mexicans smoked marijuana to get high, and they terrified the good people of the United States, who didn't understand people who were too poor to drink booze to get high.

This has been fully written up by Eric Schlosser in his book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, but I have to share some of the details because they are hilarious - and sad.  The Texas police apparently believed that marijuana incited violent crimes (it doesn't), including a "lust for blood" (ditto), and that it gave people "superhuman strength" (no, it doesn't do that either).  But people were additionally terrified by a 1936 movie (?!) called Reefer Madness, which warned parents that drug dealers would invite their teenagers to jazz parties and get them hooked on “reefer.”  The Marihuana Tax Act passed the next year, and the feds and the states continued to increase punishments for the substance until the people they were arresting morphed into upper-middle-class white college students, in the late 1960s.

Marijuana is now legal in California, and in a number of other states; and so it should be.  I know people who use cannabidiol for medical conditions, especially cancer treatments.  It's still illegal at the federal level.  

We banned the use of marijuana because we didn't like or understand the people who used it, because they didn't look like us or speak our language, and in spite of the fact that we knew the substance was medically useful.  How stupid was that?  Let's eliminate the Federal ban and go back to the 19th century, but with better technology.