Cannabis Prohibition and Racism
Cannabis Prohibition and racism has a long, and complicated history. To say the least. Not only is it deeply rooted in racism, it has had a direct connection to the state of our world as it relates to climate change, deforestation, and the overall raping of our natural resources. The corporate elites were at risk of loosing out on billions to a cheap, and environmentally friendly plant, so they created a monster. And in doing so, created and institutionalized a method for incarcerating people of colour at a rate 4x higher than that of whites, who statistically smoke cannabis at a similar rate.
The Early Days
Hemp was a very commonly used plant in 1800s America. Everything from clothes, paper, and rope was made from it fibre. The buds of the Cannabis plant, though not widely smoked recreationally at the time, was a well known ingredient in doctor prescribed tinctures. Helping with things like indigestion, insomnia, and muscle pain. It wasn’t until an influx of Mexican immigrants in the early 1900s, did recreational cannabis use become more common. Cannabis also became very popular amongst the jazz community. Its actually been said that scatting came about because Louis Armstrong got too stoned and forgot the words to a song (can relate) With most Jazz musicians at this time being POC, it was an easy job for the government, in 1902s racist, Jim Crow america, to demonize cannabis. With the appointment of Harry J Anslinger, as the head of the newly established Federal Buearo of Narcotics, he started an all out war. Anslinger launched a media campaign designed to install fear into “White America”. Painting cannabis users as violent murderers, and and sex crazed maniacs. Full paged articles taken out in local newspapers saying that if you listen to jazz, you will be corrupted, entranced, and convinced to smoke the “Devi Weed” yourself. The smear campaign against Cannabis has been rooted in Racism, since Cannabis Prohibition began, and remains one of the biggest issue in the war on drugs.
Don’t forget about greed
Prior to 1937 many goods were made from hemp. Being stronger and better for the environment than cotton, and needing less water and growing faster than timbre, Cannabis seems like a good alternative right? Well definitely not if your name is William Randolph Hearst. He was the owner of Americas largest newspaper chain, and a recent procurer of a large stake in the timbre industry. With hemp production in a slow decline as the result of insufficient machinery to break down the tough hemp fibres, the investment seemed like a smart move. In 1936, however, an invention called the Corticator put that in jeopardy. All of a sudden hemp fibre became that much easier to work with. All of a sudden Hearst’s investment was in jeopardy. Another man who stood be negatively effected by the new Hemp boom was JD Rockefeller. He was the founder and owner of Standard Oil. A company that produced products ranging from engine oil and gasoline, to shaving cream, combs, and panty hose. Since hemp can effective and safely provide an alternative to all of those products, Standard Oil seemed like was about to fall behind the times. Hearst, and Rockefeller were not only exceedingly wealthy, but well connected in politics as well. If they wanted something to be done, all they had to do was make a phone call. In comes Senator Andrew Mellon. On Hearst’s, and Rockefeller’s recommendation, he set up the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and installed his brother-in-law to run it. A man by the name of Harry J Anslinger. With the help of Hearst’s newspaper empire, he launched a campaign to blur the line between hemp and Cannabis until it was one in the same. When the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was passed, the word “Cannabis” wasn’t used in the bill. Seeing as how in the early 1900s, the word Cannabis was synonymous with anti nausea medication. Instead the Spanish word Marihuana was used. Turing it into an illicit substance, and linking it, in the eyes of the senators voting, to the “devil weed”. A dangerous drug that was only enjoyed by low life’s and degenerates like Mexican Migrants, and Black Jazz musicians. Hemp was lumped in the same category as Cannabis, making it illegal to produce. Thus Hearst, Rockefeller, and Anslinger accomplished their goal. The smear campaign was complete. However, it was only the beginning.
The Continuing Prohibition..
Once Cannabis became an illegal substance, it became a perfect tool for the government. They continued to smear the reputation of Cannabis and its users. The problem is, they were hyper focused on one particular demographic. In the 1960s, with the coming of the Counter Culture, came a whole new generation of Cannabis smokers. “Reefer Madness” had taken a hold of young America. We’ve all seen footage of long haired hippies, sitting in circles, passing joints, strumming guitars, braiding daisies together. People black and white alike were enjoying the mind opening effects of cannabis. Unfortunately for POC, they were 4x more likely to be arrested and charged for Cannabis possession than white smokers. This could go as high as 8x more likely in some states. In 1970, then president Richard Nixon first declared his “War on Drugs” saying that drug use was public enemy #1. He started this war by making Cannabis a Schedule 1 drug. Putting it at the same danger level as Heroine, Ecstasy, and LSD. This made jail time for possession longer, and penalties harsher. Even today with Cannabis being legal in some states, and legal nation wide in Canada, possession makes up 52% of all drug arrests.
What could have been?
Cannabis Prohibition has been the perfect tool of oppression. A way to scare, and control the masses. It seems silly now, and maybe a little pointless to imagine a world where prohibition had never come to be. If greed and fear hadn’t won. Maybe we would all be driving around in hemp fuelled, hemp made airplane cars! Maybe climate change would way less of a concern. Or not a concern at all, because we never had to rely on the bodies of old rotting dinosaur bones to fuel our world. What if every piece of plastic on this earth was biodegradable? Or, what if Cannabis became a means of bridging cultural differences. Bringing people together to share ideas, make music, and learn about one another. A way to help heal wounds so we can look to the future together. Unfortunately, while we still see the effects of the racist war on drugs in our prisons today, we won’t be able to move forward. Until all the people incarcarated for non violent cannabis related crimes are pardoned, and released, real progress cannot be made.