America, cannabis, and freedom: three things that Everyday Cannabis cherishes more than words can describe. Our second blog will focus on the history of American cannabis prohibition, and the societal ramifications of the war on drugs—responsible for some of the many egregious violations of personal freedom Americans have been subjected to by their government since America’s slide into authoritarianism. As mentioned in our prior blog, Everyday Cannabis considers itself to be a part of the counterculture movement that is cannabis normalization. We believe mainstream (anti-cannabis) culture to be a sad and immoral result of calculated propaganda campaigns, racism, and crony capitalism.
All of us at Everyday Cannabis take cannabis and freedom quite seriously and believe that safe and legal access to cannabis is actually a form of freedom. Additionally, we feel that cannabis prohibition infringes upon various fundamental natural human rights such as access to nature and freedom of consciousness.
We couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the rapidly growing legal cannabis market, and are eagerly awaiting its continued expansion. We're super psyched to be in the middle of a new "green revolution" in which cannabis is once again becoming a huge part of American culture, much like it was 240+ years ago prior to America's authoritarian takeover and subsequent national cannabis prohibition policies.
The modern green revolutionaries; much like the revolutionaries key to America's formation, are pushing against corrupt authoritarian systems and blazing a path to positive change.
The History of Cannabis in America
America is a country that was founded on the acceptance and embracement of cannabis freedom—a paradigm that rightfully continued throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century. Prior to prohibition, the cannabis plant was widely appreciated for both its industrial and medicinal value.
Early American farmers, including many Founding Fathers, grew cannabis that was processed into various things such as: textiles (both for clothing and sails), cordage (used extensively in shipping), and paper. All of these cannabis products were highly utilized in the support of Revolutionary War efforts, and were so critical that America likely would not have gained its independence without them.
A newspaper article praising hemp (1729).
The fact is that the economic prosperity of early America wholeheartedly depended on cannabis. Quite simply, it was the cash crop of the time—so much so that cannabis was an approved type of commodity money in some areas.
The sad reality; however, is that much of the economic success experienced by many early American cannabis farmers was made possible by access to inexpensive labor from slavery—a system of oppression which was obviously largely based on racism.
Slaves harvest hemp in pre-Civil War Kentucky.
The end of slavery in post civil war America meant drastically increased labor costs for many hemp farmers. The lack of available slave labor, combined with a decrease in the demand for hemp products, led to many states experiencing declines in both hemp farming and processing operations—a trend that would continue until World War 1 created a new demand for hemp products.
Although there was a decrease in American hemp interests throughout the later half of the 19th century, there was an increase in marijuana interests throughout the same period. As a matter of fact, medications with cannabis gained huge popularity throughout the late 19th century and were commonly available without any form of prescription in drug stores throughout the country.
Ads such as these were common prior to cannabis prohibition in America. Some cannabis ads then, much like today, blurred the lines between the medical and recreational use of cannabis. Notice the ad on the right referring to cannabis as "a pleasurable and harmless stimulant."
Cannabis was not subject to any federal regulation of any form until the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. The Act was primarily focused on consumer protection through “truth in labeling”, and the only cannabis related stipulation of the Act being that all cannabis containing products must be labeled as such. The drug paradigm in that of early twentieth century America was focused on protecting consumers from unscrupulous drug companies and false or misleading labeling, not one of protecting individuals from themselves—and especially not one involving the criminalization of the white drug user (minorities were a different story).
The Slide into Darkness: The History of the Events Leading to Federal Cannabis Prohibition
The late 19th century and early 20th century were times of widespread opiate abuse, and narcotics were being targeted on a global scale. Intervention became official with the 1912 signing of the International Opium Convention—the first international drug control treaty in known human history. It’s important to understand that the 1912 International Opium Convention was not a prohibitionist policy, but rather one aimed at curbing the rampant abuse of often unregulated “hard” drugs such as opiates and cocaine. The criminalization of drug users, dealers, and producers was not promoted. Also, no mention of cannabis was included within the stipulations of the treaty.
The authoritarian reformers of the era; such as Dr. Hamilton Wright who propagandized references to drug-inspired rape and miscegenation and shared "unfounded and pretentious" racist reports estimating addiction rates in the United States, were not content with the emerging paradigm of drug regulation and craved a prohibitionary model. Built on the misinformation of professionals such as Dr. Wright and other fear-mongering propagandists—the first federal regulation, tax, and possibility for criminalization of drugs in America was made possible through the passing of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914.
"NEGRO COCAINE "FIENDS" ARE A NEW SOUTHERN MENACE"
The above title of a New York Times article from February 8, 1914 is an example of propagandized racism. Propaganda such as this would eventually lead to the passing of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, which was quite arguably a federal form of institutionalized racism in America.
A decade after the implementation of the Harrison Narcotic Tax Act, the International Opium Convention reconvened in 1925, this time specifically banning the exportation of “Indian hemp” (marijuana) and its derivatives to countries banning its use, and mandating a “medical and/or scientific” requirement for all countries still importing it—establishing the first global regulatory standards for cannabis. The inclusion of cannabis into the legislature of the 1925 International Opium Convention was likely due to the claim by the Egyptian delegation which implied that cannabis is as dangerous as opium, and should therefore be regulated.
Edward Dodge blamed Egypt's view of cannabis prohibition as classist, and offered the following insight,
"The attitude that poor and indigenous people needed to be rescued from their vices by criminalizing their native intoxicating plants; poppy, coca, and cannabis, would become accepted progressive wisdom around the world, even as western pharmaceutical firms were allowed to profitably sell opiates and cocaine based on these same plants. It is an elitist, colonialist attitude that both presumes the superiority of western cultural values (including alcohol consumption) over indigenous cultures, while also criminalizing the day-to-day behavior of the poor and subjecting them to the authority of their colonialist masters."
Authoritarianism manifesting as prohibitionary drug policies was a hallmark of the era of American history referred to as Prohibition—so much so that America withdrew from and did not sign and ratify the agreements of the 1925 International Opium Convention, as they did not establish specific reductions to opium production. America, while seemingly so focused on total authoritarian control of the international narcotics trade, evidently hadn't yet realized that their "noble experiment" of alcohol prohibition was failing on a domestic level.
The charts above illustrate that although Prohibition had very little impact on reducing the consumption of alcohol, the policy seemed to correlate with an increase in the American homicide rate.
Despite all of the violence associated with Prohibition, and Prohibitions ultimate reversal—political authoritarianism remained the defining paradigm of the era, and prohibitionary drug policies were the common theme—but why? In our opinion... political fear-mongering and the effects of its associated propaganda and sensationalism. It was simply convenient for the racist, authoritarian politicians and business leaders of the time to spread fear by associating drugs with marginalized groups such as cannabis with Mexicans, cocaine with Blacks, opiates with Chinese—and then equating those drugs with "sexual deviance" (both rape and inter-racial affairs) and violence. Nothing seems to cause both the creation and acceptance of authoritarian concepts quite like the combination of anger and fear; and quite frankly, society was manipulated by the lies of its leaders.
According to Chomsky, fear appeal through propaganda campaigns are effective techniques often used in the manipulation of the United States population.
Federal drug prohibition measures were not the first time that the demagoguery of political opportunists was used to institutionalize racism through drug laws. Institutionalized racism was already common in both state and local law prior to federal drug prohibitions which only further solidified the paradigm. It is often thought that the prohibition of opium in the late 19th and early 20th century America was largely an attempt to control Chinese immigrants. A specific of which being the fact that many areas of the time period banned the smoking of opium in “opium dens” which were associated with the Chinese, but still allowed the use and sale of heroin and other opiates—which were often abused, especially by white women.
The same authoritarian type of logic is thought to have been applied to the "marihuana" smoking Mexican immigrants of early 20th century America—who were not only thought to threaten the societal values held by many of the religious temperance organizations and other white authoritarians of the era, but also their incomes. To further explain—the Great Depression led to scarce jobs—Mexican immigrants (then such as now) were viewed with hostility due to the fact that they were perceived to threaten the economic opportunities of working class whites. It became convenient for aspiring politicians to associate marijuana with Mexicans, and then punish and oppress them when they were found to be breaking laws which were written around them.
Mexicans were not the only marginalized group caught up in anti-cannabis rhetoric and legislation. Blacks, especially Black jazz musicians, were also targeted. Harry Anslinger, who in 1930 became the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, is quoted as saying,
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, results from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others.”
Anslinger often spread lies and misleading propaganda about the evils of marijuana—often falsely associating its use with violence and deviance. A true authoritarian cop (often derogatorily referred to as a "czar") that felt his way was the right way. In addition to the previously mentioned racist quote, Anslinger has also been quoted saying the following simplistic and racist nonsense,
''The answer to the problem is simple—get rid of drugs, pushers and users. Period."
Anslinger lobbied for the passage of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act of 1934, which encouraged states to enact drug prohibition laws, which included the prohibition of cannabis, aka "killer weed". The lies and propaganda from Anslinger were often echoes of the numerous articles from the William Randolph Hurst media conglomerate, examples being claims that stated things like,
“Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse for horrid specters.”
'One could grow enough cannabis in a window box to “drive the whole population of the United States stark, raving mad.”'
A poster for the film commonly referred to as Reefer Madness. The film was financed by a church group, with the intent of educating the public about the dangers of cannabis use.
The Dark Ages: Cannabis Prohibition is Official
It’s thought that Hurst and Anslinger may have conspired with lobbyists from both chemical companies and pharmaceutical companies to secure and pass the Federal Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (MTA), which essentially banned and criminalized marijuana—and made hemp difficult, expensive, and burdensome to grow.
The passage of the MTA was predicated by Anslinger supposedly asking 30 scientists if they thought cannabis was a dangerous drug, and having 29 replying that it is not . In an act of either malevolence or confirmation bias, Anslinger chose the one scientist that felt cannabis was dangerous to present to the public as scientifically factual.
Overprint marijuana revenue stamps from 1937.
After the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the federal government and its agents now had the authority to police a plant and those benefiting from it. Propaganda continued to further the need for Anslinger and his agency, and cannabis prohibition became a central part of authoritarian American culture.
Samuel R. Caldwell, an unemployed fifty-eight year-old living in Denver, became the first person to ever be arrested for selling marijuana under the stipulations of the Marijuana Tax Act. Caldwell was arrested October 2, 1937. He was jailed for four years, and died one year after his release.
The morality of the MTA was reinforced with further forms of sensationalist and racist propaganda, such as a 1938 article from Literary Digest went so far as to say that "parasitic criminals" deal marijuana and that it's "more dangerous than cocaine or opium".
In stark contrast to other cannabis propaganda campaigns of the time period, Hemp for Victory was a World War 2 era film which encouraged cannabis cultivation. Click the above image to watch the film.
In what can only be described as cruel and unusual punishment, the concept of mandatory minimum sentencing for cannabis possession was established through the passage of the Boggs Act of 1951. The Boggs Act mandated that the minimum punishment for first-offense cannabis possession charges was 2-10 years in a cage and a fine of up to $20,000.
An image of Malcom X (1963). Please click the above image to watch Matthew Cooke's video on racism and drug laws.
The enforcement of cannabis laws then; much like today, was largely based on class, tribe, and race. Poor whites, blacks, and Hispanics were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. Politics and political agendas also played a huge role in determining policies and their implementation. The former domestic policy chief under President Nixon, John Ehrlichman is quoted with saying,
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Police and government would continue their oppressive and unconstitutional enforcement of mandatory minimum cannabis sentencing laws up until 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, which was a response to the Marijuana Tax Act being deemed unconstitutional in the 1969 Supreme Court case Leary v United States. The Controlled Substances Act eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession, but also made cannabis a schedule I drug—meaning it had a high potential for abuse and had no medical value. Other drugs which were classified as schedule I under the new Controlled Substances Act included psilocybin, heroin, LSD, and peyote. It's interesting to realize that methamphetamines and cocaine were classified as schedule 2 drugs, meaning that they have high potential for abuse and accepted medical value—making them less restricted than their schedule 1 counterparts.
An ad for cannabis medicine. Despite its Schedule 1 designation (implying no medicinal value), cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years and was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia between the years 1850 and 1941. In stark contrast to current federal policy, cannabis is currently approved for the treatment of various medical conditions through various state level programs.
In what would only reinforce and further the perpetuation of the Controlled Substances Act and the war on drugs, the Nixon administration created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973.
A chart illustrating cannabis arrests in America. It should be noted that people of color are disproportionately arrested for cannabis crimes. Credit: Delphi234
The Propaganda Paradigm and a Political Perspective
It's important to consider the ways in which propaganda functions in our society, and the reality that fear appeal through demagoguery has power in our tribalistic political system. Minorities are easily targeted when a political system is both authoritarian and democratic (which is a fancy way of saying it's ruled by the popular vote of the people... which is theoretically the same as mob rule). It is consistently important to remember that the Founding Fathers intentionally limited the reach of democracy by not quite creating one—and establishing a Constitutional Republic instead. The power of the mob in America is limited by the United States Constitution. As Abraham Lincoln put it,
“A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks, and limitations, and always changing easily, with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people.”
Constitutional checks are the safeguard against runaway democracy through which the United States Constitution functions as the protector of the minority. The Constitution limits the reach of government, and protects core American values such as rights to free speech, firearm ownership, and various other freedoms. In fact, it required a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit the sale of alcohol in America. Why was there never a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting cannabis and other drugs? The entire paradigm seems nothing less than absurd considering the fact that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis, and especially considering that racist propaganda not grounded in science is a huge factor behind all of it. Paul Hager offers this insight,
"Well, let's go back to those questions. I think the answer to the first question is fairly straightforward -- this idea of alcohol prohibition. We were talking about a new power that was being acquired -- surrendered by the people and the states -- and so the 18th Amendment was passed to give that power to the Federal government. In the case of our second question -- prohibiting other drugs -- I would argue that we are talking about new powers being granted to the Federal government that have never been surrendered by the people and the states. Ergo, the drug war, prohibition laws, the DEA, the whole ball of wax, are all unconstitutional. I think what we have here is a prime example of the illegal acquisition of powers by a central government through a process of slow accretion. And this was exactly the sort of thing Hamilton was warning against back in 1787."
In our opinion, the best way to safeguard against the abuses of a tyrannical and draconian State is by limiting its power. Our Founding Fathers felt the same way.
We feel that there is a distinct difference between legality and morality. It would seem that our Founding Fathers would unequivocally agree.
In our next blog we will examine the positive changes surrounding the modern cannabis paradigm in America—a paradigm of cannabis (re)normalization, freedom, love, and (re)connection to nature.