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Wanna Marijuana?

April 2, 2009

 

Legalize Cannabis

Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Don’t you wanna? (Smoke a little marihuana)

      Cannabis – it’s a controversial plant that does a lot to and for our world. It can be converted into a number of items ranging from clothing to nutritional products. Though none of those products are harmful, there is a strong opposition toward the acceptance and use of marijuana. It is true that marijuana is used for recreational purposes, and that this use of cannabis highly criminalized and generally looked down upon in society. Historically the “drug” was unpublicized and left much of the public guessing about the full effects of marijuana (in both the negative and positive sense). The public was highly judgmental toward the plant, and much of this movement was led by people who were extraordinarily passionate against marijuana use. But why, was there such strong opposition to this plant, and what exactly led to its illegalization?   Due to an uninformed public and excessive propaganda for marijuana illegalization, people were convinced that criminalizing marijuana was the right thing to do.

      During the turn of the century there was much immigration from the Mexican population. Over the years Mexican Americans settled in the southern states, those nearest to Mexico. Soon enough, “sixteen of these [southern] states prohibited [the] sale or possession of marijuana before 1930” (Drug Library). This law was the first to indirectly identify and associate a ‘problem’ with the Mexican American population. Professors Richard J. Bonnie & Charles H. Whitebread of Virginia University jointly conducted a study to figure out what exactly it was that lead to the illegalization of marijuana. Both professors note that each legislature throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s outlawing marijuana earned “little if any public attention, no debate, [they] pointed references to the drug’s Mexican origins, and sometimes [projected a] vociferous allusion to the criminal conduct inevitably generated when Mexicans ate ‘the killer weed.’” (Drug Library). Some Americans, already concerned about high immigration rates and the lack of available jobs, readily received this information thus forming a biased opinion about Mexicans. Although the presumptions made by the legislature were initially aimed at those of Mexican heritage, other racial minorities were also targeted. Harry J. Anslinger, the head of the Bureau of Narcotics, strongly opposed marijuana and was also known to be racist. When he spoke during the United Nations Narcotics Commission, he claimed that “the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races” (Quotes). The first U.S. “drug czar” (Nation) often openly made racist allegations and had many exaggerated stories and tactics that he used to encourage the prevention of marijuana use. Anslinger’s projected racism spread to an already racist population and as a casualty of racism, the plant was illegalized.       Harry J. Anslinger was a dominant man and extremely influential to both everyday people and the government when discussing marijuana. He worked with the Treasury Department in 1937 with intentions of presenting his case to Congress so that they might outlaw marijuana. At the court hearing, Anslinger and the Treasury Department claimed that “after a two-year study by the Bureau of Narcotics [we have] revealed that the drug [is] ‘being used extensively by high school children in [the form of] cigarettes. ‘Its effect,’ he told the House committee, “’is deadly’ (Drug Library). Along with his ludicrous assertion, Anslinger further presented wild claims about marijuana that were more sensationalized “horror stories” (Drug Library) than concrete facts. It is known today that Anslinger was “not above exploiting controversial issues to achieve what he felt was in the best interest of the American people and the bureau which he headed” (Drug Library). Anslinger might have been a man of the law, but he certainly was not objective in his goals.  One of Anslinger’s more infamous ideologues was that, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most [are]…entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”(Quote). Anslinger’s radical rhetoric frightened the people and helped shape public view. The long lasting law to prohibit marijuana was to come soon thereafter as a result of this.       Two of the most influential events that led to marijuana’s illegalization were the Geneva Convention on Opium and other Drugs, (which was highly publicized in the United States during 1925), and the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The Geneva Convention “was intended to impose global controls over a wider range of drugs, including, for the first time, cannabis” (Drug Library). Marijuana was suddenly categorized with a group of drugs (such as opium and heroine) that had far more severe and harmful effects. Once the press leaked the news out to the people, public opinion on the effects of marijuana was forever warped. The Geneva Convention specifically required “effective laws to limit to medical and scientific purposes the manufacture, import, sale, distribution, export and use of cannabis in the form used for medical purposes” (Hemp). The use of medical marijuana has prevailed to this day, however it is outlawed in most states despite the fact that the “Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)…determined that marijuana met the standards of “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” (CQ Researcher).       What is most interesting about the hearings that led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 is the manner in which the case was presented. Professors Richard J. Bonnie & Charles H. Whitebread confirmed in their study that during the presentation by Anslinger and the Treasury Department to Congress:        No estimates of how many Americans were using marihuana were ever discussed. No qualified experts were summoned to support the bureau’s claim either that children were using marihuana, that marihuana was causing Americans to commit crimes, or that marihuana [was]’deadly. (Drug Library).  The fact that no concrete or hard numbers were presented, and that no person of the medical field could speak on behalf of marijuana or its users enabled Congress to fall for the argument. Bonnie and Whitebread revealed the shocking fact that when the bill was sent to the House of Representatives, “a short exchange took place showing that Congress was not even aware of what the drug marihuana was, although they were being asked to outlaw its use” (Drug Library). The vote took place and thus marijuana became criminalized and illegal with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.       Although the illegalization of marijuana may on paper seem to rid society of yet another harmful drug, the fact remains that marijuana is medicinally legal and has proven somewhat legal. It’s a wonder how those with power mold and change the perceptions of everyday people. What’s more is the influence exercised by the words of people who hold the most power – our lawmakers. In an ideal world, minorities can rise democratically and have their voices heard for the greater good to provoke the changes that they see fit.  Minority suppression (minority races as well as those with medical disabilities) may have much to do with how the law is today, but we have yet to see whether marijuana  would be illegalized if judged and assessed with scientific evidence under more democratic  and modern circumstances.  Hopefully, time will tell.          Guest Author,  Jennifer Ferguson

English – Bircher
WRC 1023
Essay # 3 Causal Argument
(Originally written Feb. 23, 09)

Works Cited

Abel, Ernest L.”Marijuana – The First Twelve Thousand Years.” Schaffer Library of

Bonnie, Richard J., Whitebread, Charles H. “The Forbidden Fruit and the

“Cannabis in context: history, laws and international treaties.” Australian Government

Fratello, Dave. “Medical Marijuana.” CQ Researcher Jul. 1999. John Peace Library. UTSA. 22 Feb 2009.

“Harry J. Anslinger.” Nation Master. 22 Feb 2009.        <http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Harry-J.-Anslinger>. “Harry J. Anslinger Quotes.” Liberty Tree. 1998. 22 Feb 2009.       <http://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quote/harry_anslinger_quote_fdb8>.

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