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Faster! Play Faster! February 24, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Crime and Punishment, Drug War, National Politics, Politics, popular culture, Racism.
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Reefer Madness

Dave O'Brien in "Reefer Madness"

When I was in college, a favorite activity among my friends and I was to get super stoned and watch “Reefer Madness”.  Also known as “Tell Your Children”, the movie was originally  released in 1936 by a church group as a cautionary tale of drugs, sex, and violence.  It was rediscovered in the early 70’s and quickly became the darling of dopers everywhere.  The campy production and overacting are uproariously funny even when you’re NOT stoned.

“Reefer Madness” included themes typical for the day.  In middle America, marijuana use was something that people of color – like Mexican immigrants and black musicians – indulged in.  The racist tone of early anti-cannabis literature was common.  In Texas, a senator said on the floor of the Senate: “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy.”  Also, a 1934 newspaper story editorialized that “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”   What naturally followed was the usual fear-mongering; that Mexicans, Blacks and other foreigners were snaring white children with marijuana.  It became necessary to white America that the menace needed to be stopped to “protect our children”.  So, in 1937, a low-level functionary at the Bureau of Narcotics – Harry Anslinger – decided to make his career by making marijuana illegal.  Anslinger found an ally in William Randolph Hearst, who absolutely hated Mexicans and saw that lurid stories sold papers – even if they weren’t exactly true (sounds like Fox News!).  An excerpt from a published Hearst editorial says, “Users of marijuana become STIMULATED as they inhale the drug and are LIKELY TO DO ANYTHING. Most crimes of violence in this section, especially in country districts are laid to users of that drug.”   Thus, marijuana was made illegal, and we have been paying the penalty for it for over 70 years. 

The United States is spending, between the state and federal governments, over $30 billion per year on the “war on drugs”.  A bit more than half is spent on interdiction and enforcement; the remainder is spent on legal costs, incarceration, social services for the children of drug violators, and other social costs incidental to drug arrests and prosecutions.  Of the more than 1.8 million drug arrests in 2007, 47% of those were for marijuana.  More than 88% of the marijuana arrests were for simple possession; most of the rest were for possession with intent to sell.  These are the heinous “drug crimes” – possession – not robbery, or murder, or domestic violence, or assault.

The anti-drug culture says that marijuana smokers are doing themselves irreparable mental and physical harm.  However, a review of the literature suggests that the majority of cannabis users, who use the drug occasionally rather than on a daily basis, will not suffer any lasting physical or mental harm.  Daily users are more likely to suffer from similar tobacco-related illnesses than meth-related ones.  Despite the widespread illicit use of cannabis there are very few if any instances of people dying from an overdose.

The other powerful argument about marijuana is that it is a “gateway drug”, that is, use of marijuana will lead the individual to try other, more harmful drugs.  Marijuana is no more a gateway drug that alcohol or tobacco.  Indeed, studies have shown that adolescents generally experiment with tobacco and alcohol BEFORE trying marijuana.  If marijuana were legalized, most 12th graders felt that they would be little affected personally.  Three fifths (60%) of the respondents said that they would not use the drug even if it were legal to buy and use, and another 17% indicated they would use it about as often as they do now or less often.

Since marijuana was officially criminalized in 1937, over 97 million Americans have admitted to trying it.  They have found that it doesn’t make you violent, it doesn’t make you insane, and it doesn’t make you start shooting heroin.  Nobody has ever smoked some dope and beat up the old lady.  Nobody has ever smoked marijuana and jumped off a building because they think they can fly.  For the most part, it makes you laugh at the silliest things (like Reefer Madness), eat a pan of brownies, and fall asleep.



1. Health day - February 25, 2009

Nice post! Keep it real.I have looked over your blog a few times and I love it.

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