Posts Tagged ‘Legalize it

17
Oct
10

Defining change

I don’t know what it says about me that my favorite film of the past few months is a glacially slow, uber-dreary Romanian film by Corneliu Porumboiu, Politist Adjectiv.  Well, okay, that’s not entirely true.  I know what it says about me; it says that I’m exactly the sort of overeducated liberal elitist that the teapartiers have been complaining about.  Oh yeah, and I’m probably corrupting the youth of America with my radical marxist and/or fascist agenda, too.  Infecting them with my fact-and-reason based ideology. Sorry about that.

 

Yup, lots of shots of this guy, standing and looking sad. Romanians really know how to sell a film.

 

I can’t really recommend a film that reaches its dramatic climax when one guy reads dictionary definitions to another guy, though.  As much as I approve of dialectics in the classroom, it doesn’t make for the most exciting cinematic experience.  By all means, though, look it up if you’re into that sort of thing.

So, I don’t think I’m going to be giving too much away by describing the film.  Just in case, though, spoiler alert:  It’s all about a cop who doesn’t want to arrest a kid for smoking a joint.  As he points out to his bosses, the marijuana laws in Romania are a little anachronistic.  For all intents, simple possession has been decriminalized all across the more liberal countries in Europe.  The cop in this story points out that people smoke openly in Prague and Paris, and he complains that the 3-7 year prison sentence that the kid will receive is going to weigh too heavily on his conscience if he goes through with the arrest.  He keeps repeating his opinion that the draconian marijuana laws in Romania are on the cusp of being changed, but his bosses disagree.  More importantly, though, they disagree with his underlying belief that he has the right to consider his own views and feelings.

If that sounds familiar, that just means you’ve been paying attention.  Eric Holder’s recent statement to former DEA directors on the hopefully/potentially immanent passage of just that sort of decriminalization in California has been getting a lot of press coverage lately.   Holder isn’t really saying anything surprising when he asserts the DOJ’s strong opposition to Prop 19.  Just like it isn’t surprising that the DOJ will appeal US district court Judge Virginia Phillips’s injuction on the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy that the Obama administration has been trying to end, and just like it isn’t surprising that they’re also going to appeal U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro’s finding that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.  As odd as it sounds, our current Attorney General seems to feel that it’s his role to enforce the laws that we have, rather than the laws that he and his boss want.

 

Remember when this doofus was the top cop in the country? Yeah, I didn't think so.

 

Frankly, I’m not sure I understand all the hand-wringing from the progressives about this entirely-unsurprising discovery.  Wasn’t their complaint about Bush that he wasn’t following the law?

 

...that is to say, it used to be, back when we weren't doing it.

 

Well, okay, there were lots of complaints.  But I’m sure I remember hearing that one, too, among all the rest.

I don’t know about the rest of the complainers, but I voted for Obama – in part, anyway – because I wanted a return to rational, honest governance, not because I though he would just approve whatever I thought was right.  I wanted government to follow the law, and to improve it when they didn’t feel like it was effective, rather than just making shit up the way the Bush Administration did.  And for the most part, that’s just what we’ve had.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been happy to see more dramatic change – for instance, finding a way to fix Bush’s banking catastrofuck without simply handing bankers all the cash they wanted, or closing Guantanamo despite the difficulties, or choosing not to read my emails, etc. – but all things considered, I’m not unhappy, and I don’t think I understand why more people don’t share that sentiment.

 

At least the spelled his name correctly.

 

Well, that’s not entirely true, either; I suppose I do understand why all those Tea Party folks suddenly discovered that they cared about deficits as soon as Obama took office.  I’m just really surprised that anyone takes them seriously.

As I can’t seem to stop myself from repeating, if anyone deserves blame for the terrible economy, it’s the republicans who tanked it for us all, and then  decided that they’d rather see the country go down in flames than appease the black guy who happens to have been elected president of the US.

 

Remember when it was so important that we have "an up or down vote"? Yeah, I didn't think so.

 

I’ll reserve a little of that blame for the weak-kneed democrats in the Senate who can’t seem to overcome the handicap of an almost historic majority to actually, y’know, pass any of that legislation that they were all elected to pass, but the two don’t really compare.

Still, it was gratifying to read that some people in law enforcement have an awareness of history, and understand what’s actually going on here.  I’m talking about the former San Jose Chief of Police, Joseph McNamara, who was recently spotlighted in an article from the stoner-friendly Huffington Post.  Here’s the money quote:

“As we saw with the repeal of alcohol prohibition, it takes action from the states to push the federal government to change its policies…”Passing Proposition 19 in California will undoubtedly kick start a national conversation about changing our country’s obviously failed marijuana prohibition policies.”

His view seems persuasive, and sensible.  It’s not like the Feds can just tell us that they’re planning to ignore their own laws, but at the same time, they’re not going to be able to oppose the will of the states if they all decide to decriminalize marijuana, and it’s starting to seem like all of the states are on the same page.

And all things considered, I’m kinda glad that the republicans have decided to abandon their traditional “states’s rights” argument rather than stand with the rational center of the nation on this issue.  Not because I woudn’t like to see the policy end that much sooner, but just because I don’t like the idea of sharing even a little ideological ground with these clowns.

 

Dale Robertson, head of TeaParty.org. Back before the Tea Party leaders knew well enough to avoid being photographed.

 

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12
Aug
10

Support your local cartel

How many of us need to admit that the war on drugs is lost before we finally declare defeat and go home?  Does anyone in law enforcement or government seriously believe that keeping marijuana illegal does anything but enrich drug cartels?

The latest news from – of all places – Wisconsin:  ‘Marijuana Megafarm’ Hidden In Wisconsin National Forest

Cheesehead weedgrowers in the forest?   Nope.

Drug investigators believe Mexican cartels are largely responsible…Growing the drug here helps them get it to major American markets more quickly. They often import unskilled laborers from Mexico to help find the best land and tend their crops.

But why go all the way to Mexico when you can find good help right here?  The feds found evidence of money being wired to Modesto.  And then there’s this:

An unnamed informant arrested at the Seymour house told detectives on Wednesday he was in San Jose, Calif., several months ago when he was approached by a man who asked him if he wanted to work at a ranch. This person arranged for the man to travel to Green Bay, where he met Nunez-Guzman.

The informant said he helped dry marijuana at the house and Nunez-Guzman, also known as “Green Bay,” was the boss. He came to the house every 15 days to check on the operation and sent a runner into the woods every three days to check the crop.

Yep.  It’s that easy.  Time to declare “Mission Accomplished” and stop all this foolishness.

30
Jul
10

Don’t fear the flower

If I’ve given the impression that I despise all things that smack of political conservatism, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that my all-time favorite blogger is the conservative ex-brit, Andrew Sullivan.  So, okay, he’s a gay intellectual conservative with the sort of firm grasp of political history that eludes most of his fellow conservatives, and he probably despises republicans even more than I do, but I still think my admiration shows that I can be just a little open-minded, every now and again.

Or maybe I just like him because he’s been such an open advocate for legalization.  Well, I should say that he’s been an open advocate for legalization at least from the time that he got busted for possession.  It’s still a pretty brave stance to take for such a mainstream conservative writer.

Anyway.  Hat tip to Sullivan for linking to this beautiful cartoon.  Makes you think.  If we can be so easily frightened into the paranoid world portrayed above because of a flower, how long before the kitten police spring into action?  Or maybe the next threat we focus on will be cartoons.  Won’t somebody think of the children?

21
May
10

Atlas Shirked, or, the Problem with Relying upon Libertarians

Following his surprising primary win in Kentucky, Rand Paul has become only the most recent public figure to reveal libertarianism as the sadly-deficient political ideology that it is; the hobgoblin of small-minded people.  Like his namesake, Ayn Rand, Paul has risen to prominence by touting a philosophy that appeals to the ignorantly-selfish, blindly-privileged masses lacking in the sort of rational perspective it takes to see the uneven playing field upon which we all find ourselves, those unwilling to see their own privilege when it becomes inconvenient.

All things being equal, libertarianism might be an appealing philosophy.  Call me when all things are equal.

If you’ve missed the entertaining display of political expediency and public ignorance recently emerging out of Kentucky’s Republican primary race, here’s Paul on the the Rachel Maddow Show, flailing to defend his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and institutional racism, in general):

Paul has been busy spinning his increasingly-contradictory views ever since, trying to make it look like he has some reasonable arguments underlying his objectionable viewpoints; and he’s been excoriated in the press and the blogosphere – mostly because he doesn’t.  As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his post, “The Proud Ignorance of Rand Paul,” these sorts of views seem to make sense in an inverse proportion to the amount of knowledge actually involved.

And this is where the problem comes closest to home – Cannabis activists have been overly-dependent upon libertarians for support for some time now, and that dependence might just become a problem as the realities of legalization set in.    After all, at some point, practical rules will be implemented to manage the coming out party for this billion dollar industry, and if there’s one thing Libertarians are bad at it’s the implementation of practical rules.

Bill Maher may be a useful spokesperson for the movement, but he’s no politician and politicians bring their own set of problems.  First of all, there’s the problem of consistency.  As Rand Paul’s own candidacy reveals, libertarians can be as changeable with respect to their deeply-held convictions as any other pol, and sometimes the appealing face of libertarian purity is simply a mask for the more typical biases of conservative populism.   Paul is running for office in Kentucky, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but even though he seems perfectly fine opposing the Civil Rights Act on ideological grounds, he doesn’t seem as consistently committed on all issues.   As Time Magazine reports,

Paul has lately said he would not leave abortion to the states, he doesn’t believe in legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine, he’d support federal drug laws, he’d vote to support Kentucky’s coal interests and he’d be tough on national security.

So watch out for those political winds, because the support you count on may blow away when elections hang in the balance.

But there’s another, even more significant problem lurking behind the appealing face of libertarian support for legalization, and that is that libertarianism seems appealing in inverse proportion to the practicality of its tenants.   Those paranoid fears of big business taking over the industry?  That’s exactly what a libertarian regime would bring about (if any such thing could exist).  Not because libertarians favor big business, but because libertarians turn a blind eye towards the routine exercise of practical power.   They choose not to acknowledge the realities that exist, because doing so would undermine their ideological positions, but that willful ignorance is the same as tacit acceptance of the status quo.  Just because you believe in a level playing field doesn’t mean it exists, and businesses have perfected the art of unleveling playing fields in the U.S.  for good reason – because it profits them to do so.  Turning a blind eye to that practice only makes their jobs a little easier.

I’ve been railing against the Tea Party movement lately, and not just because it so clearly basks in the racist, nativist, xenophobic climate of the aging conservative movement, but because it celebrates a platform of non-governance.  Non-governance in the abstract might sound appealing, especially given the problems that governance has presented us with for much of the 21st century, but given the practical power exercised in our society by business forces, retreat is surrender, and I’m not in favor of turning over the levers of power to the business interests who already have their greedy hands on too many of those levers.  Flawed though it may be, government is all that stands between the unimpowered citizenry and the evil that men do.  Attacking the sole force capable of representing our collective interests against those forces seeking to exploit our weakness is simply insane.  And if you had to come up with a philosophy that enshrines that sort of insanity, you’d call it libertarianism.

All things being equal, we wouldn’t have to rely upon government to protect our interests.  Call me when all things are equal.

08
May
10

The Difference between Outlaws and Villains

Are the arguments getting shrill or is that just the sound of an engaged public?

My conversations about legalization have turned into arguments, but even as the volume goes up, the “arguments” against legalization remain entirely uncompelling.  Is the Emerald Triangle getting a bad rap in the press?  Are they unfairly portraying us as a greedy, hypocritical community by shining a national spotlight on a cynical few growers  coming out against the legalization of marijuana just because it’ll hurt their bottom line?  I dunno, maybe you all are just having to face the prospect that capitalism isn’t as discriminating as its most vocal advocates.

If there’s a moral argument to be made in favor of the status quo, I’ve yet to hear it.   In fact, if there’s an argument against legalization that isn’t either outright immoral or based upon easily-disproveable misinformation, I’ve yet to hear it.   At least the people foolish enough to believe that pot is a social danger are acting out of good faith when they oppose legalization.  You really can’t say the same about the people sporting those nifty “Keep pot illegal” bumperstickers.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of arguments, though.   The socialist government is infringing, the soulless corporations are encroaching, big Pharma is funding the proposition.  Bah.  Teabags full of weed is all I see.

Sift through all of the anti-legalization arguments that have been sprouting up in the past few months, and here’s what you’re left with:  There’s money to be made, and soon there might not be.   Boom, meet bust.  Again.

I empathize, but I don’t sympathize.   Sure, this area has suffered this sort of thing more than many areas of the country, but we haven’t exactly cornered the market on unemployment.  There might be a powerful curse up here, but it sure isn’t as powerful as the one the Cherokees left in Appalachia or the one the Ford family left in Michigan.  Still, I like the community.  I’m not eager to see what happens when yet another keystone industry shuts down and lots of people living up here lose their primary sources of revenue.  Again.

That said, there’s a thin line between living as an outlaw and living as a villain.  I’m not sure the rebel growers I’ve been talking with lately recognize that line, but they’re in danger of crossing it all the same.

I’ve always been an outlaw at heart, so even if I’m not making my living as an outlaw, I want to remain open to what is good about the outlaws I live amongst.  I’ve never really believed the bad things that people say about you weed growers – you’re not all spilling diesel fuel into the forest, you’re not all kidnapping poor campesinos from Mexico and forcing them to guard your guerrilla patches in the national forests, you’re not all spraying Raid on your spider-mite infested product and passing it off as organic.  The few bad apples shouldn’t be allowed to spoil the whole barrel, and certainly the growers I’ve met up here resemble nothing so much as pretty much every other working man or woman I’ve ever known, doing just about anything else just to get by.   You’re “us,” not “them.”   Regardless of how you’re portrayed in the popular media.

So, outlaw weed-growers supporting the continued criminalization of marijuana, I’m about as sympathetic an opponent as you could hope for.  Unlike your natural opponents, I don’t automatically hold it against you for operating outside this particular law, because this particular law has been stupid, ill-conceived and vindictive in its application from the start.   And most of the arguments coming from your natural enemies are as stupid as the law you break.  Beside the diesel-spilling, forest-ruining, campesino-running tropes that have been circulating in the mass media for years, the one I’ve heard most often in the context of legalization focuses squarely on the money.  Specifically, I’ve heard some critics whine about the fact that you growers don’t pay taxes.   That’s a disingenuous argument at best, and it’s even a little misleading.  Because you do pay some taxes – sales tax, gas tax, cigarette tax, property tax, telephone tax, etc.; you just don’t pay income tax, but that’s because you derive your income from a source that the government won’t let you pay taxes on.  (Well, they will, they’ll just arrest you as soon as you do.)  So I’m not holding that against you.

In fact, there’s lots I’m not holding against you.  But that doesn’t mean I buy your cynical justification to continue the stupid, ill-conceived, vindictive law in question, just because you can make a good living off of it.  When some people go to jail to keep your profit margins high, that’s valuing money over people.   And it’s morally indefensible, especially when legalization is in reach.

Sure, there are legitimate concerns to be worked out.  Legalization as an end in and of itself doesn’t necessarily represent the best of all possible worlds, depending upon its eventual implementation.  But the criminalization of weed is an outright bad thing, and it should be ended as quickly as possible.  I’ll concede that if legalization turns marijuana into the next alcohol/tobacco/pharmaceutical industry, that might not be a good thing (though I still think it would be better than what we have now), but that future isn’t yet written.

In fact, even a worst case scenario sounds exponentially better, for vast numbers of people, than the status quo:  You say that big Pharma will just create a whole slew of unnecessary and expensive weed products to sell to the masses, and that’s a bad thing.  Okay, but at the same time, altruistic medical researchers finally get the opportunity to apply modern science to something that already looks a little like a miracle drug in its raw form, one that’s been off-limits to them for a century.

You say RJR Reynolds is going to plant acres of corporate weed and undersell you out of business.  I feel for you, but at the same time the police lose their easiest excuse to funnel the disadvantaged into the prison industrial complex while at the same time getting the drug cartels out of the marijuana trade.   It might be true that good people who operate in the shadows will lose money, but you can’t deny that there’s some nasty shit in those shadows, and that goes too.  No more diesel spills or forest grows or mexican mafia stories circulating in the news.  At least, not for cannabis growing.

The proposition currently on the ballot is deliberately vague about how the new legal industry would work, and the fact that the Feds would still put anyone who reports marijuana income in jail probably makes this round of legalization moot.  I would hope that small farmers would be protected and supported by local laws, but who’s to say.  Maybe instead of opposing legalization, all you decent hardworking growers should be working to convince your local representatives to support your livelihood.

Regardless of how much money a few good people might lose if California legalizes, opposing legalization in one place while it goes through in others makes the opposition look idiotic.  Legalization will probably become a reality in more states than just ours, so I don’t see the upside in dragging our feet.  If legalization doesn’t pass in California, but it does pass in Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, etc. – local growers will still be out of a job.  There’s a new economic reality coming one way or another, and I think it’s better to be in on the discussion of how that new economy is shaped than to sit on the sidelines and watch what happens.  The past might have been nice for some, but it’s not coming back.

Here’s why I don’t have much sympathy for those who want to vote no strictly to protect their own way of life.  Sure, some of my neighbors have put together a nice life based upon the high prices that come with illegality.  How many people have ended up in jail to ensure those high prices?  I don’t know, but I know that people have ended up in jail to protect those high prices.  That’s why I find the position ethically indefensible.  On a strictly utilitarian basis, the suffering of those who have been persecuted outwieghs the pleasure enjoyed by those not yet caught by the police or the feds.

Here’s the other thing that has my goat recently.  I keep hearing growers complaining that they won’t pay taxes, even if it becomes legal and safe to do so.  And why?  Because they feel like they’re on their own – they make money from their own hard labor and risk everything to keep what they earn.  They don’t feel like they have to give back, because they don’t feel like anyone in the community has helped them.  But of course, that’s just what every ignorant anti-tax crusader says, and they say it because they’re either tragically ignorant or willfully ignorant.  Because we all benefit from the tax base – roads, electrical grids, the availability of social services, hospitals, safe drinking water, fire protection, schools, etc., etc., etc.  Only Americans who have never been to a third world country have the balls to say that they do it all on their own, and only because they can’t conceive of what life would look like if they really had to do it all on their own.

So, anyway, now growers have the possibility of going legit in reach, and actually pulling their own weight as members of the community that they’ve always belonged to, but haven’t fully contributed to.  And they want to vote no.  Because they won’t make as much money.  Yeah – no sympathy.

Maybe this proposed legalization isn’t as good as some, utopian version of legalization that might turn up in the future. Might…Maybe…but that works both ways.  There’s no way of knowing what might happen if California rejects the current proposition.  But like I said, I haven’t heard a good argument for why anyone who knows how harmless marijuana is would reject the benefits of legalization being offered, other than simple greed, and that’s nothing to organize a rebellion around.

And in case anyone isn’t clear about what’s really at stake here, watch how the seven-year-old child in this video reacts to the SWAT team shooting her pet corgi, all because her dad had a couple of ounces of weed in his house.   If you had the opportunity to prevent that, and you decided not to because you could make some money off of the law allowing that, how could you call it anything but indefensible?

20
Apr
10

When Cannabis became “marihuana”

Responding to my earlier post on the racial subtext underlying the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, Goldie asked:

When did a plant named cannabis, which sounds like hibiscus, or camellia, get turned into a substance called marijuana, which sounds foreign, sneaky and dangerous?

I started to answer, but then I re-read her post and realized that she already knew the answer.  Still, as she points out, it’s the telling point behind the modern practice of assigning blame to specific racial groups that I addressed.

Spyrock just posted a whole bunch of good historical information from Wikipedia on the racism underlying the official U.S. responses to cannabis on Ernie’s Place, and a lot of what he’s written resonates with me.  First, it’s worth remembering that cannabis was once legal and widely used across the U.S., and that wide-spread use caused no social problems, created no social or moral hazards and threatened no children.  Peter Guither (and Spyrock) points out, far from discouraging its use, the first U.S. law on marijuana actually compelled farmers to grow.  As he writes on Drug War Rant.com:

America’s first marijuana law was enacted at Jamestown Colony, Virginia in 1619. It was a law “ordering” all farmers to grow Indian hempseed. There were several other “must grow” laws over the next 200 years (you could be jailed for not growing hemp during times of shortage in Virginia between 1763 and 1767), and during most of that time, hemp was legal tender (you could even pay your taxes with hemp — try that today!) Hemp was such a critical crop for a number of purposes (including essential war requirements – rope, etc.) that the government went out of its way to encourage growth.

The United States Census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp “plantations” (minimum 2,000-acre farm) growing cannabis hemp for cloth, canvas and even the cordage used for baling cotton.

Of course, hemp isn’t marijuana, and the U.S. government wasn’t exactly insisting that everyone with land smoke weed. But it is the same plant, and it’s pretty clear from that historical overview that all of the paranoiac hyperbole and invective that’s been spread over the spread of the weed since that time had to be manufactured wholecloth (so to speak).  In other words, there’s nothing natural or obvious or essential to the claims of marijuana’s social harms.

Rather, those paranoid ravings had to be manufactured for an uneducated and easily manipulated public out of something powerful enough to cause a nationwide freakout.  Racism has always the handiest tool for those tools intent on scaring the shit out of people, but when it comes to scaring people about the dangers of weed it wasn’t always the racism that we know.  In fact, back before cannabis became “marihuana,” it first became hashisch.  Oh, and no surprise here – it all started in California.

Here’s the backstory on weed and your great-great-great-grandparent’s racism.  “Indian Hemp” was already a commonly-used term during the colonial period, but as that above-cited law from 1619 suggests, the “Indian” in the hemp wasn’t always percieved as a bad thing.  That changed in the early part of the 20th century, as the practice of associating cannabis with a foreign threat emerged as a populist political strategy – obviously, the “indian threat” here is Asian, not Native American.

In 1911, Henry J. Finger, a California pharmacist who was posing as the U.S. “expert” at an international conference in The Hague, Netherlands, offered this surprising rationale for controlling “Indian Hemp:”  He argued that Cannabis should be lumped together with opium and other narcotic drugs because of “San Francisco’s concern over the large influx of Hindoos who were introducing whites into their habit.”  Read the whole irrational claim here.

Given the cultural animosity directed against Asia during the early 20th century, it isn’t too surprising that the drug threat was first identified as coming from the East.  There was already a recognition of abuse buried in the term, haschish – part of the orientalism of Europe, and part of our cultural legacy – so that was a pretty easy strategy to employ at a time when anti-Asian racism was at its height.  And it’s not just the “Hindoos” in the cross-hairs, either.

The anti-asian sentiment comes across loud and clear in Dr. William C. Woodward’s testimony before the House of Representative during the 1937 hearings – testimony, it’s worth pointing out, opposing the government’s attempts to criminalize marijuana.  Reflecting the long regulatory tradition of damning by association, the threat of marijuana in the U.S. was linked to a perceived Japanese strategy of undermining China by promoting the use of opium.

During his testimony, Dr. Woodward addressed the use of the term we now commonly accept, stating:

The term “marihuana” is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of Cannabis preparations for smoking. It is not recognized in medicine, and I might say that it is hardly recognized even in the Treasury Department.

So, not a Mongol threat, but “mongrel” threat.   And he’s not talking about dogs, either.  “Mongrel” was one of the terms  that Anglo-Americans commonly used in the early 2oth century to imply their own racial superiority over creole peoples around the world, but primarily in Latin America.  Claims to racial purity have fallen out of favor since the end of WWII, but the social prejudices underlying that usage hasn’t gone away so much as it’s been transformed into more socially-acceptable categories.

And that brings us back to the racism we know.   From Cannabis to Indian Hemp to Haschish to Marijuana.  We’re not much worried by the Hindoos anymore, and we’re not feeling threatened by any secret plots coming from Japan, but you don’t have to keep up with the news much to re-connect with the longstanding practice of blaming American problems on Mexico.  Arizona just passed the most restrictive DWB law (driving while brown), the Tea Partiers have recently been shifting their anger from Obama’s Fascist-Marxist-Communist plan to steal America for the Kenyans to being outraged about the national threat represented by the poor immigrants who pick our crops and clean up after us (again).  The Feds are about to take on the immigration issue again, so we’ll certainly be seeing an increase in nativist rage soon enough.  And even though almost all of the growers I’ve met up here look pretty white, the tee-vee keeps telling me that its the Mexican mafia who’s growing weed up in this area.

So to answer that question I started out with – the plant that once sounds like a plant became the social problem we recognize today when straight-up racism collided with irrational conservatism, turning sweet-sounding cannabis into “Killer Weed.”    The best source I’ve seen on how that occurred is in “Anslingerian Politics,” an academic paper by Jesse J. Ransom of the  Harvard Law School, fortunately now available online.  Here’s the money quote:

There is evidence that the phenomenon of marijuana use by socially marginal groups…was a major contributing factor in fostering the anti-marijuana sentiment that led to the passing of the Marihuana Tax Act. During the years before the Act’s passage, marijuana was widely associated with African-Americans, Mexicans, and other socially marginal groups that were prejudicially perceived as prone to aggressive and violent behavior.   Some historians have argued that marijuana’s association with these supposedly violent groups led to its association with the fostering of violent behavior in the minds of the non-marginal population.  This association in the minds of the general population of violent behavior with the “violent”
Mexicans may or may not have been a significant public concern in the years leading up to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act.
There is still some debate as to whether or not the public’s fear of the “violent, doped-up Mexican” was actually widespread, significant, or even genuine.  What is not generally open for debate, however, is that the claims (true or not) of public officials that the public was highly concerned about “violent marijuana smokers” certainly contributed significantly to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act.  (17-18)
The politician didn’t do all the heavy lifting themselves, though.  As Greg Pivarnik wrote in his college newspaper
recently,

The second leg of marijuana prohibition involved yellow journalism, mainly under the leadership of William Randolph Hearst, the owner of one of the largest newspaper chains in the United States.  In many stories, writers often tied marijuana to violent crimes, including rapes and murders, earning its reputation as the “killer weed.” Often these reports were unsubstantiated.  There was never any scientific proof cited that marijuana caused the violence.  Many of the culprits tried to pin their behavior on their marijuana use, claiming it made them crazy.  This was good enough for many reporters despite the lack of scientific evidence.  This could allow states to rationalize the deportation, imprisonment, and immigration quotas of Mexican workers.

The stories of minority perpetrators often added to the marijuana hostility by whites.  In 1935, a Sacramento, Calif. reader wrote to The New York Times stating “Marijuana, perhaps the most insidious of narcotics, is a direct by-product of unrestricted Mexican immigration .  Mexican peddlers have been caught distributing marijuana cigarettes to school children.” Harry J.  Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the organization in charge of instituting marijuana prohibition, presented a letter he received from the editor of a Colorado newspaper as part of his testimony in favor of the Marihuana Tax Act.  The letter described an attack by a Mexican-American under the influence of marijuana on a girl in the region and went on to state, “I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents.  That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of whom are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions.”

Racism makes for good politics, then and now.  We don’t have to look very far these days to see that.  The truly fascinating part, though, according to Ransom, is that the law preceded the social behavior it was designed to prevent.  Got that?  Here’s what he writes:
Contrary to lamentations of much of the anti-marijuana propaganda of the late 1930’s, use of marijuana among adolescents did not become a prevalent phenomenon until the 1960’s, long after the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act.
Quite some time ago, Michel Foucault argued that societies create the categories of criminality that they want, rather than the other way around.  Though dense, Discipline and Punish (his seminal study on the rise of the prison system) is worth the effort it takes to read it, if only because it so persuasively  supports that seemingly counter-intuitive behavior.  But to make a long answer end:
Q:  How did a flower turn into a moral hazard, and then a social problem, and then a century long excuse for bad behavior?
A:  Racism, stupidity, mass media populism, political opportunism.
I wonder when we’ll see those elements come together again?
10
Apr
10

Another brick off the wall

Maryland Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill.   Read the story here.

The real story, though, is the margin.  The bill passed the MD senate 35-12.    That’s not opposition; that’s just a speed bump.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Ryan Grim points out the national context:

The medical marijuana movement is surging across the country. This year, more than a dozen other states, including New York, Illinois, Delaware, South Dakota, Arizona and Kansas, are considering medical marijuana laws. If present trends continue, more than half the population will soon live in states where medical marijuana is legal.

As more and more states adopt a California-style medical marijuana approach and find that the sky doesn’t fall as a result, it’s going to get harder and harder to make the argument that the sky will fall if pot becomes legal.  The tipping point is probably already somewhere behind us, rather than in front of us.  At this point, it would take active federal opposition to stop this movement, and I don’t see that happening.  Obama hasn’t wanted to show support for legalization (for obvious reasons), but he’s given no indication that he’s going to waste political capital trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.  And fortunately, his opposition is so cartoonishly absurd that he doesn’t need to posture against marijuana to look serious about governing.

What’s more, the states that continue to treat marijuana as a problem are going to look increasingly foolish, backwards and cruel as more and more of their neighboring states call off the dogs.  Some may decide to hold the line against legalization, but that sort of organized foolishness produces its own politics.   After all, you can still finds dry counties across the country – though mostly in the South – where prohibition rules, but you don’t hear anyone bragging about it.