Anti-marijuana laws were based on racism, not science

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Is marijuana's beer-like buzz more damaging than what people get from hard liquor? Is there a scientific reason why this drug is deemed so dangerous and illegal? Nope. It turns out that marijuana prohibition laws in the 1930s were designed to prevent "darkies" from thinking "they're as good as white men."

Over at The Fix, Maia Szalavitz has a great takedown of pundits like Tina Brown and David Brooks, who recently made specious claims that marijuana makes you stupider. Brown actually said Americans who smoke pot won't be able to "compete" with the Chinese. Her moment of xenophobia wasn't out of keeping with the history of anti-pot rhetoric.


Writes Szalavitz:

The truth is that our perceptions of marijuana—and in fact all of our drug laws—are based on early 20th century racism and "science" circa the Jim Crow era. In the early decades of the 20th century, the drug was linked to Mexican immigrants and black jazzmen, who were seen as potentially dangerous.

Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (an early predecessor of the DEA), was one of the driving forces behind pot prohibition. He pushed it for explicitly racist reasons, saying, "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men," and:

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."

The main reason to prohibit marijuana, he said was "its effect on the degenerate races." (And god forbid women should sleep with entertainers!)

Although it sounds absurd now, it was this type of propaganda that caused the drug to be outlawed in 1937—along with support from the Hearst newspapers, which ran ads calling marijuana "the assassin of youth" and published stories about how it led to violence and insanity. Anslinger remained as head of federal narcotics efforts as late as 1962, whereafter he spread his poisonous message to the world as the American representative to the U.N. for drug policy for a further two years.

Before marijuana was made illegal, the American Medical Association's opposition to prohibition was ignored, as was an earlier report on marijuana in India by the British government, which did not find marijuana to be particularly addictive or dangerous. That "Indian Hemp Drugs Committee" reporthad concluded way back in 1894 that, "The moderate use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all."


Read more at The Fix