Legalized marijuana faces history of demonization

By: Kaleb Bengston

We’re seeing a paradoxical situation in the realm of recreational marijuana. There was a huge push in legalization, and now that it’s becoming a reality, the naysayers are coming out of the woodwork.

“Reefer Madness” is what that scare is called, and although we all know that is no longer true, the same fears hide in the underlining. “Reefer Madness”  is a 1936-1939 American propaganda exploitation film revolving around the melodramatic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana, leading to a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape and descent into madness due to marijuana addiction. The film was directed by Louis Gasnier and starred a cast composed of mostly unknown bit actors. It was produced by a church group named “Tell Your Children” advocating teaching your children about the “dangers of cannabis use.”

But, the criminalization of weed is filled with questionable motives. The history of cannabis criminalization is chalk full of racism, fear, protection of corporate profits, yellow journalism, incompetent legislators and greed. Marijuana hasn’t always been illegal; it’s a fairly new law. It was legal when President Ronald Reagan was a kid — ironic after the Just Say No campaign that his wife lead during his tenure.

During the course of marijuana criminalization, there was a man named Harry Anslinger. He was quite deplorable by today’s standards, but held a major political role in the banning of weed. He was quite racist, and here are his comments for the support of criminalization: “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. Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

Between Anslinger’s ruminations on the need to keep marijuana away from minorities, especially the entertainers, were countless other fabrications about the health effects of pot. It was “more dangerous than heroin or cocaine” and “leads to pacifism and Communist brainwashing,’’ he claimed. One of the funniest things he’s said is, “If you smoke a joint, you’re likely to kill your brother.”

There are the people who spend millions of dollars lobbying for keeping weed illegal. And it’s not for “the protection of the people.” It’s for securing profit. Police Unions rely on federal drug war grants to finance their budgets. These unions fight for harder punishment so that the revenue stays constant, and therefore have more money to lobby for harsher laws.

Private prisons are in on it too. Prisons are paid for the amount of people they have incarcerated, including drug abusers, which are a high majority of marijuana users and sellers.

As Republic Report’s Matt Stoller  noted last year, Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, revealed in a regulatory filing that continuing the drug war is part in parcel to their business strategy. Prison companies have spent millions bankrolling pro-drug war politicians and have used secretive front groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, to pass harsh sentencing requirements for drug crimes.

Another special interest group working to keep marijuana illegal is alcohol and beer companies. They fear the competition that legal marijuana might bring, so they contributed campaign contributions to a committee that was set up to prevent marijuana from being legalized.

Finally, big pharma. Like the industries listed above, pharmaceutical interests would like to keep marijuana illegal so Americans do not have the option of medical alternatives to their products. Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now lobbies the government to relax marijuana prohibition laws, told Republic Report that next to police unions, the “second biggest opponent on Capitol Hill is big pharma” because marijuana can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”

Yellow journalism, or just plain media hype, has to take responsibility for the prohibition. The fear mongering and exaggeration of drug use, especially of marijuana, has brought many misconceptions to the plant.

Let’s clear up some misconceptions: Is marijuana a gateway drug? New research from the University of New Hampshire says no. Marijuana is only a gateway to those under severe mental or social stress; most people who smoke pot do not move on to use harder drugs. Another, does pot make you crazy or cause mental illness? No. Easy as that, there has been no proof linking anything neurologically wrong to weed.

Weed causes lung cancer? No definitive proof, but a study by UCLA in 2006 pointed to no connections, as it has significantly less chemicals in it.

Is marijuana addictive? No, at least not physically. You can become psychologically addicted, just as you can become psychologically addicted to TV or a smartphone.

Marijuana affects memory? Partially true, only short term memory, and only when high are those memories during the high compromised.

Pot is significantly better for you, not all healthy though, than the other things legal for use. Cigarettes are known to be addictive and lead to lung cancer. People also die of alcohol poisoning, as there have been 37,000 deaths annually due to alcohol, not including accidental deaths. Health risks for alcohol are eight times higher than that of pot.

Marijuana should get legalized. If you don’t want to smoke it, don’t. But marijuana is a profitable business, and if legalized and taxed, it is estimated a total of $100 billion would be made per year. Colorado alone on the first day legal, the collective shops made over $1 million. That’s a lot for one day, one state.

Weed would likely become our cash crop, and that money could go into schools, like Colorado did, or the debt or national budget or anything. It’s billions of dollars our country didn’t have previously.

Pot is not a scary drug, it’s covered in myth and fear, with a nice coat of racism. There’s no point for it to be scheduled a Class 1 drug, grouped in with heroin. It’s time for reformation, and our nation is on the way to making a great change if we do legalize.

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