This article is written in two parts., “Part 1 : Background to the Drug War,” gives an essential history of the racist criminilzation of Marijuana. “Part 2: Marijuana Today,” is an analysis of the current “drug war” that has its roots in this racist history.
Part 1: Background to the Drug War
There is a great book that documents how hemp and marijuana proscriptions and the racist application of the law throughout its history came about. The book is free on the web. It’s called, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” by Jack Herer1—a tale of capitalist profit, greed and tyranny. Here’s are excerpts from Chapter 4, “The Last Days of Legal Cannabis” which outlines this history:
“In the mid-1930s, when the new mechanical hemp fiber stripping machines and machines to conserve hemp’s high-cellulose pulp finally became state-of-the-art, available and affordable, the enormous timber acreage and businesses of the Hearst Paper Manufacturing Division, Kimberly Clark (USA), St. Regis - and virtually all other timber, paper and large newspaper holding companies - stood to lose billions of dollars and perhaps go bankrupt…
“Coincidentally, in 1937, DuPont had just patented processes for making plastics from oil and coal, as well as a new sulfate/sulfite process for making paper from wood pulp. According to DuPont’s own corporate records and historians,* these processes accounted for over 80 percent of all the company’s railroad car loadings over the next 60 years into the 1990s…
“If hemp had not been made illegal, 80 percent of DuPont’s business would never have materialized and the great majority of the pollution, which has poisoned our Northwestern and Southeastern Rivers, would not have occurred…
“But competing against environmentally-sane hemp paper and natural plastic technology would have jeopardized the lucrative financial schemes of Hearst, DuPont and DuPont’s chief financial backer, Andrew Mellon of the Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh…
“In 1931, Mellon, in his role as Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury, appointed his future nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to be head of the newly reorganized Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (FBNDD), a post he held for the next 31 years…
“By the fall of 1936, Herman Oliphant (general counsel to the Treasury Department) had decided to employ the taxing power [of the federal government], but in a statute modeled after the National Firearms Act and wholly unrelated to the 1914 Harrison [narcotics] Act. Oliphant himself was in charge of preparing the bill. Anslinger directed his army to turn its campaign toward Washington...
“The key departure of the marijuana tax scheme from that of the Harrison Act is the notion of the prohibitive tax. Under the Harrison Act, a non-medical user could not legitimately buy or possess narcotics. To the dissenters in the Supreme Court decisions upholding the act, this clearly demonstrated that Congress’ motive was to prohibit conduct rather than raise revenue. So in the National Firearms Act, designed to prohibit traffic in machine guns, Congress ‘permitted’ anyone to buy a machine gun, but required him to pay a $200 transfer tax and carry out the purchase on an order form…
“The Firearms Act, passed in June 1934, was the first act to hide Congress’ motives behind a prohibitive tax. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the anti-machine gun law on March 29, 1937. Oliphant had undoubtedly been awaiting the Court’s decision, and the Treasury Department introduced its marijuana tax bill two weeks later, April 14, 1937…Thus, DuPont’s decision to invest in new technologies based on ‘forcing acceptance of sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganization’ makes sense…”
“Yellow Journalism” becomes the tool of oppression
“The war fury that led to the Spanish American War in 1898 was ignited by William Randolph Hearst, through his nationwide chain of newspapers, and marked the beginning of ‘yellow journalism’ as a force in American politics…
“In the 1920s and ’30s, Hearst’s newspapers deliberately manufactured a new threat to America and a new yellow journalism campaign to have hemp outlawed. For example, a story of a car accident in which a “marijuana cigarette” was found would dominate the headlines for weeks, while alcohol related car accidents (which outnumbered marijuana connected accidents by more than 10,000 to 1) made only the back pages…
“Starting with the 1898 Spanish American War, the Hearst newspaper had denounced Spaniards, Mexican-Americans and Latinos…
“After the seizure of 800,000 acres of Hearst’s prime Mexican timberland by the ‘marihuana’ smoking army of Pancho Villa, these slurs intensified…
“Non-stop for the next three decades, Hearst painted a picture of the lazy, pot-smoking Mexican—still one of our most insidious prejudices. Simultaneously, he waged a similar racist smear campaign against the Chinese, referring to them as the ‘Yellow Peril.’…
“From 1910 to 1920, Hearst’s newspapers would claim that the majority of incidents in which blacks were said to have raped white women, could be traced directly to cocaine. This continued for 10 years until Hearst decided it was not ‘cocaine-crazed Negroes’ raping white women—it was now ‘marijuana-crazed Negroes’ raping white women…
“Hearst’s and other sensationalistic tabloids ran hysterical headlines atop stories portraying ‘Negroes’ and Mexicans as frenzied beasts who, under the influence of marijuana, would play anti-white ‘voodoo-satanic’ music (jazz) and heap disrespect and ‘viciousness’ upon the predominantly white readership. Other such offenses resulting from this drug-induced ‘crime wave’ included: stepping on white men’s shadows, looking white people directly in the eye for three seconds or more, looking at a white woman twice, laughing at a white person, etc.”
Part 2: Marijuana Today
The U.S. incarceration rate is the largest in the entire world. Most of those in prison are in there because of drug-related convictions.
Treatment by police is completely arbitrary. But 90 percent of the prison population is poor. A high percentage is non-white. Rich people rarely go to jail for drug offenses unless, of course, they aren’t white.
The drug problem exists everywhere—in the inner cities, of course—but also in poverty-stricken rural areas. In those areas kids are sniffing gasoline and paint thinner to escape from their dreadful lives of poverty and destitution. In none of these areas is marijuana the “problem drug.” Cigarettes and alcohol still remain the most problematic of all the drugs causing tens thousands of deaths every year. But the point is, in the drug-infested neighborhoods of the poor the hard stuff—the most dangerous stuff—is the cheapest and easiest to buy and sell.
Thanks to the CIA, crack-cocaine goes hand in hand with the opiates to turn kids into zombies and then, blame them for their own addiction—“Just say no,” they tell these kids. Then, every TV show, every movie portrays the most violent and vicious, callous, unfeeling crimes being perpetrated by these very same drug-addicted kids—taking care to portray them as mostly and overwhelmingly Black or Latino.
“Gang Bangers” is the term used to describe kids living in abject poverty, without any education, without language skills, without the kind of deportment or clothing that would allow them into corporate society—the trash; the riffraff resulting from “too many poor people having too many babies!” That’s the view perpetrated by the bourgeois media. That’s the purpose of “The Jerry Springer Show.” For those watching to say to themselves, “these people are worthless and stupid! Who cares about them! They belong in jail.”
And the capitalists, using the most sanctimonious, self-righteous and condescending voice they can muster perpetuate this myth in every way possible. We need only mention the case of the New York kids convicted and incarcerated for over ten years for the beating and rape of a white jogger only to find out that the whole case was trumped up by the cops to perpetuate the myth of rampaging black youth in order to get more law enforcement money to repress them. In fact, the woman was raped and beaten by a solitary man! He, by the way, was convinced to come forward and confess to the crime by attorney Lynne Stewart, who is now facing prison for her role in defending “The Blind Sheik” (convicted of planning several bombings in New York—bombings that never took place.) The confession by this single attacker, spurred on by Lynne, finally lead to the release of the innocent youth.
Drug rehabilitation for real drug problems
Massive drug rehabilitation programs for hard drugs like heroine, cocaine and met amphetamines are desperately needed. And these programs must include educational development along with development of feelings of self-worth and ability. There is 50 percent unemployment among Black youth today! And 30 percent unemployment among poor white youth! Both are profoundly undereducated—victims of an unjust school funding system where the rich kids get way more than the poorest kids—those who need the most get the least!
Today we are faced with a tremendous drug problem most prominent among our poorest youth. And, while there is no difference in the amount of drug use among wealthier, white America, they are not in our prisons and jails and are not trying to make a living by selling it to each other in the streets.
Oh! There are plenty of drug dealers among white, rich kids; but to them it’s merely a hobby and a way to make friends—everyone likes to hang out with the marijuana dealer—but it’s not an economic necessity as it is among the poorest youth.
There is also the question of the medical use of marijuana. This is legal in many states and cities. San Francisco has Cannabis Clubs all over the city. But even the permits are distributed unequally. No doctor would proscribe Cannabis to a Black teenager—even if he or she would benefit from it for some health reason or other.
Just say no to the drug laws
We must oppose the unjust drug laws that allow the wealthy to go to Betty Fords to “recover” even when they are caught using and selling large quantities of extremely dangerous drugs and lock-up and throw away the key on the poor even for marijuana use and sale, and consistently fail to provide drug rehabilitation for even the most severe cases of drug dependency and addiction among the poor.
All drug problems should be treated until cured trying as many rehabilitation attempts as it takes to succeed! Saving lives must be society’s top priority!
Education and opportunity are the only real insurance against recurrence.
Marijuana and all drugs should be decriminalized
Marijuana use is not addictive and has caused no deaths on its own. Among the poor, marijuana is treated as the same as heroine or cocaine. Among the wealthy, even those drugs are considered “recreational.”
Here are some facts:
Annual American deaths caused by drugs: tobacco, 400,000; alcohol, 100,000; all legal drugs, 20,000; all illegal drugs, 15,000; caffeine, 2,000; aspirin, 500; marijuana, 0. (Source: United States government National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bureau of Mortality Statistics.)2
Marijuana, a convenient tool for the cops.
Most kids smoke or at least have tried marijuana. In a crowd of say, five kids, the cops are sure to find someone with a joint, and the cops can always use that discriminately. To them, the drug laws are just a means of putting them in control of the whole thing allowing them to pick and choose who to enforce the laws against.
It has been proven that the prohibition of drugs is counter-productive to reducing their use and dependency. Drug treatment, withdrawal and rehabilitation programs backed up with education, decent paying job opportunities and decent housing once one is “cured” of the addiction is the answer.
These are real, current and compelling issues among the poor and working class in this country
Workers are drug users—on the job, at home, when they are away on vacation. They smoke marijuana.
Who hasn’t gone to a concert and come out high just by being there? Or maybe you didn’t know why you were feeling so good!
But still, the reality still is that workers will get the book thrown at them if it suits the boss, the cops and their generals.
Marijuana is the recreational drug of choice of most American workers, both men and women. They work all day, come home exhausted and frustrated from the day’s work—and the gauntlet they have to go through, usually, to get there and back home—and look forward to smoking a joint, eating, playing with the kids and watching TV then getting up and doing it all over again. There’s not much time or energy left in an average worker’s life for anything else.
Money for drug rehabilitation, education, jobs and housing, not for war!
The enemy isn’t drugs, or too many poor quality, rotten people as the Jerry Springer’s would have us believe. It’s capitalism that judges human worth in dollars and cents. The solution to drug addiction is the cure and all that that entails, i.e., ultimately, the cure of our society by ridding it of the disease of capitalism.
We are struggling with encroaching barbarism now. The drug culture is part of it. It’s dog-eat-dog on the streets—each out for themselves and their own and to hell with everyone else. That’s just business as usual and don’t the cops know it and love it. And don’t they feed it and stir it up again and again! Let them kill each other. Who cares?
We must show we are on the side of the working class and that they along with their allies are the key to the better world we all know is possible.
We can’t get into the blame-game. Or purge those who may be using. Instead, our job is to expose the true nature of this “drug war on the poor” and fight for what is needed to solve the very real problems those suffering from drug addiction face. And to organize to eliminate capitalism, the real cause of the problem and the giant obstacle in the way of solving it.
2Source: Unite States government National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bureau of Mortality Statistics: http://www.cannabis.com/untoldstory/hemp_9.shtml