Back in the 1930s, after FDR ended alcohol prohibition, a certain Harry Anslinger, the former head of the 'US Prohibition Bureau' and newly appointed chief of the 'Federal Narcotics Bureau' that was created in 1930, became very concerned for the future of his job and that of his bureaucracy. There was a budget squeeze, alcohol was suddenly legal again, and there was seemingly not much to do anymore for the man whom a biographer referred to as “a cross between William Jennings Bryan and Jerry Falwell”.
Presto, the 'devil weed' was born. Up until that time, no-one had bothered much about marijuana, in fact, only very few people even knew it existed. Only about 2% of the population was using it. Moreover, to those who came into contact with cannabis and its users, it was quite obvious that it was completely harmless.
Anslinger started a campaign of demonization and lies that would have made Goebbels proud. The fact that most of the users at the time were African-Americans and Mexicans was exploited by the racist Anslinger to influence popular opinion. Here are a few of the things he said, a mixture of racism, scaremongering and lies that tells one all one needs to know about the man's character:
“Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men”.
“… the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races”
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, 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.”
“Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”
“Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”
“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”
“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
So much for the mindset of the Ur-marijuana prohibitionist. The principal witness at the 1937 Congressional hearing which preceded prohibition was, you guessed it, Harry Anslinger. His evidence consisted of news-clippings of lurid tabloid stories he himself had helped originate. One legal observer called the hearing “an almost comical example of dereliction of legislative responsibility”. It was this legislation that was responsible for one day filling US prisons to the brim with people sentenced for committing victimless crimes. But Anslinger's bureaucracy sure began to prosper beyond his wildest imaginings.
Anslinger was helped in his endeavor by William Randolph Hearst, who owned vast timber plantations and wanted to destroy the competition of hemp-based paper. Like Anslinger, Hearst was a racist. He is said to have especially hated Mexicans, who were known to like marijuana. Later chemical giant Du Pont also chipped in to the propaganda campaign, for similar reasons: hemp was to be suppressed as a competitor to its artificial fibers.
Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Council of the American Medical Association, was the only person arguing against prohibition at the hearings, as he saw no medical reasons that could justify it.
But yellow journalism ultimately won the day (Congressmen in support of Anslinger confronted Woodward with lurid newspaper clippings as well. It's in the paper so it must be true!). The people responsible for prohibition all pursued their personal interests. Their motives were not pure, on the contrary, they were the lowest motives imaginable. They didn't care one whit about anybody's health. It was all about gaining power and money by political means.
Poster of one of the propaganda films that helped turn popular opinion against hemp
The end results speak for themselves. Today there exists a vast prison-industrial complex, huge and costly bureaucracies charged with enforcing prohibition (and failing to succeed in eradicating drug use with a consistency that is truly remarkable), and criminal cartels that make so much money that it has been speculated that their cash was instrumental in keeping the tottering US banking system afloat in the 2008 crisis. They represent a powerful block of vested interests that has kept prohibition going for more than seven decades.
With this, marijuana prohibition has already lasted a little longer than that other major mistake in 20th century social engineering, communism. The criminal element in the form of drug cartels and the criminalization of users have done orders of magnitude more harm to society than the drug itself ever could. In fact, cannabis is unlikely to be doing any harm whatsoever (note that studies that say otherwise are invariably funded by one of the interest groups that want prohibition to continue).
Rather it has proven to be helpful as a symptomatic treatment for a number of health conditions that are untreatable otherwise. That the violence of the drug cartels and the incarceration of users are inflicting untold harm is on the other hand beyond doubt. With the move toward full-scale legalization gathering pace after two US states have legalized marijuana use both for medical and recreational purposes, the drug cartels of Mexico are beginning to feel the pinch.
Cartels in Trouble – Who Could Have Known?
From a libertarian standpoint, the main argument is of course that it is none of the State's business what people choose to ingest. However, those pushing for legalization have also forwarded a number of utilitarian arguments that cannot be refuted. One is that the so-called 'war on drugs' is a huge waste of effort and resources, due to the fact that it cannot be 'won'. Those pursuing it of course don't even want to 'win' it, as that would cost them their job. They can obviously not admit that they are not even interested in 'winning the war', so they continue to insist on the fiction that it somehow all makes sense, in spite of the mountains of evidence proving otherwise.
One of the utilitarian arguments concerns the drug cartels: take the source of their income away, and they will falter. After all, prohibition is precisely what creates their income, as it keeps prices artificially high. At the same time, prohibition has obviously completely failed to destroy the market for illegal drugs as such. Given that the percentage of marijuana users has risen about ten-fold (if not more) since the drug was originally made illegal, it seems likely that it has actually increased the weed's popularity.
To no-one's surprise, the argument regarding the drug cartels is already proven by evidence that has recently emerged. The East Bay Express reports:
“For the first time in generations, farmers in central Mexico have stopped planting marijuana.
Due to ample supplies up north, courtesy of medical and recreational cannabis legalization, cartel farmers can’t make any money off pot anymore, they told the Washington Post this week. The price for a pound of Mexican marijuana has plummeted 75 percent from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.
"'It’s not worth it anymore,'" said 50 year-old Rodrigo Silla, a lifelong cannabis farmer. He also told the Post he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others stopped growing mota. “'I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.'”
For several years we have been writing about how researchers think that domestic cannabis legalization will seriously hurt Mexican drug cartels — who have murdered something like 60,000 people in the last decade.
We've reported on how California cannabis has cut Mexican cartels out of the Golden State. That garbage goes east now. Researchers estimate legalization would cost the cartels billions, and a think tank in Mexico said that legalization in just one US state would cut cartels out of the US pot industry. Those days appears to have arrived.
“Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. … increasingly, they’re unable to compete with U.S. marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses — some licensed, others not. Mexican trafficking groups have also set up vast outdoor plantations on public land, especially in California, contributing to the fall in marijuana prices.
So now we have both the DEA and cartel farmers both screaming bloody murder about legalization — sounds like we're on the right track.”
The next logical step will be to decriminalize illegal drug use altogether. While it is undoubtedly true that a number of illegal drugs (especially opiates) are contrary to cannabis actually dangerous, it should still be none of the State's business what people want to ingest.
Besides, without going into too many details here, there are also utilitarian arguments supporting a decriminalization of so-called 'hard' drugs. Just a few brief remarks in this context: after Germany's reunification, medical statistics that were thought to be long lost were rediscovered in Leipzig. Upon studying them, researchers found out that the percentage of opiate addicts in the population had remained roughly the same throughout the period of time covered by the country's statistics (beginning in the 1870s), regardless of whether the drugs could be obtained legally or not. Criminalization of drug use had not altered drug use one whit – it had only created a lot of crime (in the case of addictive opiates, not only crimes perpetrated by drug cartels, but also drug-related crime by users desperate to finance their habits).
Incidentally, wherever decriminalization has been tried (several European nations such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal have been trailblazers), it has proved a smashing success. A great many people who once were living in squalor in the streets, panhandling and prostituting themselves and in constant danger of dying of an overdose or catching illnesses associated with illegal drug use, have been fully reintegrated into society (see this report on Portugal for instance, or this one on the Swiss experience).
Drug prohibition never made any sense, and still doesn't. The system has become self-perpetuating and only serves the interests of bureaucrats and criminals to the detriment of society at large. Wherever prohibition has been repealed, overwhelmingly positive effects did not take long to become manifest.
Res ipsa loquitur.
A propaganda flyer produced by Anslinger's Narcotics Bureau.