Reefer madness: How racism contributes to cannabis prohibition and legalization.
My dad and his friends once planted a marijuana plant in our elderly neighbor’s yard. Our neighbor had a beautiful garden that he tended to meticulously. I remember him to be like the grumpy Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace. He thought he had found some exotic plant and it was the prize of his garden.
Cannabis is a beautiful plant. It is a medicinal plant. The overwhelming majority of people who claim to be recreational users are utilizing cannabis to treat a medical condition. Cannabis has been proven effective in treating chronic pain, insomnia, migraines, depression, and anxiety.
There were no federal restrictions on the sale or possession of cannabis in the US as far back as the 1800s. Hemp fiber from the plant was used to make clothes, paper, and rope. It was used medicinally; however, as a recreational drug, its use wasn’t widespread.
In the early 1900s influx of Mexican immigrants came into the US, fleeing political unrest at home. They brought with them the practice of smoking cannabis recreationally. It gained popularity. The Spanish word for the plant, Marijuana, or as it was spelled at that time, marihuana, with an H, began to be used. This was when the narrative changed.
In 1936, the movie “Reefer Madness,” was released. If you watch the movie now, it comes across as comical, but at the time, it was used to launch a marijuana smear campaign based on racist views of Mexicans. It was a propaganda movie. The teenagers in the movie smoke marijuana, as it was referenced, to disconnect it from the plant hemp, leading to hallucinations, murder, and attempted rape. Much like many things in the United States of America and many Eurocentric cultures, racism was at the root of cannabis prohibition, followed by the interests of the billionaires behind industries like oil and textiles who stood to lose money if hemp was used for these purposes.
John Ehrlichman spoke out about Nixon’s alleged race and left antiwar discrimination. CNN states he candidly admitted:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? We know we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or be Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with Marijuana and the Black people with Heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course, we did.”
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