Martin A. Lee: Victory for Pot Means Beginning of the End of Our Crazy Drug War

Roundup: Media's Take

Martin A. Lee is the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific (Scribner, August 2012). He is the cofounder of the media watch group FAIR, director of Project CBD, and the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens. For more information and regular updates, follow Smoke Signals—the book on Facebook.

...From a historical perspective, marijuana prohibition is an aberration. For thousands of years men and women in many cultures have used cannabis as a curative and a source of fiber and oil. It wasn’t until well into the 20th century that U.S. legislators and their international counterparts imposed a global prohibitionist regime. How did this aberration come to pass and why has it persisted until now?

Concerned that his entire department was on the chopping block because of Depression-era budget cuts, Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger launched the Reefer Madness campaign to convince a clueless Congress and the American public that a terrible menace threatened the country, one that required a well-funded antinarcotics effort. Determined to criminalize the herb and build his bureaucratic fiefdom, Anslinger promoted all the hoary myths about marijuana-induced mayhem and sexual depravity—stories of pot-crazed ax murderers, playground pushers, sordid drug dens, and buxom reefer babes whose lives were ruined by smoking the devil’s weed with dark-skinned rogues.

In the world according to Anslinger, marijuana was a deadly, addictive drug that enslaved its users and turned them into violent, deranged freaks. He rang alarm bells in segregated America by claiming that marijuana promoted interracial lust. Prior to the passage of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively banned all forms of hemp, Anslinger pounded home the message: white women are in mortal peril because of marijuana—and so are American children. His racially charged demonization of marijuana paralleled the rise of European fascist regimes that exploited fear and hatred of the Other....

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