Competing Histories of Marijuana Prohibition Emerge

Staff Report by the Daily Bell

The Federal Marijuana Ban Is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia … The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that is it almost impervious to reason. – New York Times

Dominant Social Theme: Racism was responsible for marijuana prohibition.

Free-Market Analysis: The New York Times is out with what is apparently intended to be a definitive history of why marijuana was criminalized.

This is a very important issue because the sudden reversal in marijuana laws and regulations is bringing up a question about criminal justice in the US. If so many lives have been negatively affected by marijuana prohibition via incarceration and worse, then why should one have faith in Western jurisprudence?

Now marijuana is on its way to being legalized around the world and yet there are thousands – maybe millions – still suffering from strict punishments for dealing the drug or even using it.

Comes the answer: Blame racism and xenophobia for the “war on drugs.”

Here’s more:

The cannabis plant, also known as hemp, was widely grown in the United States for use in fabric during the mid-19th century. The practice of smoking it appeared in Texas border towns around 1900, brought by Mexican immigrants who cultivated cannabis as an intoxicant and for medicinal purposes as they had done at home.

Within 15 years or so, it was plentiful along the Texas border and was advertised openly at grocery markets and drugstores, some of which shipped small packets by mail to customers in other states.

The law enforcement view of marijuana was indelibly shaped by the fact that it was initially connected to brown people from Mexico and subsequently with black and poor communities in this country. Police in Texas border towns demonized the plant in racial terms as the drug of “immoral” populations who were promptly labeled “fiends.”

As the legal scholars Richard Bonnie and Charles Whitebread explain in their authoritative history, “The Marihuana Conviction,” the drug’s popularity among minorities and other groups practically ensured that it would be classified as a “narcotic,” attributed with addictive qualities it did not have, and set alongside far more dangerous drugs like heroin and morphine.

… In 1930, Congress consolidated the drug control effort in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led by the endlessly resourceful commissioner, Harry Jacob Anslinger, who became the architect of national prohibition. His case rested on two fantastical assertions: that the drug caused insanity; that it pushed people toward horrendous acts of criminality.

Others at the time argued that it was fiercely addictive. He may not have actually believed his propaganda, but he fed it by giving lurid stories to the press as a way of making a case for federal intervention. This narrative had a great effect at Congressional hearings that led to the enactment of The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which tried to eradicate the use and sale of the drug through heavy taxation.

The federal government has taken a small step back from irrational enforcement. But it clings to a policy that has its origins in racism and xenophobia and whose principal effect has been to ruin the lives of generations of people.

There are other perspectives on the criminalization of marijuana that have long circulated in the alternative media and databases, including Jack Herer’s book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. These publications, often available on the Internet, provide us with the perspective that powerful players were behind the evolving cannabis prohibition.

Cannabis opponents are said to have included William Randolph Hearst, the DuPont family and Andrew Mellon. Such players had substantial interests in timberland, wood pulp and oil-based products and may have seen cannabis-hemp, useful in producing many of the same items, as an unwelcome competitor.

As secretary of the treasury, Mellon helped create the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He also placed his own future nephew-in-law, Harry Anslinger, as director. Was it a combination of Hearst’s sensational articles and Anslinger’s enforcement policies that helped boost the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 through Congress? Indeed, this is the “conspiratorial argument.”

This New York Times article focuses only on racism and xenophobia as the cause of marijuana prohibition. But to leave out other possibilities (as mentioned above) strikes us as a suspect editorial decision.

It is, after all, an important issue and one that deserves a public airing. The website AlterNet posted an article in 2008 (“Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy Theory“) arguing that the idea powerful people wanted to make cannabis-hemp illegal wasn’t supported by any conclusive evidence. But Mellon’s fortune was in fact related to oil and he was responsible for the creation of the narcotics bureau and did indeed put someone related to him in charge of it.

From an investment standpoint, the mechanics of marijuana prohibition are important. It’s been this publication’s mission to point out that investment opportunities are often influenced by behind-the-scenes factors that are never mentioned in annual reports or even research reports. What we call the Internet Reformation has made this information far more available, and if readers don’t find it in the mainstream press, there are plenty of other places they may seek it out.


To be truly informed, one needs to understand these less obvious influences and The New York Times doesn’t help its readers by leaving out any discussion of them.

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About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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