The Youtube video above helped to convince my mother to try marijuana in the final year of her battle with metastatic breast cancer. Mom had two big brownies a day. And yup, my mom, a Reagan conservative, got a little high. She also became just a little more okay with dying, she got a bit more physically comfortable, and most important of all, she got an appetite. All of which unquestionably helped prolong and improve the quality of her life. Mom refused to get her Oregon medical marijuana card because she was embarrassed, so she died a criminal in the eyes of our federal government. I’ve done a lot of investigating since then. In fact, you might say I’ve developed something of an obsession with the history, science, and politics of this plant. So this 4/20, take a minute with me to contemplate the stunning absurdity of marijuana laws.
Harry Anslinger, the Assistant Prohibition Commissioner, no doubt needed to do something quick. With the country having recently ended alcohol prohibition, and with an economy still recovering from the great depression, he made cannabis illegal, seemingly overnight in 1937, with less than two hours of debate in congress. He did this by presenting the plant as something new and unknown, even though even our country’s founding fathers, Washington and Jefferson, wrote enthusiastically about growing it at home. Anslinger misled an unsuspecting public with the made-up, and intentionally ethnic sounding name “marijuana.” Blatantly racist newspaper articles, posters, and news reels, often depicted crazed, knife wielding men of color swooping in to rape helpless white women in the night. It’s almost comical to read that stuff now, but at the time it was very effective. He got support from Randolph Hearst’s newspaper empire, which was heavily invested in wood pulp paper. And DuPont, who had just invented nylon. Both parties clearly had a big interest in doing away with hemp, the non-intoxicating species of the plant that was used for almost all paper, rope, flags, sails, etc, prior to prohibition. Before Anslinger’s 1937 campaign, the public, your great grandparents, knew it just as “cannabis.” Every doctor carried tincture of cannabis in his bag. It was very commonly given to fussy babies, women with menstrual pain, people with asthma, arthritis… and of course insomnia. The old tincture bottles are now very collectable on Ebay.
But wait, it’s dangerous! While even aspirin, taken as directed, kills over 700 people a year, there’s never been a single reported death in five thousand years of human cannabis consumption. There is no known toxicity level, and there are no secondary causes of death. For example, while smoking tobacco clearly causes lung cancer and heart disease, cannabis smoke does not (there’s actually promising new evidence that cannabis may slow tumor growth). And all those Reagan era “brain cell” reports came from the same people (literally, in the case of Dick Cheney) that gave us such propaganda treasures as Iraq’s “Weapons Of Mass Destruction.” So when we hear the prohibitionists say marijuana is “dangerous” we should always ask loud and clear, “where are the bodies?”
“The emperor wears no clothes” - Jack Herer
But it’s addicting! The only addiction happening with marijuana is the DEA’s addiction to it’s annual multi-billion dollar budget, the private prison industry (google that one, yikes), and of course alcohol and big pharma, both of whom have funded such disastrous propaganda machines as DARE and Partnership For A Drug Free America, because clearly they have the most to lose from re-legalization. Rounding out the list of the big lobbyists for keeping cannabis illegal are police and prison guard unions.
But what about the kids? Please. We have spent hundreds of billions of US tax payer dollars since Nixon started the “War On Drugs” forty years ago. We’ve put millions of our own citizens in jail, militarized local police, and even invaded other countries. And yet, your kids can still get a little pot much easier than they can tobacco or alcohol. We can’t even keep pot out of our prisons, let alone free society. It’s actually very difficult for a sixth grader to get a tattoo, go skydiving, vote… because we have regulations and check points in place for those things. It’s time to regulate marijuana like wine, and tax it. Imagine for a minute, if instead of our government flying Blackhawk helicopters to look for a little plant that grows wild (seriously, how insane is that?), we put some of that time and money into, say, looking for missing and exploited children.
And the message we have given our children has failed miserably. We lump marijuana in with crack and heroin. The fact is that the majority of kids will try pot in high school, and they quickly figure out we lied to them about it. Unfortunately some of them conclude that if we lied about pot we must be lying about meth or perception drugs too… Incidentally, did you know that in some states if your teenager tries one puff, one time, perhaps at a concert, and gets caught and is convicted (over 800,000 are arrested for simple possession each year in the US), they could be no longer be eligible for collage loans, among other draconian punishments. On what planet is that good for the teenager or society? Needless to say, as a father of three, of course I don’t want my children to use cannabis (though to be honest, my biggest fear for them by far is excessive alcohol consumption). But I don’t pretend for one second that prohibition will prevent them from trying it.
But it’s the gateway drug! Ninety two million people have tried marijuana. The government estimates only a little more than five hundred thousand people try heroin in the US. So clearly as a “gateway drug” it’s 0.5% rate of leading to heroin isn’t very compelling, to say the least. On the other hand, it’s more and more being recognized today as an “exit drug” to successfully treat people with alcohol and opiate addiction.
But it makes you lazy! While the original marijuana prohibitionists gave us tales of violence and mayhem, by the late 60’s they did a complete turnaround and changed the story to it’ll make you “anti-motivated.” So called “Stoner movies” have unfortunately perpetuated that stereo type. My own experience is that the people I know that enjoy grass are successful, creative, high achievers. More on the Steve Jobs end of the spectrum than say the Cheech and Chong characters.
But those people just want to get high! To the sick and dying this is obviously very offensive. But of course most people do smoke grass, or drink alcohol, in order to get a little high. But isn’t that okay? As soon as children learn to walk, they will spin until they fall down, and do it over and over again. People will stand in line for an hour in the hot sun to ride a roller coaster for two minutes. We pray, we meditate, we go to the movies, we make love… seeking euphoria and temporarily altering consciousness are an intrinsic part of the human condition. We are all seeking it in one way or another all day. Is what responsible, consenting adults choose to do in their private homes really our concern if no one is being hurt? Where are my small government Republican friends on this one? This should really be your issue to champion.
What about all the violence in Mexico! We’ve seen it all before with alcohol prohibition. The gangs, the violence, the money.. the only difference is this time it’s happening on the border to the South instead of Canada to our North. It all stems from it being illegal. Re-legalize cannabis and you drain the swamp. You certainly don’t read many news stories about gang violence over gin anymore.
In Portland Oregon, where I live, local collectives -in some places they would be called dispensaries- are available to people with a medical recommendation. They’re often beautiful little shops that are clean, well lit, friendly, and feel like a boutiquey little wine or tea shop. People have to show their Oregon medical marijuana card and photo ID to enter. There are usually a dozen or more different strains of cannabis displayed that one can choose from based on quality and desired effect. Some are more sleep inducing, some more upbeat, etc. There’s also a lot of packaged foods, sodas, candies, baked goods. It’s all local, often organically grown (because Oregon law encourages growing for license holders, there’s always surplus that gets back to the collectives) so it’s not coming from Mexican drug lords and the like. This is closer to buying heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods. Sure, you see the occasional twenty something “burnout dude” there, and that’s fine too. Mostly, it’s middle aged men and woman, often some very frail older people, and plenty of soccer mom’s and dads that chuckle when they bump into each other there. It’s just all very okay. A little glimpse into the future perhaps.
So happy 4/20. Have fun. Roll a big one, vaporize, eat a cookie… or don’t. But remember, we have a long way to go to end this tragic seventy year farce of legislating morality. And keep in mind that right now, real people with real families, are sitting in real jails all over, for simple possession -of a plant.
PS If anyone is interested in my mother’s favorite brownie recipe let me know.