REEFER MADNESS – the war on drugs


by Woid

Like the “war on terror,” the “war on drugs” shows every sign of going on forever. (That other “war” against an abstraction, LBJ’s “war on poverty,” is the only one that actually ended. Poverty won.)

You know the stats: the United States, that beacon of freedom, has over two million citizens in prison– plus the hundreds of thousands more in local jails– more than any other country on earth. (That’s out of 9 million worldwide.) And, by various estimates that I just quickly googled, between 25% and an astounding 55% of them, depending on who you belive, are doing time for drug-related convictions. Even looking at the lower estimate, that means more than half a million Americans in jail for drugs. (More info.)

Some of those prisoners are big-time dealers, no doubt, convicted of big-time felonies. But lots of them were busted for mere possession, often for the most innocuous “drug” of them all, marijuana.

Until the 1930s, the weed wasn’t seen as evil by the public. It was an underground phenomenon, restricted to the underclasses and the social outcasts (like artists and musicians). Then an ambitious Fed named Harry J. Anslinger saw an opening. Anslinger had been the Assistant Prohibition Commissioner (how’s that for a job title?) in the Bureau of Prohibition. In 1930, he moved over to the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, just before his old job vanished with the end of alcohol prohibition. And he came up with something else to demonize: marijuana.

All of the laughable anti-pot propaganda of the past can be traced back to Anslinger’s campaign against cannibis. At first, the government was less concerned with the evils of pot, and more with the revenue they were losing by not being able to tax its use. Anslinger changed that paradigm, and we’re still living with the results.

He’d been in his Narc job for four years before he saw the opportunity at hand. In conjunction with William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers gave him a platform, Anslinger began a relentless campaign against the threat of pot. Most of his sensational stories were completely baseless– claims of mad potheads committing murder and assorted depravities. There was a strong racist element to the stories, many of which were about those perennial threats, “colored people” and Mexicans (who were threatening to flood the country and take away jobs– sounds vaguely familiar).

Seventy years later, marijuana is still classified as a “narcotic”– which it isn’t– and even misdemeanor possession can ruin lives. (Kids applying for federal college loans, for example, are permanently disqualified if they’ve ever been convicted on drug charges.)

Unsurprisingly, our cowardly political class has been afraid to do anything to change the situation– even though many of them now make the ritualistic statement that they “experimented” with pot in their bygone days. The fact that literally hundreds of millions of Americans have smoked pot at one time or another (say, 4:20 p.m.) hasn’t given Congress the courage to deal with the injustices of our drug laws… even those against the most innocuous of drugs, the one that’s far safer than the alcohol that fuels their lobbyist-hosted lunches.

Over the past few years, states have been moving to modernize their ancient anti-pot laws– against the objections of the DEA. A number of states have legalized medical marijuana, available from state-licensed dispensaries with a prescription. Opponents say that medical marijuana laws are just a wedge to open the door to legalization… and maybe that’s true.

The dispensaries that have set up shop here in Southern California are like candy stores for potheads. (So they say…. your correspondent has not visited one.) Varieties of weed are labeled with names like “Purple Haze” and “Green Crack.” Hash, hash oil, and other delicacies that have been extremely rare in the underground market for years are freely on sale, along with lollipops and other goodies. (So they say… etc.)

This has been infuriating to the DEA, the “Drug Czar,” and the Bush “administration,” who have been doing everything they can to ovverride the states.

This week, the House of Representatives did them a big favor. Yes, the new, Democratic, supposedly more progressive, House. For several years, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a rare progressive voice from formerly conservative upstate New York, has introduced amendments cutting off funding for Federal efforts to crack down on state-sanctioned medical marijuana. His amendment came up for a vote on Wednesday, and lost– by a smaller margin than in past years, but still decisively, 262-165. Surprisingly, 15 Replicants voted in favor, some for libertarian reasons, like Ron Paul and some who are allegedly stoners, like Dana Rohrabacher. More disturbingly, 79 Democrats voted against– not just the regular reactionaries who always vote with the Republicans (like Barrow and Mathesonl and Taylor and Carney and Hill and Salazar…) but also some of the progressive freshmen like Mike Arcuri, John Hall, and Jerry McNerney.

So much for states’ rights, that issue supposedly so dear to the Replicants. Worse, so much for the individual liberties that Democrats claim to stand for– at least on this issue.

On Wednesday, the same day the Hinchey Amendment was defeated, the DEA raided and shut down 10 medical marijuana dispensaries in the L.A. area, arresting people who were there to protest. I’m not aware whether there were more raids in other cities– but if there weren’t, it’s a safe bet there will be.

We’re not just talking about potheads being deprived of their magic lollipops. Closing down the dispensaries, against the will of the voters of California or any other state, means that people whose pain could be eased by medical marijuana– cancer patients, AIDS patients, glaucoma victims– will just have to go back to suffering as they did before the medical marijuana laws passed.

There are many issues that are more life-and-death than this one. But here’s just one more marker of our plodding progress toward becoming a police state. And among others, there are 79 Democrats who can take the credit, or the blame– including quite a few who should have the courage to stand up on this issue. Some of them are on the Blue America list that DWT has done so much to support. The current Blue America candidates who voted in favor of Hinchey’s legislation– to leave marijuana to the states– are Tom Allen (ME), Steve Cohen (TN), Jerrold Nadler (NY), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), and Hilda Solis (CA). Today might be a good day to show them a little love.

Maybe you’d like to talk to those other reps about this. If so, here’s the complete list of who voted yes and who voted no; you can find their phone numbers on the house.gov site. Oh, and while you’re on the phone, tell them to show some courage on impeachment too.

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