The US played a very important role in outlawing cannabis worldwide, because paradoxically, this country, including the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper, became the 20th century the biggest enemy of cannabis and, taking advantage of international power, has influenced the future global prohibition of the plant.
For much of human history, cannabis was completely legal; and certain uses of cannabis date back to the year 7000 BC, and the plant contained possible very diverse uses: textiles, medicinal, recreational, and religious.
Although some evidence would place its origins in the Himalayan mountains, the cannabis plant has spread, until it is present today around the world.
And America is no exception. James Town Colony, in Virginia, could see in 1611 the first law related to cannabis which obliged all the farmers to cultivate this plant. And this was the first of many laws on the subject promulgated in the following 200 years.
THE MEXICAN CONNECTION
In the early years of the 20th century, the mass emigration of Mexicans in the states of the West caused serious tensions. The Mexican revolution of 1910 was felt in the border states, with numerous altercations between the army of General Pershing and that of Pancho Villa. A few years later, the hiring of Mexicans as cheap labor on large farms also caused conflicts with small farms, which was further complicated by the Great Depression (1929).
Mexican immigration brought with it certain customs, such as smoking cannabis, which ended up being linked to certain inappropriate or even criminal behavior, and in all likelihood, this was one of the reasons why California applied its first prohibitionist law, adding cannabis to the Poison Act in 1913, thus prohibiting "cannabis preparations or loco-weed" (loco-weed, a herb that drives you mad).
JAZZ AND MURDER
In the 1920s , cannabis and Jazz traveled hand in hand from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where cannabis became an indispensable part of the music scene. And, in this way, cannabis began to be linked to a lifestyle frowned upon by society, and to a well-defined profile: black, musician and delinquent. And so, racism and fear combined to stigmatize cannabis, which has become a “black and Mexican thing”, and created a social belief that it was a dangerous drug, and which made those who used it consumed capable of the worst crimes, even to kill other people without blinking.
PROHIBITION AND FEDERAL POSITIONING ON THE PROHIBITION OF DRUGS
During this period (1919 to 1933), prohibition was in effect in the United States. The ban on alcohol was carried out following an amendment to the constitution. And despite the fact that many states have banned cannabis, it still could not be illegal at the federal level, although the Harrison Act (1914) had already established federal fines and taxes on opiates and cocaine.
It was very difficult to ban drugs at the federal level, which is why the decision to use federal taxes to restrict its use, made those who broke the law, directly dealing with the Department of the Treasury. In 1930, was created the new division of this organization, the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics / Federal Bureau of Narcotics Substances), and the person chosen to lead this office was J.Anslinger. And that spawned the start of the cannabis war.
Anslinger was a very ambitious person who understood that there was a good chance of a career at the FBN and set himself the goal of criminalizing cannabis. And so began his campaign against cannabis via sensational advertisements that transmitted fear and racism and associated cannabis with criminal behavior.
JOURNALISM WITH SENSATION
Harry J. Anslinger got this powerful and important moment with William Randolf Hearst, owner of the business empire that included a chain of newspapers and had many reasons to support cannabis prohibition, so he decided to use his newspapers as a spokesperson to express his point of view, creating what is known today as the "social alarm".
William Randolph Hearst hated the Mexicans above all, mainly for racial prejudice and because he had lost over 800,000 acres of woodland because of Pancho Villa.
On the other hand, because he had made a big investment in the wood sector with the aim of producing paper for his newspapers and hemp paper was a really dangerous alternative for his personal interests. The publication of sensational articles that told stories of Mexicans driven mad by an evil grass caught the attention of readers and boosted sales. Texts like the one you can read further that served to scare the population and warn them of the risks of using cannabis:
“The pitiless and terrible poison arrives by tons in this country, which is more and more to annihilate and to tear the body, destroys the heart and the soul of any human being, by making it a slave. Cannabis is the quickest route to death. Smoke cannabis cigarettes for a month and what used to be your brain will be nothing but a set of horrible specters.”
At this duo, the chemical company DuPont, the pharmaceutical companies and the tobacco industry, each with their own private economic interests.
DuPont patented and registered, among other materials, neoprene (1930), nylon (1935), Teflon (1937), and lycra (1959), all obtained mainly from petroleum. It is therefore easy to understand the reasons why the company was not in favor of developing the potential of the cannabis plant, and more particularly as a clean and renewable source of resistant and durable natural fiber, a serious competitor for their fibers. petrochemical synthetics.
MARIHUANA TAX ACT 1937
This combination of elements, therefore, created the ideal scenario for Anslinger to present his bill to Congress. A remarkably short hearing process. The only small pebble in the shoe of Anslinger and his allies was the appearance of Doctor William C. Woodward, who claimed that AMA (the American Medical Association) opposed this prohibition and complained of the lack of supporting evidence Anslinger's theories.
Although Doctor Woodward was the only one to oppose it during the Congressional hearings which ended with the approval of the Cannabis Taxation Act, there was already a significant amount of studies on the subject which contradicted the theses of the FBN. And more specifically, a study carried out in 1934 by Walter Bromberg, who came to the conclusion that the main cause of the crimes was absolutely not cannabis, contrary to what the FBN claimed. This study was especially problematic for the FBN, because of the Bureau's desire to defend the direct relationship between cannabis and violent crime.
It should be noted that, during the hearings before Congress, the FBN was never able to present scientific studies, only press articles and sensational publishers whose main source was WR Hearst.
In 1944, a few years after this law was passed, the town hall of New York carried out a study known as "The La Guardia Report" (La Guardia being the Mayor of New York). In this study, we discredited, by empirical evidence, one by one all the arguments of the FBN. The committee that carried out this study was made up of three psychiatrists, two pharmacists, a public health expert, a commissioner from the Hospital Department and the director of the Psychiatry Division of the Hospital Department.
Although The Guardia Report was the longest, most comprehensive and reliable study to date in relation to cannabis, it was refuted by Anslinger and the FBN.
Following the approval of the Cannabis Taxation Law, the FBN became the only competent authority allowing any study related to cannabis to be carried out. The positions and potential studies and research of many people were simply ignored. The theses of the FBN, which also lacked scientific bases, were always marked by deep racism; As we have seen previously, this organization was amalgamating the use of cannabis and racial minorities, especially Mexicans and African-Americans. On the other hand, Anslinger's constant attacks on Jazz players were interpreted as attacks on African-American culture in general.
CANNABIS AS A “GATEWAY DRUG”
However, from 1950 onwards, the FBN changed its strategy, giving way to new ideas that directly linked the consumption of cannabis with that of heroin. Cannabis was no longer that evil herb that drove the person who consumed it and made him commit the worst crimes and became a "trampoline" drug for heroin.
Despite the fact that the FBN itself carried out a study that contradicted this theory since out of a sample of 602 with an addiction to opiates, only 7% had previously used cannabis, this powerful organism continued to defend this theory.
In addition, it must be added that the 1950s in the United States were badly marked by anti-communism; the Cold War deeply affected American society, and cannabis law was no exception. The new theory on the "trampoline" effect of cannabis use has been comfortably reinforced by the fact that heroin came from Communist China and the idea that this enemy country wanted to drug and destroy it. American youth. In a context in which fear and collective paranoia had taken root in society, this new theory which linked cannabis consumption with China and heroin was widely accepted.
The idea that the Communists used drugs to control the Americans may seem crazy today, but at the time it was used by both the FBN and the main media. The fiery headlines of major newspapers were quick to come by: "It is said that the drug invasion is due to the Reds," headlined the Los Angeles Times at the time.
Although American society assumed this theory as a proven fact, this information was not accompanied by any evidence or objective evidence, and from there, Anslinger's main argument was that Communist China used heroin and other forms of opiates as a weapon to subvert free countries. He even used this argument before the United Nations in 1952, when he was the delegate of the commission on narcotic drugs and the organization.
In 1954, at a meeting of the United Nations, Anslinger again accused China of being the main source of illegal substances worldwide, an assertion supported by no type of evidence. The 1950s marked the beginning of the harsh drug laws that exist today, new oriented legislation to toughen the penalties for using cannabis, and which placed the plant in the same conditions as other drugs like cocaine or heroin. In the creation of this new legal framework, two bills were especially important for the history of the ban on cannabis: The Boggs Law in 1951 and the Narcotic Products Control Law of 1956.
The Boggs Law represented the most repressive approach in the history of cannabis and it was also the first time that cannabis was considered under the same legal status as other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, etc. For practical purposes, this implied that sentences for the consumption, sale, or possession of cannabis punished offenders with the same harshness as if the drugs were cocaine or heroin. Another peculiarity introduced by the Boggs Law was the mandatory minimum sentences, which left the most lenient judges little room for maneuver, since. These new penalties, introduced under the Boggs Law, made no difference between the user or the trafficker, or between the possession of a cannabis seed or a load of several kilos of heroin.
Following the approval of the Boggs Law on November 2, 1951, the FBN put pressure on many states to toughen their sentences for cannabis-related crimes. In fact, between 1953 and 1956, twenty-six states approved new laws to make penalties more stringent when linked to drug crimes, and some states, in their repressive drive, even surpassed their own Boggs Law. This was particularly the case of the State of Louisiana, which in 1956 had the toughest legislation in the country, with sentences ranging from 5 to 99 years in prison, with no possibility of parole, probationary period or suspension of penalty for the offenses of selling, possessing or administering drugs.
Although this new legislative framework may seem too strict at present, in the 1950s, some voices were raised to demand a tightening of the laws, and this is how the Law on the Control of Narcotic Substances was approved. 1956, which made mandatory sentences for possession, consumption, or trafficking of drugs by the elimination of parole.
In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in the United States and identified them as the country's number one public enemy. Under his mandate, the Substance Control Law which established the federal drug policy and in which the manufacture, import, possession, use, and distribution of certain substances, including cannabis, were regulated. And even today, cannabis is still considered, at the federal level, as a level 2 drug, of the same level of dangerousness and addictive capacity as heroin and whose medicinal use is not accepted.
THE INTERNATIONAL SCENARIO
The United States was a defining force in the international judicialization of drugs, which included cannabis. It is easy to understand that the prohibitionist context of the country has also moved to an international framework. The current international drug control system is structured around international treaties:
1. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961: in this international treaty, 185 countries signed a pact in which they undertook to restructure their internal legislative framework in order to respect the principles gathered in this convention. All parties, therefore, undertook to limit the production, use, possession, and trafficking of narcotic drugs to exclusively medical and scientific purposes. An important point to consider is the widening of the judicialization of raw materials, that is to say, the cannabis plant, the poppy plant, and the coca shrub. During this convention, the was included in category IV, reserved for the most dangerous substances and with reduced therapeutic value.
2. The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances: born of the growing concern for the recreational use of psychoactive substances of synthetic origin (LSD, MDMA, sedatives, anxiolytics, and antidepressants), and the need to control this type of substances. In this convention, the States undertook to limit the aforementioned narcotic products to medical or scientific use, therefore classifying THC in the list of substances belonging to category 1, considered to have a low therapeutic value, and which controls more stringent were applied.
3. The United Nations Convention on Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988: this treaty had a strongly repressive approach. Therefore, since the two previous conventions had focused on the "prohibition", the latter emphasized the obligation of States to establish criminal sanctions in their domestic laws to sanction the production and trafficking of drugs. Thus including in this list the cultivation of the poppy plant, the cannabis plant, or even the coca shrub for the production of narcotic drugs.
Over the past few decades, the United States government has allocated more than $ 2.5 billion to implement its drug prohibition measures. In the case of cannabis, it would seem that restrictive policies have not worked, since it is the most widely used illegal drug on the planet and according to the 2015 World Drug Report, approximately 183 million people have used cannabis during the previous year. The numbers and results of the new cannabis regulatory models speak for themselves, and the time has come to leave behind the old laws, created out of false information, moral prejudice, and false precepts. How long are we going to hide the obvious?