Third Party & Independents Archives

The History of Cannabis Prohibition, 1937 - 1962, Part Four

With the new wave of anti-Hispanic thought moving around the country we must look back and see where it all began. If we do not learn from our mistakes, than we will never better ourselves. Cannabis became illegal largely because of racism, primarily towards Hispanics.

The history of cannabis prohibition is one engulfed in racism. From the very beginning of the anti-cannabis laws the racist undertones were evident. Understanding this is a key component of explaining the faults that were planted at the beginning of the criminalizing of cannabis. We must say that any movement towards legislation that is sparked by hate and racism is essentially faulted. Therefore the very foundation of that legislation and the goals it seeks are false. This is indeed the case with cannabis prohibition during its earliest years of 1937-1962.

In order to completely understand the racist onslaught that accompanied the prohibition of cannabis we must first look back before the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 to the actions that occurred inside the states. Because it was well known that minority groups were among the first users of cannabis for purely recreational purposes, namely southern blacks and Mexicans, it was easy to target this activity (Sloman 29).

Indeed this is what occurred, state after state brought legislation forth that would prohibit the non-medical use of cannabis. Legislation usually prompted by two factors, being faced with a growing number of minority group members using cannabis and outrageous newspaper stories which cited cannabis as the cause of crime and insanity (Sloman 30).

It is important to note that these two factors are not separate, but instead are linked in a chain. Because the primary users of cannabis sativa pre-1937 were members of minority groups, when newspaper stories told of crime and insanity being caused by cannabis users the majority of persons linked it to Mexicans or blacks, and moreover most of these stories were of Mexicans or black persons.

Thus these news stories that sparked the hysteria over crime and insanity due to cannabis smoking were not merely conveying the false message that crime and insanity are caused by cannabis but that Mexicans and blacks cause crime due to cannabis. Because of this we can see that the earliest hysteria over cannabis at the state level mirrors that of the Marihuana Tax Act, containing little factual knowledge and instead being sparked by newspaper stories.

The racist undertones of the movement toward national prohibition of cannabis were not only evident in newspapers but also in the words of many doctors and scientists. Indeed at this early stage when respected and scholarly persons spouted off about the ills of cannabis they would always tie its use and supposed downfalls to Mexicans. In the 1929 debate that led to the ban on non-medical cannabis use in Montana this is all too evident. Dr. Fred Fulsher speaking at these hearings had this to say:
“When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies. I understand that over in Butte where the Mexicans often go for the winter they stage imaginary bullfights after a couple of whiffs of marihuana” (Helmer 79).

The statements made by Dr. Fulsher display that the ban on non-medical cannabis use that developed in Montana was based on racism and a lack of knowledge. It is important to understand this because the ban on cannabis first occurred in the states, by these types of means. From this we see that the racist undertones of the first bans on cannabis were an influence on the later national legislation.

Dr. A.E. Fossier was one of the prominent speakers on cannabis in Louisiana at this time and consistently focused on the “downfalls” of Mexicans due to cannabis. Dr. Fossier attempted to link cannabis use to white superiority openly displaying this in his writings:
“The debasing and baneful influence of hashish and opium is not restricted to individuals, but has manifested itself in nations and races as well. The dominant race and most enlightened countries are alcoholic, whilst the races and nations addicted to hemp and opium, some of which once attained to heights of culture and civilization, have deteriorated both mentally and physically” (Sloman 42).

It is painstakingly clear here that persons like Dr. Fossier used racism and racism alone to bring their views on cannabis forward. To say that the race which is alcoholic is most enlightened is nonsense and holds no scientific bearing as was the mark of this time. Dr. Fossier goes further in another writing of his, stating that races that use cannabis are doomed to be criminals, thus linking Mexican cannabis use to criminal acts once again, “ the possible substitution of alcohol for a greater evil marihuana should be considered the greatest possible calamity that can befall a nation. It is now confined to the criminal class” (Helmer 76).

Despite the linking of cannabis to crime and particularly in Mexicans, studies were conducted during this time to disprove this theory. A 1930 survey of crime among Mexicans in Texas found that “they show delinquent tendencies less than their proportion of the population would entice them to show” (Helmer 58). This study also found that there was no mention of cannabis in any of the crime statistics (Helmer 58).

A survey by Paul Taylor in northeast Colorado turned up similar results, finding no mention of cannabis in the criminal statistics for 1925-1927. After concluding this study Taylor wrote “the extent to which Mexicans violate our laws appears to be magnified unduly not only by the Northeastern Colorado community but even by the officers who handle the Mexican offenders” (Helmer 59).

Finally a study of Imperial County, California also found no mention of cannabis use in its criminal statistics and also found that the rate of crime by Mexicans was very low (Helmer 63). Here we can draw together that the idea of cannabis leading to crime was indeed exaggerated greatly, as was found earlier. Furthermore we see that this theory arrived as a false mechanism to put shame onto Mexicans, who often were less crime prone than the general population.

Works Cited:

Sloman, Larry. Reefer Madness: Marijuana in America. NYC, NY: Grove Press Inc, 1979.

Helmer, John. Drugs and Minority Oppression. Sansbury Press, 1975.

Posted by Richard Rhodes at June 4, 2006 12:48 AM
Comment #154184

Prematurely to anyone who wants to argue that marijuana reform is not a big issue, and that the drug war is not a big issue, and that this only matters to hippies, I give you the following:

The federal government has spent over 8 billion dollars on the drug war this year.
State governments have spent over 13 billion on the drug war this year.
Over 675,000 persons have been arrested for drug offenses this year.
Almost half of those arrrested this year have been arrested for cannabis offenses, so far almost 315,000 this year.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at June 4, 2006 1:08 AM
Comment #154202

This would put the total of tax dollars spent by the government on the Drug War since before WWII at more than 1/2 trillion dollars and millions of work lives ruined through criminal records for posession or use. This is an incredibly wasteful approach, both for tax payers and economically.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 4, 2006 4:08 AM
Comment #154253

It is great that you bring out this race based genesis of the drug war. I suspect many do not know about this history.

I have always believed that the origins of decisions often belie the way they play out. Understanding the motive of the policy makers is essential to predict the consequence.

Creation of an underclass benefits a few. It harms society in general.

Posted by: gergle at June 4, 2006 11:50 AM
Comment #154407

Much love to you gergle. Thank You. The problem is that people don’t see the drug war as a major issue. Thus they dont care about learning the facts on it. Too many have no idea at all, no facts at all on the drug war. Yet these same people think its a non-issue.

Which war has cost more Iraq or the Cannabis War?
You know what the answer is.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at June 5, 2006 2:17 AM
Comment #154462

It is my understanding that marijuana (except in certain clearly defined instances) is illegal in the USA.

What happens when an illegal alien/immigrant is arrested for marijuana use or posession in the USA> He or she is illegaly here (crime 1) conducting an illegal act (crime 2)?

Is this person taken into custody, processed and then released as most people are as soon as someone in the system realizes that the “crime” committed is more of a nuisance than damaging to people or property.

How about a motor vehicle infraction, does the illegal alien (let’s make him Mexican) get a speeding ticket?

I wonder, although there is probably no way to get a reliable figure, how many illegals cross the border from Mexico to the US bringing drugs and/or carrying disease.

By some accounts the illegal Mexican has even voted.

Posted by: steve smith at June 5, 2006 12:06 PM
Comment #155496

No one says anything about Hispanics that are legal citizens.

Your comment is argumentive and misleading!

Posted by: MacIrish at June 8, 2006 9:02 AM
Comment #248989

Thank you for the informations on drug war. As a normal citizen I don’t feel these improvements you talk about. I still see kids doing drugs and wasting their lives every day in my neighborhood. Statistics don’t impress me… we could use a drug rehab center in the area.

Posted by: george at March 24, 2008 10:41 AM
Comment #337107

This is really helpful.
“Spiritual Interventions for Anxiety, The dictionary defines anxiety as a state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible future misfortune, danger, etc; worry. Anxiety is a normal part of addiction and drug rehabilitation and often feeds our addictions in a number of ways. For many of us we have never been taught how to cope with the events in life and the unknowns we face.”
Go to Drug Rehabilitation Help for Anxiety OR to read more.”

Posted by: drogers at February 22, 2012 3:42 PM
Comment #346210

This is interesting
“A new drug, that appears to have started in Russia, is causing quite a bit of alarm. This new drug, known by the names Crocodile or Krokodil, is an inexpensive substitute for heroin. Crocodile is made from desomorphine, a synthetic opiate that is a derivative of morphine. In the public domain, Crocodile and desomorphine are synonymous, but in reality, Crocodile refers to a home-made and generally dirty form of desomorphine.”
Check this out at Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers: “Spice” OR to read more.”

Posted by: drogers at June 5, 2012 9:26 AM
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