When and where will the senseless persecutions of America’s Marijuana users end? These Marijuana smokers are typically middle class males, between the ages of 17 and 39, and one in three have no prior felony charges on their records. (HRW World Report) However, each year, hundreds of thousands of them are arrested and thrown into jail, alongside murderers, rapists, and child molesters.
The “Marihuana Tax Act” was passed in August 1937, and took effect on October 1, an incident which would forever change the country. The main reason behind the ban placed upon Marijuana was the same as most other drug prohibitions – the oppression of minorities. Case in point, the first anti-drug law on record in the United States was passed in San Francisco in 1875. Opium was outlawed at that time due to concerns that Chinese immigrants who used the drug were “ruining” white women by associating with them in Opium dens. (Schaffer sec. 1)
Cocaine was outlawed soon after when concerns were raised of what even newspapers of the time deemed “Negro Cocaine Fiends” or “Cocainized Niggers.” These allegations came about when African-Americans used the drug and allegedly raped and murdered white women. (Schaffer sec. 1) As a matter of fact there were no officially recorded incidents such as those that were suggested.
Marijuana was outlawed to target Mexican immigrants who used the drug recreationally. According to Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger, Marijuana had a “violent effect on the degenerate races.” As you can see, the main reason most drugs are outlawed is not for health concerns or actual crimes related to the drug, but instead because egotistical white males got the idea that they could hurt minorities with their laws.
Today, the racism continues, with drug laws that target minorities – specifically young African-American males. Although white drug users outnumber blacks by 5 to 1, and blacks only make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, over 62 percent of prisoners incarcerated for drug related charges are black. (ABC) This alarming statistic shows the blatant racism of the “War on Drugs”, which is more a war on blacks than drugs.
Between the years of 1970 and 1998, over 11.5 million people were incarcerated for acts ranging from simple possession of Marijuana, to sale and manufacture of Marijuana – a category that encompasses all charges related to growing, distribution, and cultivation. 87 percent of all arrests were for possession, while 13 percent of arrests were for sale/manufacture. (NORML)
Our prisons are so overcrowded that approximately 24 states are under Federal orders to set some prisoners free. There are over 1.5 million people in Federal, State, and local correctional facilities at the time of this paper’s writing. Yet, the War on Drugs continues, and if its “ultimate goal” is reached – the incarceration of every drug user, dealer, and grower, there will be approximately 30 million more people in our prisons. This is more people than the combined populations of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. To incarcerate every drug user in the country, we would have to spend over 15 trillion dollars, a figure that would not only bankrupt the country and destroy the working force, but would also leave no money to run the prisons that we worked so hard to fill. (Schaffer sec.7)
So why, you may ask, is this country seemingly obsessed with clearing the streets of our “violent”, “degenerate” Marijuana users? The answer is simple. If you tell a horse over and over that it is a donkey, eventually the horse will believe it. The amount of propaganda that has been flooding the country for all these years, misinformation from top government officials, and blatant lies from our country’s health “experts” has instigated a furious “war” that has divided the country in half. This war has no winners – the country is not even coming close to ridding the country of the “problem”, and the drug users are growing in numbers as more and more people see the beauty of the drug as a social tool, a medical marvel, and a bridge that crosses racial and social boundaries.
Another question raised is whether or not Marijuana is harmful. That is easy to answer – yes and no. Yes, it has some detrimental effects on the brain, as any chemical would. However, compared to other drugs and substances, both legal and illegal, the harmful effects seem miniscule.
For instance, out of all the drugs available to us today, tobacco remains the number one killer, as it has been for years. Over 390,000 people die each year from this potent, deadly, and very legal drug. Nicotine is also one of the most addictive drugs known to man, easily surpassing Marijuana and alcohol, and just edging out heroin – yes, heroin.
Alcohol is a distant second, killing 80,000 people annually, and is one of the most popular drugs among young males. Its withdrawal symptoms are severe, and once hooked, some people are never sober again. Sidestream cigarette smokes kills another 50,000 people, bringing the grand total for tobacco-related deaths to 440,000 people. Cocaine claims 2,200 lives a year, followed closely by two drugs that are completely unrelated, but kill the same number of people – heroin and aspirin.
Marijuana, on the other hand, kills a staggering number of people each and every year. Zero. There has never been a death officially tied to Marijuana. Altogether, illegal drugs kill 4,500 people – 8.3 percent of those claimed by tobacco and alcohol.
Having been a Marijuana smoker for five years now, I do not consider myself a junkie, a drug addict, or a detriment to society. I smoke to meet people, and my closest friends were met through Marijuana. The wonderful and mysterious plant we call Cannabis should be embraced, not shunned, as it is today.
ABC News. “War on Drugs, by Race?” Associated Press. 8 Jun 2000
Basic Facts about the War on Drugs. Schaffer, Clifford A. 8 Sept. 2000
HRW World Report. “Drugs and Human Rights.” 10 Sept. 2000
NORML. “Portland NORML News” 24 Nov. 1998