420 Magazine Background

Why Is Marijuana Illegal?


420 Staff
Racism, Social Stigma and Criminalization: Uncovering Marijuana's Sordid Past

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in the world. According to the FBI, one cannabis user is arrested every 40 seconds in the United States.

The trade of marijuana is also one of the most profitable international businesses in the world, raking in billions and billions of dollars every year. It knows no boundaries, political or geographical.

Despite most governments' best efforts to eliminate the trade of it, weed is nearly impossible to get rid of because of its sheer pervasiveness in our world and our culture. There is a very real social stigma built around weed, and it can sometimes be hard to separate the myth of marijuana from the reality.

There are decades upon decades of economic, political, medical, and even racial views of this drug that need to be peeled away to uncover the truth.

Marijuana, besides being one of the most common drugs, is also one of the oldest. Everyone from practicing Hindus to the Assyrians routinely used cannabis as both a medical treatment and a religious ritual.

Marijuana was even sold openly at medical markets in the U.S. from the 1700s through the late 1800s.

However, the legality of marijuana was heavily influenced by racism and xenophobia in the early 20th century. In 1910, large numbers of immigrants came into the U.S. to flee the Mexican Revolution and brought with them the concept of smoking hash recreationally.

Many Americans, especially the multitude of unemployed at the time, feared and resented the immigrants. By 1931, 29 states had passed anti-cannabis legislation.

The federal government's attitude towards marijuana was also one of racism and suspicion.

Take Harry J. Anslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who, in 1937, said, "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers," he said. "Their satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."

Clearly, a vicious social stigma was being built around marijuana, and it would prove to be long lasting.

Weed is still considered a deleterious drug to this day, and those impressions can be traced back to the early - to mid-20th century, when the American government propagated outrageous and over-the-top myths about marijuana's effects on the human brain.

It was claimed - through informational films, the most infamous being Reefer Madness - that ingesting hash would cause everything from sexual promiscuity to full-blown dementia in people.

In reality, the effects of marijuana are much harder to determine and much less dramatic.

According to a case study done by the medical department at UCLA, marijuana does not increase a person's chances of getting cancer in any significant way. It also doesn't cause people to commit more violent crime or become sex-crazed maniacs, as shown in early anti-marijuana propaganda films.

These early claims about weed seem laughable now, but some remnant of them persists to this day in many people's minds. It is much less clear how smoking weed affects a person's mental health, however.

In a study done earlier this year, Dr. Stanley Zammit of Bristol University in England found that those people who smoke cannabis are 40 percent more likely to have a psychological disorder than those who don't. It is not clear, however, if those with pre-existing mental conditions are more prone to smoking marijuana or vice versa.

Another confusing aspect about marijuana is the debate over the so-called "gateway drug" theory.

This theory proposes that people who use marijuana regularly are more likely to use harder drugs eventually than someone who never smoked cannabis.

Some scientists have debated and even refuted this theory, but several tests have been done with results pointing towards its validity. For instance, a study done in Australia that involved children who smoked weed regularly at the age of 15 were in some cases 15 times more likely to be using hard amphetamines by their 20s.

So why is marijuana illegal if its legal status was determined by the public's xenophobia and racism a century ago? So many stigmas have grown up around it over the years that legalizing it now is a more daunting task than ever before.

With all that said, marijuana isn't exactely good for you. The smoke inhaled is on par with that of smoking a cigarette and some studies even claim that one joint is equal to smoking five cigarettes. The tendency for weed users to hold the smoke in their lungs for long periods of time increases the damage that it does.

But it's not clear that THC is carcinogenic, said a report in Time Magazine.

"The latest research suggests that THC may have a dual effect, promoting tumors by increasing free radicals and simultaneously protecting against tumors by playing a beneficial role in a process known as programmed cell death."

It is still very much associated with crime, counter-culture and ill health, despite other drugs being just as likely, if not more likely, to be involved with such things. There is a growing movement in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world to legalize weed once and for all, an uphill battle to say the least.

Can this movement overcome the strong social stigmas surrounding marijuana that have persisted for nearly a century? It is a complex issue, with many gray areas in both the medical and political fields. The legalization issue will be explored in part two of this series.

Source: Times-Delphic (Drake U, Des Moines, IA, Edu)
Section: Features, Page 5
Contact: The Times-Delphic
Copyright: 2007 The Times-Delphic
Website: The Times-Delphic
Top Bottom