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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reefer Madness

(Video from Cab Calloway)

One substance causes cancer and the other substance doesn't (but it does sometimes make you want to snack.) One substance causes heart disease and the other substance doesn't (but it does make you feel happy). One substance kills and the other substance doesn't (but it does help people who are very sick.) One substance can be bought freely in stores and vending machines. The other substance can be bought in the shadows (but you could go to prison if you're caught.)

So I guess it makes complete sense that tobacco is legal and accepted, but (in America) someone is arrested on marijuana charges about every 40 seconds. Since 1993, more than 8,000,000 people have been arrested for cannabis, including 786,545 people in 2005. Most arrests (about 88%) are for mere possession.

It wasn't always this way, of course. Before 1937, you could buy marijuana at your local grocer or even at newsstands. But when groups representing synthetic fiber makers that competed with hemp began lobbying Congress, they suddenly decided that it would be a good idea to pass the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act (against the advice of the American Medical Association at that time). The steep tax effectively put an end to the legal cannabis trade.

Around the same time, the government, in the form of one Harry J. Anslinger, head of the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, began producing anti-marijuana propaganda films (Reefer Madness being the most famous). These "educational" government films were designed to show how smoking marijuana was responsible for everything evil in the world.

Our friend Harry was a very quotable fellow. He once implied that "musicians, not good ones, but the jazz type" smoked marijuana, and on another occasion spoke about the danger of marijuana making white women want to have sex with black men.

The push to outlaw marijuana in the '30s was part of a broader effort to outlaw all drugs, including alcohol. America came to its senses and repealed alcohol prohibition after a few years. It's "high" time to do the same for cannabis.

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