January 16, 2018

The wheel keeps on turning

On this date in 1919 the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving birth to a new and highly lucrative small business model for some enterprising Italian and Jewish immigrants. Once the legal sale of alcohol fell under the prohibitionist ax, bootlegging gave a giant leg up to La Cosa Nostra. It took Americans a little time to fully realize the futility of the teetotaler agenda, but fourteen years later the 18th amendment was effectively repealed by the passage of the 23rd. The mafia, however, was already firmly entrenched. It wasn't until the late 60s that the FBI finally effectively broke its back and it wasn’t until after the turn of the millennium that the last of the major Dons was convicted and sent to prison. Almost a century of organized crime was birthed by puritan efforts to save humans from themselves.

Coincidental with the prohibitionists anti-alcohol efforts came the effort to eliminate yet another substance; cannabis. A fact that seems forgotten in this 21st century is that up until the early years of the twentieth century, cannabis was freely cultivated and used to produce medications, rope, and textiles. On the surface the prohibition effort was played as as just another of the do-gooder cause but the true tale of how the substance fell into the cross-hairs of the prudes is long and interesting. It mirrors a vaguely European and very American narrative. Racism.

Following the end of the Mexican revolution in 1920 the U.S. began to see an influx of Mexican immigration, mostly into border states and Louisiana. These immigrants brought their native culture, customs, and language. One of these customs was cannabis use as a relaxant, and just like Americans, they also used it for medications. They called it marijuana rather than cannabis, and while Americans were familiar with the cannabis plant as an ingredient in medications available at the time, the word marijuana was a foreign term. This ignorance was exploited by the prohibitionists, as well as a far different element of American society. This other group included groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

So an unholy alliance between the prohibitionists and our good old American racist elements took form. They began implying that the Mexicans and their marijuana must be evil. The media, fed with false and exaggerated claims about disruptive Mexicans and their marijuana use, joined in on a campaign that came disguised as law and order but was in fact just another racist attempt to keep America white. The rhetoric stoked fear among the public and the anti-Mexican movement that we still see today was born. The average American, ignorant of the fact that this terrible drug marijuana was already in their medicine cabinets, jumped on the prohibition bandwagon.

We had seen previously that controlling the citizens by controlling customs could be successful. By making marijuana a controlled substance our government successfully implemented a national strategy for keeping certain populations under the watchful eye of law enforcement. This suited our American bigots just fine.

Eighty some-odd years ago the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 became law. Since then Thirty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted recreational use laws. Voters in Massachusetts and Maine have approved legalization but those states have not yet written rules for growers or retailers, nor has it begun accepting licenses. The vast majority of states allow for limited use of medical marijuana under certain circumstances. Unfortunately it still remains illegal by federal law, but President Obama ordered the Justice Department to not enforce those laws in the jurisdictions where it had been legalized by voters. As the public becomes more aware of the racist basis for the prohibition the clamor for legalization grows louder.

So here comes the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, paying no attention to the will of the people while launching a new crusade to once again raise the specter of the evil others and their aberrant behaviors. In Sessions’ eye, our mission should again turn to citizen control, and to ensuring a good supply of detainees for creation of profits by his private prisons.

The wheel keeps on turning.