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After Going Through This Course

After going through this course, something that interested me the most was the racial xenophobia that occurred when cannabis became popularized and how it affected many minority groups after its prohibition, as well as the change of stigmas over the years. When I first started the course, I had no idea that cannabis was legal at one point in time. There are many theories and conspiracies that speculate the prohibition on hemp that is focused on certain individuals. These conspirators are identified as newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, whom the legend describes as being heavily invested in the timber industry to support his papers; the DuPont family, whose chemical company had just invented nylon and was allegedly afraid of competition from hemp fiber; Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury and the nation’s richest man, who had significant investments in DuPont; and Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who drafted the legislation. To protect their industrial interests, these parties are said to have conspired to make hemp illegal.

After the Mexican Revolution, many mexicans migrated to South West states such as Louisiana and Texas. Along, they brought cannabis because they used it as a form of healing and medicine; similar to how the chinese used opiates incorporated as remedies. In America, weed is known as cannabis, but adopted “marihuana” as the Mexicans called it after settling into the U.S. By using marijuana, it also became known as “silly smoke” based on the effects the substance had after smoking. Eventually, police and journalists began to create stories that marijuana was a murder drug. An article by Annie Laurie published in 1930 associated the act of smoking marijuana with murders. Even calling them “murder smokers” and questioning these heinous crimes as “"Murder ‘Smoke" murders?” In 1936, a propaganda film called Reefer Madness was released. In the movie, teenagers smoke weed for the first time and this leads to a series of horrific events involving hallucination, attempted rape, and murder. The following year in 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed. Cannabis sales were now taxed, and part of the reason this act was instilled was because of all the fear around the drug at the time. All of the fear was instigated from the individual behind the Marihuana Tax Act, Harry Anslinger. Anslinger was named the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics during the prohibition era. However, once national prohibition ended in 1933, Anslinger turned his focus to marijuana. His actions fueled the fire of racism and xenophobia even further.

In 1930, Andrew Mellon appointed Anslinger as Commissioner of the Treasury Department’s new Bureau of Narcotics. Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner to take up this position. Many individuals protested in the American Medical Association (AMA), in which Anslinger fed the media a barrage of propaganda for decades that distorted the perceptions of countless Americans over the effects of cannabis.

Anslinger appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee on April 27, 1937, as Congress deliberated on whether to pass the Marijuana Tax Act. He testified, "I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions." By correlating marijuana to black and Hispanic people, Anslinger created a perfect scheme of terror to sell to the American media and public. By emphasizing the Spanish word “marihuana” instead of cannabis, he created an association between the drug and the Mexican immigrants who helped popularize it in the States after the Spanish-American war. Since racism and segregation was still prominent during this time, Anslinger also created a narrative around the idea that cannabis made black people forget their place in society. But these racist ideas didn’t just influence the media’s portrayal or the public’s perception of the drug, the discrimination they encouraged was evident in real numbers. In the first full year after the Marihuana Tax Act was passed, black people were about three times more likely to be arrested for violating narcotic drug laws than whites. And Mexicans were nearly nine times more likely to be arrested for the same charge. Anslinger also used cost as a factor of how the accessibility of cannabis was easy to be obtained “To be a morphine or heroin addict it would cost you from $5 to $6 a day to maintain your supply. But if you want to smoke a cigarette you pay 10 cents… it is low enough in price for school children to buy it.” Through this association he claimed cannabis to be a stepping stone towards stronger drugs and that cannabis can cause unpredictable emotions.

William Hearst is known to be as the father of media during his time. He took over his father’s newspaper business after his death, but was struggling with other newspaper competitors. This resulted in his journalists getting second or third hand information that posed as exaggerated, elaborated, misrepresented, and even fabricated to enhance the dramatic effects of each article. In February 1938, Popular Mechanics Magazine reported that hemp was the new “billion dollar crop” in the United States[1], due entirely to the introduction of mass production harvesting equipment. A farm machine known as, the hemp decorticator mechanically separated the fiber of the hemp stalk. This mechanism threatened to make hemp a fierce competitor to wood. The hemp decorticator saved massive amounts of labor and made hemp production affordable and practical on a small scale, such as on family farms. One acre of hemp produces about the same amount of cellulose that is used to create paper, as four acres of trees. Amazingly, hemp can be made into about 5,000 different products—from paper, clothing, and food to fuel and construction timbers. The promise of hemp-based products was so great that they threatened to replace those made from petroleum-based petrochemicals, such as synthetic fibers and even gasoline. With this concept, corporate barons such as Hearst, Mellon, Anslinger, and DuPont was highly intimidated of the sustainability of hemp products. Billions in profits were at risk, thus clearly, this posed a threat to their own finances. Hearst, Mellon, Anslinger, and DuPont ostracized propaganda to turn the American people against hemp and cannabis.

Due to these four, marijuana was highly stigmatized. Growing up I remember how these stigmas was portrayed in drug free commercials. These commercials showed people on a couch as a deflated form of themselves, implying a meaning that they were not who they once used to be while their friend converses with the camera man telling him that the two friends used to have fun until the other began to smoke pot. In doing so, this made themself lazy and boring. In my mind, I remember not wanting to be like the cannabis user. Commercials such as those, health classes that covered drug uses always taught my generation that marijuana was a step towards the wrong direction. Now, it is funny to see the changes that have been made in the last 20 or so years based on actions towards the legalization of cannabis. In my opinion, I support the legalization of cannabis because of the medicinal aspect, the industrialization of hemp, and as a coping mechanism for those that struggle with mental illness. In this article, “How Medical Marijuana Made Me a Better Mom.” Diana describes her own perspective of marijuana. She actually was against marijuana and felt embarrassed when she caught her mother smoking at one point, but after being prescribed for CBD and other medicinal purposes she began to use it to alleviate her chronic pains, and depression. As result, she began to feel less on edge, and enjoyed spending time with loved ones more and participating in other activities day to day. The most vital aspect, is that cannabis has the ability to slow down the harm of diseases, such as cancer. There are many diseases that cannot be cured, but at least there is now a method to effectively slow the symptoms of life threatening diseases. This can buy time in finding a cure, on top of prolonging the life of patients. What media used to portray cannabis as a gateway drug that would lead to a life of crime and murder ironically turned out to save many. Hemp has also been proven to be a significant asset in the industrial world for housing. Hemp is environmentally friendly, fire and pest resistant, and can be used anywhere despite the climate because the thickness of hempcrete can be adjusted. Hemp homes are sustainable and durable and can last up to 600-800 years, versus normal homes usually have a lifespan up to 100 years at best. By utilizing hempcrete and taking advantage of the sustainable and durable material, this can be a step towards producing high quality homes around the world.

Not all of the States in the U.S. have legalized marijuana. Some actually only legalize the medicinal aspect by only allowing certain physicians the ability to prescribe patients with medicinal cards. Others, still have a complete ban on the substance that will result in large sums of fines, and even jail time for possession. Overall, I’ve learned so much from taking this class. The materials that were provided, on top of the assignments gave me insight on the history, the many uses, and others perspectives on marijuana. I hope one day that marijuana can become legalized in all 50 states so that more people can have access to the substance to cater to their personal needs.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.