Not many people know this, but our drug policy on marijuana was heavily influenced by racism.
To understand how we ended up here, it is important to go back to what was happening in the United States in the early 1900’s just after the Mexican Revolution. At this time we saw an influx of immigration from Mexico into states like Texas and Louisiana. Not surprising, these new Americans brought with them their native language, culture and customs. One of these customs was the use of cannabis as a medicine and relaxant.
Mexican immigrants referred to this plant as “marihuana”. While Americans were very familiar with “cannabis” because it was present in almost all tinctures and medicines available at the time, the word “marihuana” was a foreign term. So, when the media began to play on the fears that the public had about these new citizens by falsely spreading claims about the “disruptive Mexicans” with their dangerous native behaviors including marihuana use, the rest of the nation did not know that this “marihuana” was a plant they already had in their medicine cabinets.
The demonization of the cannabis plant was an extension of the demonization of the Mexican immigrants. In an effort to control and keep tabs on these new citizens, El Paso, TX borrowed a play from San Francisco’s playbook, which had outlawed opium decades earlier in an effort to control Chinese immigrants. The idea was to have an excuse to search, detain and deport Mexican immigrants.
That excuse became marijuana.
The world has slowly been recovering from these racist policies. In the United States, several states have taken steps towards full legalization. Internationally, the same pattern holds, with one country standing out.
From America’s southern border to its northern one, Canadians have been able to enjoy relatively more lax marijuana laws compared to the U.S. Places like British Columbia are famous worldwide for supposedly growing some of the finest marijuana in the world, and it is one of the major sources of the plant into the United States. There are a majority of Canadian citizens who want to see the plant legalized, and much of what policymakers decide to do will likely come as a result of how the U.S. handles legalization going forward.
Yep, medical marijuana is fully legal here, Vancouver regulates it via a series of bylaws, and last time someone checked 65% of Canadians support decriminalization, the first step towards legalization. So you’d think supporting decriminalization would be a no-brainer.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper expressed his vehement opposition to marijuana once again, calling it “infinitely worse” than tobacco at a campaign stop in Montreal on Saturday.
“Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is infinitely worse and it’s something that we do not want to encourage,” Harper said. […] “There’s just overwhelming and growing scientific and medical evidence about the bad long-term effects of marijuana,” he said, not providing any examples.
Yep, Harper and the Conservatives are again’ it, in defiance of the public and the science. Medical marijuana is only legal up here because our Supreme Court said so; if it were up to the Conservatives, it would have stayed either illegal or heavily restricted, actively harming people in the process. They turn a blind eye to all the benefits of legalization…
Legalizing and regulating marijuana will bring the nation’s largest cash crop under the rule of law, creating jobs and economic opportunities in the formal economy instead of the illicit market. Scarce law enforcement resources that could be better used to protect public safety would be preserved while reducing corrections and court costs. State and local governments would acquire significant new sources of tax revenue from regulating marijuana sales.
The criminalization of marijuana use disproportionately harms young people and people of color, sponsors massive levels of violence and corruption, and fails to curb youth access.
… because … well, they don’t have a reason. Other than indirect racism, I guess.