American Drug History

The following is a copy of my college paper for my race and ethnicity class. The subject I chose was the relationship between race and the 2 most well know drugs, Cocaine and Cannabis, in the US. This paper should give you a good understanding of why these drugs have their present-day stigma.

Cocaine, Cannabis, Race and the War on Drugs

The Drug War is essentially the political war in the US against "illicit" drugs, the laws of which have been on cruise control since their creation (with the exception of amendments and "new" bills). The same laws created may have been changed slightly however the same mentality still remains; this mentality of course has been fueled by fear, race, ignorance and lack of education about these drugs. When the anti-drug laws were created, tactics used to gain support for their abolition were based largely on the use of racism to scare the white American population into supporting the anti-drug campaign. The laws created had no medical or scientific support but rather the support of yellow-journalism, falsified information, near hysteria public fear and racism towards African-Americans, Mexican, and Chinese immigrants. The propaganda started largely in part by William Randolf Hearst who may have inspired Harry Anslinger to do the same. Hearst owned and operated a large number of magazine and newspaper chains and had his own motives for demonizing the most popular of these victimized substances, Marijuana (properly named Cannabis). Marijuana could produce hemp paper to compete in the timber paper market Hearst had invested his life into; he also lost much of his timber land to Poncho Villa which only inflamed his hatred for Mexicans. Throughout the years white Americans were the target audience for such propaganda in order to gain support for the medically and scientifically unsound anti-drug acts.
Over the years the targeted ethnic groups were quickly associated to the drugs and crimes that ensued from the supposed drug use. Criminal law today won’t allow drug or alcohol intoxication to be used as a defense for mens rea (a “Guilty Mind”) as no scientific evidence supports the claim “drugs cause criminal intent”. The US drug prohibition history is has its roots deep within racism and fear. The propaganda alongside the policies which reflected their misinformation created two unique subcultures, the hippies and the gangs we know today, leaving the years in-between to endure the results of the lies. 
"…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."
"Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men."
- Harry J. Anslinger
In the early 1900's around 1920, Harry Anslinger recognized a great opportunity for success within the federal government. At the time, crime was proliferating (mainly due to prohibition of alcohol) and respect for the federal government was decreasing rapidly, they needed something to gain back the support of the American people. The war on drugs was a great opportunity to identify a problem, create a solution and win the hearts of the American people; this new opportunity of course came at the cost of every non-white individual in America. During the early 1900’s many states adopted anti-marijuana laws which were targeted towards driving increasing Mexican populations away from their states. Since marijuana was their primary choice for relaxation after a hard day’s work (and most of the White population) the lawmakers thought if they outlaw their recreational drug, the Mexican population would recede eventually back into Mexico. History proves this ideology failed immensely.
 During the early 1900’s, mass communication came in the form of newspapers and radio. The mentality people had about printed news during these times was “if it’s in the newspaper it must be true”. The anti-marijuana laws were supported by false racist stories of “loco weed” causing Mexicans to go crazy and kill “white families of four”. Cocaine was also used to scare white Americans as it was a popular choice for plantation farmers in the early 1900’s to give their African workers so they would work longer hours. Rumors of horrendous crimes were attributed to “cocaine crazed negroes”. These stories eventually caused some southern law enforcement to change their weapons to a .32 caliber firearm because the Black population was apparently impervious to any other caliber while under the effects of cocaine. Because of a lack of mass communication and education these stories couldn’t be discredited, so they were taken as fact.
The stories and propaganda campaigns increased support for anti-drug laws, in particular marijuana. The justice department and politicians adopted anti-drug strategies to appear tough on crime and outlaws. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act officially outlawed marijuana at the federal level, and immediately criminalized anyone who used the plant by implementing heavy taxes and restrictions on anyone dealing the plant. Naturally any violators of the act were subject to heavy fines and imprisonment. Many judges sought to teach violators a lesson by inflicting the maximum penalties possible, Moses Baca and Samuel Caldwell were the first convicted under this new act. Judge Foster Symes stated at Caldwell’s sentencing “I consider Marijuana the worst of all narcotics… far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine. Under its influence men become beasts”. The judge had obviously taken the racist yellow-journalism to heart like the majority of every other American. Using racist stories and lies Marijuana and Cocaine had been linked to numerous horrendous crimes committed by non-white individuals, never mind the fact these supposed crimes never occurred nor related to drug use.
In the post World War II era until the late 1950’s a new drug emerged in popular use, amphetamines. The most popular amphetamine produced was Benzedrine, in pill and inhaler form. Over 200 million Benzedrine tablets were given to soldiers during WWII, even before the war as a stimulant, so the military personnel would work harder, longer and faster. Benzedrine pills and inhalers were readily and legally available in the US during the WWII era. During the 1950’s people began to take the paper strips out of the inhalers, which were loaded with Benzedrine, and eat them; these people were commonly referred to as “bennies”. The typical user of Benzedrine was the bored-at-home middle-aged white housewife. With approximately thirty-percent of all income spent on non-necessities, the 1950’s was truly a “golden era”. With new and fascinating car designs and the World War victory, Americans weren’t hesitant to celebrate. The increased use in drugs also came with the increased use of alcohol, most likely related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD as it is known today) from veterans of WWII. Alcoholics Anonymous continued to grow as a new group and went national during this time. The 1960’s brought the Vietnam War, the draft and most notably the counterculture “hippies” to the American public’s attention.
            Hippies were the next best target to keep the anti-drug campaign rolling. The government’s new ad wasn’t about race or increased crime but rather increased promiscuity and leeching off the community. Hippies were the typical college student who became educated and began to speak out against government policies. They were well known for; their open sexuality; lowered or non-existent racial barriers; and their drug use, most commonly marijuana. Here we see a completely new culture emerge which becomes the target of US anti-drug propaganda. Racial boundaries fell as people of all races had friendly relations and sex, smoked drugs and held massive parties on a usual basis. This behavior of course wasn’t kosher with the college student’s parents. To be a parent of a hippie was to say you were the parent of a social degenerate, someone who leeches off society. Anti-drug campaigns directly targeted this new culture, just as they have targeted different ethnic groups before and gained support through the same mentality as they did in the early 1900’s, ignorance and narrow mindedness.
            Hippies accomplished many things such as new music, individualistic thinking, and most notably networking. Networking through underground newspapers is what got over 400,000 to show up for Woodstock; individualistic thinking got people to challenge absolute and assumed authority, which ultimately led to ousting Nixon. The hippie culture however is not popularly attributed to anything important in today’s world other than using drugs because of the anti-drug campaigns. Racial boundaries were being broken during these counter-culture times just as in the 1930’s with the jazz clubs, however we aren’t taught this today. The rising hippie epidemic was soon to be quashed by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 listed all known drugs as “schedules” with five schedules based on three factors: its medicinal value; its possible harm to human health; and its potential for abuse and addiction. Schedule 1 was reserved for the most dangerous drugs that have no recognized medical use and schedule V is for the least dangerous drugs, marijuana was listed as schedule I. President Reagan was committed to the crusade against drugs from the beginning, even signing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 in his wife’s honor; “Just Say No” was the Reagan’s answer to drugs.
Although President Reagan’s policies only inflamed the War on Drugs, the rising urban gangs Crips and the Bloods gained their income through the distribution and sale of drugs such as Powder and Crack Cocaine. Powder cocaine was said to be “recreation for the rich” priced at $200 a gram, however a good amount of crack cocaine only cost $10. Crack cocaine was the form to “freebase” smoke the crystals and inhale the fumes, easily done in any pipe; the form of crack also produced an instant sensation versus the delayed of powder. The advent of crack cocaine was targeted mostly to those of lower income and working class; its purity is usually 75-90% pure cocaine, making this form a highly addictive, cheap, and potent high. Because crack cocaine was new and ‘untested’ it was deemed more harmful than powder cocaine despite the fact that pharmacologically both are identical. The lack of education about crack cocaine made fines for possessing crack higher than powder cocaine.
Based on San Jose’s Mercury News investigation, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency [US]) proposed to President Reagan, in March 1982, he approve a $19 million funding to organize a counter-revolutionary force to overthrow the leftist “Sandistas” revolutionary army in Nicaragua who defeated the US trained forces of Dictator Anastasio Somoza; this became known as “Reagan’s Secret War”. President Reagan accepted this proposal and approved the funding; the matter became so public that the US House of Representatives passed the Boland Amendment in December that year. This restricted military funding to the CIA counter force FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Forces) which was better known as the Contra Army. A former wealthy political refugee Danilo Blandon, whose wealthy real estate holdings and ranches were seized, had ill feelings against the Sandistas army and was asked by the CIA to lead the Contra army. With approved US funding off the table, a new source of funding had to be acquired for this army, cocaine. Large urban gangs, such as the Crips and the Bloods, grew and spread throughout urban cities such as Los Angeles, because trade routes to these gangs from Columbian cocaine cartels opened up. Blandon worked with a supplier in Nicaragua and sold mass amounts of drugs and weapons to these urban gangs and then sent the money back to Honduras and Nicaragua to fund the Contra army. Blandon began to supply powder cocaine to Ricky Ross, a small time African American drug dealer on the west coast, for extremely cheap prices who turned the cocaine into crack form, which sold like wildfire. Because of the mass marketing and network set up by urban gangs, particularly the Crips and Bloods, crack flooded the streets giving everyone a chance to escape life in the ghetto for a cheap price.
The lack of regulation of drugs created a prosperous black market, the ease of access to firearms and a massive network of suppliers and sellers only aggravated the circumstances. Gangs sprung up to protect their own neighborhoods from other violent gangs and thus began an ensuing process of gun wars over easy to make tax free money. The gang life was seductive for many urban non-white youths; drugs, sex, guns, and lots of tax free money Uncle Sam couldn’t touch inspired them to sign on; the threat of violence was always there if the answer to join was “no”. It’s through the years of 1983-86 that illegal drugs, guns, violence, and gangs became associated with each other, for good reason too. The most violent gangs lasted around twenty years. By the early to mid 1990’s, the popularity of being in a gang had grasped many youths, both white and non-white were oftentimes integrated into the gang culture with few options to escape. The nostalgia of being in a gang was downplayed and eventually the “cool factor” was phased out in the late 1990’s as technology began to emerge. In 1993 President Clinton raised the Drug Czar to a cabinet level position and also pardoned numerous individuals before leaving office, most of which had cocaine trafficking convictions. This action still causes speculation today as it did when he left office.
Many say President Clinton’s drug policies have left a wake more destructive than Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. In 1993 the violent crack epidemic from the 1980’s was subsiding and drug enforcement believed they had the upper hand. A new shift towards marijuana increased the national prison population from 1.3 million to over 2 million; this became the highest rate of incarceration and highest total prison population in a democratic state in the world. Hundreds of new prisons and courts had to be built, new judges, prison guards, and police had to be hired to accommodate this drastic increase. All of these new additions to the Criminal Justice system of course had to be funded. During the targeting shift from cocaine to marijuana, medical marijuana laws weren’t officially recognized by the Clinton administration. Medical marijuana patients and dispensers found themselves the target of DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) raids, despite if they had all the necessary and required legal paperwork. Because of the racial stereotypes set in place by earlier years, young African Americans and Hispanic Americans were targeted and sentenced more severely and more often than young white Americans.
Today we live in a society that is misinformed and confused on why drugs are illegal. Every drug policy has been implemented based on fear and the earliest policies which were founded on racism, not from medical or scientific research. The same mentality which existed in 1930’s was kept alive well into the 80’s in which civil rights and less approved funding fanned the flames sparking yet another culture in American society who became synonymous with drug use, promotions of violence instead of peace were added. Prohibition for alcohol existed for 13 years and was deemed a failure because crime increased and Americans still drank alcohol even though it was illegal. Today we have the same problem with drugs; however the laws have their roots deep within racist ideology and have been ongoing since the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. Many studies have come out about cocaine and marijuana, many of which state “marijuana in its natural form, is one of the safest alternative therapeutic drugs on the planet”. Many other studies will state the same for the coca plant leaves, from which the active alkaloid cocaine is derived, which have been used by indigenous Indians in the Andes Mountains for centuries.
What America as a society needs to embrace foods and all drugs are good for you in their natural form, not the idea that processed and concentrated drugs and foods are good for you. Coca and Cannabis leaves are perfectly safe to consume and use in their natural form. It’s when science tries to replicate, synthesize, and concentrate nature to certain elements is when the greatest harm is done. Relating everything to racism and subjects that aren’t well known only escalate matters. Many studies and commissions, such as the Shafer commission, have found these drugs in their naturally occurring form have no harmful side effects. Politicians of today need to consider the entire history and consequences of America’s drug policies and be open minded enough to say “our policies aren’t working”.