This article reminds us that there is more racism [plenty] than science [virtually none] behind our “war on drugs”.
This image really tells the story of the insanity we call the “war on drugs”:
Excerpts from the Article:
In 2013, CNN’s medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, offered a rare public apology. He admitted that he was wrong about medical marijuana and had been “too dismissive” of patients’ claims about its effectiveness, lumping them in with “high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high.” The story of his reversal reveals a fundamental and ongoing problem with the way the media and public view our drug laws—and why we need to understand their origins to move forward.
Admissions of error from either journalists or doctors, of course, are unusual in and of themselves. But this one was triply exceptional in that its author recognized that he’d been taken in by conventional wisdom. To wit, Gupta said:
“I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have ‘no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.’ They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true.”
Indeed, few of our laws regarding psychoactive drugs—with the exception of those related to pharmaceuticals for medical use regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—are based on either science or reason.
But most people seem to assume, as Gupta did, that at some point, a committee of wise and knowledgeable medical authorities sat down to consider which recreational drugs were the safest and least addictive. This august group then decided that alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine should be legal, while marijuana and everything else should not.
The assumption that this completely imaginary process occurred comes from an underlying bias that we all tend to have, which is to believe that laws are generally made for good reasons, even if we don’t know what they are. In fact, however, our drug prohibitions were created after a series of moral panics over race and immigration.
And they have locked us into a regulatory system in which no recreational drug that wasn’t favored by or known to 19th century colonialists—regardless of whether it does anyone any harm—can ever be approved. If more people knew this history and the press stopped simply assuming that these laws are rational, we’d be much better off.
Cocaine, for example, was first banned via state laws in the south. In 1905, a headline in the New York Times on the subject read “Negro Cocaine Evil” and quoted a police officer who said that “there is nothing too awful for [the cocaine user] to attempt under its influence.” An infamous 1914 piece in the Times was headed “Negro Cocaine Fiends Are a New Southern Menace.” Written by a doctor, it claimed that coke not only made black men better marksmen, but also rendered them less vulnerable to bullets, requiring police to use higher-caliber weapons to kill them.
Some dispute whether Anslinger actually uttered some of the quotes attributed to him. Most notoriously, he was said to have claimed that “reefer makes [black men] think they’re as good as white men” and “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
Regardless of whether these quotations are 100 percent accurate, there is no doubt that Anslinger frequently used racial animus to support his cause (he was actually threatened with dismissal by a Congressman for using the n-word), as did many of his followers.
Nor was there scientific justification for an anti-cannabis crusade, even at the time: in his bestselling Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari reported that Anslinger consulted 30 doctors on whether marijuana was dangerous to public health and should be prohibited before fighting for its ban: 29 of them said no, but he only quoted the one who agreed with him.
When the drug laws were updated in 1970, marijuana was “provisionally” placed in the most strongly prohibited category, schedule 1, which is supposed to include only the most dangerous and addictive drugs that have no medical use. President Richard Nixon commissioned a report, which found further evidence that marijuana is not as harmful as legal alcohol or tobacco, but he ignored it.
Nixon’s political strategy required a war on drugs, as one of his aides later told journalist Dan Baum: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
And, more than 50 years later, provisional seems to have become permanent. Cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine, meanwhile, are schedule 2 and allowed to be used in medicine—even though all are undoubtedly more harmful and addictive than marijuana.
Undoubtedly, American drug prohibition has been driven by factors other than racism and immigration panics as well—but what has not been taken into account by our laws is the harm these policies themselves do. By acknowledging their twisted history we can stop assuming that they are based on “quality reasoning” and start moving toward approaches that actually do more good than harm.