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Up in Smoke

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Essay title: Up in Smoke

Many people assume that marijuana became illegal through scientific research and governmental hearings that proved it to be potentially “dangerous” to the public. However, the actual history is quite different. With a combination of ignorant, corrupt legislators, yellow journalism, racism, greed and fear, marijuana was classified as a schedule I drug in 1937 passing the Marijuana Tax Act which prohibited research or experimentation for years to find out the actual health and economic benefits of the legalization of marijuana.

Before marijuana became known for it “recreational” uses, the actual plant, hemp, was used for many industrial purposes, however; the production of products using hemp was a fairly new process that did not get to develop since marijuana was soon after illegalized. Hemp can be used to make biodegradable plastic, which would be better for the environment being that the petrochemical, polyester plastic we use now, made from oil, a scarce resource we could conserve, is non-biodegradable. Using hemp as a replacement would eliminate most plastic trash. Also, being that fossil fuels are rapidly diminishing, hemp would be a good substitute. It can be used to make gasoline, charcoal, and methane to conserve what little fossil fuels we have left. Among other various uses of hemp are clothes, rope, and probably the most important: paper. Paper made from hemp would not only be cheaper to make, but easier to make being that it takes years to grow trees and weeks to grow hemp. Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the production of hemp paper would have greatly threatened the forestry industry, which was a big customer to the railroad industry, the most powerful industry at that time. Being that both industries felt threatened and had ties with many powerful politicians, they began to lobby politicians to make the hemp plant illegal entirely to avoid competition. The politicians were happy to make marijuana illegal, but they needed public support.

Smoking Marijuana was almost unheard of before the 1900s in the United States. Eventually, the public primarily linked marijuana smoking with Mexican-American immigrant workers, who spilled across the border bringing marijuana after the Revolution of Mexico in 1910, and African-American/ Latin jazz musicians, with hits like “That Funny Reefer Man” by Cab Calloway and “Muggles” by Louis Armstrong. Both communities were commonly connected to evilness, crime and violence. Racism played an important role in getting the public to illegalize marijuana. A newspaper editorial from 1934 proclaiming: “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men's shadows and look at a white woman twice," was only the beginning.

At that time, the Federal government did not have the constitutional power to outlaw alcohol or drugs, since under 10th amendment, regulation of medical practice and “local” affairs was considered beyond congressional power. (Both provisions now hold little meaning). Since the Federal government could not outlaw drugs, they simply taxed legal amounts of opiates and cocaine under the Harrison Act. Those who were caught breaking the law were found in trouble with the treasury department.

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established as a new division of the treasury department to give the government more control over the public’s use of drugs, but only opiates and cocaine were considered “drugs” at the time. Seeing that this could be an excellent career advancement, the ambitious Harry J. Anslinger was named Commissioner (director). This started the all out war against marijuana.

Harry immediately realized he needed more than opiates and cocaine to build on his new division. He quickly latched onto marijuana with themes of racism and violence to catch the public’s attention of this “Devil’s Weed.” He made false persecutions using racism, once proclaiming, “the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races." Rumors began to spread of Mexicans and African- Americans snaring white children with marijuana and the story of the assassins changed. Early assassin stories tell of professional killers who were given large doses of hashish by their ruler while showing them his beautiful garden paradise as a reward for after the mission is complete, but only after the effects of the drug wore off did they attempt the mission. In 1931, the story was recreated by Dr. A. E. Fossier in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal proclaiming: “Under the influence of hashish those fanatics would madly rush at their enemies, and ruthlessly massacre every one within their grasp.” Marijuana soon after became linked with violent behavior.

Harry got further assistance from his friend William Randolph Hearst, owner of a huge train of newspapers. Hearst was eager to help

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