It’s Well Past Time to Right a Wrong that Never Should Have Happened!
— Fully legalize it yesterday … let it grow naturally everywhere, regulate specialties while guaranteeing affordability
[Originally written as a Facebook Note on January 22, 2018]
I’m writing this as a contribution to community concerns in my home town, Hull, Massachusetts, regarding licensing arrangements for dispensing marijuana which is now legal in Massachusetts. Our local politicians are now considering the issue. Thus, I thought some background directly rooted from a perspective in the politics of experience might be helpful.
When I was in New Hampshire’s Legislature (1986–1990 D-Rockingham District 24), I introduced legislation to study legalizing marijuana and also to look at other drugs — a comprehensive drug study bill. The 1990 very well-attended public hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee even then showed strong advocacy.
During this period I also gave a speech at the National Drug Policy Conference/NORML conference at The Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC where I introduced the Marijuana-Tobacco Trafficking Elimination Act which called for the freedom to smoke substances but restrictions on selling the products in commercially-rolled form, in essence minimizing “the push” of the product upon people.
In the early ’90s I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and I became the executive director, for the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (CLUM), of two powerful drug policy conferences at the Harvard Law School — sponsored by CLUM, the law school, the Harvard Medical School, The Boston Ethics Society and the MassCann statewide advocacy group. At one of these conferences we even had Lee Brown, the United States Drug Czar present a keynote address.
Beyond the above, I was raised at Hampton Beach in the ’60s and I’m a child of The Woodstock Era. I have personal experience with the product, mostly for creative reasons such as writing in general, songwriting, performing music and sometimes use in socially acceptable settings. The combination of my professional research coupled with my own personal experience provides me an excellent viewpoint. I know exactly what I’m writing about on this subject.
First, marijuana has an age-worn history dating back to Indigenous cultures. It’s always been a plant celebrated deeply in cultural, even religious settings. Much like a bee drawn to honey, an elephant to certain grasses; so a human naturally to the cannabis (hemp) plant. It’s an historical fact.
Second, marijuana became federally illegal under the Nixon Administration when it codified the product into the same category as heroin and other bad hard drugs. Nixon’s Administration sought this for political reasons (see below link) as it became a convenient tool by which to arrest those intensely protesting against the war. Indeed, it was under Nixon that the notorious, costly and perpetually failing drug war was born, this at a cost to individual freedom and tremendous harm to our Constitution rights.
Third, in the early 1900’s the main complaint against pot was rooted in racism, economics and politicians trying to look good and make a name for themselves. Thus, a $100 per ounce tax was congressionally assigned to possession of the plant. You’d get arrested not for consuming the plant, but for not paying the tax. Back then it was mostly minorities and musicians who associated with the plant. Consequently, non-payment of the tax helped to assist with racist policing back during turbulent times that also saw the end to alcohol prohibition.
Fourth, this natural plant grows wildly and plentifully even on marginal lands. Especially for the small farmer, hemp remains a perfect plant for a second seasonal crop. True today. Pot, before aspirin, was the aspirin. It’s long renown as a near-perfect herbal remedy. During The Temperance Movement of the late-1800s it was even advocated as a substitute for the dangers of alcohol.
Fifth, hemp has always held amazing industrial applications. Hemp was once widely used to make rope. It once was the primary source of fiber for rope-making. For example, the rigging on the USS Constitution is all hemp. During World War II when Japan took over the Philippines and the US lost access to Manila Hemp, American farmers were strongly encouraged by our government to grow as much hemp as possible for military use.
But those days saw capitalist industrialists in their heyday, growing enormously and doing their utmost to corner respective consumer markets. Let’s examine a few.
* In 1916, the United States Department of Agriculture issued Bulletin #404 which purported hemp hurds as an excellent source for making paper, rather than cutting down trees (this is still true!). In the irony of all ironies, the US Constitution was written on hempen paper, as were most books during those early days. The timber industry did not appreciate wide scale availability of hemp as a source for paper.
* The pharmaceutical industry never appreciated the idea of marijuana as a home-use remedy, a medical remedy you could grow on your own property and a substance you didn’t have to pay for. You simply grew your own!
* Henry Ford, when he invented the automobile, originally wanted to operate his vehicles using oil from the seeds of marijuana. Industrial planting produces trillions of seeds. However, the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil Company, had just gotten a handle on oil production and the influential Rockefeller family was not fond at all about Ford’s original idea.
* The fabric industry. Hemp was made into clothing, tapestries, linen (ever hear of hempen linen?), sails for clipper ships … the list is endless. Even the very first American flag were made with hemp! But when Dupont, in 1930, introduced nylon fabric the industrialist corporation did everything it could to nail down its market share, at the expense of hemp.
* Hemp can even be a source for healthy foods: Hemp seed oil, hemp oil, hemp seeds, hemp spice, hemp milk, hemp tea and hemp infusion drinks. Some folks even make cakes or brownies.
Industrially? Much like today, so it was back then. Politicians worked for those with the money and those who paid for their re-election. This kind of one-sided economics also is the incentive reason why most communities saw the small family grocer or local hardware store owner succumb to Home Depots and Walmarts. It’s also why once prevalent municipal hospitals became private for-profit hospitals and why private prisons today flourish as a cash cow. All you need is a little help from the politician whose got the lobbyist behind them!
The Marijuana Tax Act was placed on the sale of cannabis via legislation drafted by federal Narcotics official Harry Anslinger, and introduced by Rep. Robert Doughton of North Carolina, on April 14, 1937. Sadly, it passed. For the victims it became a catch-22 as the federal government rarely printed the tax stamps and the only way you could get a tax stamp was to have the product in your possession. This got you arrested!
So several balloons were flown on one string: A profit incentive to make hemp use impractical; an incentive rooted in racism and policing; and an incentive to make every politician look good as they postulated toughness upon a genuinely-concerned citizenry.
Who was Harry Anslinger and why was he leading the charge? He was the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Sort of like America’s very first drug czar. Anslinger whipped up hysteria using outright lies and blatant examples of racism to further his opportunistic campaign. Remember also racism was very rampant back in those days. It was still a time when the KKK rode through the South at full horse strength, lynching along the way. Mexican workers during times of the economic depression also were severely targeted.
But let me not get bogged down in all of that. See Youtube videos and Google searches on the following subjects for better historical understandings:
Cannabis History — Harry Anslinger:
Marijuana — The Industrial Plant:
Nixon Administration Assigns Cannabis Same Status as Heroin (see statement of John Erlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy chief):
I hope I’ve presented a reasonably good history on the background and the truths about marijuana. I won’t touch upon the medical benefits as these are already well known, they are a given.
Best bet for guiding policy is not to let the local politician get away with trying to postulate a get-tough image, of trying to look good and busy on the wrong side of an issue that’s been one of the gravest mistakes in modern society. Hold our political representatives accountable and respectfully request they right a wrong which never should have happened.
Above all, let the policy reflect the needs of the consumer and not some almighty corporation that might come rolling down the pike in the future. Let’s get better results with this than we do from Comcast and Verizon — lol!