Pubdate: Tue, 13 Feb 2001
Source: The State News (MI)
Copyright: 2001 The State News via U-WIRE
Contact:  343 Student Services, East Lansing, MI 48824-1113
Fax: (517) 353-2599
Author: Robert Sharpe


Regarding Erin Schwartz's excellent Feb. 9 column (Drug war has turned into 
race, class conflict), the drug war's early beginnings are rooted in a race 
and class conflict. The drug war is mainly a war on marijuana, by far the 
most popular illicit drug. Prior to passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 
1937 and the subsequent reefer madness campaign, few Americans had heard of 
marijuana, despite widespread cultivation of industrial hemp. Recreational 
use was limited to Mexican migrants. Historians argue the first marijuana 
laws were a reaction to Mexican laborers taking jobs from whites during the 
Great Depression. Legislation was passed in large part because of newspaper 
magnate William Randolph Hearst's sensationalist yellow journalism.

Incredibly violent acts were allegedly committed by minorities under 
marijuana's influence. Interestingly enough, whites did not begin smoking 
marijuana until the government started funding reefer madness propaganda. 
These days the plant is confused with 1960s counterculture, despite 
mainstream use. This misguided culture war is dangerous. As the most 
popular illicit drug, marijuana provides the black market contacts that 
introduce users to drugs like heroin. Current drug policy is effectively a 
gateway policy. Given that marijuana is acknowledged by many public health 
experts to be less harmful than alcohol, it makes no sense to perpetuate 
flawed policies that finance organized crime and facilitate hard drug use. 
Unfortunately, mainstream politicians, many of them former pot smokers, are 
more prone to counterproductive preaching than cost-effective pragmatism.

Robert Sharpe program officer at The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy 
Foundation, Washington, D.C.
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