Pubdate: Thu, 25 Oct 2007
Source: Times-Delphic (Drake U, Des Moines, IA, Edu)
Section: Features, Page 5
Copyright: 2007 The Times-Delphic
Author: Lucas McMillan, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Racism, Social Stigma and Criminalization: Uncovering Marijuana's Sordid Past

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in the world. 
According to the FBI, one cannabis user is arrested every 40 seconds 
in the United States.

The trade of marijuana is also one of the most profitable 
international businesses in the world, raking in billions and 
billions of dollars every year. It knows no boundaries, political or 

Despite most governments' best efforts to eliminate the trade of it, 
weed is nearly impossible to get rid of because of its sheer 
pervasiveness in our world and our culture. There is a very real 
social stigma built around weed, and it can sometimes be hard to 
separate the myth of marijuana from the reality.

There are decades upon decades of economic, political, medical, and 
even racial views of this drug that need to be peeled away to uncover 
the truth.

Marijuana, besides being one of the most common drugs, is also one of 
the oldest. Everyone from practicing Hindus to the Assyrians 
routinely used cannabis as both a medical treatment and a religious ritual.

Marijuana was even sold openly at medical markets in the U.S. from 
the 1700s through the late 1800s.

However, the legality of marijuana was heavily influenced by racism 
and xenophobia in the early 20th century. In 1910, large numbers of 
immigrants came into the U.S. to flee the Mexican Revolution and 
brought with them the concept of smoking hash recreationally.

Many Americans, especially the multitude of unemployed at the time, 
feared and resented the immigrants. By 1931, 29 states had passed 
anti-cannabis legislation.

The federal government's attitude towards marijuana was also one of 
racism and suspicion.

Take Harry J. Anslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of 
Narcotics, who, in 1937, said, "There are 100,000 total marijuana 
smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and 
entertainers," he said. "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."

Clearly, a vicious social stigma was being built around marijuana, 
and it would prove to be long lasting.

Weed is still considered a deleterious drug to this day, and those 
impressions can be traced back to the early - to mid-20th century, 
when the American government propagated outrageous and over-the-top 
myths about marijuana's effects on the human brain.

It was claimed - through informational films, the most infamous being 
Reefer Madness - that ingesting hash would cause everything from 
sexual promiscuity to full-blown dementia in people.

In reality, the effects of marijuana are much harder to determine and 
much less dramatic.

According to a case study done by the medical department at UCLA, 
marijuana does not increase a person's chances of getting cancer in 
any significant way. It also doesn't cause people to commit more 
violent crime or become sex-crazed maniacs, as shown in early 
anti-marijuana propaganda films.

These early claims about weed seem laughable now, but some remnant of 
them persists to this day in many people's minds. It is much less 
clear how smoking weed affects a person's mental health, however.

In a study done earlier this year, Dr. Stanley Zammit of Bristol 
University in England found that those people who smoke cannabis are 
40 percent more likely to have a psychological disorder than those 
who don't. It is not clear, however, if those with pre-existing 
mental conditions are more prone to smoking marijuana or vice versa.

Another confusing aspect about marijuana is the debate over the 
so-called "gateway drug" theory.

This theory proposes that people who use marijuana regularly are more 
likely to use harder drugs eventually than someone who never smoked cannabis.

Some scientists have debated and even refuted this theory, but 
several tests have been done with results pointing towards its 
validity. For instance, a study done in Australia that involved 
children who smoked weed regularly at the age of 15 were in some 
cases 15 times more likely to be using hard amphetamines by their 20s.

So why is marijuana illegal if its legal status was determined by the 
public's xenophobia and racism a century ago? So many stigmas have 
grown up around it over the years that legalizing it now is a more 
daunting task than ever before.

With all that said, marijuana isn't exactely good for you. The smoke 
inhaled is on par with that of smoking a cigarette and some studies 
even claim that one joint is equal to smoking five cigarettes. The 
tendency for weed users to hold the smoke in their lungs for long 
periods of time increases the damage that it does.

But it's not clear that THC is carcinogenic, said a report in Time Magazine.

"The latest research suggests that THC may have a dual effect, 
promoting tumors by increasing free radicals and simultaneously 
protecting against tumors by playing a beneficial role in a process 
known as programmed cell death."

It is still very much associated with crime, counter-culture and ill 
health, despite other drugs being just as likely, if not more likely, 
to be involved with such things. There is a growing movement in the 
U.S. and elsewhere around the world to legalize weed once and for 
all, an uphill battle to say the least.

Can this movement overcome the strong social stigmas surrounding 
marijuana that have persisted for nearly a century? It is a complex 
issue, with many gray areas in both the medical and political fields. 
The legalization issue will be explored in part two of this series.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake