Amanda Reiman, a policy manager at the Drug Police Alliance says it’s important to consider why marijuana was deemed illicit 75 years ago on October 1st.
Take a look at what the first Commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Jacob Anslinger said:
“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 usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
Below is an excerpt from Reiman’s piece “75 Years of Racial Control: Happy Birthday Marijuana Prohibition,” that explores the history and the legacy marijuana prohibition has left behind.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of marijuana prohibition in the United States on October 1, it is important to remember why marijuana was deemed illicit in the first place, and why we as Americans must open our eyes to the insidious strategy behind 75 years of failed policy and ruined lives. Marijuana laws were designed not to control marijuana, but to control the Mexican immigrants who had brought this native plant with them to the U.S. Fears over loss of jobs and of the Mexicans themselves led cities to look for ways to keep a close eye on the newcomers. In 1914, El Paso Texas became the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to ban the sale and possession of marijuana. This ban gave police the right to search, detain and question Mexican immigrants without reason, except the suspicion that they were in possession of marijuana. Folklore started to erupt about the effect that marijuana had on those who used it. As Harry Anslinger stated, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
Fast forward to 2012. Marijuana is still an illicit substance and the laws are still being used to justify the search, detainment and questioning of populations deemed “untrustworthy” and “suspicious” by modern society, namely the poor and young men of color. A prime example is New York’s Stop and Frisk program, which stopped nearly 700,000 people in 2011. Hailed as a strategy for removing guns and violent crime from the streets, this method of stopping and questioning “suspicious” individuals, highlights the racial inequities associated with drug laws. From 2002 to 2011, African American and Hispanic residents made up close to 90% of people stopped. This is not limited to New York. In California, African-Americans are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, 12 times more likely to go to prison with a felony marijuana charge, and 3 times more likely to go to prison with a marijuana possession charge.