Monday, September 17, 2007

whatever happened to the war on tea?

Heartened to learn of signs of success in the war on drugs in Afghanistan (Afghanistan has cornered 93% of the world opium supply), Matthew Engel comments on how the US war on drugs got started in the first place:

The first anti-marijuana law in the US, according to Charles Whitebread, a law professor at the University of Southern California, was passed in the Mormon stronghold of Utah. The Mormon church had been forced to end its historic tolerance of polygamy to get statehood for Utah in 1896. The clampdown was far from universal at first, but eventually many of the devotees of what was called "the traditional way" felt pressured enough to move to Mexico.

Most of the die-hards eventually drifted back, having failed to convert the locals to their religion. But in the meantime they had themselves been converted to the use of this interesting local substance, and they brought it back to Utah with them. The church's leaders - opposed even to tea and coffee - were far more horrified by the marijuana than by the polygamy, and in 1915 both the church synod and the state legislature banned it.

The ban spread, but for a different reason. Then, as now, the west had many itinerant Mexican labourers quietly enduring prejudice and enjoying their dope. So neighbouring states fell over themselves to copy Utah's ban. "Give one of these Mexican beet field workers a couple of puffs on a marijuana cigarette," said the proponent of Montana's law, "and he thinks he's in the bullring at Barcelona." Or, as one Texan legislator put it: "All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff is what makes them crazy."

Eastern states followed, and in 1937 Capitol Hill moved in and instituted a national ban. The debate on this was so brief and farcical that Whitebread, while researching for his academic paper "The Forbidden Fruit And The Tree Of Knowledge: An Inquiry Into The Legal History Of American Marijuana Prohibition", discovered the thin volume recording it had slid down the back of its shelf at the Library of Congress.

Expert witness William C. Woodward told a hearing: "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug." One congressman replied: "Doctor, if you can't say something good about what we're trying to do, why don't you go home?"

5 comments:

Mithridates said...

That's interesting that anti-Mexican prejudice was so crucial. I wonder what role was played by other racial prejudices. I had always heard that banning marijuana was a way to throw more black people in jail and that propaganda films were made in which white women were seduced by the weed and then ran off with black men. I keep thinking of Cleavon Little saying Where the white women at?

Ithaca said...

Yes, I thought that was interesting. Hadn't heard before this of a connection between drawn between banning of marijuana and any kind of ethnic or racial prejudice.

sd said...

Or how about give an Asian person a sip of the jasmine tea and he thinks he's in a Shaolin kung fu movie?

Anonymous said...

yes but you know helen America is not that simple---it's like they try to turn everything here into a drug just so they can make group sessions on how to quit and then feel like they fixed things through awareness and learning process. really, praticularly in college it seems like everything is seen as a drug---food, shopping, drinking, marijuana, even making out! (really! at info sessions they were like--some of you will choose not to drink do drugs or have sex and that is perfectly normal and should be respected by all members of the community and I was like---how are those three things the same thing---why didn't he say drugs drinks and square dancing)
things are not that simple in America in terms of drug use i think--it is really intersting to try and think why, i never knew this about mexicans.

smb

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

I had heard something similar on NPR but not as in-depth.
Interestingly enough, in terms of a kinf of roll-back of laws which outlaw the drug, California, of course, perscribes the use of Medical marijuana- but I have always wondered: If you can't grow it legally, then where does this perscribed marijuana come from?
Also, Seattle passed Initiative 75 in 2003 which is an ordinance that makes "personal adult marijuana use the city's lowest law enforcement priority" - interesting. More or less, this means that if a person is caught smoking pot by a police officer then they are simply asked to put it out and move along.
"Anonymous" has a good point- to wich I would add that, of course, America is basically just over-medicated as a whole... for example: when I had all 4 of my wisdom teeth taken out in Germany they gave me tylenol after the surgery, and when one the sockets became infected two few weeks later in Los Angeles they put me on a morphine drip.
In terms of psychological drug prescription- is it any surprise that an entire country that works all the time with little or no vaction and constant overstimulation ends-up thinking it is crazy or depressed?