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?"
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: