By Amanda Rain of Portland, Oregon. Amanda is the outreach director for the Yes on 80 campaign. For more information, visit Vote80.org.
Today, October 1st, marks the 75th anniversary of the failed war on marijuana. Considering the trillions of dollars our country has thrown at eradicating this plant and its usage from society, one would hope we could claim more success for the effort. Yet, after three-quarters of a century, it is clear that prohibition has been a complete and catastrophic failure.
According to the recent Monitoring the Future Study that tracks youth drug usage, alcohol and tobacco use amongst teens are at record lows while marijuana use soars. Eight out of ten youth today report having easy access to marijuana. Cartels and criminal organizations are profiting just as Al Capone did under alcohol prohibition, while state economies suffer. This is what we have to show after 75 years?
To truly understand cannabis prohibition, it is important to know the history. And the history is disturbing.
The outlawing of marijuana was not rooted in fact or science but rather in fear and racism. Harry Anslinger, the nation’s first drug czar, gave testimony on the floor of Congress stating, “...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.” He is further quoted as saying, "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."
Mexican migrant workers were targets of backlash over fears of Americans losing jobs to immigrants. Many of the first laws prohibiting marijuana specifically targeted Mexican immigrants. The end result? The political elite outlawed marijuana by playing on fear and racism, turning otherwise law-abiding people into criminals.
In 1970, marijuana was again the target of political machinations. While Anslinger’s quotes are outlandish and indefensible by today’s standards, President Nixon’s quotes are so obscene and disturbing they are almost unbelievable.
Nixon, who led the charge in creating the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), is quoted as saying, “You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this all while not appearing to.” When we look at a prison system that has increased more than 700% since the institution of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 – which classified and still maintains marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value – and is predominately filled with people of color, it is immoral at best to not seriously question the failures of the past and the urgent need for a new approach.
With all the federal mishandling of marijuana policy, it should be painfully clear that the states must lead the way on marijuana law reform.
Now, history can serve as a precursor. Prior to marijuana prohibition becoming federal law, several states banned it, some more than 10 years earlier. Just as cannabis was outlawed state by state, it will once again become legal – state by state. Oregon is joined by Washington and Colorado in pushing for common-sense marijuana regulation this November. And, just as Oregon voters voted to repeal alcohol prohibition in 1932 – a year before the federal repeal of alcohol prohibition, Oregon can now vote to end the prohibition of cannabis.
This November, Oregon has the opportunity to do just that. Measure 80 is a pragmatic, sensible policy approach. It will regulate marijuana like liquor – for adults 21 and older, through state-licensed stores. It will take marijuana out of the hands of our youth and of drug-dealers, and instead send millions of dollars a year in tax revenues to the state’s general fund and to mental health and treatment programs. Measure 80 will re-allow Oregon farmers to grow hemp for bio-fuel, food, sustainable fiber and medicine, benefitting our hardest-hit rural counties and reinvigorating our pulp and paper industries, our biofuel refineries, our textile mills and our already-famous hemp product companies.
Marijuana prohibition has failed. Regulation is the answer. Organized labor groups like the United Food and Commercial Workers support Measure 80. Civil Rights organizations like the NAACP support Measure 80. Past, present and future Oregon civic leaders like Rep. Peter Buckley, former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith support Measure 80. And law-enforcement organizations like LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – support Measure 80.
Please, whether you’re a student or a parent, a young professional or a senior citizen, marijuana regulation is the right thing to do and Measure 80 needs and humbly asks for your vote and support.