Marijuana: 75 Years of Failed Prohibition

By Amanda Rain of Portland, Oregon. Amanda is the outreach director for the Yes on 80 campaign. For more information, visit

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.


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    Yes, prohibition is a failure. Nearly 20,000,000 Americans have been arrested for marijuana. Oregon police still arrest or cite nearly 10,000 people every year. This incredible waste of our criminal justice system makes us less safe. If you ever need to call 911 so police can protect you from a dangerous criminal, do you really want them busy on a pot bust? Regulation works better at keeping kids off drugs. Vote yes on Measure 80.

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    There is much to be gained by passing M80. Industrial hemp can be very good for the economy and the environment. It would move us substantially toward sustainability.

    Reducing the cost of and damage done by the drug war is just as significant. Prohibition of a product which the public will not give up is corrosive to good governance.

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    Listen to the City Club debate on the issue; I came in ready to learn about why this was a good measure, and came away realizing that it was a very stupid measure, e.g. decriminalization is almost meaningless when almost no possession arrests are made. Even just listening to Paul Stanford's answers makes it clear, I think; getting a more thorough view, from Josh Marquis, nails it shut.

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      Meanwhile, literally Billions of dollars are leaving the State every year in the hands of Cartels who run 90% of the marijuana market: it is time to stop this economic bleed and turn it into a revenue stream instead. Make Josh Marquis prosecute a rapist once in a while.

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        If black market pot growers/dealers make "literally Billions" every year, why would they suddenly agree to be regulated, pay taxes, and expose themselves to a massive number of years in federal prison when the feds use the list of Oregon dealers as their warrant list?

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          I think it is more important to give tax-paying Oregon farmers the opportunity to grow this crop...illegal plantations in the forest will never be able to compete with legally grown crops grown in farmland.

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            Listen to what Paul Stanford says about his measure ... it's just going to be used to goad the federal government to arrest and prosecute large growers; no one (sane or sober) making big money illegally is going to expose their operation to a fed bust.

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          What gives you idea that drug dealers support M80?

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    Jonathan, I'll listen to the mp3 you've linked, but I have to vehemently disagree that decriminalization is meaningless - in fact, FULL LEGALIZATION for adult use is very important in destroying the cartel-like "medical" growers who are disrupting watersheds in our region. I recently became a cardholder myself, and found that marijuana has replaced for me 3 different nasty pharmaceutical drugs for my severe chronic pain. After using these far more harmful commercial drugs for 22 years, I found marijuana does the job far better, and with far fewer side effects. But the OMMP program costs money, it's very tightly regulated, our doctors are essentially afraid to discuss Medical Marijuana, and unable to recommend it, and if I go into a grow store, I have to pretend I'm growing "tomatoes." If I go into a smoke shop and ask for a scale, I have to pretend it's for tobacco (a far more dangerous product!) If I run out of product, and can't acquire more (I am low income) - I get SICK again, and it can take me 2 months to recover. This is just the beginning. But these are facts: 1. This is a very safe herb. 2. The danger in marijuana is almost completely in the illegality of it. We MUST destroy the black market. The only way to do this is FULL legalization for adult users.

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    Also, for truly effective medical use, we need to be able to possess much more than 1 oz. Furthermore, if we want to grow in an environmentally sound manner, we need to be able to grow outdoor organic herb during the natural growing season: 1 crop per year. We grow, harvest, cure, store, and use that crop throughout the year. The current 6 plant limit makes that pretty tough on medical patient/growers. And of course, commercial hemp farming (for food and fiber) is currently impossible. Oregon could benefit so much from full legalization. It would encourage new industry development and help medical users with safe access. It would make it easier to talk about the herb without fears. Also, I personally feel very strongly that we need to force a confrontation with the feds on this Schedule 1 nonsense. Oregon has the opportunity to be a leader here.

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      Seriously? How quickly do you go through 1oz?

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        The federal government gives my friend Elvy Musikka 300 pre-rolled cigarettes every 25 days, or about 8 ounces a month. This is cinsidered Safe Dosage by NIDA and the FDA, so an ounce lasts about 3 days for a typical patient.

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        Jonathan, consider changing he way you view the herb. It's not just for smoking, it's not just for psychoactive use. There is no known lethal dose for humans. It is very useful, for example, infused into oil as a topical medicine.(1) People are successfully self-treating cancer using a highly concentrated form of cannabis - for that you need a pound or more. High-CBD low-THC plants or parts of the plant (like leaves) work the best as painkillers.(2) And again, let's talk hemp... the golden years of Oregon's timber industry are never coming back, but we could become a leader in (sustainable and organic please) industrial hemp production.(3) And food: the seeds are said to be healthier than flax or chia seeds.(4) Yeah, the feds are still against us, but that's ok - we are GRASSROOTS. This is a change that needs to happen in communities and states FIRST - feds will come along, kicking and screaming or otherwise. This is a people's revolution.





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          sorry my footnotes are off... prob trying to say WAY too much in a comment. This plant just offers so much incredible benefit to humans. Why on earth was it ever made illegal??

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    We are currently allowed to posses 24 ounces for medical use, but the issue of Safe Access still needs to be addressed and likely will come up in the Spring. In the meantime, passing Measure 80 protects patients by getting the cops off drugs and letting them focus on actual crime.

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    Cannabis seeds have been found with humans dating back at least 6,000 years and probably longer. (cf: Cannabis is very effective for hundreds of medical conditions which are not among the 4? legally acceptable medical uses in Oregon. Cannabis is also an effective healer in non-psychoactive forms. Those of us who are card holders have the privilege of experimenting. I recently hurt my foot badly while camping and after finding moderate relief with other topical products - amazing recovery and (bonus!) incredible pain relief from a makeshift cannabis leaf poultice. Marijuana has anti-fungal properties, anti-inflammatory properties, antibiotic properties, painkilling properties, and it helps our cell regenerate. A growing avalanche of scientific studies backs all of these amazing claims (Google is your friend!). Why shouldn't EVERYONE who needs it have access to it? The reason some of us get so excited and about the promise this very old medicinal herb is because it is genuinely exciting and remarkably safe.

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