The other day I found a book by Lisa Brooks called Medical Marijuana—very informative and well illustrated—of all places, in a big supermarket. My, how things have changed! I recalled the movie Reefer Madness, that famously grotesque travesty of the poor weed. Since the 1930s marijuana has been maligned and demonized in the U.S.; along with the people who smoked and sold it who were jailed, especially, of course, if poor and black. Now American supermarkets are selling books about its benefits. And they’re huge! After eight decades of being lied to by the state concerning cannabis, the truth of its benefits is at last becoming known. That merits at least two cheers.
The architect of this enduring malignant lie was Harry Anslinger, in charge of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for more than thirty years. Anslinger implemented “stringent drug laws and unreasonably long prison sentences that would give rise to America’s prison-industrial complex. Because of Anslinger, millions of lives were swept up in the drug war’s dragnet, if they weren’t outright ended. But Anslinger’s wasn’t so much a war on drugs as it was a war on culture, an attempt to squelch the radical freedom of the Jazz Age for people of color” (https://timeline.com/harry-anslinger-racist-war-on-drugs-prison-industrial-complex-fb5cbc281189).
In Anslinger’s twisted consciousness, the combination of weed, jazz, and dark skin was a recipe for the downfall of the U.S.A. In 1937, he published an article, “Marijuana, Assassin of Youth.” Jazz, he thought, was conducive to anarchy, caused by pot-puffing musicians! Diabolical characters like Louie Armstrong. “Smoke marijuana,” he said, “and you might kill your brother.” Anslinger, like President Donald Trump today, was a racist and a liar.
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” he was quoted as saying. “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
As I said, twisted consciousness. The war on marijuana has been a hideous boondoggle, and there are still people behind bars for life because they sold some weed. This falsification of the public consciousness needs to exposed and condemned. On the book’s cover we read a list of positives: “digestive benefits, mental wellness, ease pain, beat stress, sleep better, improve your health.” Not a word about murdering your brother or turning into a sex fiend.
We hear of reparations today for the evils imposed on individuals in the past, reparations for blacks, for Native Americans, for women, and other victims of historic injustice. It would be useful to discuss the reparations due to the innumerable victims of Anslinger’s crimes against truth.
The demented Anslinger—whose coarse, bloated face reminds me of Mussolini’s and Trump’s—persecuted Billie Holiday, one of the greatest American jazz singers, till she ended in a hospital and died.
But things are changing. Science is proving the numerous medical benefits of cannabis. I knew the effects on multiple sclerosis decades ago from a colleague in our philosophy department who was afflicted with MS, but whose symptoms I saw vanish when we smoked weed together. There is evidence for all sorts of health benefits of this apparent wonder plant: pain, glaucoma, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, anorexia, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, migraine, nausea, cancer cells, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and so on.
The lies of the state concealed all this for the better part of a century, and was gladly launched with the cooperation of Anslinger’s white Protestant capitalist cronies. History has exposed Anslinger’s political rape of cannabis. But mass mendacity still runs wide and deep in American history, beginning with the holocaust of native Americans, based on racist assumptions of spiritual superiority. In the recent past we have the proven falsehoods that led to the Iraq war, plunging the Middle East into devolving chaos. The public was lied to about Viet Nam as it was by Truman about the need to atomic bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And so on and so forth.
Much of the mass mendacity is produced by big business or academic enclaves. The cancer producing effects of tobacco were hidden from the public to maintain sales. Big Pharma promotes their drugs as safe but the opioid epidemic today is getting worse and killing upward of 70,000 yearly.
Realizing how Americans were lied to about cannabis, we really have to ask ourselves: how much of today’s public consciousness is spun with lies, myths, and illusions? How much of our minds has been hammered into conformity by our corporate overlords? Anybody care to speculate?
All Americans need to be having this discussion. We’ll never make it with truth thrown under the bus. We live in a fantastic web of half-truths, fake news, and malign fabrications. But I believe we can make our way forward through all this. But we have to do our own thinking and our own questioning—and with respect for the common good.