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Race, Class, and the War on Drugs (english)
by Joey Only
14 Dec 2002
A litany of wars against the ugly war.
RACE, CLASS AND THE WAR ON DRUGS
Essay by Streetpoet Joey Only
“I give you all the seed bearing plants.”
Friday the 13th
THE CRIMMINALIZATION OF MARIJUANA AND DISSENT, CLASSISM AND RACISM:
History of North American marijuana prohibition:
Up to the 20th century, what’s now labelled illegal narcotics, was a socially accepted phenomenon. Addiction to drugs was considered to be a health issue for phycisians, and not a law matter for police. Hemp seed was in the Pharmacopia until pot’s prohibition in 1937.
The Marijuana Tax act was pushed through cogress by a particularly ugly fellow named Harry J. Anslinger. A big bald man who resembled Mussolini. Marijuana was of no concern to Americans in the dirty thirties; economic hardship was rampant. It was up to Harry Anslinger to demonize the usage of marijuana.
Compiled were The Anslinger Files. These were cases throughout the 1930’s that Anslinger compiled and sensationalized. The most gruesome murder stories from across the nation were put to use; to trump up charges of mad Mexicans. These ‘Mexicans’ according to Anslinger, went into a murderous rampage upon inhaling the marihuana cigarette. Looking through these files, it’s unbelievable that anyone bought these lies as they are so extreme.
File after file of brutal murders were put together. It was said that Marihuana was smoked by poor Mexicans and African American populations. This was largely true, in the Great Depression most people were poor. To this day most African and Mexican Americans are poor. It was largely the poor of the time who used pot, allthough it wasn’t all that common yet in white populations.
It was uncommon enough that the stories scared Congress into passing the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937. The plant that General George Washington said would make America rich, was crimminalized. The plant that the Pharmacopia said was a cure all, was considered evil because of a bumbling bald racist American politician.
Ansligers sensational stories became the fuel of an international propaghanda campaign. Reefer Madness, and other unpopular movies, claimed that smoking marihuana was done in the practice of worshiping Molech. Molech is a pagan god in the Old Testament of the Bible. This campaign drove a great deal of fear into the religious and conservative communities of the time that exists to this day.
The Marijuana Tax Act was enforced by the Anslinger’s Tax Burreau, with very limited sources. Perhaps enough to make 300-400 arrest a year for the first decade. The enforcement of the drug laws was very discretionary, as there wasn’t the resources to nab everyone. It is unclear from my research what the requirements were for who got targetted and who didn’t. It is very evident that the Tax Burreau’s primary targets were Mexicans and Black populations.
Anslinger became the chief marijuana killer in the United States until the 1970’s. There are a world of woes he can be attributed too.
Into the 1940’s Anslinger had to keep the momentum going. The most progressive crowds tended to smoke marijuana at the time. Cab Calloway and other jazz musicians sang about it in songs, as did other more progressive singers. Jazz music was largely a black cultural phenomenon in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Around this Anslinger made some startling claims to get some boosts in his departments funding. He pointed to the fact that the jazz culture was rampant with marijuana, and made the accusation that good white children would hear the songs and be perverted by them. They might want to smoke marijuana.
It became obvious by the late 1940’s, that marijuana didn’t make people murderous after all. At least not the whites who were using it more tha ever before. Anslingers next attack on North American marijuana production claimed the precise opposite. During the 1940’s there was war, Hot and Cold. Anslinger claimed that it was making people passive and unwilling to fight.
Marijuana was called a tool that the communist was pushing into the United States. Large segments of the population bought this lie as fear of communism was a state sponsored sentiment, reinforcing the ‘American way of life’. In the same breath Anslinger said that smoking marijuana did not lead to further drug use. This is a claim that they would change in the 1950’s. Harry J. Anslinger changed nearly all of his opinions bar one, marijuana was from the devil.
It was at this time that McCarthy began to go on his Communist/Witch hunts. It is now known that social thinkers and actively outspoken people went missing. Those who dissented against the state were targets.
Beatnicks, poets, and peace’nicks became smokers of the pot. Anslinger was able to continue pushing his line of how pot makes people passive during the Korean War, and into Vietnam. That passiveness was considered intolerable while America was in a seige of fear from Communist Russia.
Anslinger drew connections of marijuana to communists, activists, beatnicks, jazz culture, the working class, and in general; attacks on the status quo. He was able to receive more funding based on the classist and racist assumptions he had endorsed.
What is shocking about this is a number of things. Until the 20th Century, the majority of opium addicts were middle to upper class housewives. Then it was considered a medical issue. But the turn of the century saw a growing Chinese population in North America that was looked upon unfavorably by the whites. Opium use was considered part of the immigrant Chinese culture.
Hemp and marijuana were grown throughout the United States as a principal farming economic resource. In the 1880’s a disease killed much of the American hemp crop, it ceased to be an economic staple again and was largely forgotten about. In the 1937 hemp seed oil was still acreditted by doctors to have vast medicinal purposes. But much of the marijuana that was for smoking was being smuggled into the United States from Mexico.
However considerable persecution regarding certain stimulants has a history with First Nations people. Europeans considered the native practices of taking peyote, mushrooms, jimson, or other hallucinogens as part satan worship and banned all religious practices in Native communities that involved these things.
The beauty of the shamanic tradition was eradicated by fundamentalists, colonialists, whites, and Christians. In return for hallucinogens that made them wise by their traditions; the Natives were given alcohol which made the culture die to the new tradition. An apparently legal drug was given to them freely; which has proven to have more devastating effects on society than possibly imagineable. After the ‘Great’ War, and into the depression people were probably drinking heavily. The wild roaring twenties challenged the class behaviour of the ruling elite.
The prohibition of marijuana came after the failled attempt to prohibit alcohol. The Marijuana Tax Act was past in 1937 clearly because of racist and classist overtones.
By the 1960’s there was a full out attack on the classes. America was in turmoil during that decade. The Black Liberation movement was in full force, and a lot of its people were smoking pot. Thanks to vast spending increases, Anslinger was able to target broad cross sections of the population. The police, as they do now still, used drug charges to jail liberationists. During the race riots of the 1960’s one person said,”the air smelled of pot everywhere.”
Harry J. Anslingers bestfriend, J. Edgar Hoover began to play some nasty tricks. This is no conspiracy theory. The FBI did two things to seriously disrupt the Black Panther, and Black Liberation movement. The FBI began to pour drugs into Black Ghetto’s. Mummia Abu Jamal speaks of this well in Live From Death Row. Filling the black communities with heroin and cocaine destroyed a lot of lives, and took the momentum out of the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of fighting, people were dying on the streets. An effective way to keep the Black population powerless and poor. It also led to a massive increase of their ability to imprison black populations.
The other thing the FBI did, and I won’t talk about it much, was called the Counter Intelligence Program. Commonly called COINTLPRO, and it was designed to tear into the radical left movement. COINTLPRO is credited for dismantling the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement and the Anti War Movement (along with others).
The perception generated against the anti-war and hippy movements was that they were total fuck ups. The crimminalization of drugs and dissent went hand in hand. Richard Nixon was able to intensify the war on drugs through the 1960’s, and did so with racist reasoning, and with will to break the growing revolution.
On January 17th 1972, the official War on Drugs began. Anslinger and Hoover were both to be out of the picture soon. Good riddance you old fat fascists!
Nixon’s aid had written in his journal what Dick Nixon’s reasons for the war on drugs would be. It was because of the unrest in the blacks. Nixon wanted to target them, without saying that they were being targetted. Drugs could do just that.
He was a racist war mongering pig. His administration killed millions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and who knows where else. As if insult to injury, Nixon put the fight against drugs into the forefront of American internal oppression.
THE LAST THIRTY YEARS
The last thirty years has been a total intensification of the War on Drugs, and its classist and racist implications. The dynamic of the last thirty years is the horrible icing on their green cake.
Police officers have a lot of discretion on how they make drugs busts. 90% of the busts made in the United States are for small street amounts of whatever drug they catch. For the most part, it has been the people that have no where to use drugs, that are most vulnerable to arrest. Homeless people are charged often with drug possession, and don’t have the means to pay bail. Police also target the people that will lead to the easiest convictions, which is much easier with the poor.
People who have shelter and security, stand a much greater chance of not being caught. When one looks at the social dynamic of the United States and largely Canada, they see who generally has the most money disproportionately are white people. People who have money go to Drug Treatment, while those who don’t go to prison.
People with wealth have the money to hire lawyers, go to treatment programs, and pay bail. People without wealth do not have this opportunity. It has become blaringly obvious that the majority of those going to jail on drug related charges in the United States are people of colour.
While 74% of illegal drugs consumed in the United States are by white populations, the statistics reflect the opposite in terms of incarceration percentages. Only 20% of the people in jail on drug charges are white, while 57% are black. Yet at high quality treatment centres 58.3 percent of users are white, and 23.9% are of African origin.
1 in 4 American black men between the age of 20-29 is in prison. The incarceration rate is skyrocketing so high that if it were to keep up its present rate, by 2017 America will have gone all the way back to the Slavery of 1863. In 1863 there were two million black men, and two million black women in American slavery. At the rate of imprisonment that is happening now in the United States, there will be 1,999,916 black Americans in prison.
The length of sentence for white drug offenders now averages 58 months, while it is 107 months for the black American. America has the highest rate of imprisonment in the entire world. 700/100,000 people are behind bars in the USA while Russia is the other big one at 665. Of that same ratio, 4,848/100,000 people behind bars in America are black men while it is only 705/100,000 white men.
While America boasts of its low unemployment rate, two million people sit behind bars. 40% and growing have black skin. Behind bars most people work, increasingly for corporations because of prison privatizations. What this is doing is putting vast segments of the working class population into profitable slavery. Millions of people in the United States have been hardened by the brutal American Penal System all because of a few grams of pot, or a bit of coke.
The War on Drugs has an interesting implication. Because of charges laid by the state, 1 in 3 black men can not vote. 1 in 4 black people will go to jail. The United States actually withdraws the right for people charged under certain laws to vote. How would America be different?
Since 1937, the majority of people put in prison on drug charges have been racially biased, or at best classist. However back then charges for possessing a few joints could go as high as five or ten years.
There is a clear disparity in who the War on Drugs targets at home and who it doesn’t. The Reagon Administration was found to have also imported drugs into the United States by the Central Intelligence Agency. This practice is reported frequently to happen by the CIA to this day. During this time Miss Morality Nancy Reagon was telling North America’s use to, ”JUST SAY NO.”
JUST SAY NO, that slogan appeared on a lot of the video games I played as a kid with an FBI logo on it. Usually when I dropped a quarter in the arcade machine, or turned on the Nintendo. As I was told that people in the arcade did drugs, a reprehensible fear was re-inforced. The “bad teenagers” who were often poor at the arcade and had no where else to go, did drugs. They were the bad people. Since then I have come to learn that the Reagon administration perpetrated enormous human suffering, and military conflict all over the planet. I now believe people like him are the bad ones.
The War on Drugs has had a dirty foreign policy that creating violent conflcts in Panama, Columbia, and many other South American States. The CIA, FBI, and countless untold military operations went down in the 80’s in Latin America.
The CIA had shares in the Heroin and Opium production in Afghanistan well before the War Against Terror. This was another war, such as the ones against drugs and communism, designed to justify whatever brutal measures America wanted to use.
As America now uses terrorism to justify it’s overtly Imperialist agenda, it has used to use drugs as a scapegoat. If it’s interests are oil fields near Afghanistan, or in Iraq, all it must do is prove that it believes it has an enemy there. To enforce American economic order on South America, all the US had to do was say that drugs were coming from there. Then it needed to convince people all the social ills drugs caused. Communism was used in the same way, to crimminalize dissent, and push on with Imperialist agendas and resource grabbing. The existence of an enemy stops the public from asking questions.
Some people still believe we were trying to stop the domination of south east Asia by the Communists.
ATTACKING MARIJUANA IN CANADA
Twenty year ago, the RCMP would land its helicopter if it found one pot plant from the air. That has changed drastically as has the Canadian ability to grow quality crop. Increasingly, residents in rural Canada found that the police wouldn’t bother trying to take down small operations. People in Madoc Ontario often claimed that the police wouldn’t touch a grow under fifty plants. Yet in Stirling, just south of Madoc, a $14 million grow up was busted in June 2002.
The growth of marijuana in rural Canada must be seen in its proper context. The resource driven economy is not as prevelent to everyone as it used to be. There are more people living in the country, yet fewer jobs available. Rural Canadians tend to be poorer and have less access to community resources, especially since neo-liberal times.
As the Canadian government and police chiefs are increasingly becoming more aware of scientific fact, there has been talk of decrimminalization. A lot of Canadians believe this rhetoric but in 2002 precisely the opposite happened. The War of Terror has aimed at slowly gaining power over Canadian resources and law, as did the North American Free Trade Agreement.
In 2002, American agencies began to establish themselves in Canada. The FBI has been planning to put an office in Toronto, and one in Vancouver. Reports indicate that this office is on active duty now. The United States is beginning to point to the marijuana production in Canada as a principal provider of its weed.
This fall the Drug Enforcement Agency paid out a gross sum of money to the RCMP in B.C. last summer. The DEA and RCMP began a campaign to hit all the big grows they could along the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. People living on Hornby Island resisted when 4 out of 8 patches the police picked were raided. On those islands Marijuana export to the United States is considered the base of the workers economy. On Texada Island, the RCMP and DEA hit if for 10 days straight. Yet on another island (possibly Cortez) the RCMP built a police station that was burned to the ground before it opened. Pot is part of the simple, non connected to society, hippyish island lifestyle in British Columbia.
A social condition in British Columbia developed since the year 2000. The Gordon Campbell government. The waves of poverty that have smashed rural communities was the reason why the pot grow was bigger this year than it ever was before. People in British Columbia were actually saying to me that they had to grow this year because with the cuts, and the innaccessibility of welfare, they were unsure how they would survive the winter.
The DEA and RCMP may have hit a few patches owned by Biker Gangs. There is no doubt that bikers exercise considerable control over the pot industry, but it is likely only 25% true. Marijuana growing is done by average people in Canada, more so in warmer B.C. but also in the eastern provinces. There is considerable evidence to prove that it is the Law Enforcement of drugs that keeps the prices high, and the bikers in business.
In most of the operations the RCMP did with the DEA, nobody was arrested. The pot stolen by helicopter on Hornby Island was sent to Comox Armed Forces Base and apparently “destroyed”. These operations cost millions of dollars to pull together. They steal money directly out of the plantations of poor and rural people while wasting tax dollars on police operations rather than housing or welfare.
When there is no forest to cut, Salmon to fish, mines to dig, or environment to molest, the rural person is increasinglyturning to the growth of marijuana. The social stigma is all but gone to smoking and growing pot. Twenty five or thirty plants can pay off as much as $10,000 dollars, which helps a poor family. Generally it gets sold to the cities where the value is higher. Some estimate it to be a $6 billion industry in British Columbia alone.
It involves farming equipment, lights, fertilizer, soil, buckets, harvest, drying, curing, trimming, selling, and trafficking. There are so many ways that pot puts dollars into the community. The General Store owner in Bannockburn Ontario once told me he believed, “half money I make here is because of pot grows.”
As long as Canada is a top quality producer of pot, some of the best in the world, America will not allow decrimminalization to happen. Further racist and classist attacks by the state will ensue. Poor and working people are realizing that marijuana provides great potential to our society.
One rural family I know in Ontario makes the bills match up by having a small grow operation every year. Between a carpenters job on the side, a garden, a few farm animals, trees to cut for firewood to burn and sell, and a bit of pot they are able to keep vehicles running, and children fed. Basically, they are able to live a priveledged working class life.
Pot’s oil burns cleaner than gasoline. It can be used to make paper, and that would stop a lot of logging practices. It can be used to make cheap clothing, and that would stop a lot of clothing manufacturing as hemp is still illegal in the United States. Pot gives $$$ to rural communities often legitimately. It’s medicinal effects are greater than many corporate chemical pharmaceuticals on the market, relieving pain, stress, settling stomache, giving appetite, controls sleeping, stops asthma attacks, headaches, and many more. There are over 2,000 practical uses to pot.
It’s physical and addictive effects are less than tobacco, coffee and alcohol. The drugs fed to genetically modified food have often been more dangerous to humans and the environment than a green plant. Pot is a source of economy that can not be controlled.
However it can be demonized. It can be crimminalized. It can be used to carry out detaining people into a racist prison system. That prison system can be privatized; the prisoners can work off their debt to society making fibre optics for a high tech company. It’s prohibition has and will be used to silence dissent. The War on Drugs, raises the prices, and also creates needless violence between competition. This war has failled to provide safe injection sites, or needle so that heroin users in North America are still percentage wise the most devastated by AIDS.
The one thing that the war on drugs has failled to do is stop drugs. The very people it says it wants to help, it harms. It is a tool of oppression against poor and working people. As tobacco kills smokers and everyone around them, pot has an untraceable cancer rate. Yet the government makes incredible tax payoffs from alcoholics and cigarette addicts, which funds police and military indirectly as North American governments are destroying social programs.
The alcohol and tobacco industry is much like the prison system. They trap people in it, make money off them, and ruin their life and everyone’s around them. The health care industry makes big payoff in the United States from cancer. Alcohol makes people unruly and violent.
Billions of dollars have been spent to catch people and put them in jail on drug related charged. It would be interesting to see the total price tag, and then reflect on the increasingly utter poverty so many face in North America. Billions blown warring Terrorism and Drugs diverts money from badley needed social programs. The State of Minnesota will soon give no money to families who need welfare. The Canadian government refuses to honour its commitment of 1989, to end child poverty in Canada. (it has grown from 14 to 16% since). 2,000 people a week face eviction in Ontario.
It has to make one wonder, why are we still fighting this war on drugs?
I’ve given some background, now listen to the experts.
Listen to RACE, CLASS AND THE WAR ON DRUGS
-This essay is free to use for all non-profit puposes.
This essay is a combination of references from ongoing studies I have been doing for the past three years. I have been researching everything from criminal law, class, race, aboriginal shamanic practices, and even been involved in the marijuana industry first hand to see how it works.
This study will continue to adapt as the information collects
-Joey Only has worked in anti-poverty groups such as the Anti Poverty Committee in Vancouver, and the Tenant Action Group of Belleville Ontario (an Ontario Coaltion Against Poverty ally and affiliate). He continues to pursue studying and writing in his spare time.
tenantactiongroup (at) hotmail.com