The War on Drugs
Let’s not forget how the War on Drugs or the American government’s crusade against marijuana began.
Sadly, much of our anti-drug legislation throughout history is steeped in racial bias or economic gain. One of the first major pieces of legislation against psychoactive drugs was San Francisco’s anti-opium law of 1875. This and similar legislation were directed specifically at Chinese immigrants. Other race-targeted drug laws include the South’s anti-cocaine laws in the early 1900s (against blacks) and the Midwest/ Southwest’s anti-marijuana laws in the 1910s and 1920s (against Mexican and Latino immigrants).
Critics today allege that these communities are still the disproportionate victims of drug enforcement and sentencing.
In June 1971, Nixon and his administration declared a War on Drugs and thus made marijuana a Schedule I drug, where it remains to this day. Nixon cited rising crime, death tolls, broken families, and other social tolls of widespread drug addiction to justify the legislation, but was the health of the American people the administration’s main concern?
In 1994, journalist Dan Baum interviewed John Erlichman, Nixon’s chief domestic advisor who served 18 months in prison following the Watergate scandal. Erlichman’s account on the War on Drugs, however, differed greatly from what the administration said at the time:
“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: The antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
But which common drug in the United States is killing the most Americans? It’s not what you might think. In fact, the DEA doesn’t even have a problem with it.
The Real Killer
Since their sharp increase in popularity in the ’90s, opioid painkillers have risen to be the most lethal drugs in the United States. Though they dull the nervous system and the pain receptors in our brains and thus make effective painkillers, addiction to and death because of opioids have devastated Americans from all walks of life. In 2014, 40% of drug overdose deaths were caused by opioid painkillers, many of which are Schedule II.
And yet marijuana is the Schedule I drug. So what does the DEA’s decision mean in the short-term?
For the time being, the DEA’s decision doesn’t really mean much, except for a means to provoke the anger and frustration of those seeking marijuana’s legalization.
Though the decision maintains that the recreational and medical use of marijuana is illegal, as well as all dispensaries, their workers, and clients, we shouldn’t expect much to change. The Obama Administration has urged drug agencies to permit states to enact their own laws on marijuana, Hillary Clinton has stated that she would continue this policy, and Donald Trump has most recently made comments considering this an issue of states’ rights.
On the plus side, the DEA is also relinquishing the government’s monopoly on marijuana research. For individuals and agencies that believe the government has purposefully only carried out studies indicating marijuana’s harmful qualities and effects, this newfound freedom could be a refreshing chance for other organizations to study the drug.
So while there’s hope on the horizon, these would-be-researchers will still have to go around rigorous scientific evaluation and a lengthy process of security checks and approvals from the FDA and DEA. But as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And marijuana lover always find a way.
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