Social control is a part of everyday life. Regulations, rules, and manners are methods of social control we use all the time. School children raise their hands. We drive on one side of the road. Use the sidewalk. Eat with knives and forks. Smoke outside or in the smoking lounge…
However there are times when social control is based less on objective information and more on subjective beliefs like racism. Marijuana-based racism is social control gone wrong. In the connected modern world information not perspective, makes social control of marijuana less susceptible to racism
Social Control of Marijuana Use
For thousands of years, people used cannabis for medicine and recreation. At the 19th-century, researchers for the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report established the benefits of the plant. Yet the information was ignored in favor of social control. Managing behaviors of immigrants, minorities, and outsiders were considered more important than information.
Methods of social control occurred in many different societies throughout history. A UN report titled “The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition”, refers to several instances of social control by control of cannabis use. Brazil, Mediterranean states, South Africa, and Arab states used methods of social control. These methods would likely be viewed as marijuana-based racism today.
Social Control or Racism?
In the Arab states, hashish was popular among Sufis. Sufis were a disadvantaged group in Arab society. Despite Sufis’ religious use of hashish, Arab authorities considered it an unacceptable habit. Control measures prevented Sufis from the use of hashish. Today we would classify the removal of hashish from Sufi life discrimination.
Brazil’s system of social control of marijuana users began in the first half of the 19th century. In 1830 Brazil prohibited cannabis use for the first time.
Cannabis was not an indigenous plant to Brazil. Marijuana came to Brazil from Africa with the Portuguese slave trade.
In Angola, the Portuguese elite made it a crime for slaves to use marijuana. It wasn’t until 1934 at the first Afro-Brazillian congress, in Recife, when a dialogue began. The discussion addressed Afro-Brazillian culture and its connection to cannabis.
In the late 1700s cannabis was easy to find in Egypt. After invading in 1798, Napoleon the Emperor, recognized a problem his troops faced… Egyptian cannabis. He feared his troops would lose their “fighting spirit. So Napoleon instated cannabis control measures.
Two years later, in 1800, Napoleon forbid his troops from all cannabis use. Napoleon feared marijuana use caused a “loss in fighting spirit.” This view directly contradicts Harry Anslinger’s claims that marijuana provoked violence.
Marijuana vs. Marihuana: Anslinger’s Marijuana-Based Racism
Until 1936 both marijuana and hemp were legal in the United States. The big concern at the time was opiates and cocaine. China’s opium crisis put the world on alert about the negative effects of addiction. Harry Anslinger was the man for the job.
Anslinger became an advocate against the unregulated use of opium at a young age. When Anslinger was twelve a woman in need of her opiates asked the youth to pick up medicine at the local pharmacy. He purchased the solution using his own money. The woman’s addiction made the young Anslinger realize the perils of easy opiate access. From Anslinger’s perspective young people especially needed protection from addictive substances. It was a view Anslinger carried with him throughout his life.
As an adult, Anslinger’s initial aims had little to do with marijuana. His focus was on the availability of opiates. But soon Anslinger would make a decision without scientific information. He became convinced marijuana was a gateway drug. Addiction to marijuana would lead to the use of opiates in Anslinger’s opinion. Marijuana prohibition was the answer.
At the time Americans believed Mexican immigrants and blacks were responsible for the increase in marijuana use. Ironically Mexico already prohibited marijuana. But Anslinger didn’t notice. His focus on the degradation of youth by pot-smoking Mexicans and blacks meant his motivations were not based on science. Anslinger got his reports from mainstream media. One report from the media wrote of “colored students” at the University of Minnesota “partying with female students (white) smoking and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: Pregnancy.”
By 1937 The Marihuana Tax Act became law. It was the first prohibition of marijuana in the United States.
Anslinger’s career was long and colourful. His influence on the prohibition of marijuana was global.
- Geneva Limitation Convention, League of Nations 1931 which instated a global ban on the production and sale of opiates and cocaine.
- In 1961 Anslinger served as the US representative to the United Nations Conference for a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It was the first international prohibition of the cultivation sale and use of non-medical marijuana.
Anslinger developed a passionate distaste for marijuana use. “In a 1968 interview, Anslinger called hippies “the only persons who frighten me.” He blamed “permissive parents, college administrators, pusillanimous judiciary officials” amongst others.
Without a doubt, Anslinger believed he was doing right by the society in which he lived. Whether he meant to infuse racism into marijuana legislation remains unclear.
Social Control Based On Fact Not Morality
Social control and racism do not have to be the same simply because of history. We live in a modern connected world with plenty of access to well-researched information. The racist moral perspective can be discarded to make way for fact based regulations and social control.