John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

As Colorado wrestles with the issues revolving around legalization of medical marijuana, California voters are deciding whether to legalize the herb for non-medical uses.

Actually, thanks to early voting, many Californians have already made up their minds, and Proposition 19 may well have already been either approved or rejected as I write this.

But that’s really beside my point, which is this: How can such an innocuous plant with such benign effects be the cause of so much angst and disagreement?

It’s certainly not a direct effect of smoking the stuff. I know, because I did inhale, and all it ever did for me was relax me and make me less anxious, about everything.

As I have written before, I personally believe all the animosity toward marijuana stems from the ambition and racism of one man, Harry J. Anslinger, a one-time railroad cop who rose to become the nation’s first drug czar in 1930, just as the nation was falling deeper and deeper into the Great Depression.

There have been reports that Anslinger had other motives than his personal, bureaucratic ambition and his hatred toward black jazz musicians and Mexican immigrant laborers, the two groups most typically linked with pot smoking in the early 1900s.

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On top of that, according to some, was DuPont Chemical, which desperately wanted to eliminate hemp, and anyone who grew it or used it, as a competing basis for industrial wealth. Hemp was a renewable and powerful source of rope, as well as lubricating oils, paper manufacture, and other industrial uses, and was a key commercial crop in many states at the start of the 20th century.

Thus, with the help of that noted newspaper magnate and sensationalist, William Randolph Hearst, was born a concerted, two-pronged campaign to demonize and criminalize any and all uses of the plant, which had been in common usage around the world for millennia.

Anslinger died in 1975, but his legacy lives on in the form of deeply rooted fear and anger directed at this poor little plant, fear that actually should be directed at the twin towers of the War on Drugs – the drug cartels and the often crooked drug agents who supposedly were bent on foiling the drug trade, and the industrial giants who to this day do not want to see hemp-related products on the open market.

So, we come to our sorry situation today. Despite voter approval of limited but legal marijuana use, state legislatures, federal cops and a host of others are doing all they can to make things difficult for the nascent medical marijuana industry.

Now comes California’s Prop. 19, which would legalize non-medical cultivation and use of marijuana. The battle over this measure has become an international one, as Mexico has weighed in to condemn the proposal (although former Mexican president Vicente Fox has suggested that legalization is the only rational course to take).

Proponents of Prop. 19 say it will help reduce the ongoing warfare along the U.S.-Mexico border between drug lords and the feds of both nations; free up police resources for serious crime-fighting and help ease California’s budget crisis. Opponents reject those arguments. Even some of marijuana’s advocates oppose Prop. 19, mostly, it seems, out of concern that it will affect the profits of those who have grown comfortable working in the medical marijuana field.

Personally, I think passage of Prop. 19 would reduce the flow of cash to the cartels, and might actually diminish the violence along the border, but it would not stop it. That’s because there are plenty of other drugs for the cartels to work with, and the War on Drugs has become an industry in its own right that will continue to thrive as long as there are illegal drugs and people who want them.

But the anti-marijuana feelings of the public, flogged by law enforcement types eager to hold onto their war, remain high. Neither the estimated $17 billion it costs to keep the war on pot going, nor the inestimable cost to the lives of those prosecuted for smoking the stuff seems to reduce the public antipathy for legalization.

And so it goes, though it baffles me that we waste so much effort on something so innocuous and potentially beneficial in so many ways.

jcolson@aspentimes.com