Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Look, it's a weed.
Or maybe it's a flower.
Or it might be that stuff the President once called "the most dangerous drug in the United States."
Cannabis used to be one of the most popular drugs in the US, both as a prescription and as an over-the-counter remedy. Few people had any concerns about weed being dangerous until a man who was hired to start a war (on drugs) managed to trick us into fearing a plant that many of us had in our medicine cabinets, or even our back yards.
That man, Harry Anslinger, faced quite a challenge--it is weed, after all.
He began with a move so genius that it has remained in the playbooks for a hundred years: he changed the name of the drug.
Weed was called Cannabis when it was in our medicine cabinets--a nice, safe name for a drug consumed by hard-working white folks. Harry began referring to weed as mariHuana, causing people to (sub)consciously associate it with the Spanish language, and as such, with Mexican immigrants, who were experiencing their own unique forms of racism along with other non-white folks who lived in the United States around the turn of the Twentieth Century (1900).
Harry kicked off the Reefer Madness era by spreading propaganda across the country, using newspapers as his personal message-delivery service. He didn't threaten them or force them to print his lies. He understood the system far too well to resort to strong-arm tactics.
Instead he tempted them with easy cash, a blue-blooded patriot move if ever there was one.
He sent high-quality photographs of drug-busts along-side salacious (and made-up) stories of immoral drug-users running amuck--stealing, killing, raping and pillaging.
Most of the evil, drug-fueled maniacs in Harry's stories were men of color committing crimes against white folks. He clearly knew his target because, sadly, this recipe still works today. Our tastes haven't changed all that much as a country.
In the early 1900s, headlines read "Negro Cocaine Fiends are a New Southern Menace," providing a safe target for white racial animosity which had been stewing since the end of the Civil War. It may not have been okay to hate people of color anymore, but it was acceptable to hate drugs users (it still is).
These were evil maniacs on drugs; who has time to see skin color anyway??
The US has always loved war, and soon the Federal Government had local and state law enforcement on board. The public may have supported the war because it targeted people of color, but the police departments supported it because they saw the potential for massive funding increases (which did indeed come to pass).
Nowadays tens-of-thousands of trained police-soldiers work in law enforcement divisions whose sole purpose is the eradication of drugs and drug users. Taxpayer monies fund these military-style organizations, and they are not cheap: body armor, military-style vehicles, heavy artillery, endless training exercises, dogs, guns, cars, bullets, uniforms, handcuffs, drug-tests, battering-rams, tasers, flash-grenades, shields, and salaries paid to all of the warriors. This industrious undertaking was a massive cash-cow right from the start, but in recent decades it has ballooned to an unimaginable price tag.
It is difficult to talk about the war on drugs without talking about capitalism and racism. The "rich and powerful" have always recognized the benefit of arresting and enslaving drug users--check the the 13th Amendment if you forgot that we still enslave people in the United States to this day once they are convicted of a crime. I was employed as a slave of the state for years--shoveling snow, running a chainsaw, cooking food, doing laundry, cleaning floors, all without minimum wage, health care, or any sort of employee protections.
Our jails and prisons are modern-day plantations; we just don't talk about it. And for investors--people with extra cash looking for a good bet so they can avoid working in the future--prisons are big business. As always, the rich get richer when they invest money that the poor do not have (and therefore cannot invest), but in the case of private prisons the rich are getting richer on the slave labor of the poor, who are disproportionately people of color.
CoreCivic, just one of the larger private prison operators in the United States, made nearly $200 million dollars in income last year (2019) after paying all of their expenses. That should disgust us as members of a Democratic Republic, but we have learned too well to look the other way when bad things happen that don't cause us any personal pain. More than 6 million US citizens are currently under the thumb of the prison-industrial complex, either locked up or on probation/parole (one step from being returned to a cage at their Parole Officer's discretion).
So here we are again, bumping square into white supremacy and capitalism when we are only trying to talk about drugs and drug users. For fucks sake, it's like you can't have a conversation about anything fun in this country without running smack-dab into a historical legacy which has been ignored when it should have been cleaned up.
Maybe it is high time we began the project of cleaning up what our (great grand)parents ignored.