Changing Attitudes and Better Information

Since Anslinger's day, opinions on cannabis have pulled in two different directions. Some people think it is a grave moral and social threat to the fabric of our society, which should be stamped out. Other people think it's just a bit of harmless fun, and call for its legalization. These two divergent movements appear to have been equally important in shaping current attitudes, but cannabis remains illegal.

Throughout the last sixty years, cannabis as a recreational drug has been steadily gathering popularity. Interest in it grew in the 1960's, when the public became aware of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and "magic mushrooms". Credible sources reported that Kennedy had smoked pot in the Whitehouse, and was planning to legalize. In 1964, the first headshop was opened in the U.S. by the Thelin brothers, selling books, posters and various pot related paraphernalia.

Pot's newfound respectability fuelled interest in its medicinal uses as well. Research began again, and reports started appearing in medical journals about the positive therapeutic effects in the treatment of conditions such as epilepsy, MS, glaucoma, nausea, asthma and tumors. Patients began to use this illegal drug to relieve their symptoms. In 1970, Anslinger's tax act was declared unconstitutional - and was quickly replaced by the Controlled Substances Act. Throughout the 1970's more and more evidence surfaced declaring pot to be basically harmless, while politicians continued to grapple with the hot potato of legalization.

The War on Drugs

The 1980's saw an enormous backlash against the use of cannabis, on a similar scale to Anslinger's campaign, and possibly with the same motivation. The Republican Reagan/Bush Administration launched an enormous campaign against drug use, spearheaded by the president's wife Nancy, under the slogan "Just Say No". The campaign, and others like it, was funded largely by tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.

In 1983, a program called Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) was initiated in schools all over the United States. Propaganda alleging untrue and unproven health effects was fed to schoolchildren, and students were encouraged to become police informants, passing information to the authorities about their friends' and families' drug habits. At the same time, the Reagan/Bush Administration quietly instructed American universities to destroy all research work into cannabis, undertaken between 1966 and 1976.

That same year, the federal government used aeroplanes to illegally spray marijuana fields in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee with the toxic weedkiller paraquat, risking the lives of cannabis smokers. Reagan's Drugs Czar, Carlton Turner said that kids deserved to die as punishment for smoking the poisoned weed, to teach them a lesson. Two years later, he called for the death penalty for all drug users.

Under Reagan, the federal prison population doubled. Young offenders and non-violent drug users were sent to "Special Alternative Incarceration" boot camps, where they were brainwashed with yet more anti-drug propaganda, to undermine their subversive attitudes. The President declared the War on Drugs to be one of the major achievements of his administration, while the international narcotics trade thrived and cannabis prices sky-rocketed.

In 1989, it was revealed in the Iran-Contra scandal that the U.S. Government was participating in the trading of "hard drugs" for military weapons. In the ensuing investigation, the increasingly frail and senile Ronald Reagan pleaded ignorance and, unsurprisingly, everyone believed him. But Ephidrina wonders: was this what a confused old man really meant when he was talking about the "War on Drugs"?

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