The war on cannabis began on or about May 26, 1971, when President Richard Nixon told his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana …I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”
The famous Nixon tapes contain recorded conversations between Nixon and his staff that profile the depravity of a racist and bigot. Of course, now we know Nixon was a criminal.
“Homosexuality, dope, immorality in general,” Nixon raged. “These are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff [marijuana], they’re trying to destroy us.”
Nixon believed that “the Jews,” and “Jewish psychiatrists,” were a nefarious force supporting cannabis legalization. He asks Bob Haldeman, “What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob?”
When the Controlled Substances Act first became law in 1970, Assistant Secretary of Health Roger Egeberg recommended that marijuana be placed on Schedule 1 temporarily until the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (the Shafer Commission) reported its findings on the plant. The Commission’s 1972 report recommended decriminalizing cannabis, though that recommendation was never acted upon because the politics of President Richard Nixon intervened. He wanted to use the issue to target war protesters, African Americans and Jews.
The Shafer Commission concluded, “Marihuana’s [sic] relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.” Yet the Schedule 1 designation permanently placed cannabis on par with heroin and cocaine.
In the last 16 years, more than 183,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids made legal through the policies of the federal government. 40 Americans die every day from opioid prescription drug overdoses, said the CDC. Over the same period, there have been virtually no deaths attributable to cannabis.
Under President Obama, it appeared common sense would prevail in the federal policies towards cannabis. DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg repeatedly downplayed marijuana enforcement efforts, saying that while he’s not exactly telling agents not to pursue marijuana cases, it’s generally not something anyone focuses on these days: “Typically it’s heroin, opioids, meth and cocaine in roughly that order and marijuana tends to come in at the back of the pack.”
Instead, under President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has an “almost obsession with marijuana,” according to Former Attorney General Eric Holder. Sessions has suggested that, “good people” don’t use cannabis.
In the November 2016 election, eight out of nine states deciding on cannabis measures voted to legalize it in some form. Today 28 states allow cannabis use in some form.
Recreational/adult cannabis sales in California will be legal as of January 2, 2018.
President Nixon’s audio recordings and the innocuous conclusions of the federal-sponsored Shafer Commission show that any support for the continued criminalization of cannabis must be based on racism.