America’s 80-year-old war on marijuana appears to be finally winding down. According to Gallup, almost two-thirds of Americans now favor the legalization of marijuana — the highest percentage ever recorded by the polling agency.
Gallup says the number has been climbing since 1969, when just 12 percent of the population supported legalization. Momentum stalled until 2000, but then exploded. The U.S. recorded its first majority support in 2013, and now marijuana has been legalized for various uses in multiple states.
Many municipalities have also passed codes refusing to prosecute marijuana-related charges against suspects. Use is still banned on the federal level, however, with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions promising a crackdown. Some states fear Sessions’ could even complicate state efforts to use the drug as a painkiller and illness treatment option.
Sessions is actually the latest in a long line of angry white men who have traditionally declared war upon cannabis. The creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) kicked off with the immigrant scare of the Great Depression, when immigrants were blamed for taking U.S. jobs.
After the legalization of booze, FBN head Harry Anslinger needed a new illicit substance to justify his job, and exploited the immigrant connection to pot. He argued that African-Americans and Latinos were primary users, and complained that white use resulted in “interracial mixing, interracial relationships,” according to one researcher. One of his most notable quotes was “reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
Aslinger’s “lock ‘em up” mentality began the nation’s long, miserable dance with the prison-industrial complex, and America’s subsequent $1 trillion “war on drugs,” which disproportionately impacts minorities. The ACLU claims that the drug war incarcerates black men four times higher than the incarceration rate for black people at the height of South African apartheid.
One of Richard Nixon’s top advisors even admitted in 1994 that the war on drugs was an intentional bludgeon for minorities and counterculture. While some law enforcement organizations still oppose legalization, many representatives are looking forward to an era of “regulated” marijuana sales.
Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) is executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit of police, judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement who support criminal justice reform.
“For the past 20 years, police have been predicting chaos, crime—everything short of a solar eclipse—were marijuana legalized. I was a police officer for 34 years, and after many years of seeing what actually went on, I saw that it was marijuana’s status as an illicit drug that created the problem they most feared,” Franklin told Grit Post in a statement.
“Because sellers were unregulated, they sold to children; because of the gigantic profits to be made, it attracted some unsavory elements who used that money to fund other crime; because when you arrest one dealer, you create a vacuum in the market so that the act of policing itself creates turf wars that generate violence on our streets,” he stated. “But when you take the entire enterprise out of the illicit market and into the hands of regulated businesspeople, all of these problems become less of an issue.”
Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Barbara Carreno told Grit Post that reclassifying marijuana as a legal substance is hardly a headache, since the agency has already done this with Epidiolex, a cannabis-derived drug approved for seizures associated with some forms of childhood epilepsy.
“We have to follow the law as Congress wrote it, but we can reschedule marijuana for medicines the FDA approves, as we did for Epidiolex,” Carreno said. “It’s very cut and dry for us.”