Harry Anslinger, the man who single handedly criminalised marijuana and was the first to coin the phrase ‘War on Drugs,’ was also the man that stated, “I have already made up my mind, do not try and confuse me with the facts.” This phrase not only sums up the failures of the War on Drugs but the general failures in almost all elements of governance and policy. Propaganda, politics and money have a far greater impact on policy than fact and science do and it is imperative that we demand change.
For example, smoking was found to be incredibly harmful as early as the 1950s however smoking in pubs was only banned by the UK in 2008. As late as the 1990s all of the CEOs of American tobacco companies stood up under oath and swore smoking was non-addictive.The science had been proven years ago that it of course was, however, policy has always followed propaganda over fact. By looking at the policies surrounding drug criminality and climate change this pattern becomes more and more obvious.
The aforementioned racist Harry Anslinger spearheaded cannabis prohibition in the USA in the 1930s as a way to to demonise and criminalise minorities. Cannabis started to be referred to as marijuana in order to associate it with the ‘dangers’ of Mexican immigration. He stated that made people go crazy, have murderous fits and that black men were using it to lure white women to have sex with them (a fear that has long plagued white America despite interracial rape historically being committed far more by white men on black women).
He called him an “axe-murdering, marijuana addict” yet after the autopsy no trace of marijuana was found; he had instead acted on his schizophrenia.”
As early as 1944 scientists released the LaGuardia Report that found marijuana was non-addictive, not a gateway drug and that it did not lead to the propensity to commit major crimes. However, Anslinger’s propaganda had already infiltrated the public consciousness by using the famous case of Victor Licata who killed his entire family with an axe. He called him an “axe-murdering, marijuana addict” yet after the autopsy no trace of marijuana was found; he had instead acted on his schizophrenia. However, Anslinger shouted the loudest and created a hysteria in the public consciousness that obsessed over the dangers of this new drug.
Since then marijuana prohibition has become a tool to utilise against minorities and criminalise groups that are a threat to the system. In the 1960s the civil rights activists and the anti-war hippies posed this threat thus the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana as being a Schedule I drug meaning that it is supposedly worse than fentanyl, meth and oxycontin. It is for the same reason that the sentence for crack cocaine is 18 times longer than powdered cocaine despite being chemically identical – people the government see as a threat are heavily criminalised and policed whereas Wall Street and suburbia’s frequent cocaine habits do not pose such threats.
Unfortunately the UK, as they do on most matters of policy, followed suit with the US and heavily criminalised marijuana and heavily racialised their policing of the drug too. A country that changed course and did something remarkable – listened to the country’s top scientists – was Portugal who decriminalised all drugs in 2000. They used all the money that would have gone towards locking people away to instead reconnect them with society and since then addiction and overdoses has dramatically decreased.
The stigma created around cannabis and other drugs by US politicians with a racist agenda has become ingrained in the public consciousness and in the US and UK has led to increased incarceration and racialised policing. In places like the Philippines it has led to the deaths in cold blood of 20,000 since 2016 by President Duerte and his anti-drug agenda.
The US Government couldn’t make it illegal to be black or a hippy so they criminalised the things they associated with them. Similarly, they couldn’t allow climate activists to encourage market regulation so they denied climate change and attacked any scientist who argued against that.
Scientific data and research of the impact humans are having on the environment has been around for almost half of a century yet the steps we have taken to counteract these effects have been negligible at most. Why? Because profits speak louder than human welfare. Fossil fuel companies such as Shell whose annual revenue is $345 billion are able to control the political atmosphere and fund a worldwide denial machine with the sole aim of disproving scientific research.
The Koch brothers alone gave $67m to climate denial groups as their business is within top 15 of highest polluters in the USA and they also gave $400m to conservative political candidates in the 2012 elections.”
In 1990, many corporations who were anti climate change action joined the purposefully ambiguous Global Climate Coalition that’s main aims were to discredit science, promote sceptics and think tanks and stress uncertainty. The amount of money which was then flooded into anti-climate thinking exemplifies the threat which it posed to their profits: the Koch brothers alone gave $67m to climate denial groups as their business is within top 15 of highest polluters in the USA and they also gave $400m to conservative political candidates in the 2012 elections.
This directly affects politics and thereby, policy. David Inhofe, who famously brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove climate change was a hoax, funnily enough received vast funding from the Koch Brothers and EXXon Mobil. Not only are denialists and politicians backed by enormous amounts of capital, they employ charismatic TV personalities to ‘debate’ with climate scientists. Scientists are not known for their charisma and the ‘denial machine’ is aware – they do not need to win the arguments, they just need to make the audience aware of the scientists boring answers and lack of charisma in order to devalue the very real things they are talking about.
Marc Morano, one of the most fervent denialists (who is heavily funded by fossil fuel backed think tanks and works for Senator Inhofe) stated you need to “go after individuals; you can’t just go after a system.” He posts emails and other personal information about climate scientists in order to discourage them from continuing their work. Katherine Hayhoe, said that when her email got posted on Morano’s website she received more than two hundred emails in a day that threatened the safety of herself, her family and her colleagues. If any more proof was needed on the realities of climate change within the last week California has had its second, third and fourth worst fires ever and Colorado had both fire and snow in the same area in a single day. Yet the man in charge calls climate change a hoax in order to protect the profits of his businesses and their associates. Meanwhile thousands of Americans are rotting in prison for marijuana possession charges while White America profits from the same plant.
It is more important than ever in this era of disinformation and fake news that the science and the facts from legitimate sources are focused on and not the sponsored drivel that comes from the politicians and mass media. I used climate change and drugs as an example but this is endemic to all elements of policy in any capitalist system especially with gun legislation, animal agriculture and the pharmaceutical industry. Increased profits will always be valued higher than human safety by corporations and politicians – Trump yesterday admitted to deliberately downplaying the severity of Covid in order to protect the economy. This is not a new issue and it will certainly continue as long as we allow those who control the capital to also control policy.
Two fascinating documentaries on these issues are:
The Grass is Greener (Netflix)
Merchants of Doubt (documentarymania.com)
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