Saturday, November 05, 2005


When Denver voters voted Tuesday to decriminalize personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, drug warriors were furious. Some sniffed that the measure barely passed, despite the 54-46 outcome. Others were defiant, saying state law trumped the will of Denver voters.

Regardless, plenty of pot was smoked in Denver on Tuesday night, and for good reason: the spark-ups signaled an end to 68 years of madness.

James B. Meadow has a great piece in the Rocky Mountain News about the dark decades. Meadow focuses on Samuel R. Caldwell, a 58-year-old laborer who was busted by Denver cops for selling two joints to 26-year-old Moses Baca.

The date was Oct. 2, 1937. The Marijuana Stamp Act had just become law. The feds were determined to stamp out a drug they had dubbed "murder weed."

From Meadow's story:
Harry J. Anslinger, for example, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was a vociferous foe of cannabis. In his book, Assassin of Youth, he labeled marijuana "dangerous as a coiled rattlesnake," and anguished, "How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can be only conjectured."

Indeed. Texas cops insisted that because it fueled a "lust for blood" and imbued its imbibers with "superhuman strength," pot was the catalyst for unspeakably violent crimes ...

Much more real was the racism that anchored some of the original hysteria surrounding cannabis. At least that's a contention of John C. McWilliams, a professor of history at Penn State University specializing in 20th century social-political American history and drug policy, who has written a book on Anslinger.

"Marijuana was associated with black jazz musicians and Mexicans in border towns - clearly racist stuff," said McWilliams, who says Anslinger's files are chock full of letters linking marijuana and minorities.

In fact, he cites part of a 1936 correspondence from Floyd Baskett, editor of the Daily Courier in Alamosa.

"I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette does to one of our degenerate, Spanish-speaking residents," Baskett wrote to Anslinger.
As for Samuel Caldwell, the dealer who sold two joints? He got four years hard labor in Leavenworth and a $1,000 fine. For buying the joints, Moses Baca got 18 months in prison.

Until 1937, marijuana was better known as cannabis, and plenty of people used it as medicine. Since the prohibition began almost 70 years ago, millions of people have used marijuana and not succumbed to a "lust for blood." The only maniacal insanity comes from the drug warriors.

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