Friday, February 27, 2009

The Big Lie

In honour of the long-overdue announcement that federal raids on medical marijuana America have ended, I thought I would post an excerpt on the origins of marijuana prohibition from Peter McWilliams' outstanding book, Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do, the text of which is available online through that link (but it's well worth purchasing).
The chapter of the book from which I'm drawing the following excerpt lays out the steps through which the Marijuana Tax Act (which banned cannabis in the United States) went before it was passed under the supervision of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Harry Anslinger, and the false premises and outright bullying to which the FBN had to resort to get the act passed and force medical professionals to get on board.
... how many doctors were heard in the congressional hearings in 1937? Precisely one. He represented the American Medical Association. The AMA opposed the bill. At least twenty-eight medicinal products containing marijuana were on the market in 1937, the doctor pointed out; drugs containing marijuana were manufactured and distributed by the leading pharmaceutical firms; and marijuana was recognized as a medicine in good standing by the AMA. [...]
[...] Like the Harrison Narcotics Act before it, the Marijuana Tax Act claimed—even in the title of the bill—only to tax marijuana. It was yet another deception perpetrated on Congress and the American people: the intent of the bill was never to tax, but to prohibit. Beyond mere deception, however, the Big Lie to Congress was yet to come.
In testifying before the congressional committee, the doctor sent by the AMA said the AMA had only realized "two days before" the hearings that the "killer weed from Mexico" was indeed cannabis, the benign drug used and prescribed by the medical profession for more than a hundred years. Said Dr. Woodward,
We cannot understand, yet, Mr. Chairman, why this bill should have been prepared in secret for two years without any intimation, even to the [medical] profession, that it was being prepared.
Anslinger and the committee chairman, Robert L. Doughton, DuPont Dynasties, Robert Doughton was a key DuPont supporter in Congress denounced and curtly excused Dr. Woodward. When the marijuana tax bill came before Congress, one pertinent question was asked from the floor: "Did anyone consult with the AMA and get their opinion?" Representative Vinson answered for the committee, "Yes, we have
. . . and they are in complete agreement."
The Big Lie. The bill passed, and became law in September 1937.
Anslinger was furious with the AMA for opposing him before the congressional committee. As the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he could prosecute any doctors who prescribed narcotics for "illegal purposes." Which purposes were "illegal" was pretty much Anslinger's call. From mid-1937 through 1939, more than 3,000 doctors were prosecuted. In 1939, the AMA made peace with Anslinger and came out in opposition to marijuana. From 1939 to 1949, only three doctors were prosecuted by the FBN for drug activity of any kind.
McWilliams, for those who don't know, passed away in 2000. He had AIDS and cancer and had been successfully using marijuana (legal under California law) to control his nausea, but switched to Marinol after a federal investigation and a judge ordered him to do so. Marinol was only effective about a third of the time for McWilliams and one day shortly after he switched medications he began vomiting and choked to death.
For all the economic damage he's likely to do, Obama's policy on letting the states legislate on medical marijuana would have saved Peter McWilliams' life, and will save lives that would have been lost. If I had a hat, I'd tip it to Mr. Obama today.
Cross-posted to The Shotgun.

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