Marijuana prohibition ‘celebrates’ its centennial anniversary today. That’s right, the government’s war on cannabis consumers is now officially 100-years-old. Self-evidently, cannabis has won.
Although many credit the passage of the federal Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 with the initiation of pot prohibition, the reality is that one hundred years ago today, Massachusetts Governor Eugene Foss signed the first statewide anti-pot prohibition into law. Following Massachusetts, over 30 states quickly followed suit — including California, Maine, Indiana and Wyoming in 1913 — leading the way for federal prohibition some two-and-a-half decades later.
Of course, cannabis use was practically non-existent in Massachusetts (as well as in most of the rest of the country) in 1911. Yet today, 100 years following the plant’s criminalization, the state boasts one of the highest rates of pot use in the nation.
Writing today in the Milford (Massachusetts) Daily News, former NORML Board Member Richard Evans, author of Massachusetts House Bill 1371, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, nails it:
“Despite a century of ever-zealous enforcement and thunderous propaganda at taxpayer expense, marijuana inextricably permeates our culture. Its cultivation, commerce and use have proven ineradicable. We have tried mightily and we have failed to extirpate it. If anyone, anywhere, believes that spending more money on marijuana enforcement will drive out pot, let that person come forward and tell us plainly what it will take to make that happen, how much it will cost, and where the money will come from.
The futility of enforcement, however, is not the urgent reason to legalize it. The reason is that prohibition has become a destructive force in our society.
Most perniciously, marijuana prohibition provides the tools and the excuses for the oppression of minorities. No historian denies that the early drug laws were conceived for that purpose, and today’s grotesquely disproportionate incarceration rate of African-Americans proves that the drug laws have shamefully accomplished that purpose.
Prohibition divides us. Getting caught with pot, or the fear of getting caught, divides parents and teens, employers and employees, friends, neighbors, colleagues, doctors and patients, and citizens and the police. That divisiveness weakens us as we face colossal challenges like a sick economy, the insolvency of states and municipalities, climate change and our addiction to imported oil. As long as cannabis remains illegal, it cannot be a part of the solution to those colossal challenges.
… Our immediate challenge is not to legalize cannabis, but to legalize serious talk about it, without smirks and snickers. How legalization can best protect public health and safety, and discourage abuse, and how to tax the substance, are issues not just for politicians, but for everyone. Legalization is no longer for stoners; it’s for taxpayers, entrepreneurs and grandparents, horrified at the likely state of the planet on which their grandchildren will grow up.
Let the debate begin now, lest another hundred years go by.”
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML and the NORML Foundation.