TOPICS > Nation > Brief but Spectacular

A history of the American war on weed

December 1, 2016 at 5:41 PM EST
On November 8, multiple states legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes -- so Joe Dolce’s new book on the substance's history in the U.S. is timely. Dolce argues marijuana's bad reputation is a result of political demonization, including an intentional name change and association with hippies and disorder. This is his Brief but Spectacular take on the past and future of cannabis.
LISTENSEE PODCASTS

JOE DOLCE, Author, “Brave New Weed: Adventures Into the Uncharted World of Cannabis”: When my mother was upset that I was writing a book on weed, I pulled this out, which is an unguent made of cannabis.

And I said, “Mom, do you have any pain?”

She said, “Yes, my legs are hurting me.”

And I rubbed some on her. And in three minutes, her pain was gone. That was a pretty easy way of changing her mind.

I know why weed gets such a bad rap: because the U.S. government, in addition to many other governments, has been disseminating a lot of negative information about it for — since 1937, really, so over 70 years.

Even the name marijuana was an attempt by the U.S. government to sort of racially stigmatize a plant that had here to before known as cannabis. What happened was, there were a lot of Mexican workers flooding over the border.

And a very clever bureaucrat named Harry Anslinger figured out that he could demonize those workers, at the same time demonize this weed. So, what he did is, he actually changed the name from cannabis, which was in medicine chests, to marijuana, which became known as loco weed.

They demonized it. He passed legislation. He kept his job going, because he ran the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, so he had something to do. And he arrested people like Anita O’Day and Gene Krupa. He arrested musicians for smoking it.

The war on drugs in America started when Richard Nixon had the very clever idea of associating the hippies and disorder with marijuana. When Ronald Reagan came into office in the ’80s, he turned that war nuclear. He was spraying fields with paraquat. He was raiding people. He was arresting people. We had minimum drug sentencing laws.

I think we’re at a tipping point right now at the legalization of cannabis. Labeling is going to change the world of weed. In the same way you know that a shot of spirits equals a six-ounce glass of wine equals a 12-ounce bottle of beer, you’re going to be able to dose. You’re going to be able to understand the standards that we intuitively understand about alcohol.

As a matter of fact, in California, where there’s been a medical program for 20 years, a recent study showed that parents are more happy for their children to use weed than to begin drinking. That’s an interesting societal change. And I think it’s going to have a big effect going forward.

My name is Joe Dolce, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on weed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, pbs.org/newshour/brief.

SHARE VIA TEXT