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Library Of Congress Highlights Racist News Coverage Used To Justify Criminalizing Marijuana A Century Ago

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The Library of Congress (LOC) is documenting racist depictions of marijuana in early 20th century news coverage that helped to drive the criminalization of cannabis, highlighting sensationalized articles about the plant that the federal research body says effectively served as “anti-Mexican propaganda.”

As part of the institution’s “Chronicling America” project, which digitizes media from throughout U.S. history, LOC published a timeline last week that gives examples of headlines concerning cannabis from 1897 to 1915.

“From the late 19th to early 20th century, newspapers reported the early rise of marihuana (known today as marijuana),” the post states. “Alarming reports of the menace of marihuana reach the United States press. Tales of alleged atrocities fueled by the drug are often tied to anti-Mexican propaganda.”

On a landing page featuring links to the digitized newspaper clippings, LOC warns: “Some of the linked articles contain ethnic slurs and offensive characterizations.”

One early article on marijuana, published in The Sun in August 1897, said that the plant “continues to impel people of the lower orders to wild and desperate deeds.”

In a separate 1897 piece in the Tombstone Prospector, which reported on an alleged attempt to smuggle cannabis into a prison, marijuana is characterized as “a kind of a loco weed which is more powerful than opium.”

Via Library of Congress.

“The Mexicans mix it with tobacco and smoke it in cigarettes, which causes a hilarity not equalled by any other form of dissipation,” it continues. “When smuggled inside the prison walls the Mexicans readily pay $4 an ounce for it, but outside it is only worth about 50 cents an ounce.”

One 1887 Memphis Appeal piece ran with the shocking headline, “Senseless Brutality. A Mexican Priest Flogs the Corpse of a Dead Wizard.”

A 1904 article—titled “Dangerous Mexican Weed to Smoke”—relays a story about two people who got the “marihuana habit,” consumed cannabis and “after a few minutes ran amuck” before being hospitalized.

“It is feared that the two men, if they recover from their wounds, will lose their minds permanently, as is the case often with marihuana smokers,” the report said.

Even early articles on marijuana policy contained language that stereotyped marijuana as a “Mexican drug” or “Indian hemp,” as was the case in an El Paso Herald piece published in 1915 after the City Council approved legislation to prohibit cannabis.

The Ogden Standard in 1915 published a story that features especially racist language.

Via Library of Congress.

“Are the Mexicans becoming a mightier and braver race, or in the language of Texas, are they becoming ‘locoed?’” the article asks. “Reports received here indicate that the sudden burst of bravery on the part of the Mexicans is due to an increased use of the weed known as Marihuana, which has much the same effects as opium or morphine on its users.”

“When a Mexican is under the influence of Marihuana he imagines that he can, single-handed, whip the entire regular United States army, while if reinforced by several other Mexicans, he might include a few European nations in his dream conquests,” it continues. “While under the influence of marihuana Mexicans are liable to commit murder and when arrested give the authorities great trouble.”

Such openly racist rhetoric around cannabis has largely dissipated from news coverage in recent years as support for ending criminalization continues to grow. But as numerous policymakers have pointed out, the racial inequities associated with enforcement of prohibition laws are far from gone.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussed the role of marijuana criminalization and the broader drug war in perpetuating racial injustices last week, and they remarked on how black people are significantly more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession compared to white people despite similar rates of consumption.

Two members of the House circulated a sign-on letter last week urging fellow lawmakers to keep marijuana reform in mind as a way to further promote racial justice while they debate policing reform legislation.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom described his states’s legalization of marijuana as a “civil rights” matter earlier this month.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said that the passage of cannabis decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests in the wake of police killings of black people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Booker also recently said racial disparities in marijuana enforcement is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.

Last month, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs.

That measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.

In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana.

The head of a federal health agency recently acknowledged racial disparities in drug enforcement and the harm that such disparate practices have caused—and NORML asked her to go on the record to further admit that this trend in criminalization is more harmful than marijuana itself.

Biden-Sanders Task Force Members Push For Legalizing Marijuana And Other Drug Reforms

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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SXSW Selects Multiple Marijuana And Psychedelics Panels For 2022 Festival

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People who attend the 2022 South By Southwest (SXSW) festival will have the chance to hear from a range of experts and stakeholders on marijuana and psychedelics issues.

A number of drug policy panels have been selected for the event, which runs from March 11-20. While cannabis has been a consistent track at SXSW in recent years, psychedelics is getting a lot more attention as the reform movement continues to expand.

The public played a role in shaping the agenda, voting on nearly 100 proposed panels on drug-related topics earlier this year. Now SXSW has narrowed it down, choosing nine marijuana panels and seven dealing with psychedelics.

When voting started, there were about five times as many proposed psychedelics panels for 2022 compared to those proposed for the 2021 event. There’s also a stronger emphasis on social equity-themed panels for cannabis, reflecting the evolving conversation around reform.

While there aren’t specific “tracks” for cannabis panels this year as was the case for past events, there are designated marijuana and psychedelics “summits.”

One is called the “Cannabis Industry Evolution.” Here’s the description

“As the cannabis legalization movement continues to gain momentum across the globe, so does the immense opportunity for entrepreneurs, plus new and established businesses. The Cannabis Industry Evolution Summit explores today’s successful companies, along with ideas and products that will push the industry forward over the coming years.”

The other is titled “The State of Psychedelics.” Here’s that description: 

“Psychedelics have played a role in human culture for centuries in both spiritual and recreational settings, and recent breakthrough research of psychedelics as a treatment for a wide range of psychiatric conditions shows promise. The Psychedelics Summit aims to explore the medical, economic, and ethical implications of these tripped-out chemicals.”

Here’s an overview of some of the notable marijuana and psychedelics panels that will be featured at the 2022 SXSW: 

Marijuana

Sue ‘N The DEA: Breaking The 50-Year NIDA Monopoly

Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute has played a key role in pushing the Drug Enforcement Administration to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana manufacturers and break the current monopoly. She’ll be joined by Matt Zorn and Shane Pennington, attorneys who have worked with Sisley on a number of lawsuits to force a policy change, for a conversation on the need to remove cannabis from its Schedule I status to promote research into the plant.

Cannabis vs. the Opioid Crisis?

Ricardo Baca, a journalist who started the cannabis-focused PR firm Grasslands, will host a chat on the science of whether cannabis can serve as an alternative to opioids amid an overdose crisis and whether people could use marijuana to help overcome opioid addictions.

Puff, Puff, Pass The Rewards: Equity In Cannabis Legalization

Leafly’s Janessa Bailey will talk about equity as more states move to legalize marijuana. The focus of this event is on understanding the context of the war on drugs and how discriminatory policies have alienated certain communities from benefiting from the legalization movement. It would look at possible solutions to the issue at the state level.

“As the fastest-growing American industry, cannabis has offered new economic opportunities to people across the country, but for many, those opportunities are still out of reach,” a description states. “As more states legalize, crafting policies that help to create a fair and equitable cannabis industry has never been more important.”

Cannabis: the Next Frontier in CPG

Representatives of major cannabis companies such a Curaleaf, Trulieve and Green Thumb Industries will discuss how marijuana stands out among other consumer packaged goods and “what the future of mainstream cannabis experiences looks like, the specific barriers the industry must overcome to reach this point, and how brands can prepare for this seismic shift.”

Psychedelics

Psychedelics For Therapeutics And Well-Being

Professors from John Hopkins University and Yale University will talk about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics with Tim Ferriss, an entrepreneur who has invested significantly into the research movement.

Questions that will be raised by the panel include: “How can psychedelics be widely used to alleviate human suffering through clinician-guided treatment of illnesses such as depression, PTSD, and addiction? Do mystical-type and insightful-type experiences associated with these substances improve overall well-being in patients and in healthy individuals? How can investors make psychedelic medicine accessible by financing academic research and for-profit companies and clinics?”

The Ethics Of “Mainstreaming” Psychedelics

DoubleBlind Magazine will be leading a conversation with expects including staff from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies that will touch on the “unique ethical considerations around commodifying psychedelics” and the “moral obligation of psychedelic companies to give back to Indigenous stewards of psychedelic medicines.”

“The interest in psychedelics among the general population is growing exponentially,” a description says. “Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into psychedelic drug development, with some projecting the industry is less than five years behind cannabis.”

Have A Nice Trip: The Rise of Psychedelic Tourism

This panel will look at the rise of “psychedelic retreats” that have been “glamorized, dramatized, championed, and vilified by Hollywood.”

“In this session, you’ll learn what actually happens at a psychedelic retreat—where and how they operate amidst a complex, evolving web of state and national regulations; the daily work of psychedelic retreat facilitators; and the trends converging to drive this burgeoning new category of luxury travel,” a description says.

New Marijuana Laws Take Effect Across The U.S. With The New Year

Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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One-Third Of Programmers Use Marijuana While Working, With Many Touting Creative Benefits, Study Finds

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More than one-third of software programmers say they’ve used marijuana while working, with many finding that it helps promote creativity and get them into the “programming zone,” according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Michigan said that anecdotal evidence suggested that those in programming were more likely to use cannabis on the job, so they set out to conduct the “first large-scale survey” on the topic, asking 803 developers to detail how marijuana comes into play in their work.

A main motivation for the study was the fact that drug testing policies remain common in the programming sector, which may be contributing to “hiring shortages for certain jobs.”

That’s even the case at the federal level, the study authors note, citing comments by former FBI Director James Comey, who said in 2014 that he was interested in loosening employment policies around cannabis because some prospective agents “want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

“This prohibition of cannabis use in software engineering has contributed to a widely-reported hiring shortage for certain US government programming jobs,” the study says.

All told, 35 percent of survey participants said that they’ve “tried cannabis while programming or completing another software engineering-related task.” Seventy-three percent of that group said they’ve consumed marijuana while working in the past year.

The study—titled “Hashing It Out: A Survey of Programmers’ Cannabis Usage, Perception, and Motivation” and published this month in Cornell University’s arXiv—also looked at frequency of use among those who said they’ve used marijuana while engineering.

Fifty-three percent said they’ve consumed cannabis while programming at least 12 times, 27 percent said they used it at least twice a week and four percent said they use it while working on a nearly daily basis.

The study authors wanted to get a better understanding of why programmers chose to consume marijuana, too. And they found that the most common tasks that people used marijuana for were brainstorming, prototyping, coding and testing.

“Overall, we found that programmers were more likely to report enjoyment or programming enhancement motivations than wellness motivations: the most common reasons were ‘to make programming-related tasks more enjoyable’ (61%) and ‘to think of more creative programming solutions’ (53%),” the study found. “In fact, all programming enhancement reasons were selected by at least 30% of respondents. On the other hand, general wellness related reasons (such as mitigating pain and anxiety) were all cited by less than 30% of respondents. Thus, while wellness does motivate some cannabis use while programming, it is not the most common motivation.”

While there’s a notable prevalence of cannabis consumption among programmers, even most of those who don’t use marijuana are supportive of reform, the study found.

“Ninety-one percent of our participants say that marijuana use should be legal for both recreational and medicinal use compared to 60 percent of the general United States population in 2021,” the authors wrote.

The study also found that “cannabis use while programming occurs at similar rates for programming employees, managers and students despite differences in cannabis perceptions and visibility.”

“Our results have implications for programming job drug policies and motivate future research into cannabis use while programming,” the study states.

Drug testing policies have become a hot topic as more states enact legalization.

After New York opted to end prohibition this year, for example, the state Department of Labor announced that most employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for cannabis.

Amazon recently said that its earlier decision to end drug testing for cannabis will also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.

Lawmakers in the Senate and House have both included language in recent appropriations reports urging a review of employment policies for federal agencies with respect to personal use of cannabis. The House version passed in July, while the Senate Democrats’ report was released in October.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a memo to federal agencies this year that says admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration came under criticism after it was reported that it had fired or otherwise punished dozens of staffers who admitted to prior marijuana use. That came after the White House instituted a policy of granting waivers to some staff who’ve used cannabis.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki subsequently said that nobody in the White House was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.” However, she’s consistently declined to speak to the extent to which staff have been suspended or placed in a remote work program because they were honest about their history with marijuana on a federal form that’s part of the background check process.

Researcher Uses Reddit To Learn What Kinds Of Marijuana Posts Influenced Legalization Attitudes

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Researcher Uses Reddit To Learn What Kinds Of Marijuana Posts Influenced Legalization Attitudes

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Social media is a powerful tool in shaping political discourse, and a recent study that examined Reddit posts spanning over a decade sheds light on exactly what kinds of conversations may have influenced the public’s shift in support of marijuana legalization.

A Brown University researcher used machine learning to analyze more than three million Reddit comments from 2009 to 2019—a key timeframe in the state-level legalization movement—to better understand the online conversations that have driven people to back reform.

A dissertation from Ph.D. candidate Babak Hemmatian—titled, “Taking the High Road: A Big Data Investigation of Natural Discourse in the Emerging U.S. Consensus about Marijuana Legalization”—revealed some surprising trends. Specifically, it seems that while sharing personal anecdotes has historically been a major factor in changing hearts and minds, people posting more generalized, character judgment-based arguments was a more clear harbinger for state-level cannabis reform.

“Marijuana legalization is a highly unusual topic in how a bipartisan consensus was reached in a matter of years while the American society was otherwise becoming more polarized,” Hemmatian told Marijuana Moment. “I wanted to know if the way the public discusses marijuana facilitated this unusual shift, and how the societal change in attitudes in turn affected how we talk about cannabis.”

Character judgements—or, “highly moralistic assertions about people’s timeless attributes” like whether being a prohibitionist makes someone a bad person—more commonly preceded state legalization efforts, particularly around 2012 as the first states moved to end prohibition, the study found.

“Anecdotes were less often used to persuade people, meaning their persuasive potential was somewhat wasted,” Hemmatian said. “Still, people did often briefly mention them to buttress more general claims like the mentioned character judgments.”

There were some other interesting themes identified in the study. For example, discussions of the health impacts of cannabis “only picked up after legalization was all but over, and only in casual conversations.” Legal implications of reform, meanwhile, “were not prominently discussed even after legalization had succeeded in most states.”

“Both topics are highly relevant to whether and how the substance should be de-regulated, but were ignored in decision-making and at best attended to once the societal decision was already made,” the study author said.

“While not the most persuasive approach according to previous research, character judgments may have still pushed people who were on the fence but not diametrically opposed to legalization over to the pro-legalization camp,” he continued. “This is because they highly simplify decision-making: One no longer needs to know the complicated effects of cannabis on health, the economy and the society to make up their mind; they just need to think through their personal moral principles. This may have been comforting during a transition period when the uncertainty surrounding marijuana’s status would have been anxiety-inducing for many folks.”

The study concludes that “early legalization victories depended on Character judgments while the final nails were hammered into prohibition’s coffin with Plot-focused strategies revolving around politics and crime.”

“The shift happened entirely within the generalized portion of discourse, meaning that a non-compositional approach to frame classification would have missed it,” the paper states.

Hemmatian and his research team at Brown aren’t the only ones interested in exploring the intersection of drug policy and social media.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it plans to use Reddit and other “novel” data sources to gain a better understanding of public health issues surrounding use of CBD and other “emerging” marijuana derivatives like delta-8 THC.

The agency also wants to develop a system of finding “safety signals and usage patterns associated with emerging CDPs in real-time.” That includes delta-8 THC, a cannabinoid that the agency recently warned consumers about, as it has not yet evaluated its safety or efficacy.

Reddit users subscribed to the popular marijuana forum r/trees have previously helped researchers identify trends and patterns in cannabis consumption.

A peer-reviewed study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2018 analyzed more than two million posts found on the site’s largest marijuana-related subreddit from 2010 to 2016. The research team made a series of discoveries, including a few that might seem obvious to regular consumers (e.g. dabbing is gaining in popularity, but users still largely favor smoking cannabis flower).

DEA Wants To Help Parents Decode The Emojis Young People Use To Discuss Marijuana And Other ‘Bomb Ass’ Drugs

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