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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.

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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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Another Top Global Sports Official Suggests Marijuana Penalties For Athletes Should Be Reevaluated

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The head of the international track and field organization World Athletics has joined the choir of sports officials who are calling for an reevaluation of marijuana penalties for Olympic athletes following the suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive cannabis test.

Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics and a Olympics gold medal-winning runner himself, lamented the suspension and said it’s “sensible” for the governing bodies to take another look at the marijuana ban for athletes.

“Nothing is set in tablets of stone,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “You adapt and occasionally reassess.”

But while he said that Richardson’s punishment means “we have lost an outstanding talent,” he still said that the rules were properly enforced, even if those rules should change.

“I don’t want to sound like Joe Biden, but the rules are the rules and that is the way they have been interpreted,” he said, referencing comments the president made this month similarly expressing disappointment over the decision to suspend the star runner.

“It’s not an unreasonable moment to have a review” of the international marijuana policy, Coe said. According to Reuters, the official added that he has spoken to the chairman of the Athletics Integrity Unit about undertaking a formal review of current policies.

Coe is far from alone in saying it’s time to reconsider cannabis penalties in sports. Athletics officials and lawmakers alike have argued that Richardson’s suspension for using marijuana in a legal state after learning of her mother’s death highlights the need for reform.

Edwin Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner for track and field, and emeritus chair of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), appeared before a congressional panel co-chaired by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) last week and said the runner’s punishment was “heartbreaking” and his organization has “always been on the side of more liberalization of the marijuana laws with respect to doping.”

Cohen, who also blasted the penalty for Richardson and urged federal action to end cannabis prohibition at a separate congressional hearing last week, said the case that’s made national headlines “is such a shame.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) made clear in a letter to Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) this month that the U.S. itself played a leading role in imposing the cannabis prohibition. And the first president of WADA, Richard Pound, made similar comments in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment, pointing to how the country essentially bullied the rest of the world in including cannabis on the banned substances list.

USADA also responded to the letter from Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez, and it asserted that the rules on marijuana for international athletes “must change.” USADA had previously expressed sympathy for Richardson and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition—but in that statement, it explicitly called for a policy change.

Also this month, the White House press secretary expressed sympathy for the runner and suggested reform may be appropriate.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki previously declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at a briefing with reporters earlier this month, but she told CNN in the newer comments that the case highlights the need to “take another look” at the rules on cannabis, especially in light of the decision to bar the athlete from a second event that fell outside the scope of the 30-day suspension.

USA Track & Field also said recently that international policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.” And following Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin’s letter, a separate group of lawmakers also sent a letter to USADA last week to urge a policy change.

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U.S. Sports Authority Backs ‘Liberalization’ Of Marijuana Laws, Official Tells Lawmakers

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A representative of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) this week shifted blame for the Olympics suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive marijuana test, saying the national sports organization is “heartbroken” over the case and supports “liberalization” of current bans but claiming that its hands are tied with respect to enforcing international drug policy.

Edwin Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner for track and field, and emeritus chair of USADA, appeared before a federal commission at a hearing on international sports on Wednesday and was pressed by panel co-chair Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) about the controversial suspension.

Cohen, who earlier in the day blasted the penalty for Richardson and urged federal action to end cannabis prohibition at a separate congressional hearing, said the case that’s made national headlines “is such a shame,” especially considering that the runner admitted to using marijuana in a legal state after learning about the death of her mother.

He also repeated a joke he made hours before that cannabis is “not a performance enhancing drug unless you’re involved in the hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July at Coney Island.”

Moses replied that the Richardson situation “was one of the most heartbreaking cases that we’ve had this year.”

“Although there was a handful of similar cases from the beginning of the year—and so it was not the first case of its kind—we’re heartbroken at USADA to have to adjudicate any of these cases because, in many cases, there’s lots of reasons for drug use,” he told Cohen and other members at the hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission).

Moses said the athlete “admitted what she did” and was aware of the potential consequences under international policy but argued that USADA has “always been on the side of more liberalization of the marijuana laws with respect to doping.”

“We’ve moved and promoted changing the regulations, bringing the level [of permissible THC concentrations in drug tests] higher to eliminate cases of out-of-competition use, which in certain states is legal,” he said. “It’s not banned out of competition. However, she just got caught within that window. We have been trying everything we can to get the world to understand how this drug fits into the scheme of things.”

The sports official also noted that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is a comprehensive body comprised of “650 organizations,” and “neither the United States Olympic Committee nor USADA nor the [USA Track & Field] have anything to do with making up the rules.”

“In most countries in the world, it’s still an illegal substance,” Moses said. “And there’s countries in the world that under no circumstance will they ever be as liberal as we are.”

But WADA recently made clear in a letter to Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) this month that the U.S. itself played a leading role in imposing the cannabis prohibition. And the first president of WADA, Richard Pound, made similar comments in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment, pointing to how the country essentially bullied the rest of the world in including cannabis on the banned substances list.

At the hearing, Cohen said he recognized that enacting reform is an onerous task, and it’s one that he’s faced over his career as a member of Congress.

“Making good laws like is slow as molasses, and the cultural lag that we experience is awful,” he said. “I know it’s tough, and I hope you’ll put your best efforts” toward changing the marijuana policy at the international sports level.

“Because it’s the law and because it’s the rule doesn’t mean it’s right,” the congressman said. “They should be changed.”

Advocates appreciated that Cohen’s questioning got USADA to publicly flesh out its position on marijuana use by athletes.

“USADA told Congress, right to its face, that the policy of prohibition and stigmatization of cannabis consumers is wrong,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “The remaining question is when will the House take action to end the mandate that organizations like USADA, the DEA, ONDCP, and others stop criminalizing otherwise law-abiding Americans?”

Since Richardson’s suspension was announced, there’s been widespread and largely bipartisan criticism of the rules, especially as more states move to legalize. But officials have consistently pitted blame on other agencies and governments for enacting the prohibitionist policy in the first place.

USADA also responded to the letter from Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez, and it asserted that the rules on marijuana for international athletes “must change.” USADA had previously expressed sympathy for Richardson and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition—but in that statement, it explicitly called for a policy change.

USADA wrote that “President Joe Biden described the way forward best when he said” that the “rules are rules,” but those regulations may need to be reevaluated.

Also this month, the White House press secretary—like USADA—expressed sympathy for the runner and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki previously declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at a briefing with reporters earlier this month, but she told CNN in the newer comments that the case highlights the need to “take another look” at the rules on cannabis, especially in light of the decision to bar the athlete from a second event that fell outside the scope of the 30-day suspension.

USA Track & Field also said recently that international policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.” And following Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin’s letter, a separate group of lawmakers also sent a letter to USADA last week to urge a policy change.

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World Anti-Doping Agency Says U.S. Bears Responsibility For Marijuana Ban That Led To Richardson’s Suspension

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is making clear that the U.S. has played a key role in placing marijuana on the list of prohibited substances for international athletes—and it still has a seat at the table if it wants a policy change.

In a letter to Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—who recently reached out to WADA about the suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson over a positive cannabis test—the global organization provided background on why marijuana was included in the banned substances list in the first place and explained why it couldn’t unilaterally reverse the punishment.

While WADA consistently reviews and updates the prohibited drug list, it said that decisions are made based on consensus among representatives of participating governments. It stressed that “no time since the first Prohibited List was published in 2004 has WADA received any objection from U.S. stakeholders concerning the inclusion of cannabinoids on the Prohibited List.”

“On the contrary, as has been reported by some media, the U.S. has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List,” the letter from Witold Banka, WADA’s president, said. “The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the U.S. over nearly two decades, in particular from [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency], have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List.”

That point was also made by the first president of WADA, Richard Pound, in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment.

“The U.S. was a leader in saying—and this was the [Office of National Drug Control Policy] saying this—’in our view, marijuana is the entry-level drug. If you can keep people from using marijuana, they don’t graduate to cocaine and heroin and some of the other the other chemical variations of these things,’” he said.

In the new letter, WADA wrote that “the argument that some have advanced indicating that U.S. anti-doping stakeholders are bound by antiquated thinking regarding the Prohibited List is not supported by the facts.”

“The consultative process in place allows for modifications to the Prohibited List and the Code, annually,” it continued. “In fact, over time, as your letter recognizes, several such changes have occurred, and there is nothing preventing additional changes consistent with the process I have described.”

Part of the consultative process is based on recommendations from WADA’s Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group. The letter emphasizes that the U.S. is overrepresented on that body, with three of its 12 seats—”including an official with more than two decades experience at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.” The country also “has had greater representation” on WADA’s separate Health, Medical and Research (HMR) Committee “than any other nation.”

“While the United States does not currently serve on WADA’s Executive Committee, it has represented its 42-nation region more than any other nation in WADA’s history (seven years),” it continues. “An important fact for the U.S. Congress to know about this process is that there are more representatives from the United States advising WADA on these scientific issues than from any other nation in the world. These decisions are not reached in a vacuum.”

In other words, criticism from Americans over the marijuana ban should not solely target WADA but should take into account the fact that the U.S. itself bears significant responsibility for setting and maintaining the global prohibition.

The letter further states that while WADA sympathizes “with the circumstances of this case” and applauds “Ms. Richardson’s accountability for accepting that the rules are in place for athletes worldwide, WADA simply plays a coordinating role in the development and publication of the Prohibited List.”

“As you correctly noted in your letter, the testing of Ms. Richardson and her resulting suspension were administered and adjudicated by USADA. WADA is not a party to that particular matter and, therefore, simply is not in position to vacate the results of Ms. Richardson’s test in Oregon, the 30-day suspension imposed by USADA, nor the decisions of USA Track and Field regarding her participation at the Tokyo Olympics.”

Separately, The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) also responded to the letter from Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez last week. It asserted that the rules on marijuana for international athletes “must change.”

USADA had previously expressed sympathy last week for Richardson and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition—but the latest statement explicitly calls for a policy change.

Meanwhile, the White House ONDCP is also working to secure a meeting with WADA about cannabis policies on the international sports stage. The Financial Times reported on Friday that the Biden administration intends to discuss issues “including the timeframe for testing, and the basis for the consideration of cannabis as a performance enhancing drug.”

While WADA indicated that the U.S. has not strongly protested marijuana’s inclusion on the banned substances list and has historically advocated for such inclusion, USADA said in its letter that it “has argued for still more changes and will continue to advocate for changes going forward.”

Banka said in his new response on behalf of WADA that he was forwarding the congressional letter to various internal WADA decision-making committees and has “requested that your concerns be specifically examined during their ongoing review of the
Prohibited List.”

The organization noted that USADA amended its marijuana policy for domestic professional fighting that’s not subject to WADA rules. On that note, Nevada sports regulators voted last week to make it so athletes will no longer be penalized over a positive marijuana test, with members citing Richardson’s case during the meeting as an example of why the policy is inappropriate.

USADA wrote that “President Joe Biden described the way forward best when he said” that the “rules are rules,” but those regulations may need to be reevaluated and he’s proud of Richardson for how she responded to the situation.

Also last week, the White House press secretary—like USADA—expressed sympathy for the runner and indicated that it may be time for a reevaluation of the marijuana prohibition.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki previously declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at a briefing with reporters earlier this month, but she told CNN in the newer comments that the case highlights the need to “take another look” at the rules on cannabis, especially in light of the decision to bar the athlete from a second event that fell outside the scope of the 30-day suspension.

USA Track & Field also said last week that international policy on cannabis punishments for athletes “should be reevaluated.”

Following Ocasio-Cortz and Raskin’s letter, a separate group of lawmakers also sent a letter to USADA on Friday to urge a policy change.

“We believe that cannabis does not meet the description of scientifically proven risk or harm to the athlete,” those 18 lawmakers wrote, “and the USADA is perpetuating stereotypes and rhetoric fueled by the racist War on Drugs by claiming its usage, in private use and outside of competition, violates the ‘spirit of the sport.’”

Advocates have broadly embraced internal marijuana policy reforms at other major professional athletic organizations, arguing that they are long overdue especially given the ever-expanding legalization movement.

NFL’s drug testing policy changed demonstrably last year as part of a collective bargaining agreement, for example. Under the policy, NFL players will not face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana.

In a similar vein, the MLB decided in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Baseball players can consume marijuana without risk of discipline, but officials clarified last year that they can’t work while under the influence and can’t enter into sponsorship contracts with cannabis businesses, at least for the time being.

Meanwhile, a temporary NBA policy not to randomly drug test players for marijuana amid the coronavirus pandemic may soon become permanent, the league’s top official said in December. Rather than mandate blanket tests, Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”

For what it’s worth, a new poll from YouGov found that women are notably more likely to oppose Richardson’s suspension than men are.

Read the new statement from WADA on Richardson’s marijuana-related suspension below: 

2021 07 Letter From Wada Pr… by Marijuana Moment

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