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.”
“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.
“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.
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.
Colorado Is Auctioning Marijuana-Themed License Plates To Raise Money For People With Disabilities
Colorado is really leaning into its reputation as the marijuana state—for a good cause. Officials are taking the unique step of auctioning off cannabis-themed license plates to help raise money for a disability fund.
From April 1 to April 20, residents can bid on the vanity plates with terms like “BONG,” “GANJA,” “GOTWAX,” “HEMP,” “ISIT420” and even “TEGRIDY,” a nod to the fictional South Park marijuana farm.
Bids on several of the plates start at $420, of course.
“The Colorado Disability Funding Committee had the TEGRIDY to STASH away some great HERB related license plate configurations and is making them available to you,” a Facebook post states. “Don’t be GREEN with envy because your neighbor GOTWAX and HONEY, bid on a plate and support people with disabilities!”
“Colorado GANJA themed license plates could make you as HAPPY as your 100% HEMP t-shirt,” the post, which was uploaded on April 1 but is not an April Fool’s joke, continues. “Leave ya SATIVA and INDICA, put down the BONG, use our HASHtags to follow along.”
The page for each license plate up for auction includes a disclaimer not to drive while impaired and to use cannabis responsibly.
The proceeds of the auction will go to the Colorado Disability Funding Committee, which issues grants to organizations that “have new and innovative ideas that benefit the disability community.”
Given the popularity of Colorado’s marijuana market, which exceeded $2 billion in sales last year alone, it stands to reason that the plates will be a hit.
People who don’t live in Colorado can also bid. If they win, they will be sent a novelty plate without the security features that come on a normal plate.
Despite being one of the first states to legalize for adult use, Colorado’s cannabis program is continually evolving.
Last month, for example, the state House passed a bill to increase the lawful possession limit for marijuana and the governor signed legislation to create a social equity fund for the marijuana industry.
Gov. Jared Polis (D) visited a marijuana dispensary in Denver to sign the measure, which will establish a program within the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade that’s intended to support cannabis businesses owned by people who qualify as social equity licensees, primarily people most impacted by the drug war.
The program will receive an initial infusion of $4 million from the state’s marijuana tax fund—about $1 million short of what the governor had requested in January. The legislation was created in consultation with Black Brown and Red Badged (BBRB), a coalition of minority-owned cannabis businesses.
Last year, Polis signed a separate bill that creates a statewide definition of cannabis social equity licensees. Those businesses are now the ones that will primarily benefit from the new legislation.
This kind of funding is largely made possible from tax revenue derived by the state’s robust cannabis market. Data from the state’s Department of Revenue shows that more than $10 billion of marijuana has been sold since the adult-use program launched in 2014.
Another piece of cannabis reform legislation that cleared the Senate last month would require schools and school district to institute policies permitting employees to store and administer marijuana products for students who are registered medical cannabis patients.
Seth Rogen’s Marijuana Biz Expands To U.S. While Jay-Z Gets Political With Cannabis Ad Campaign
Monday was a big day in the celebrity marijuana space, with actor Seth Rogen announcing the U.S. launch of his cannabis brand and rapper Jay-Z revealing an ad campaign for his company that’s meant to highlight the absurdity of the war on drugs by pointing out that some states are more lax on cousin marriage, cannibalism or sex with farm animals than they are on weed.
Rogen’s elation in bringing his business, Houseplant, to the U.S. market was evident in a one-minute video he shared on social media.
Almost ten years I go, I envisioned having my own weed company. And today I can say that my company Houseplant's weed will be available in California next week! Also, Houseplant is making lovely Housegoods like ashtrays, lighters, and YES, even ceramics. https://t.co/TNjpWFhbWB pic.twitter.com/00xR8QKNH3
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) March 1, 2021
After showcasing the tins his line of sativa and indica strains come in—as well a “table lighter” that’s part of the Houseplant collection—the actor of Pineapple Express and Superbad fame said that this is “honestly my life’s work and I’ve never been more excited about anything.”
The company also produced vinyl records with playlists that are meant to complement the effects of the various marijuana varieties like Pancake Ice.
This is our Pancake Ice sativa. (All our strains are named after weather systems like we did with Pineapple Express). Our Pancake Ice is what I smoke all day. It’s over 33% THC. pic.twitter.com/buLcuLwZgg
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) March 1, 2021
Rogen has also leveraged his marijuana stardom for philanthropic purposes, putting on an adult carnival last year where the plant was featured to raise money for research into Alzheimer’s disease.
He appeared at a congressional hearing in 2014 and joked that while people might expect him to advocate for marijuana reform before the Senate committee, he was actually there to promote research into the disease, which his mother-in-law suffers from.
The actor also appeared in a PSA for National Expungement Week, an effort to help people free themselves from the burdens of prior marijuana convictions.
Meanwhile, JAY-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, has his cannabis business, MONOGRAM. And on Monday, the company started a “national awareness campaign that draws attention to the hypocrisy of current regulations governing cannabis” in the U.S., a press release states.
Billboards and murals featuring text that compare laws prohibiting marijuana and other state and federal statutes have been posted in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and New York.
You can marry your first cousin in more states than you can buy recreational weed. pic.twitter.com/BcC7PANmck
— MONOGRAM (@monogramcompany) March 1, 2021
Here are a few examples of the campaign messages:
“Weed is a federal crime. Even in the states where sex with farm animals isn’t.”
“You can marry your first cousin in more states than you can buy recreational weed.”
“The war on drugs worked. If systemic racism was the goal.”
“Cannabis laws are out of date and disproportionately cruel and punishing when compared to the rest of the legal code,” Carter said. “I created this campaign to amplify the voices of those who have been penalized for the very same thing that venture capitalists are now prospering from with the emerging legal cannabis market.”
There's a state in America where cannibalism is technically legal and cannabis isn't.
The hypocrisy of America’s drug policy needs to end. pic.twitter.com/4wyHYK6kcC
— MONOGRAM (@monogramcompany) March 1, 2021
Earlier this year, the artist announced that he was putting $10 million toward a fund to promote participation in state-legal marijuana markets by communities most impacted by prohibition—an action that earned the praise of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).
I led the effort to decriminalize & legalize cannabis because the war on drugs has been an abject failure—with disproportionate & devastating impacts on communities of color.
These are the types of entrepreneurial opportunities we dreamed of—thanks Jay-Z! https://t.co/jHag1DdWBd
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) January 21, 2021
“I led the effort to decriminalize & legalize cannabis because the war on drugs has been an abject failure—with disproportionate & devastating impacts on communities of color,” the governor said. “These are the types of entrepreneurial opportunities we dreamed of—thanks Jay-Z!”
Photo courtesy of Monogram.
NFL Explores How Marijuana And CBD Can Be Used As Opioid Alternatives For Players
The National Football League and NFL Players Association are launching an effort to learn about the potential of marijuana and its components like CBD as alternative treatment options for pain.
They’re also more generally interested in discovering how cannabis use affects athletic performance.
A request for information that was published on Tuesday states that the league’s goal is “to identify investigators who have the current capability to carry out studies aimed at supplementing the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee’s (‘PMC’) knowledge about pain management and athletic performance in NFL players.”
The notice lists three areas of interest:
1. The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered to be alternatives to opioids in routine pain management of NFL players. Medications may include, but are not limited to, cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (“CBD”).
2. The impact of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance in NFL players.
3. The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered adjunctive to routine post-surgical orthopedic pain management in NFL football players.
The joint NFL-NFLPA committee also noted that, in 2020, it held two informational forums on CBD “to learn about the current state of CBD science and manufacturing in North America.”
The findings of those forums weren’t definitive, as PMC found that while the non-intoxicating cannabis compound shows promise in the treatment of some forms of pain, the science doesn’t currently live up to the “hype.”
“CBD is a promising compound, but the level of its use in the United States outpaces the level of research at this point,” the committee wrote in a white paper for players. “Most of the hype about CBD is based upon results from animal studies.”
This new request for information stresses that NFL is not committing to funding any particular studies but is more generally meant to help the league find qualified scientists if it does move forward with research projects on these issues. Interested parties have until March 31 to submit relevant information.
Meanwhile, the league’s drug testing policy changed demonstrably last year as part of a collective bargaining agreement.
Under the new policy, NFL players will not face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana.
The decision reflects a significant shift in the league’s approach to drug use by players, with the agreement emphasizing the need to focus on “ensuring evaluation and treatment” rather than punishment. Now those who test positive for drugs, exhibit behaviors that indicate drug misuse or self-refer themselves will be required to enter an “intervention program” where they would receive an evaluation and treatment plan.
Testing positive for prohibited substances after that point would result in a half-week salary loss for first violations, a one-week salary loss for second violations, a two-week salary loss for third violations and a three-week salary loss for fourth and subsequent violations. The threat of suspensions would be removed.
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.”
Image element courtesy of Marco Verch.