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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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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 Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Sierra Club Gives Tips On Using Marijuana In An Environmentally Friendly Way

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A leading environmental conservationist group wants to help you sustainably and safely consume marijuana.

The Sierra Club, which has not historically weighed in on cannabis issues, released a guide last week that makes a series of recommendations about how to source marijuana in a way that’s healthy and good for the environment.

They said that, absent regulations from federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture, consumers are left in the dark when it comes to best practices. And the 129-year-old environmental nonprofit is here to help.

“The majority of Americans now live in states where they can legally consume medicinal or recreational cannabis,” the new guide published this month in the Sierra Club’s print magazine says. “As more ways to lawfully partake become available, the choices can be confusing.”

The article lists five tips for marijuana enthusiasts during a time when more and more state-legal markets are coming online.

Buy organic—or “organic-ish.” Because marijuana remains federally illegal, there isn’t an opportunity for cannabis companies to obtain a standard organic certification. But consumers should look for a Clean Green or Sun+Earth label, as these third-party organizations also maintain strong standards and help businesses gain formal certification.

Buy outdoor-grown marijuana. The carbon footprint for indoor-cultivated cannabis can be significant, as the process relies heavily on electronic lighting. That’s not the case for outdoor-grown flower. Sierra Club said “the production of one kilogram of indoor-grown cannabis results in 4,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of driving the United States from coast to coast 11 times.”

Familiarize yourself with the marijuana producer. The illicit market doesn’t disappear when a state launches a legal cannabis market. And because illicit sellers are unregulated, they may be using harmful pesticides, or cultivating their products on public lands in ways that can hurt surrounding wildlife. That said, a 2019 study did find that illegal cultivation in national forests declined post-legalization in Oregon and Washington State.

The guide also notes that certain states encourage cannabis companies to enroll in energy-saving programs. Colorado has taken it a step further, with the governor announcing last year that the state was rolling out pilot programs to promote sustainability cooperation between the cannabis and alcohol markets by using carbon dioxide from the brewing process to stimulate marijuana plant growth.

Look for a Certificate of Analysis. That’s easier said than done in states where marijuana remains prohibited, but for consumers in legal states, it’s an important component, as it means the products have been tested for heavy metals, mold and other potentially dangerous substances.

Be wary of packaging. As in other industries, plastic and packaging is an environmental problem. Seeking out products with low-waste packages can help mitigate that issue, Sierra Club said. For example, there are some companies that use recycled plastics recovered from the ocean. Alternatively, consumers could try to find hemp-based packaging.

The guide also offers tips for specific types of cannabis products.

For example, when it comes to edibles, consumers should seek out vegan goodies. Beyond arguments that a plant-based diet represents a humane alternative, it’s also the case that animal agriculture is overly polluting and resource intensive.

For smoking, the group says that glass pipes are “inherently earth-friendlier” than rolling papers, as they cut down on waste and production. The environmentally conscious cannabis consumer should also buy flowers in jars instead of as single pre-rolls, “to reduce throwaway packaging.”

As far as vaping goes, Sierra Club recommends spending your money with companies that offer recycling programs for used cartridges.

Meanwhile, activists in Montana are also seeing a link between environmentalism and marijuana. A voter-approved initiative to legalize cannabis in the state calls for a significant amount of tax revenue from marijuana sales to be allocated to conservation programs.

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Killer Mike Challenges Joe Biden To Adopt Bernie Sanders’s Marijuana Legalization Plan

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Rapper and activist Killer Mike is challenging President-elect Joe Biden to take a note from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and use executive authority to broadly reform federal marijuana laws as soon as he takes office.

In an interview with TMZ that was released on Wednesday, the artist stressed the need to legalize cannabis and do it in a way that lifts up communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. He said Biden can help facilitate that by federally descheduling marijuana through executive action on day one—a proposal Sanders pitched during his presidential run.

“I want to challenge Joe Biden to do what Bernie Sanders did,” Killer Mike, who served as a campaign surrogate for the senator, said. “He would have descheduled it the first day of his presidency. You have the power of that pen to invoke things like gun laws. You should have the power of that pen to take it off the Schedule I list so that, if nothing else, it is decriminalized to the point that kids’ lives aren’t being ruined today.”

But Biden has not indicated that marijuana reform would be an immediate priority for his administration. In fact, he remains opposed to adult-use legalization despite supermajority support within his party.

The president-elect has only gone so far as to back modest cannabis rescheduling, decriminalizing possession, expunging past records, legalizing medical marijuana and protecting states’ rights to enact their own policies. Biden did select a head of a major federal health agency who is amenable to reform, however, and in his role he could help facilitate rescheduling.

As far as Biden in concerned, he feels marijuana should be placed in Schedule II, the second most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act, along with cocaine. But advocates argue that does not go far enough and could have an inadvertent, adverse impact on state-legal markets. They’re pushing him to adopt a policy of complete descheduling, which would be accomplished if a bill approved by the House earlier this month makes it through the Senate and onto the president’s desk.

With respect to executive action, it should be noted that experts have raised questions about the feasibility of unilaterally ending prohibition through that process, much less on the first day of a presidency.

In the TMZ interview, Killer Mike also talked about local reform in his home state state of Georgia, stating that he will be pushing the governor and legislature to enact legalization. The policy change is inevitable, he said, but lawmakers must ensure that there’s “a presence of African-American ownership in Georgia for marijuana.”

“We have had young men serve 10, 20, 30, 40 years and then they get out and they cannot participate in the trade that they help build,” he said. “That’s like a moonshiner who moonshined through prohibition not getting the chance to have a liquor license. We’ve done that mistake before so I want to demand NORML and other marijuana organizations out there to get people of color on the forefront.”

“I’m going to be frank and say Black folks deserve it. We deserve at least 25 percent of the marijuana industry because it has truly been built on our backs, and we need more MedMen that are owned by men that look like me,” he added. “I want to demand that progressives, and especially Black Democrats that are out there, start to demand locally marijuana policy on a state level that is inclusive of the people.”

Georgia is at the center of national attention right now, as two Democratic Senate hopefuls enter into a runoff election next week. And the outcome of those races could determine the fate of federal marijuana policy because if both Democrats win, the party will retake the Senate and would be in a much better position to advance reform.

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NBA Could Permanently End Marijuana Tests So It Doesn’t Become ‘Big Brother,’ Commissioner Says

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A temporary NBA policy not to randomly drug test players for marijuana may well become permanent, the league’s commissioner said this week.

“We decided that, given all the things that were happening in society, given all the pressures and stress that players were under, that we didn’t need to act as Big Brother right now,” Commissioner Adam Silver told NBC’s Today. “I think society’s views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.”

Rather than mandate blanket tests, he said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”

“I’d say the same thing about alcohol or any other substance,” Silver said.

He made similar remarks in a recent interview with The Sports Daily, stating that he’s “not sure whether marijuana should be treated differently than other substances, including alcohol, that are otherwise legal that players could be using and creating issues around.”

“I recognize that society’s views around marijuana use have changed dramatically since these rules were put in place, and in many ways the suspension of random testing this season is a recognition of that,” he said. “If our players are traveling from jurisdiction to jurisdiction—from jurisdictions that do not have prohibitions to jurisdictions where there’s still criminal penalties for possession and use of marijuana—we want to make sure we’re not creating a trap for our players and putting in place rules that will put them in the crosshairs of the law.”

“It doesn’t mean there isn’t still a concern from the league that marijuana, no different than alcohol, can be abused,” he added. “It’s something that we want to play close attention to, especially given the incredible stress that our players are often under, and particularly given the stress of playing in a pandemic.”

NBA initially announced a temporary suspension of cannabis drug testing earlier this year, as players finished out their season in the so-called “bubble” arena in Orlando. That was later extended to the entire 2020-2021 season following an agreement between the league and the players’ union

Michele Roberts, the head of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) who also joined the board of the major cannabis company Cresco Labs this year, predicted in a recent interview that a formal change to codify the policy indefinitely could come as early as “next season.”

While NBA won’t be subjecting players to random drug testing for THC, they will continue to test “for cause” cases where players have histories of substance use, for example.

If NBA does ultimately end marijuana testing, it would be another example of evolving drug policies within national sports leagues. Earlier this year, the MLB announced that players would not longer be tested for cannabis, though they’re barred from being sponsored by marijuana companies.

The NFL also made the decision to end suspensions for positive drug tests as well as limiting the testing window.

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