History is replete with examples of governmental attempts to modify human behavior by imposing prohibitions. All attempts failed, most of them miserably.
In the 16th century, coffee was banned in Egypt and supplies were burned. Coffee consumption increased rapidly.
In the 17th century, the Tsar of Russia executed people caught using tobacco. Among unexecuted Russian citizens, tobacco usage increased.
Similar results obtained when tobacco usage was banned in Bavaria, Saxony and Zurich. Violators were executed, by order of the Sultan. Among survivors, tobacco usage increased.
In England, the 1736 Gin Act was intended to increase prices to the extent consumption would decrease. General lawbreaking resulted. Gin consumption increased.
In China, a 1792 law required strangulation of keepers of opium shops. Opium usage increased.
San Francisco County recently banned smoking in all public buildings. This ban was deemed to include the jailhouse. The price of black market jailhouse cigarettes immediately jumped to $120 per pack.
The Puritans who sailed to Plymouth Rock in 1620 should have provided a clue. They packed 14 tons of water as emergency backup for 42 tons of beer and 40 tons of wine.
America imposed a tax on distillation of whiskey in 1791. The resulting civil protests quickly grew into armed rebellion against the new government. In 1794 President Washington called out the militias of several states to form an army roughly the size of that which defeated the British, put down the rebellion and established the right of the federal government to make war against its own citizens. But the Army couldn't enforce the Whiskey Tax, which was repealed in 1803, long after unlicensed stills relocated to secluded forests in remote mountains in eastern Kentucky, where alcoholic beverages have been produced under shining moons for over 200 years.
Between 1875 and 1914, 27 states and cities banned smoking of opium. In those localities, opium consumption increased sevenfold. Abraham Lincoln earlier called this one right:
"Prohibition... makes a crime out of things that are not crimes... and strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded."
Under President Obama, a few fragile green shoots are becoming apparent to those who seek to provide a dose of Hope, Change and basic sanity to America's war on citizens who use marijuana.
Which leads inquiring minds to ask: Where did this insane and inhumane war come from, and were the reasons valid?
The answer to the first question: Richard M. Nixon.
The answer to the second question: No.
Nixon initiated America's War on Drugs based almost solely on personal hateful racial bigotry and a profound level of ignorance of history. Nixon was recorded telling his chief of staff: "You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."
Those emotions have blindly controlled national policy on marijuana ever since.
Under President Johnson, the progressive 1966 Narcotic Addiction Rehabilitation Act allowed treatment as an alternative to federal prison. A 1968 amendment allowed suspended sentences and for the criminal records of people who stayed out of trouble for a year to be expunged.
In 1969 the Supreme Court ruled the Marijuana Tax Act, the 1937 law that made marijuana illegal, was unconstitutional. In response the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act, commonly called the Controlled Substances Act, was passed in 1970. Some provisions of the 1970 law were progressive. Congress determined that prisons were overflowing and the courts were ineffective because, due to the barbaric 1951 Boggs Act, they had no flexibility to make the punishment fit the crime. Mandatory sentencing requirements that treated a casual user possessing a quarter-ounce of marijuana the same as a determined dealer with a wheelbarrow full of heroin waiting outside an elementary school for his customers to be dismissed were recognized as a failed policy and were eliminated. Other provisions were not progressive.
With some Congressional misgivings, marijuana became a Schedule I substance, a drug with high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. And also because it was used primarily by anti-war protesters and hippies, who were intent upon undermining Nixon's anal-retentive policies.
But Congress had lingering concerns about the dangers and medical benefits of marijuana. To resolve those concerns, Congress created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse early in 1971. Unfortunately, nine of the 13 members were appointed by Nixon. Because Nixon was personally opposed to drugs, he stuffed the commission with hardliners. The chair was Raymond Shafer, a former prosecutor and Republican governor of Pennsylvania, well known for his tough law and order approach to drugs. At the time Shafer coveted, actively sought and was being seriously considered for lifetime appointment as a federal judge.
The commission sponsored over 50 research projects, conducted numerous opinion polls and held many hearings, at which it took thousands of pages of testimony. To this day, the commission's work stands as the most thorough, unbiased study of marijuana ever conducted by the federal government.
Recently released tapes of 1971-1972 Oval Office conversations concerning Shafer and his commission reveal that Nixon, in his uniquely homey style, provided staff with extraordinarily lucid explanations for a number of societal issues that had long perplexed learned scholars. One of his more startling revelations explained the cause of decline of ancient Greek civilization:
"You know what happened to the Greeks. Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo, we all know that, so was Socrates."
Per Nixon, a similar fate befell the mighty Roman Empire:
"Do you know what happened to the Romes, Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags... The last six. Nero had a public wedding to a boy."
And the Roman Catholic Church as well:
"You know what happened to the Popes? Its all right that, po-po Popes were laying the nuns, that's been going on for years, centuries, but, when the Popes, when the Catholic Church went to hell in, I don't know, three or four centuries ago, it was homosexual..."
Britain and France suffered the same terrible affliction:
"Now that's what happened to Britain, it happened earlier to France."
Russia escaped this moral plague, only to be engulfed by another:
"Why the hell are those Communists so hard on drugs? Well why they're so hard on drugs is because, uh, they love to booze. I mean, the Russians, they drink pretty good."
Nixon offered an eminently reasonable explanation for why booze is beneficial to society while marijuana is not. Nixon, who was known to drunkenly stagger through the halls of the White house while having incoherent one-sided conversations with portraits of presidential predecessors, piously explained:
"People use marijuana to get high."
"People use alcohol to have fun."
But these were merely gratuitous side comments provided to enliven discussions about Shafer, his commission and its findings.
The tapes make evident the extent and direction of Nixon's preconceptions about the causes of marijuana's increasing popularity:
"Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish."
Anti-war protesters represented the disastrous results of America's lenient drug policy:
"These uh, more radical demonstrators that were here the last, oh, two weeks ago. They're all on drugs. Oh yeah, horrible..."
The commission took almost 12 months to complete its work. On a number of occasions during that time, Nixon prematurely proclaimed the commission's conclusions and recommendations. His comments to his staff and to Shafer, made at various times, in equally coherent terms, included:
"I think that's what you want to do, take a strong line."
"Now, this is one thing I want. I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofabitching, uh, Domestic Council?"
"I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them."
"We are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss, I want to find a way of putting more on that."
"I want to hit it, against legalizing and all that sort of thing."
The day before the Commission released its final report, Nixon said: "We need, and I use the word 'all out war', on all fronts... We have to attack on all fronts."
Knowledgeable government professionals were not allowed to provide input. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare wasn't to be consulted: "Don't go to HEW. Well, we might, we might have big problems with HEW too."
Input by the National Institutes of Health was forbidden: "Did you see this statement by Brown... this morning? Uh, he should be out. I mean, today, today. If he's a presidential appointee all I do is fire the son- of-a-b*tch, and I mean today."
No wonder Barry Goldwater was quoted as saying: "I wouldn't trust Nixon from here to that phone."
In March of 1972, to his great credit, Shafer bucked the President and delivered an honest report, with conclusions based on all the evidence. The commission concluded that marijuana's relative potential for causing harm does not justify punishment for users and recommended decriminalization of possession and use of small quantities of marijuana. A Zogby poll taken shortly after found that 61 percent of voters nationwide agreed with Shafer Commission conclusions that marijuana users should not be arrested or jailed. Only 33 percent supported treating marijuana users as criminals.
Nixon refused to read the report before denouncing its findings. Raymond Shafer was eliminated from the list of those being considered for appointment as federal judges. Echoing the words spoken the day before the final report was issued, Nixon declared the nation to be engaged in a "War on Drugs". In June 1971, when polls indicated the populace considered heroin a prime problem as the result of a massive publicity campaign orchestrated by the White House, Nixon sent a message to Congress declaring:
"America's Public Enemy Number One is drug abuse."
"...present efforts to control drug abuse are not sufficient... The problem has assumed the dimensions of a national emergency. I intend to take every step necessary to deal with this emergency."
In remarks to media executives the next day, Nixon claimed: "Drug traffic is public enemy number one domestically in the United States today and we must wage a total offensive, worldwide, nationwide, government-wide, and, if I might say so, media-wide."
The war was on.
Why? Because "Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish."
And because "... radical demonstrators that were here the last, oh, two weeks ago. They're all on drugs..."
Insane reasons for an insane war. The time for government to recognize it has lost yet another war and to surrender is long past.