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Marijuana, Alcohol, and Disinformation in America

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Is it any surprise that the American Dialect Society named " fake news " Word of the Year for 2017? The phrase is ubiquitous to the extent that it doesn't describe anything anymore. The term "fake news" is now a rhetorical term. When Trump says something is fake news, we know he's not actually saying something is fake news. He's leveraging the power of the term "fake news"; the power of paranoia; the power of arbitrarily calling into question the legitimacy of anything you're told; and the power of disinformation. It's as if "fake news" is an entity, like some sort of media Slender Man . Connect anything to the bogeyman, and the associative damage is done.

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This tactic isn't new. For example, it's been around ever since Harry J. Anslinger began his campaign against cannabis in the 1930s. Anslinger was the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. At the outset, he didn't think cannabis was a problem, but he knew the bureau needed a crusade in order to maintain a staff. OpEd contributor, radio show host and activist Harvey Wasserman points out that "Anslinger promoted the term 'marijuana' to deal with cannabis because it has an Hispanic twinge and aroused paranoid bigotry among the white population."

Anslinger knew that going after marijuana was good business. It was a way to keep law enforcement, prosecutors, prisons, and the Bureau busy. Now that alcohol was legal again and cocaine and heroin users represented a miniscule percentage of the population, marijuana was a prime bogeyman for society's ills.

I'm no prohibitionist, but the disinformation surrounding alcohol and marijuana is mystifying. After Prohibition, it appears we left alcohol alone and went after weed. There's even the question as to whether alcohol isa drug, although about 88,000 deaths a year are alcohol-related. There's no doubt alcohol is a drug--it has a "physiological effect when ingested," meaning it's a drug, and regular drinking easily leads to addiction. Yet alcohol isn't on the Federal drug schedule. Meanwhile, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug with "no accepted medical use." Tell that to all the patients in 29 states who take it for glaucoma and other maladies, such as cancer.

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So how did marijuana get here, to the point where Jeff Sessions can flip a switch and instruct federal prosecutors to go against all states that have legalized medical cannabis? It started with Anslinger and continued with Nixon, who were both precursors of Trump.

Anslinger used a form of associative, language-based branding Trump is very familiar with. In the mid-30s, Anslinger championed the "Marihuana Tax Act of 1937." The term "marihuana" had a negative connotation because of Mexican and black stereotypes, while the term "fake news" has seen increasing paranoia surrounding it because of fears that Russia tampered with election by disseminating fake news stories.

It goes deeper than that. Paranoia over fake news revolves around the unraveling of society, the fear that we can't trust anyone. This is the same type of paranoia Anslinger propagated when he made a radio address claiming marijuana use leads to psychosis and insanity. He also claimed a man named Victor Licata killed his family with an axe under the influence of marijuana. Turns out Licata wasn't high; he was mentally ill.

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Daniel Matthews is a thirty-two years young freelance writer and musician from Boise, Idaho. In 2006 he earned his Bachelor's Degree in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from Boise State University. Boise State's faculty includes two of (more...)

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