Apparently, "it's OK to have more arsenic in water than it is to have hemp in cereal," comments California Rep. George Miller about a new Drug Enforcement Agency ban, recently effective, on hemp food products containing even trace elements of THC.
The crackdown on such food is, according to the Washington Post, the result of lobbying by the Family Research Council, which believes that "hemp has become a stalking horse for the drug legalization movement."
The ban, then, is part of a political agenda. But what is that agenda, and why such a fuss over hemp food? For that matter, why such a to-do over industrial hemp, medicinal marijuana or even the legalization of pot itself?
The health argument for pot prohibition is weak. "Marijuana addiction" refers only to psychological addiction, and research showing even this is suspect: It assumes pot smokers have a problem, and then when study participants display difficulty removing pot from their lives, it argues this is proof of addiction. This is circular logic.
Nor does pot necessarily lead to dangerous drugs; the gateway argument (i.e. that it will lead to stronger stuff) is a porous one. First, it's a cause-effect fallacy, confusing chronology with causality. Probably most whiskey abusers once drank beer; does that mean beer causes whiskey abuse?
Second, if pot leads to harder drugs, particularly heroin, then given the dramatic rise in pot smoking since the '60s, there should be a corresponding jump in heroin addiction. But as reporter Daniel Baum notes in Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, heroin addiction today is no greater than it was in 1970.
Third, pot prohibitionists contradict themselves: The gateway argument claims pot users become "bored" with a marijuana high; how can something be both boring and "psychologically addictive"?
Fourth, to the extent the gateway argument is true, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Baum quotes a University of Kentucky researcher: "By throwing subjects into a subculture that elicits heroin use, even moderate marijuana use can weld the first link of a casual chain leading to heroin."
So, illegality is the problem, not marijuana. Twenty-five percent of all federal prisoners, some serving life without parole, are in for marijuana; neither the health arguments nor the gateway argument come close to explaining why.
What's really going on? Pot prohibition is about repression. According to John Helmer's Drugs and Minority Oppression, our first anti-drug laws were anti-opium laws, passed at the height of an anti-Chinese campaign and used to persecute and deport "coolies." The original targets of anti-pot laws were Hispanics. In Helmer's book, he documents the words of an Alamosa, Colo. newspaper editor in support of the 1937 Congressional Marihuana Tax Act:
"I wish I could show you what a small marihuana [sic] cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents," the editor wrote.
American drug laws have historical roots in the cesspool of racism and ethnic intolerance. The leopard hasn't changed it spots; a primary target of today's repression is hippies. "Oh," we recite the clich, "but hippies were a thing of the '60s and no longer exist." But everyday we see hippie-types, from silver-haired seniors to those unborn when the '60s ended, and what we really mean is, "Hippies are no longer supposed to exist."
Pot remains illegal because hippies use it, and the powers that be see America's counterculture as subversive, partly, no doubt, due to early hippies' sometime association with '60s anti-war activism. Thus ever since, national policy has been to harass, persecute, and hopefully eliminate hippie culture.
In many jurisdictions, having Grateful Dead stickers on your vehicle is "due cause" for the police to stop you. A lot like "Driving while Black."
This unstated but very real policy of "cleansing" America, and the world, of hippie culture is the ugly truth we tap dance around: We can't legalize marijuana or hemp in any form because to do so would be to legitimize hippie culture.
No, anti-pot/hemp policies aren't bad health-care policy: They're repression disguised as bad health-care policy. In his effort to cleanse Germany of "subversive," "degenerate" Jewish culture, Joseph Goebbels would no doubt have admired the phrase "zero tolerance." And that's exactly what the war on pot, hemp and hippies is about: bigotry, prejudice and intolerance.
Paul Dougan teaches composition at UCCS and is writing a book titled Ethnic Hippies: Commonsense about Today's Counterculture.