It’s time to retire.
One day before the 80th anniversary of federal cannabis prohibition, Senator Corey Booker introduced groundbreaking legislation to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. This bill is not the first to propose doing so — but it is the first to do so with the explicit intent of targeting the racist origins and continued racist enforcement of the War on Drugs.
Drug policy in the United States has always been used as a tool to target and oppress specific groups. The first anti-marijuana laws were enacted in the early 20th century and, in the United States, were originally directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. On August 2, 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was ratified by President Roosevelt, effectively commencing federal marijuana prohibition.
By 1937, several other countries had banned cannabis use, possession, or trade despite its widespread acceptance as a medicine; many more would follow. International cannabis trade was restricted for the first time under the International Opium Convention of 1925 and, with the ratification of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the United Nations set the first punitive measures against nations that allowed use of cannabis for anything other than scientific or medical purposes.
In the US, marijuana prohibition was escalated in 1971 under the Nixon administration in response to the period of social upheaval in the 1960s when marijuana and other drugs became associated with a variety of social justice movements, particularly the anti-war and civil rights movements. Under the Nixon administration, marijuana was categorized as a Schedule I substance, a label used to indicate substances that have a high potential for addiction and no medicinal value. The 1980s and 1990s marked the beginning of what we now know as the “War on Drugs.” The Reagan administration increasingly associated drug use with poor people of color, and mass incarceration and law enforcement began to skyrocket. Further, just as marijuana accounts for the vast majority of illicit substance trade and consumption, marijuana prohibition accounts for the largest — some say foundational — enforcement of the War on Drugs.
Efforts to attach the use of cannabis to racist stereotypes are well-documented and used to criminalize, marginalize, or otherwise violate the human rights of those who use, produce, or trade in cannabis. In the US, these efforts have been deemed “The New Jim Crow” because they have been so effective at continuing the economic and social marginalization of Black communities and other communities of color. Around the world, nations have participated in the dehumanization of their own citizens by allowing or conducting eradication campaigns, criminalizing users and producers of cannabis, and stripping indigenous communities of their medicine or religious sacrament.
And for what? Cannabis prohibition has utterly failed in its stated goals. Eighty years after federal prohibition began in the US, it has proven to be a failure and is being dismantled around the world. SSDP is driving that dismantling by changing cannabis policies from the campus to the UN.