Reefer Madness is About Racism – Even Today

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Reefer madness isn’t just a corny movie; it’s code for white fear. It has been clear since the United States first outlawed cannabis, in the “reefer madness” days, that the substance was meant to be associated with people of color. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively outlawed cannabis, used the term “marihuana” instead of “cannabis” to evoke the Spanish spoken by Mexican immigrants. And indeed, the first man arrested for cannabis under the act was Mexican-American. Since then, there has been a steady, plainly spoken, and very real effort by powerful white people to associate cannabis with communities of color in order to win votes and gain power. It’s Not the What, but the Who The intention of using the term “marihuana” was to make voters associate cannabis with some nefarious dangers of Mexico. But, truthfully, during the 1930s, American pharmaceutical companies were the biggest importers of cannabis. Not Mexico. In fact, Mexico had criminalized cannabis in 1920. Historians have found more evidence that Mexican citizens were crossing the border into America to buy cannabis than smuggling it in themselves. Not that truth it mattered. Using the Spanish word made cannabis seem like something un-American. Politicians who talked “tough…

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