HONOLULU (KHON2) — When this series left off last time, it had discussed the tumultuous politics that swirled around a plant. From being a legitimate medical drug to being a substance that can strip humans of their humanity, marijuana had a rough time.
By the 1950s, marijuana was the subject of many films and dramatizations that showed anyone who used marijuana to be a rapist, a torturer, a criminal. The now famous Reefer Madness film became a mockery for those who enjoyed a bit of herb here and there.
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But, by the time the 1960s came around, the world became a much more open yet much crueler place.
In the 1960s, sentiments against marijuana had begun to wane. Methamphetamines and barbiturates had become predominant in American life with housewives being drugged by their physicians to maintain their happiness in suburbia.
College students began smoking marijuana. It became mainstream on college campuses and in larger cities. At this time in history, babyboomers were coming of age; and they were used to a life of prosperity which gave them a good bit of free time.
Back then, many state universities were free for their residents. So, tuition and fees did not exist making it easier for that generation to enjoy the leisure that comes along with privilege.
This was also the decade that the U.S. decided to engage in a land war with a sovereign state, Vietnam.
Through the 18 years the U.S. was in Vietnam, millions of soldiers died, became maimed and paralyzed and suffered horrendous psychological and emotional trauma. The G.I. Bill gave them access to university where they encountered the newly emerging counterculture.
It was also in this decade that many young Americans decided to stand up against the racism of their forefathers and began attempting to tackle universal Civil Rights. Many lost their lives in places like Mississippi where even outsiders would be lynched.
The combination of Vietnam and Civil Rights pushed a tumultuous decade. There were protests and assassinations. There was a push from more conservative elements within civil society to drive hardline gender and race constructs so as to keep people in their place.
But, this did not deter the young protestors. Eventually, the drive that made these young people want to engage with the world to make it a better place was blamed on marijuana.
Marijuana was seen as the instigator of everything, and politicians like Richard Nixon pounced on his opportunity. Armed with his stance as the law-and-order candidate and with Kevin Phillips’s brand new political strategy known as the Southern Strategy, Nixon soared to victory.
By 1970, Nixon had begun formulating his infamous War on Drugs. He sought to make marijuana completely illegal by making it a schedule one narcotic. Moving it to this demarcation would ensure that anyone arrested for it would be sent to prison for a very long time thanks to Congress passing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970.
Nixon believed that marijuana was the reason for the breakdown of society. He believed that marijuana was responsible for pretty much all the ills in the U.S. at the time. He worked tirelessly to pull Hollywood into his corner.
Nixon was able to wrangle Art Linklater to be his personal spokesperson on disavowing marijuana. He was also able to secure $37 million worth of commercial airtime for his anti-drug narratives.
Nixon greatly expanded the powers of law enforcement to curb marijuana usage. While he was working on his agenda, Congress was doing something else.
A report was created by the Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse that called for an end to Nixon’s war on drugs. The report found that Nixon’s agenda was a waste of money.
When Nixon created his Narcotics Treatment Administration, he told the director that he [the expert] was the expert on every issue except marijuana. On that subject, Nixon considered himself to be the expert.
“You see, homosexuality, dope, immorality in general. These are the enemies of a strong society. That’s why the communists and left-wingers are pushing the [marijuana]; they are trying to destroy us,” said Nixon.
As we all know, Nixon was eventually impeached. And, by the close of the 1970s, public sentiment had turn mild toward marijuana again. President Jimmy Carter even suggested that it be made federally legal.
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So, two very tumultuous decades in the fight to control the soul of America. For now, we will leave the story here. Check out the conclusion to this saga in Part 3.