When Dr. Sanjay Gupta realized he had done wrong, instead of going off in a corner to discreetly brush over the whole thing, he used the same forces that had been used to perpetuate that wrong to declare it was time for truth. And he wanted to the world to hear.
When Dr. Gupta made the documentary, “Weed,” it was an effort to start righting that wrong. He apologized, very publicly, for his part in helping to spread the lies and propaganda regarding the truth about marijuana. “Weed” was a year’s effort to start correcting the misinformation that he admits he helped spread regarding marijuana.
The lies about weed are not new. But correcting them is. If we don’t know already, we at the least have a growing awareness that we, as a people, have been flat out lied to regarding not just the dangers but also the substantial medical benefits of marijuana.
There is no doubt, many of us are not ready to accept the damage those lies have done. It could be that is at least part of the reason they have continued unchecked for so long. It took a lot of courage for Dr. Gupta to come out and admit he had been wrong: wrong about what he had believed to be true regarding marijuana, wrong in helping to spread those lies, and wrong for not looking deeper for the truth. You can’t really blame him or any of the rest of us, though. The lies have been so much a part of what we grew up believing, it is hard to grasp the possibility that we were lied to all along, misled to such a level or the impact that those lies have had on the lives of the people we love.
What we do know
Hemp/cannabis/marijuana has been cultivated for thousands of years. It has been used to make a long list of products, rope, sails, paper, etc. Its oil is one of the most nutritious in nature. Cannabis has been part of the world pharmacopeia for thousands of those years. It is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). For many conditions, it has long been the treatment of choice.
Where did the lies come from?
Attitudes took what amounted to a hijacked turn after the end of alcohol prohibition left law enforcement types worried about their career prospects. Among them, Harry J. Anslinger, who had made his career enforcing alcohol prohibition, thought marijuana prohibition might be a good replacement.
Never mind that cannabis was one of the most frequently prescribed, all around useful, with very few side effects, medications in the entire US pharmacopeia. And people needed their medicine. Minor details.
It was all about the money. Anslinger could not have pulled it all off by himself though. Here, the story gets somewhat murky and conspiracy theories abound. Getting to the bottom of what really happened is about as easy as what Dr. Gupta found when he realized the commonly accepted information on marijuana was just plain wrong. It is not a surprise that he too believed the lies. Or that we all have at some point.
Anyway, the rumors are still flying as to what actually happened, but we got a pretty good idea that Anslinger had ties with Andrew W. Mellon and the DuPonts. From somewhere between them, the idea arguably sprang that they could line their wallets if they managed to redirect the manufacturers using hemp to use petroleum instead.
Meanwhile, Anslinger decided racism could indeed be a very good thing. Writing articles linking marijuana with murder, rape, insanity, mutilation, etc., he associated its use and those dangers with Blacks and Mexicans, who were known to smoke it. He and William Randolph Hearst, the media magnate, soon got together on that one. Since Hearst also owned paper mills and timberland, he could see the financial benefit of taking hemp off the market. Openly racist, he didn’t like Blacks or Mexicans either and was more than happy to use his newspaper empire to further a financially beneficial, albeit racist cause. And we talk about big money media bias today, lack of truth, etc. — they knew exactly what they were doing.
You could write a book, but I will leave it there. Conspiracy theory or no (as in we still don’t know all the details), but Anslinger, Hearst, Mellon, and DuPont variously finagled the politics of marijuana prohibition and spread the propaganda to convince the American people that this was indeed the right thing to do, no matter how many lies it took, or how many lives they destroyed in the process.
Nixon’s War on Drugs
If possible, things got worse when Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs. Annoyed with the hippie types protesting the war in Vietnam, he thought that marijuana might provide the means to get them out of his way, so he formed the Shafer Commission to do a study. His plan was that the study would confirm the evils of marijuana and provide justification to arrest and put the weed smoking hippies away.
The Shafer Commission’s study was and is still considered the most comprehensive study on marijuana to date. Their findings were that any potential laws against marijuana would be more criminal and do more harm than marijuana ever would. Nixon was not pleased. He ignored their findings and declared the War on Drugs anyway. Since by then the use of marijuana was very common, it was pretty much a pick and choose your target, which is exactly what he wanted. From its beginning, there was never an intent to fairly and equitably enforce marijuana laws: for Anslinger and Hearst, it was race, and for Nixon it was the hippies.
Today, according to the Race and Sentencing Project, sixty percent of the people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities and two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. One in three Black American men can expect to spend at least some of his lifetime in prison.
Despite the fact that polls show an increasing percentage of the US population feels that marijuana should be legalized (Pew Research), since Nixon declared the War on Drugs, the US has increasingly locked up more and more people and spent more and more money doing so. The US now has the highest prison population rate in the world; specifically, 25% of the people incarcerated in the entire world are in US jails and prisons.
Big Pharma also has a stake in marijuana prohibition. Since it is effective in the treatment of a number of major medical conditions, the side effects minimal, and the cost relatively cheap (especially if you grow it yourself), Big Pharma stands to lose a lot of money if marijuana is legalized.
Dr. Gupta is a surgeon among surgeons, at one time recommended for Surgeon General of the United States. And he didn’t see through the lies. There has been so much continuous misinformation about marijuana, getting to the truth on anything related takes effort. Fully grasping that, in some cases, marijuana might honestly be the best possible treatment for some very serious conditions is hard for us to comprehend. Even if we believe in legalization, we may still have the mindset that it is all about the high. It is not.
After the broadcast, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) conducted follow-up discussions with some of the documentary participants. One issue of which I had very little awareness was in the increasing number of people who are migrating because of medical issues.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 20 states and others are working toward change. Doctors in states where it has been legalized are seeing increasing numbers of individuals moving into their areas for medical care. This is not a migration of stoners; these people are dealing with life and death medical decisions. To me, that was the most chilling revelation of all.
Dr. Gupta was correct. No matter how we felt about it in the past, or what we believed to be true, it is way past time for honest discussion as to what is really going on. It’s time to expose the truth about marijuana and our nation’s war on weed.
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