The Racism of the Drug War (Part 1)

Texas state police dragging Mexican suspects. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

Longtime Congressman Ron Paul draws attention to many Americans supporting the war on drugs out of the belief that drug prohibition is morally correct.  But if only morality were the true motivation behind the nearly hundred-year-old U.S. federal war on drugs!  In reality, the drug war is purely racist and xenophobic at its genesis.

The Harrison Tax Act of 1914 was the first federal law aimed at reducing not the drug trade, but reducing drug users from certain communities through prohibitively high taxes. In the early years of Washington’s drug war, the enemy was Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants.

Before the federal war on minorities heated up, it planted one devastating seed: alcohol prohibition (1920-1933) created a black market for running liquor from Mexico into Texas and other border states, and the U.S. federal war on alcohol created the Gulf Cartel, which would devastate Mexico nearly 100 years later (see the LPN article “Prohibition Spawned Mexico’s Oldest Drug Cartel”).

Back in the days of propaganda films like “Reefer Madness,” Mexicans were still the scapegoat for a number of social and economic ills, especially during the Great Depression. One Texas state senator spoke on the senate floor in favor of marijuana prohibition. The state senator said, “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff is what makes them crazy.”

Henry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (the precursor to the DEA) freely admitted that “the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.” Anslinger also delivered such gems to the press as “This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes” and “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was rammed through Congress in a whopping two hours. Only two medical experts were asked to testify to Congress as expert witnesses. One of them, James Munch, delivered a useless testimony about injecting dogs with active ingredients found in marijuana plants. The Bureau of Narcotics later made Munch their Official Expert on marijuana.

The other testimony came from Dr. William Woodward, who represented the American Medical Association. Dr. Woodward insisted, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug.” To this, one insolent congressman replied “Doctor, if you can’t say anything good about what we are trying to do, why don’t you go home?”

The federal government’s drug war killed thousands of U.S. citizens and residents inside the United States. According to the Narcosphere news blog, nearly 5,700 drug-related homicides happened on U.S. soil between 2006 and 2010. As of 2016, over 160,000 Mexican people have been killed in the drug war south of the border.

The racist drug war must end before it wipes out thousands more human lives. The Libertarian Party has been against the drug war since its founding in 1971—over four decades before the Democrat Party decided marijuana decriminalization was fashionable. The Libertarian Party of Nevada is actively working to fully legalize marijuana in Nevada.

In Part 2: Cocaine or crack, harsher penalties if you’re black