12 The Campaign against Marihuana

If marihuana is a relatively safe intoxicant that is not addicting, does not in and of itself lead to the use of harder drugs, is not criminogenic, and does not lead to sexual excess, and the evidence that it may lead to personality deterioration and psychosis is quite unconvincing, and indeed there may even be some important clinical utilities for some cannabis derivatives -- why then is so much heat generated by its opponents, especially in comparison with the low-key campaign against cigarettes and the practically nonexistent one against alcohol? It is important to attempt to answer this-question-because understanding here is a necessary prerequisite to a more rational approach to the problem of the vastly increasing use of cannabis in this country. The present approach is unrealistic, overly punitive, and ineffective.

Any attempt to understand why our reaction to the use of cannabis is overdetermined must be speculative. Nonetheless, I should like to specify some factors which I think may be contributing to the hyperemotionalism that separates cannabis from tobacco and particularly from alcohol. First of all, there is a vast amount of misinformation about the drug. As noted earlier, much of this has its origin in the 1930's with the so-called "educational campaign" of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (recently reorganized and renamed the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs). Figure 6 shows a poster which typifies the kind of "educational campaign" supported by this bureau in the 1930's. As nearly as I can determine, much of this continuing "educational campaign" is not so much based on what is known about the dangers of cannabis as on a large body of alarming exaggerations, distortions, and mendacities which altogether constitute a kind of latter-day Malleus Maleficarum.

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