On July 17, 1904, the Minneapolis Tribune printed its first reefer madness story, informing the public that: "Mariguana [sic] is worse than opium … a few strong puffs are inhaled into the lungs. If its use stops here the smoker is mildly intoxicated. If he goes further with the smoking he becomes really drunk, and a few additional puffs overthrows his mind and he becomes a lunatic."
On April 11, the Star Tribune's Opinion Exchange indulged in another round of reefer madness with "Legal marijuana will lead us to a 'Brave New World.' "
In 1958, Aldous Huxley published a commentary about his famous dystopian 1932 novel, "Brave New World." Reviewing the various techniques of social and ideological control that he'd predicted in his fiction, he mentioned that "soma's" pharmacological properties were much more like those of 1950s-era tranquilizers, and not cannabis.
"Cannabis sativa," Huxley said, "is not a serious menace to society, or even to those who indulge in it. It is merely a nuisance."
Aldous Huxley's own words ought to pop the paranoid balloon floated by the April 11 literary theorist, who has his story exactly backward.
It isn't re-legalizing cannabis that would constitute "… a useful method of controlling and oppressing the masses, especially the poor."
Such a controlling method exists now.
It's found precisely in the prohibition laws against cannabis and other popular pleasure-inducing substances.
This scheme of coerced control and police-state repression, called the "war on drugs," relies on marijuana prohibition laws as the centerpiece of a massive apparatus of injustice.
Legal scholar Michelle Alexander tagged this system "the New Jim Crow." Its practical effect has been to devise new legal mechanisms to re-establish America's racial caste system, behind the fig-leaf of an ostensibly "colorblind" policy.
Alexander observes that "… every drug war that has ever been waged in the United States — including alcohol prohibition — has been tainted by or driven by racial bias.
"… Prior drug wars were ancillary to the prevailing caste system. This time the drug war is the system of control. … The War on Drugs is the engine of mass incarceration, as well as the primary cause of gross racial disparities in the criminal justice system. …"
Prohibitionists follow the footsteps of the notoriously racist narcotics bureaucrat Harry Anslinger, of race-baiting journalist William Randolph Hearst, of bigoted characters like the Colorado newspaperman who wrote to Anslinger: "I wish I could show you what a small marihuana [sic] cigaret can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents."
Today's prohibitionists deny racist intent but rationalize racist results. Drug use among all racial demographics seems to be nearly even, and yet arrest and imprisonment of minorities is skewed. Fifteen years ago, African Americans in Minnesota were 10 to 15 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than were whites; in recent years the disparity has dipped to a ratio of "only" 5 to 1.
More outrageous than any statistic was the unforgivable slaying of Philando Castile, shot by a cop who got away with it because he pretended to fear for his life when he smelled the "odor of marijuana."
Attempting to ban mind-altering substances has given us the same results as liquor prohibition: Illicit trafficking by violent gangsters, police corruption, invasions of privacy, trampled civil liberties, crowded courtrooms, adulterated products, tax evasion and disrespect for more meritorious laws — while spectacularly failing to eradicate the "forbidden fruit."
All too frequently, a news story reports another young person murdered while buying or selling cannabis clandestinely — a life lost, often over a pitifully small amount.
Why not learn from history? After liquor prohibition was repealed, the rate of murders and assaults committed with firearms declined annually, because bootleggers were out of business. By 1943, the rate was half that of 1933.
Prohibition is an incentive to criminals and a threat to public safety. Legalization is logical. To put the gangs out of business, take the business out of the gangs.
On the other hand, to truly enforce a ban on mind-altering drugs requires empowering police to monitor any citizen's private conduct and personal contacts, in all places, at all times. No intelligent person calls that a "free society."
Prohibitionists are addicted to two profoundly mistaken delusions. They think their fellow citizens are as impulsive and lacking in self-control as they secretly fear they themselves are, and they suppose they can control their fellow citizens' private, personal behavior by passing laws against it.
Maine, Michigan, Montana — even in South Dakota! — wherever the people at the grassroots can get a chance to cast a secret ballot on the issue, they're rejecting reefer madness in favor of respecting individual human rights and protecting the well-being of their communities.
Marcus Harcus, of Brooklyn Center, is co-founder of Minnesota Cannabis College. Oliver Steinberg, of St. Paul, is originator of Minnesota's Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party.