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The Real Madness 

How did MJ get on same schedule as heroin?

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For nearly a century officials have touted the dangers of marijuana. Many of us can dip into the memory banks to find attempts of officers visiting our classrooms to enlighten us on how drugs would ruin our lives.

The common narrative was that we'd get arrested and go to jail as they conveniently overlooked the fact that the only danger came from the legal system rather than the plant itself.

Predictably and perhaps ironically, the DARE program didn't deter as many young minds from experimenting with marijuana as it intended. According to a Pew Research poll, nearly half of Americans have tried marijuana at least once.

Another more historical narrative is that marijuana would turn you into a lazy or perhaps crazed delinquent, worthless to society at best and a danger at worst. However, as nearly half of Americans can tell you, this is simply not the case.

So when did the government decide marijuana should be classified as a Schedule I drug on par with heroin and bath salts? Why is it that, after 100 years, a substance less dangerous than alcohol should warrant more than 7 million arrests between 2001 and 2010?

The reasons make about as much sense as you'd think.

There are a couple theories as to just how marijuana came to be considered as dangerous as heroin. In an article for the Huffington Post, Johann Hari, author of the book "Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs," attributed the prohibition to a single man: Harry J. Anslinger.

Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics beginning in 1930. According to Hari, following the failed prohibition of alcohol, Anslinger sought a new target.

Anslinger polled 30 scientists on whether marijuana was dangerous or not. Only one said yes. That was all Ansligner needed.

With the help of a little sensationalist journalism, Anslinger began to sell the idea that marijuana would turn you into a maniacal semblance of a human being, liable to partake in obscene sex acts and delirious, violent rampages. It's enough to make you wonder what he was smoking.

Modern opponents of marijuana legalization still cling to this ideology.

However, there is another reason more often overlooked due to its unpalatable nature but perhaps more apparent in the current enforcement of marijuana prohibition.

Back in Anslinger's day and following the Mexican Revolution, immigrants began to cross the border and start new lives in the southern states. Along with their culture and customs came the marijuana plant.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, despite cannabis being used in medicinal remedies in the States, "marihuana" was a scary new epidemic for the white majority. Again the media played its part in alerting the masses to the horrors posed by drug-crazed people of color.

In 1875, San Francisco passed a law prohibiting opiates to discourage Chinese immigration. Roughly 30 years later, El Paso, Texas followed suit in outlawing marijuana to discourage Mexican immigrants.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a proponent of marijuana prohibition supporting a racist policy today, but the arrest numbers speak for themselves.

According to the ACLU, African-Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites despite a lower reported rate of use. In Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa and Washington, D.C., that number rises to seven or eight times more likely.

With medical marijuana legal in 25 states, recreational marijuana legal in four and more than half of Americans supporting legalization, it is only a matter of time before this defunct policy goes the way of alcohol prohibition remembered only as a chapter in history textbooks.

But as opponents continue to spew their message of societal costs and moral degradation, we're left to wonder if they remain beholden to outdated ideologies or are simply supporters of systematic racism.

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