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Basic Facts About the War on Drugs

How did the marijuana gateway myth get started?

First, there is no drug that will magically give you a craving for other drugs you have never had. That is a belief in witchcraft, not science. 

Hemp was George Washington's primary crop, and a secondary crop for Thomas Jefferson, so hemp has been around in America for a long time, without apparently causing much destruction in society. Each sailing ship carried several tons of hemp in its rope and sails, so cultivation of hemp was a major industry. Even though cannabis was widely grown, there were no allegations that it led to harder drugs.

In 1910, they believed that the certain steppingstone to opiate addiction was "eating Mexicanized food". The fundamental idea comes from America's puritanical history. It is the idea that pleasure is sinful, and small pleasures lead to cravings for larger pleasures. In this example, those who crave spicy food will inevitably crave larger pleasures, such as opium.

In the 1920s, some states outlawed marijuana because of the belief that heroin addiction would lead to the use of marijuana - just the opposite of the modern myth. 

Cannabis had been widely known and used in many medicinal compounds for hundreds of years, so there was ample evidence in the 1930s to know whether there was a connection between marijuana and harder drugs. 

In 1937, Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, testified before Congress that there was no connection at all between marijuana and heroin. In the testimony for the Marihuana Tax Act he said:

ANSLINGER: This drug is not being used by those who have been using heroin and morphine. It is being used by a different class, by a mostly younger group of people. The age of the morphine and heroin addict is increasing all the time, whereas the marihuana smoker is quite young. 

MR. DINGELL: I am just wondering whether the marihuana addict graduates into a heroin, an opium, or a cocaine user. 

MR. ANSLINGER: No, sir; I have not heard of a case of that kind. I think it is an entirely different class. The marihuana addict does not go in that direction. 

MR. DINGELL: And the hardened narcotic user does not fall back on marihuana. 

MR. ANSLINGER: No, sir: he would not touch that. 

The reason marijuana had to be outlawed, he said, was because it caused insanity, criminality, and death. One example he gave was of two young lovers who became so crazed after smoking a joint that they eloped and got married. Marijuana causes people to become so crazy that they get married. The other reasons he gave were no more sensible. The hemp industry representatives who testified were uniformly surprised and mystified to hear that a dangerous drug could be made from this widespread and common crop. The American Medical Association testified that they knew of no evidence that marijuana was a dangerous drug. (2,3,4)

The US Government encouraged farmers to grow hemp during World War II, because it was vital to the country's war effort. There were no claims at the time that marijuana would lead to harder drugs.(2,3,10)

In 1944, the La Guardia Committee Report on Marihuana confirmed Mr. Anslinger's statement -- there was no connection at all between marijuana and heroin.(6)

In 1951, the story changed. Harry Anslinger was testifying for the Boggs Act about why he needed more money and men to enforce the marijuana laws. Just before he testified, the head of the Federal addiction research program testified that they knew for certain that all of the reasons that had been given for outlawing marijuana in 1937 were entirely bogus. They knew for certain that marijuana did not cause insanity, criminality and death. Anslinger was left with no reason for tougher laws so he made up -- on the spot, with not a shred of evidence -- the assertion that marijuana is the certain stepping stone to heroin addiction. He directly contradicted his own testimony from 1937. It has been the basis of US marijuana policy ever since. (2,3)

Since that time, the Federal drug enforcement officials have tried to support this myth with the idea that most heroin addicts started with marijuana, and statistics which seem to show that marijuana users are more likely to have used cocaine. The first assertion would get a failing grade in any freshman Logic class. The second can be explained by the fact that people who engage in one risk-taking behavior are likely to engage in other risk-taking behaviors. It, too, would earn a failing grade in freshman Logic.

In 1970, the Canadian Government did their largest study ever of the subject, and found no connection between marijuana and heroin. 

In 1972, the US Government did their largest study ever of the subject, and found no connection between marijuana and heroin. This was also the conclusion of the largest study ever done by Consumers Union, published the same year. 

Every major study of the marijuana laws in the last 100 years has concluded that the only connection between marijuana and heroin is that they are both prohibited and, therefore, sold in the same black market.

The most recent study of the subject was the report of the US Institute of Medicine on medical marijuana. They reported:

Instead it is the legal status of marijuana that makes it a gateway drug.

In other words, the people who support prohibition are using the bad effects of prohibition as justification for prohibition. The conclusion of all the research is that we have a "gateway drug policy". It is the laws that create the problem.

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