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Drug Policies of the United States and the Netherlands
Virtually every country in the world has drug prohibition and criminalizes the production and sale of cannabis, cocaine, and opiates, except for medical uses, and most countries criminalize the production and sale of other psychoactive substances, and moreover, most countries criminalize simple possession of small amounts of the prohibited substances (Levine 2002). However, no Western country and few Third World countries have or have ever had forms of drug prohibition as criminalized and punitive as the United States (Levine 2002). Beginning in the early 1990's, drug policies in Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere began to shift away from criminalization of drugs, and no where has the pendulum swayed more than in the Netherlands (Levine 2002).
The United States' drug policy is the best example of criminalized drug prohibition that uses criminal laws, police, and imprisonment to punish people who use specific psychoactive substances, even in minute quantities, and in most places prohibits supervised medical use of cannabis by terminally ill cancer and AIDS patients (Levine 2002). Moreover, long prison sentences for possession, use, and small-scale distribution of illegal drugs are given under U.S. drug policies, and most U.S. drug laws explicitly removes sentencing discretion from judges and do not allow for probation or parole (Levine 2002).
The mandatory federal penalty for first offense possession of five grams of crack cocaine is five years in prison with no chance of parole (Levine 2002).
The cannabis policy of the Netherlands is the best example of a drug regulation and decriminalization policy (Levine 2002). Several United Nations drug treaties require the Netherlands' government to have specific laws prohibiting the production and sale of particular drugs, therefore, Dutch law explicitly prohibits growing or selling cannabis and does prosecute larger growers, dealers and importers as required by the UN treaties, however, the Netherlands' national legislation and policy limit the prosecution of certain cafes, snack bars, and pubs or coffee shops that are licensed to sell small quantities of cannabis for personal use (Levine 2002). Coffee shops are permitted to operate and sell small amounts to adults as long as they are orderly and stay within well-defined limits that the police monitor and enforce and not advertise cannabis in any way (Levine 2002). And as with other formally illegal activities, cannabis sales are not taxed (Levine 2002). Without a change in international treaties, this is as far as any country can go within the current structures of worldwide drug prohibition (Levine 2002).
The first American anti-drug law was an 1875 San Francisco ordinance that outlawed the smoking of opium in opium dens and was passed because of the fear that Chinese men were luring white women to their "ruin" in opium dens (Basic pp). Other similar laws followed, including Federal laws in which trafficking in opium was forbidden to anyone of Chinese origin, and restrictions on the importation of smoking opium (Basic pp). However, the laws did not have prohibit the importation of opium as a drug, since the importation and use of opium in other forms, such as in the common medication laudunum, were not affected (Basic pp). The laws were directed at smoking opium because it was perceived that the smoking of opium was a peculiarly Chinese custom, and was basically a way of legally targeting the Chinese (Basic pp).
Cocaine was outlawed because of fears that superhuman "Negro Cocaine Fiends" or "Cocainized Niggers" (actual terms used by newspapers in the early 1900's) take large amounts of cocaine which would make them go on a violent sexual rampage and rape white women" (Basic pp). The Opium Commissioner was Dr. Hamilton Wright, who is often referred to as the Father of American Drug Laws, and had gained notoriety because he had "scientifically proved" that beri-beri was a communicable disease (of course, beri-beri is a vitamin deficiency) (Basic pp). Wright stressed the impact of narcotics, especially cocaine, had on "Negroes" and on January 1919 Prohibition became part of the Constitution as the Eighteenth Amendment (History pp).
Heroin had been made available commercially as a superior cough suppressant by the Bayer Company of Germany in 1898 (History pp). Bayer believed that the "addition of acetyl groups to the basic molecule would make morphine more palatable, and this product, diacetylmorphine" was named Heroin, "a trademark that was protected until Germany lost such protections as a result of losing the First World War" (History pp). The preference for heroin over morphine by recreational users and the belief that other opiates could fulfill heroin's role as a painkiller and cough suppressant, resulted in a move to ban heroin for medical purposes (History pp). Another major reason for the ban was American fear of foreign nations after World War I and this drug was being manufactured in other countries (History pp).
Marijuana arrived in the United States with Mexican farm workers who had crossed the border to work in agricultural fields (History pp). Approximately half-a-million farm worker came during the prosperous 1920's, but during the 1930's Depression, widespread unemployment burdened the country's citizens and the Mexicans became an unwelcome group who were encouraged in all ways to return to Mexico (History pp). Because of the Mexicans' custom of growing marijuana for their own use, it became an opportune target, and in 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act was passed to protect citizens against its "supposed" violent "effect on the degenerate races," hence, marijuana became linked to violence, dissolute living and Mexican aliens (History pp). The history of the Marijuana Tax Act is curious:
The Firearms Act of 1934 decreed that a machine gun could not be transferred in any way without the payment of a transfer tax (from which law enforcement personnel were exempted). As odd as this mechanism may sound, the law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937 as a legitimate use of the power of taxation for moral objective. Within weeks of this decision, the Treasury Department, which housed the FBN, appeared before Congress asking for a transfer tax for marijuana. Without a stamp permit and the proper tax stamps, marijuana could not be sold, bartered, or given away. Congress quickly approved the bill, and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law later in 1937. Unfortunately for the enforcement of this law, the FBN did not receive any more money or agents. Therefore, the FBN relied on obnoxious descriptions of marijuana to do the job. The substance was described to the public as a danger at least equal to cocaine or morphine, and the penalties for its illegal use or possession were severe (History pp).
Lurid stories of the terrible things that racial minorities did while under the influence of these drugs and the horrors racial minorities inflicted on innocent white people while influenced were carried in newspapers across the country (Basic pp). Research has proven that not a single one of the stories used to promote these laws can be substantiated and there never was any scholarly evidence that the laws were necessary or even beneficial to public health and safety, nor was any ever presented when the laws were passed (Basic pp).
Marijuana use in the 1930's was anything but remarkable, therefore the law's extraordinary severity did not concern the general public until the 1960's when its popularity burgeoned and thousands were arrested (History pp). The contrast between the effects of marijuana observed in the '60's and the FBN's claims concerning marijuana created problems regarding the credibility of official statements, which still affects popular perceptions (History pp).
In 1944, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, commissioned "The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York" that was written by the New York Academy of Medicine (Major pp). This study is viewed as the best study of any drug viewed in its social, medical, and legal context (Major pp). The committee covered thousands of years of the history of marijuana and also made a detailed examination of conditions In New York City (Major pp). Among its conclusions:
The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word."
And: "The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction, and no effort is made to create a market for those narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana smoking."
Finally: "The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded" (Major pp).
The 1988 DEA's Chief Administrative Law Judge ruling on medical marijuana is the most comprehensive study of medical marijuana done to date (Major pp). After hearing two years of testimony from both sides of the issue and which resulted in fifteen volumes of research, Judge Francis Young concluded that marijuana was one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man, that it had never caused a single human death, and that the Federal Government's policy toward medical marijuana is "unconscionable" (Major pp).
Decades of numerous federal and independent studies on drug use have produced findings such as "Drug addiction is primarily a problem for…[continue]
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