Thursday, November 13, 2008

Myths and Stereotypes of Hemp and Marijuana, in Relation to Public Perception and Policing

written by: Jeff Meints

When you say words like Cannabis, Hemp, and Marijuana, immediately myths and stereotypes begin to manifest within each of our minds. Some of us have never experienced marijuana, others have experienced it, or know someone who has. Some people will have negative opinions about hemp and marijuana, and some people will have positive opinions. Some of us attempt to perceive what we expect people who involve themselves with hemp or marijuana will look, dress, or act and talk like. None of us think of Cannabis as the name of the family tree, or hemp as the non-drug branch of that family tree, or marijuana as the drug related branch of the family tree.

Instead, we have these myths and stereotypes that have created a false and negative public perceptions in relation to hemp and marijuana. Hemp and marijuana in relation to policing entail the enforcement of federal and state laws. Most police officers are informed and know of these false, negative myths and stereotypes, but have no choice but to do their jobs. I will focus on the negative myths and stereotypes of hemp and marijuana and I will then shed some light on the facts.

The negative myths and stereotypes that have misled society throughout the years have created a “Berlin Wall” of misunderstanding regarding hemp and marijuana. These stereotypes are ethnic and appearance oriented, such as Latino/Hispanic, African, Indian, “long hairs” or hippies, and all of which were nationally discriminated against in order for certain parties to achieve a greater degree of capitalism and control. The negative myths and stereotypes that you think you know about cannabis, hemp, and marijuana are nothing more than false, negative myths and stereotypes.

This racist imagery was the driving force for the criminalization of hemp and marijuana and it was a very effective tool. A man who was the first head of the newly formed Bureau of Narcotics, Mr. Harry Anslinger, had a newspaper publication called the Gore Files which were distributed all throughout the country. These are some of the comments made within Anslinger's articles a few months before criminalize hemp and marijuana:

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others."
- "...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races”
- "Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death."
- "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."
- "Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing"
- "You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother."
- "Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
- "In the year 1090, there was founded in Persia the religious and military order of the Assassins, whose history is one of cruelty, barbarity, and murder, and for good reason: the members were confirmed users of hashish, or marihuana, and it is from the Arabs' 'hashashin' that we have the English word 'assassin.” [1]

This racial stereotyping was created, supported and sent out to all the hungry eyes of America. Racially motivated movies like Reefer Madness labeled specific ethnic groups as dangerous elements of society who are prone to use marijuana and commit crimes while “high.” All across America our leaders created a false, negative and racial myth and stereotype and to put the final cherry on the sundae, they educated the public that hemp and marijuana were the same substance.[3] New York didn't have the problem of illegal immigration as did the southwest, so newspaper publications there instead focused their racial profiling on African Americans in regards to marijuana use and the actions that ensue when one is ”high.” These reported events were later proven false and no records could be found regarding any of the Gore Files to prove them accurate and true. Once again the public wasn't informed that marijuana was the drug and hemp was not a drug and so, everyone was educated that they are one in the same.

Hemp and Marijuana were removed from society and all that remains are these negative myths and stereotypes created through misinformation and racial profiling. It is worth mentioning that the Great Depression happened in the years that followed hemp and marijuana's criminalization, a plant that had been used more extensively than tobacco and since the birth of our country. To this day we think of certain ethnic groups, certain appearances, and even simple discussions in relation to hemp and marijuana as taboo. Never do we think for a moment that hemp and marijuana were the main reason why America's newly formed economy flourished so rapidly and allowed America to survive until

Currently there are 13 states in America who allow medicinal marijuana, as well as the countries of Austria, Belgium, Canada, Israel, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Spain. Just recently we've passed legislation allowing three of our states to again start producing industrial hemp and to bring its benefits back into America's way of life. Unfortunately, the negative myths and stereotypes of the past still maintain a strong hold on current views and times. I'd like to pose a question that I feel is quite important: For all the negative myths and stereotypes regarding marijuana and marijuana use, why then are there 13 states that allow medicinal marijuana (the drug), but there is only 3 states that allow industrial hemp (the non-drug).

In Harrison County, Mississippi the sheriff was keeping an eye on a certain field. This was a field that was growing industrial hemp and the owners of the field had a permit to do so. However, the sheriff witnessed a few kids playing in the field and lingering about the hemp crops. Instead of telling the kids to stop trespassing, or to inquire about what they were doing, the sheriff decided he should take it upon himself to cut down $225,000 worth of industrial hemp crops. When questioned later the sheriff said that he was afraid the kids were going to smoke the hemp. If society was educated properly in regards to hemp and marijuana, perhaps the sheriff would have known that hemp can't be used as a drug.[2] This is just one small example of the myths and stereotypes in relation to policing.
The creation of these myths and stereotypes through misinformation and racial propaganda created the negative public perception in relation to hemp and marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are viewed as negative in relation to policing because the police are simply upholding the current laws that are in place, despite whatever the facts behind hemp might be. I talked to two police officers and both of them agreed that there is a certain stereotype or appearance that goes along with marijuana and hemp. The two officers also said that marijuana use is considered to be more common in certain ethnic oriented locations compared to others, but added, “Most of the potheads I arrest are white males.”

Until the federal government differentiates hemp and marijuana as two separate plants with completely separate uses, then these myths and stereotypes will continue to deny all Americans what America so direly needs. The public must first be educated, so the government can more accurately label hemp vs. marijuana. These racially motivated views have plagued our nation since the 1930's and we must put an end to it.

We Americans must no longer support and continue the fallacy that hemp and marijuana are one in the same, or that marijuana users have a certain look, race, or attire. We Americans must not continue to support the racial profiling that was created by business men over 80 years ago and who had some self centered, national capitalistic agenda. We must enlighten and uplift our country with the knowledge of hemp and marijuana, and we must pass it on to others. Learn all you can about hemp vs. marijuana and you can start off by reading the information found at my website at