On Friday, August 10th, Les Miles announced that Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the LSU Tigers.
Reasons were not specifically given for why the 2011 Heisman Trophy Finalist, consensus All-American, MVP of the SEC Championship Game and winner of the Chuck Bednarik award was dismissed, but various media outlets reported it was for another failed drug test.
He was suspended from the team last season against Auburn following a positive test for synthetic marijuana.
Mathieu elected not to play football this season. He is attempting to rejoin LSU in 2013, despite as many as 20 schools checking in on his availability. He could have chosen to play at an FCS school right away, or transfer, redshirt for a year and play elsewhere. Either way, he’ll miss a year of competition in addition to playing time.
Here’s my question: Why?
Not why was he dismissed; that answer is a given: Smoking weed is against the law. Admittedly, this is reason enough not to do something, because not playing by the rules can have serious consequences, as Mathieu is finding out.
But, without excusing anyone’s behavior, I’m questioning why marijuana is still illegal, considering 50% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, and a 2008 study in TIME magazine shows Americans are more likely to have smoked weed than any other country included in the survey, despite much tougher laws and restrictions.
Even more questionable is how those laws and restrictions came to exist in the first place.
To know the history of marijuana’s journey from legal substance to illicit narcotic is to learn of a controversial story centered on what can be viewed as a battle of civil rights. The short of it? In essence, a select group of rich politicians robbed American people of their freedom, money, and lives for a power and money-grab, and to impose lifestyle choices on those they believed to be of lesser morals and intelligence.
Between 1839 and 1860, Great Britain and China fought two separate wars known as the Opium Wars. The British sent opium to China from occupied India and sold it illegally in China. This didn’t sit well with the Chinese. At the International Opium Convention in 1912, several nations met and created the first international drug control laws.
The representative from the United States was William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was a prohibitionist who also disapproved of banks, railroads and Darwinism, and made three unsuccessful presidential runs. His beliefs aligned with a growing number of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants – WASPs – who wanted to eradicate the “vices” of millions of Americans (namely, white immigrants and ethnic minorities) – specifically gambling, drinking, Sabbath-breaking and drug-taking. They sought to impose “standards of behaviors on the country's multinational and multiracial population,” according to Michael Woodiwiss' book, Organized Crime and American Power: A History.
The movement gained momentum when businesses realized it was an opportunity to cut cost. They sided with the WASPs because they thought their employees wouldn’t ask for raises if they didn’t spend money on prostitutes, gambling, booze and drugs. Businesses also fought against saloons, where all of these vices occurred, because union members went there to recruit.
When Bryan returned from the Convention, he brought the news with him and the United States subsequently passed the Harrison Act of 1914, which controlled cocaine and opiates. The law passed, in part, due to testimony from Dr. Christopher Koch of Pennsylvania’s State Pharmacy Board, who stated, "Most of the attacks upon the white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain." Proponents of the law – including New York Times columnist Edward Huntington Williams, who wrote “Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' Are New Southern Menace” in 1914, and Dr. Hamilton Wright, the United States Opium Director, who testified in front of Congress that drugs made blacks uncontrollable and caused them to rebel against whites – also accused “Chinamen” of seducing white women with drugs. Though marijuana was not included in this bill, they also stated that degenerate Mexicans were smoking marijuana.
During Prohibition marijuana use increased. In light of this, W.W. Stockberger of the Bureau of Plant Industry wrote a magazine article (“Our Home Hasheesh Crop” in The Literary Digest) stating, “The reported effects of [marijuana] on Mexicans, making [prohibitionists] want to ‘clean up the town,’ do not jibe very well with the effects of cannabis, which, so far as we have reports, simply causes temporary elation, followed by depression and heavy sleep.” He suspected that if criminals were high while committing crimes they must have been mixing with cocaine or bad whisky.
In the 1920’s, American soldiers based in Panama experimented with hemp – which was, at the time, thought to be the same as marijuana, though later studies revealed differences. The Army then conducted studies in 1925 and 1931 to determine the effects of marijuana, the results of which showed moderate use of the drug was not harmful. This supported an 1895 British commission which favorably compared both hemp and opium to wine from Italy and beer from Germany.
So for the first third of the 20th century, several attempts were made to lump marijuana with the other banned substances of the Harrison Act, except those attempts kept failing the science test.
Then a man named Harry Anslinger came to power.
As a child, Anslinger witnessed a neighbor go through withdrawals from opium and disapproved of drugs ever since, according to Marihuana Tax Act of 1937: its causes and effects. The report offers that as a possible reason for his campaign against marijuana. More prevalent factors involved a woman, power, and lots of money.
In 1917, Anslinger married Martha Denniston. Denniston was the niece of Andrew Mellon, who was one of the richest men in the world and still ranks highly among the richest men in history. Mellon was also the Secretary of the Treasury. Mellon invested heavily in a nylon fiber that could be used as a cheaper alternative to paper. Before it was later proven false, hemp was thought to be an even cheaper alternative to paper. Naturally, it had to go.
When Anslinger became the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the department was split between the State Department and the Treasury Department. The split failed because the departments had differing jurisdictions and visions. Little was accomplished. As the saying goes, if it’s everyone’s job, it’s no one’s job.
Despite criticism from the American Medical Association, which harbored concerns of creating a small-scale dictatorship, the Bureau was placed solely under control of the Treasury Department in 1930 which was run by Anslinger's good old uncle Andrew. Mellon and Anslinger now had an unchecked department to execute their plans to get rid of hemp, clearing competition for their nylon fiber alternative to paper.
Worse, Anslinger soon had an army of out-of-work Prohibition officers to carry out his agenda.
When America finally shook off Prohibition in 1933, the Bureau conveniently discovered that Indian Hemp was growing wildly all over the United States, and young people were smoking the drug and, so they said, becoming sexually promiscuous. Something had to be done.
(As it turns out, The Bureau was not entirely incorrect. A study released on August 27, 2012 does show that there are lasting effects on kids under 18 years old that were defined as “persistent, dependent” smokers. The group made up just five percent of the study and the average effects were a contextually measly eight-point loss in IQ. The margin of error for IQ tests is five points. There was no mention of increased sexual promiscuity.)
Anslinger's men pedaled propaganda to women's groups, church groups, schools and local government officials. They stated that poor minorities and those of “low mentality” were committing crimes while high and that it needed to be stopped. They also attacked Jazz music, an almost entirely black music scene, linked it strongly with marijuana and claimed it was destroying America.
Anslinger’s aide, Clinton Hester, planted stories in local newspapers. He utilized the Washington Times and the Washington Herald, both papers owned by William Randolph Hearst, the father of yellow journalism and another supporter of nylon fiber. Hearst’s papers were so slanted that author and politician Upton Sinclair charged Hearsts’ papers of writing “deliberate and shameful lies,” and lying “remorselessly about radicals,” in Brass Check: A study of American Journalism. Hearst was vehemently anti-Mexican -- which may have been fueled by losing 800,000 acres of timber to Pancho Villa -- and played up the lazy and degenerate stereotypes of Mexicans. Hearst’s papers didn’t hold back on other races either, and in 1935 wrote, “Marihuana (sic) influenced negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows, and look at a white woman twice.”
Hester then testified before Congress that marijuana was deadly, stated that newspapers also picked up on the “seriousness of the problem,” and “advocated federal legislation to control traffic of marijuana.” He neglected to mention that the misleading lectures from the Bureau were the reason those stories got in the papers in the first place.
Eventually, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 despite an outcry from William Woodward of the American Medical Association – who denounced the scare tactics utilized and argued the law was an unnecessary invasion of rights – and a letter from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who wrote to Congress to amend the tax to minimal levels in the Canal Zone where they conducted previous studies. He noted that although marijuana “contributes to delinquency,” and that laws were in fact necessary to limit “idling and loitering in the Canal Zone by groups that cannot be regarded as desirable,” there, “did not appear at that time that any problem existed…”
The tax set up a regulation maze and essentially made it impossible to acquire marijuana without paying exorbitant fees or facing prison time. Unfortunately for Anslinger, they found that use of the drug didn't diminish whatsoever, as the crop was still growing in the United States and imports from Mexico increased. Anslinger's response? Harsher laws.
Once again, organizations spoke out against Ansliger’s mudslinging. The Interstate Commission on Crimes stated that reports of young people using the drug were exaggerated and claims that criminals were under the influence were “without foundation.” The New York Academy of Medicine agreed with the findings; and also found that marijuana did not lead others to morphine, heroin or cocaine, becoming the first study to disprove the “gateway drug” myth Anslinger would use a few years later, and is still used today.
Anslinger countered with a manipulated study of 2,000 criminals – who were able to reduce their sentence by blaming crimes on the drug – that found marijuana caused moral and mental deterioration. This was once again neutralized by another study from R.N. Chopra, who conducted hemp experiments in India and found moderate use of the drug had no physical effects and stated alcohol was more harmful than marijuana.
Anslinger, Mellon and their ilk had too much money and power, though. As we know today, Anslinger won. The Narcotics Control Act of 1956 placed marijuana in the same category as opium and cocaine. A first offense was worth up to ten years in prison, plus a $20,000 fine, which, when adjusted for inflation, is about $158,610 today.
From there, the imprisonment worsened and Nixon’s War on Drugs began severely and disproportionately punishing lower class citizens. So many had been beaten over the head with propaganda – which reached its height with the movie Reefer Madness – that punishing marijuana users became an accepted practice in mainstream culture.
Tyrann Mathieu had a golden ticket, and as our Khalid Salaam put it, he threw it in the garbage. The history of marijuana’s relationship with U.S. law is not meant to excuse Mathieu’s decisions. It's meant to question how many Tyrann Mathieus have been lost to a system which punishes kids for smoking marijuana, a drug that is only punishable so harshly because of one man’s crusade against reason and factual evidence.
”The one theme all drug laws have in common is that they have always been targeted towards minorities, the poor, and the marginalized,” said University of Georgia professor Todd Krohn, author of the excellent crime and sociology blog, The Power Elite.
Now, obviously, Mathieu wasn’t arrested nor does he face any legal action. Each NCAA team sets its own standards for team offenses, though there have recent calls for conference wide standards. That said, the movement to make marijuana illegal began, in part, because institutions didn’t want its employees asking for raises or getting together and achieving wage increases as a whole. It seems Mathieu hasn’t escaped that conundrum.
Mathieu’s punishment may cost him millions of dollars in NFL draft money. It has already cost the United States billions of dollars fighting an unnecessary drug war against marijuana and deprives our now cash-strapped nation of major tax revenue – worse considering marijuana is the leading cash crop in the United States. As a result, the purchase of marijuana now directly funds terrorist groups in the Middle East and drug cartels in Mexico. Ask Eric Holder how many lives that has cost.
Though many states passed medical marijuana laws, these have faced severe crackdown from the federal government of late, a disheartening fact given the support for marijuana's value from the medical community. This is more discouraging since both alcohol and tobacco are legal, and some studies show that both are worse for our health. What message does that send to Mathieu and other kids around the country?
As schools face stringent budget cuts and many have closed down, our prison system keeps reining in more and more people. In the face of trillions of dollars in debt, our government denies its single biggest cash crop which causes that money to be sent out of the country.
And even though 62 percent of Americans between ages 18 and 29 support legalizing marijuana, like Mathieu’s NFL career, it nonsensically appears no closer to actually happening on a federal level.
If democracy is as powerful as our politicians and historians say, then the Information Age should be able to counter the propaganda spread and bought by previous generations. It will take time and a few more athletes transferring for a “violation of team rules,” but marijuana legalization, or decriminalization, makes too much sense.
It always has.