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Meg HartleyNovember 14, 2019

(William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress)

In the 1930s, two distinct prospective futures existed for cannabis in the United States.

Cannabis was no stranger to us at that time. Cannabis tinctures have been broadly offered at pharmacies, but folks weren’t accustomed to receiving higher off of these tinctures. Issues have been altering as Mexican migrants and the (largely black) jazz subculture began to appreciate smoking cannabis as a way to unwind and unwind.

This could have been just fine and dandy, had it not been for a man named Harry Anslinger, the 1st commissioner of the US Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He got the gig in 1930, so when alcohol prohibition ended just 3 years later, it looked like he was out of a job—until cannabis came into his crosshairs. Anslinger was also openly racist and additional motivated by the notion of turning its predominantly black and brown shoppers into criminals.

There’s several horrid quotes by Anslinger that sum up his revolting position, but this succinct a single is the most effective to me: “Reefer tends to make darkies feel they’re as very good as white males.”

Cannabis gets a new name

Anslinger was a man with a mission. He was going to save his job, and he was going to lock up a entire lot of folks of colour even though he was at it. Ol’ Harry knew that turning folks against cannabis would take some true spin—he required a negative guy, and granny’s arthritis medicine wasn’t going to be it.

Cannabis required a total rebranding. It required a entire new name.

“Marihuana” was the moniker that he ran with, transforming the beloved herb into an evil drug that triggered “Reefer Madness.” To illustrate this PR spin, I’ll use a different Anslinger quote:

Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind…Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, outcome from marijuana usage.”

As you know, our cultural pendulum swung more than to Anslinger, shaping the trauma-filled globe of cannabis that we now reside in—but if it hadn’t, that “satanic” jazz music could have shaped our globe as an alternative, and no a single would be speaking about “ marijuana.”

Cannabis would have continued to be named “the gage”—a name that offers credit to some of the jazzy creators of our cannabis culture, rather than give homage to the man who did every thing in his energy to squash it.

Smoking the gage with vipers

Portrait of Stuff Smith, Kelly’s Steady, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946 (William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress)

The gage has identified itself beloved in several inventive circles, but in the early days of jazz it was muse, topic, and therapy tool, all-in-one—a splendid inspirational force that penetrated the culture. As a muse, it inspired open considering and lengthened time, permitting “vipers,” cannabis-loving jazz musicians, to mix it up and add extra notes.

As a topic of jazz lyrics, there’s a entire catalog of early jazz songs devoted to the gage. Take these lyrics from “Viper Mad” by Sidney Bechet and Rousseau Simmons:

Wrap your chops round this stick of tea 

Blow this gage and get higher with me 

Superior tea is my weakness, I know it is bad 

It sends me, gate, and I cannot wait, I’m viper mad

And here’s some decision lyrics from Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, “Here Comes the Man with the Jive”:

Where’s the man with the gage?

There is a man from way up town

Who will take away your blues

And any time the man comes round we like to spread the news

He is identified from coast to coast to every single cat alive

And any time they give a toast is to the man who brings the gage

Anytime you are feeling modest, do not care for this life at all

Light up and get truly tall

Right here comes the man with the gage

Speaks the truth, does not it? And to illustrate the point of cannabis as a therapy tool, I’ll quote the the man who’s maybe the anti-Anslinger, father of jazz, Louis Armstrong: “It tends to make you really feel very good, man. It relaxes you, tends to make you overlook all the negative factors that take place to a Negro. It tends to make you really feel wanted, and when you are with a different tea smoker it tends to make you really feel a specific sense of kinship.”

But in the finish, the penalties for illegal cannabis have been also considerably even for even Armstrong, leaving us these fine words on the matter:

“Well, that was my life and I do not really feel ashamed at all. Mary Warner, honey, you confident was very good and I enjoyed you heap considerably. But the value got a small also higher to spend. At 1st you was a ‘misdemeanor.’ But as the years rolled on, you lost your misdo and got meanor and meanor (jailhousely speaking). So bye bye, I’ll have to place you down, dearest.”

Attempting to make very good

It shouldn’t have occurred like that. Men and women in undeniably difficult positions—like a black neighborhood just a couple generations immediately after slavery—not only had this cultural treasure taken from them, but then the neighborhood at huge was additional punished with the horrific effects of the the war on drugs.

Seeking at the infant cannabis sector now, it is challenging to argue that attempts at social equity have been thriving (or something extra than lip service).

Alterations will not take place in the sector overnight for the reason that folks replace a word, but perception matters, specifically to folks selecting who’s going to sit in their corporate boardrooms. If we begin refusing to say Anslinger’s “ marijuana,” maybe it could develop some cognitive dissonance in these rooms, a bunch of white Boehners lastly realizing they do not know WTF they’re even carrying out in this scene.

Almost certainly not. But alterations in lexicon do drive conversation. They matter. Perception has currently shifted worlds for “ cannabis” in spite of the truth that it is only been a couple of years, and several nonetheless do not even know what it is. (Even though confusion is not wholly unhelpful in a PR switch, ask ol’ Harry Anslinger…) Possessing a different politically-appropriate term in the mix could aid shed light on the POC communities at the moment getting ignored by the sector.

In some dreamy option universe without having Anslinger, the recognition of receiving higher off of cannabis in the US would have came to be appropriate as alcohol prohibition ended, maybe tempering the way Americans now treat booze, generating us a nation with far significantly less drunken ills.

But we do not reside in that globe, we reside in a single exactly where this plant has gone by means of a hell of a journey to achieve legal-ish status—and we’re nonetheless calling it by the name beloved by these who banned it.

Meg Hartley's Bio Image

Meg Hartley

Meg Hartley is an Alaska-grown cannabis writer and advocate who now lives and loves in Lengthy Beach, California.


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