Why marijuana is illegal

As we all know from the Heritage Minute, Emily Murphy was “a pioneer in the war against narcotics.” According to Colby Cosh, she was also a frothing racist lunatic, even by the standards of her time:

…Murphy’s reflections on “Marijuana—A New Menace” are, as McKay’s remark suggests, nonsense—lurid, racist, sexually pathological, self-contradicting old-lady balderdash that openly pre-empts the whole notion of evidentiary support. “There are plenty of folk,” writes Murphy, “who pretend to themselves that they yield to narcotic enchantment in a desire for research and not for sensual gratification…but, however kindly in judgment, one finds these statements hard to credit, and even if credited, only demonstrates these persons as rascals-manifest.” (Gotta love that hyphen.)
We thus ought to trust other authorities, Murphy suggests: one such is the Chief of Police of Los Angeles, California, who tells her that “Persons using this narcotic smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under its influence, are immune to pain, and could be severely injured without having any realization of their condition. While in this condition they become raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty…If this drug is indulged in to any great extent, it ends in the untimely death of its addict.” A medical informant adds that the drug is used to induce “hallucinations which are commonly sexual in character among Eastern races.” Murphy, having double-checked this information in the Encyclopedia Britannica, expresses skepticism but does attest that “It is…a peculiarity of hasheesh that its fantasia almost invariably takes Oriental form.”
In summary—says a magistrate who decided the fates of poor and miserable people in my city within the memory of persons still living—”there are three ways out from the regency of this addiction: 1st—Insanity. 2nd—Death. 3rd—Abandonment.” We must beware of judging Murphy by the standards of our own time, of course. She was almost totally unfamiliar with marijuana, so she formed a view of it using the cognitive tools available to her—a strong education, a wide correspondence, and a practical knowledge of the social effects of drugs in general.
But that view was substantially influenced, if not determined, by Murphy’s white-supremacist race-hygiene ideology. And she was not merely typical of her time in that regard: she was an unrelenting extremist, someone who could hardly write twenty consecutive words without expressing fear of Anglo-Celtic “degeneration” or remarking defensively upon “the superiority of the Northmen”. It may be timely to observe that new laws are normally midwived by terrors such as these, and that, in general, we have to live with those laws long after the terrors are dispersed and forgotten.

Via @dgardner.

One thought on “Why marijuana is illegal

  1. Bruce Rheinstein says:

    Like Margaret Sanger, Emily Murphy was also a prominent feminist, pacifist, and supporter of eugenics. In short, she was a product of her times.

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