Dick Polman: ‘Reefer Madness’ reprised
So it turns out, thanks to a leak from the St. Louis County medical examiner’s office, that the unarmed teen who was shot by a cop six times in Ferguson, Mo., including twice in the head, had marijuana in his bloodstream. And, naturally, the character assassins are essentially saying, “Ya see? He was a druggie, a violent thug.”
Yes, folks, it’s time for another round of “Reefer Madness,” named for the 1930s movie that labeled weed “a violent narcotic,” a scourge of mankind that supposedly prompts its users to commit “acts of shocking violence.” At minimum, pot smoking was deemed to be a stain on a person’s character. Fast forward eight decades, and it’s the same insinuation — most notably, when it’s the character of a slain black male.
During rent-a-cop George Zimmerman’s trial last year, his lawyers duly pointed out that unarmed dead kid Trayvon Martin had traces of marijuana in his blood — which was apparently supposed to mean that he was a bad druggie kid prior to becoming dead.
Less well known is the 2013 case of Jonathan Ferrell, an ex-Florida A&M football player who sought help after a car crash in North Carolina. He knocked on a homeowner’s door at night, the homeowner freaked and called the cops — and a responding cop shot Ferrell 10 times on the street. Ferrell was unarmed. But sure enough, the story soon circulated that, according to “sources,” Ferrell had been smoking marijuana and that had supposedly contributed to his death. Or justified it. Or something. But the pot angle collapsed when the autopsy showed he had zilch in his blood, and eventually, the cop was indicted for manslaughter.
Now we’re hearing “Reefer Madness” spin about Michael Brown. The toxicology test reportedly shows that he had smoked marijuana at some point during his final 30 days of life. Rush Limbaugh ran with it. The Drudge Report, Monday night, listed “Pot Found In Teen’s Body” as one of its top headlines. The right-wing Free Republic website said the cigars that Brown allegedly swiped are “purchased by people who love marijuana.” And, of course, the nitwit trolls crayoned comments hither and yon, often with racist intonations; for instance: “Day all got weed en dem’s systems.”
So what if Brown had marijuana in his system? Truth is, half the people I know — high-functioning professionals — probably have marijuana in their systems. And a causal link between marijuana and violence is non-existent anyway. In this day and age, it’s ridiculous to have to write that sentence.
Carl Hart, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, who has spent 15 years studying first-hand the effects of marijuana, wrote last summer that “aggression and violence are highly unlikely outcomes of marijuana use. Based on my own work, during which I have administered thousands of doses of marijuana, I can say that its main effects are contentment, relaxation, sedation, euphoria, and increased hunger, all peaking within five or 10 minutes after smoking and lasting for about two hours.”
Hart’s findings have long been confirmed elsewhere. Some random examples: Eleven years ago, researchers at the RAND Corp. and at Harvard concluded that pot “has generally been shown to inhibit aggressive behavior and violence.” Last January, University of Tennessee and Florida State University researchers concluded that pot use “did not increase the odds of any type of aggression.” This summer, the FBI reported that the crime rate in Denver — hub of the legal marijuana industry — has actually declined by 10 percent (comparing the first six months of 2013 with the first six months of 2014) since pot became legal.
So can we please dispense with the character assassination? The fact that Brown smoked weed some time in his last 30 days has no bearing on whether it was legal for cop Darren Wilson to dispense deadly force. There’s no room in this tragedy for the likes of Harry Anslinger, the 1930s top narcotic cop, who declared that “marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Say goodbye, Harry.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.