The Politics of Marijuana

A New Paradigm

by Timothy McGettigan (Volume editor)
©2019 Monographs XXIV, 272 Pages


The phenomenon of "legal cannabis" is instigating a great deal of new research, political intrigue, and social change. The Politics of Marijuana: A New Paradigm explores the socio-political dimensions of cannabis as the world transitions from Harry Anslinger’s Reefer Madness prohibition to an as-yet-to-be-defined future. This book brings together a wide variety of perspectives on the past, present, and fast-changing future of cannabis.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface: Forbidden Knowledge: Cannabis and Paradigm Shift (Timothy Mcgettigan)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Section One: Cannabis and Social Injustice (Timothy Mcgettigan)
  • 1. Marijuana for the Masses (Martin A. Lee)
  • 2. Policing the Black Body: Stop & Frisk and the War on Drugs (Earl Smith / Angela J. Hattery)
  • 3. Native American Perspective (Albert / Sophie Two Hawk)
  • 4. Cannabis and Homelessness (Don Burnes)
  • 5. Cops Say Legalize Pot (Howard Wooldridge)
  • Section Two: New Pathways in Cannabis Research (Timothy Mcgettigan)
  • 6. Towards Medicalization of Cannabis sativa : Challenges and Prospects (Hinanit Koltai / Doron Friedman / Dvory Namdar)
  • 7. Sustainability as a Framework for Impacts, Policies, and Politics (Jane M. Fraser)
  • 8. Cannabis and Schools: Post-Legalization (Tim Peters)
  • 9. Are THC Concentrations Appropriate Indicators of Psychomotor Performance? (Paul Armentano)
  • 10. Blazing a Trail: Cannabis Tourism in the United States (Rachel F. Giraudo)
  • 11. From Cells to Societies: A Dynamic Fractal (Robert Melamede)
  • Section Three: Cannabis and Special Health Concerns (Timothy Mcgettigan)
  • 12. CannaMoms (Moriah Barnhart)
  • 13. Including PTSD in Colorado: The Intersection Between Research, Politics, and Public Opinion in Medicinal Cannabis Policy (M. Teri Robnett)
  • 14. A Natural Approach to Comfort: Why Hospice Patients Are Choosing Cannabis (Marcie Cooper)
  • Section Four: Art, Industry, and Finance (Timothy Mcgettigan)
  • 15. Bringing Banking to the Cannabis Industry (Sundie Seefried)
  • 16. Black, White, and Green: The Effect of Legalization on Colorado’s Black Market of Cannabis (Austin Davie / James E. Parco / Haley Parco / David A. Levy / Matthew Wheatley / Phoenix Van Wagoner)
  • 17. Hemp as a Sustainable Approach to Fashion (Anne Scott)
  • 18. Medical Cannabis Manufacturing Plant of the Future: The Israeli Perspective (Aharon (Ari) Eyal)
  • 19. “Best Practices” in the Emerald Triangle: Cannabis and Capitalist Cultures in Northern California (Fred Krissman)
  • Section Five: Future Horizons (Timothy Mcgettigan)
  • 20. Why to Expect Federal Marijuana Legalization in 2022 (Jonathan Walker)
  • 21. Epilogue: Science, Truth, and Tomorrow (Timothy Mcgettigan)
  • Contributor Biographies
  • Index

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Preface: Forbidden Knowledge: Cannabis and Paradigm Shift


During the 20th century, Harry Anslinger (1892–1975) waged one of the most successful disinformation campaigns in US history (Galliher, Keys, and Elsner 1997). Anslinger served from 1930–1962 as the founding commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (McWilliams 1990). When Anslinger launched his anti-cannabis crusade in the 1930s most people viewed cannabis as a harmless weed. Cannabis grows wild throughout the world and no one has ever died from ingesting it (Lee 2012). In fact, people have used cannabis for thousands of years as a natural treatment for a wide range of illnesses (Conrad 1997). Also, hemp, or low-THC cannabis, has proven to be one of the most economically-versatile plants in the world (Hashim 2017). When Europeans colonized North America, they proclaimed their devotion to cannabis by naming entire communities after the plant, such as Hempfield (PA), Hemphill (KY), Hemp Island (FL), Hemphill Bend (AL), Hempstead (NY), Hemp (GA), Hempton Lake (WI), Hempfield Lake (MS), and Hempfork, (VA).

Far from viewing cannabis as a danger, many communities celebrated hemp as their economic lifeblood. It was, therefore, a tall order for Harry Anslinger to turn the tide of public opinion against such a beloved plant, but Anslinger proved more than equal to the task. To bring about the necessary shift in public opinion, Harry Anslinger would have to construct an alternate reality wherein cannabis morphed from a harmless weed into the most dangerous drug known to humanity. Thus, Anslinger concocted his “Reefer Madness” truth regime (Anslinger and Cooper 1937).

Truth regimes (Weir 2008) are political constructs that power brokers impose to preempt the kind of healthy public debate that despots despise (Haslett 2016). During the 20th century, dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong imposed inhumane truth regimes that destroyed ← xiii | xiv → millions of lives (Corner 2009). In contrast with Hitler, Stalin and Mao, Harry Anslinger did not design his anti-cannabis truth regime as a justification for mass murder. However, Anslinger’s Reefer Madness truth regime did precipitate much needless suffering by curtailing legal access to cannabis (Grayson 2001). Reefer Madness also laid the ideological foundations for the War on Drugs and mass incarceration (Alexander 2012; Smith and Hattery Chapter 2).

In his capacity as the USA’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger concocted an anti-cannabis truth regime out of whole cloth (Sloman 1998). When Anslinger encountered inconvenient truths, such as the fact that cannabis is far less dangerous than most other drugs, Anslinger boldly asserted the opposite (Anslinger and Oursler 1961). In Anslinger’s Reefer Madness fantasy, a non-lethal drug like cannabis morphed into evil incarnate.

For Anslinger, truth was irrelevant. His goal was to foment enough anti-cannabis hysteria to secure a larger slice of the federal budget (Dickson 1968).

Passionate as Anslinger may have been, initially his Reefer Madness campaign fell on deaf ears. Prohibiting cannabis was a low priority in states that had never experienced the Reefer Madness horrors that Anslinger had fabricated (Schlosser 2004). Anslinger doggedly stuck to his guns and eventually struck paydirt by racializing cannabis (Abel 1980).

Anslinger hit a nerve when he deviously connected racist paranoia with cannabis consumption (Holifield 2013). Even though George Washington and numerous other founding fathers had grown hemp on their plantations (Booth 2015), Anslinger invented the fiction that Mexican migrants had introduced a whole new type of locoweed to the US: Marihuana (Provine 2011). Anslinger used the term, “Marihuana,” to dissociate cannabis from hemp—a plant which most Americans considered harmless. Under Anslinger’s tutelage, cannabis was transformed from an all-American cash crop into a nightmarish substance that morphed men of color into (à la Hillary Clinton) villainous super predators (Chasin 2016).

Playing off the crudest of prejudices, Anslinger testified that cannabis instilled an enhanced sense of self-worth in people of color: “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” (Hoston 2016). Anslinger further whipped up racist passions by asserting that reefer ignited uncontrollable sexual urges that would, heaven forfend, drive white women into the arms of brown-skinned men. ← xiv | xv →

As soon as Anslinger insinuated racism into his anti-cannabis crusade, the USA’s political establishment embraced Reefer Madness to its bosom. If white racists could weaponize Reefer Madness to persecute people of color, racists would return the favor by overlooking Anslinger’s implausible lies (McWilliams 1991).

Once it was endorsed by white racists, Anslinger’s truth regime emboldened politicians to develop anti-drug policies that waged war on the USA’s communities of color (Reinarman and Levine 1997). If the War on Drugs was meant to terminate drug trafficking and addiction, then it would have to be considered a dismal failure (Bertram et al. 1996). If, however, the War on Drugs was meant to promote domestic warfare on communities of color, then, perversely, the war on drugs would have to be perceived as a resounding success.

For decades, the Reefer Madness truth regime prevented any serious scientific analyses of cannabis. According to Anslinger, there was nothing to be gained by trifling with the devil’s most noxious weed.

Raphael Mechoulam was the first researcher bold enough to break ranks and scientifically analyze cannabis (Pertwee 2016). In 1962, Mechoulam made history by identifying the psychoactive component of cannabis: Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (Earleywine 2002). In addition to isolating THC, Prof. Mechoulam also discovered a large variety of other organic compounds, identified collectively as cannabinoids, in the cannabis plant (Mechoulam and Hanuš 2000). Mechoulam and his colleagues asserted that this cornucopia of ← xv | xvi → cannabinoids just might offer a dizzying variety of health-enhancing “entourage effects” to cannabis users (Ben-Shabat et al. 1998). In the years to come, Mechoulam and his research team also identified the first endogenous cannabinioid—meaning, astonishingly, cannabinoids that are produced within the human body—which they named anandamide (Devane et al. 1992).

If it were not for Harry Anslinger’s Reefer Madness truth regime, the discovery of anandamide would have revolutionized public perceptions of cannabis. If the human body produces its own THC-like compounds, then it is senseless to argue that cannabis is either a dangerous, or evil substance (Mechoulam and Parker 2013). Nevertheless, in Anslinger’s Reefer Madness paradigm, there was no room for any suggestion that cannabis might be beneficial (Bleeker 2013). For true believers, the fact that the human body produced endocannabinoids was, true as it may have been, utterly unthinkable (Stringer and Maggard 2016). Anslinger did not devise his truth regime to inspire healthy public debate about the pros and cons of cannabis (Philippon 2014). Reefer Madness permitted only one official perspective on cannabis: Reefer is evil incarnate (Gray 2013).

Undaunted, Mechoulam continued his research. In 1980, Mechoulam published a study on the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for patients who suffer from otherwise untreatable epilepsy (Parker 2017). Mechoulam’s results were nothing short of remarkable. When treating epilepsy with cannabis, fully 80% of Mechoulam’s subjects experienced some type of relief from their otherwise untreatable epilepsy (Perucca 2017). Mechoulam’s results were so mind-blowing that, when Mechoulam published his study, he was confident that the medical community would sit up and take notice (ElSohly 2017). Provocative as Mechoulam’s findings were there were no follow-ups. Mechoulam had committed the cardinal sin of truth-regime politics: Mechoulam had dared to think outside the box (Dolce 2016).

Ever since the 1930s, the powers-that-be have monopolized the social narrative about cannabis: the Reefer Madness truth regime doggedly asserted that cannabis would ruin the lives of anyone foolish enough to touch it (Kopel and Krause 2004). Being a good scientist, Raphael Mechoulam was not willing to accept irrational claims that cannabis was either too evil, or too dangerous to study (Iversen 2001). As far as Mechoulam was concerned, cannabis was nothing more nor less than an intriguing plant that would benefit from systematic scientific study (Werner 2011). A few hardy souls followed Mechoulam’s path, but for the vast majority of scientists the Reefer Madness truth regime remained inviolable (Eisenstein 2015).

A crucial breakthrough took place in 2010 when Moriah Barnhart (Chapter 14), the founder of CannaMoms, seized upon the remarkable ← xvi | xvii → results from Mechoulam’s pioneering research. In 2010, medical specialists—who refused to consider cannabis as a legitimate avenue of treatment—were still telling Barnhart and other heartbroken parents that there were no available remedies for their childrens’ life-threatening illnesses. Unwilling to give up on their children, Barnhart and other CannaMoms broke the law and dosed their kids with cannabis. Taking such a step invoked huge risks. By dosing their children with cannabis, and thereby saving their lives, CannaMoms exposed themselves to the risk of federal prosecution. Fortunately, Barnhart and CannaMoms love their kids more than they fear the feds.

Remarkably, just as Raphael Mechoulam found in his research, many of the children who were afflicted with untreatable forms of cancer, epilepsy, and other diseases, responded favorably to cannabinoid therapy. Indeed, Kogan and Mechoulam (2007) have argued that cannabinoids could potentially offer beneficial therapeutic effects for practically every disease that afflicts humans.

Thanks to trailblazers like Raphael Mechoulam, Moriah Barnhart and the contributors to this book, the Reefer Madness truth regime has begun to fragment. Holdouts certainly remain. Jeff Sessions will likely go to his grave convinced that, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” (Ingraham 2016). However, for the families who are desperate to help their loved ones, Jeff Sessions’ pet peeves are of little interest.

Cracks in the Reefer Madness ideological fortress increase in number and variety each day, but the fortress remains. We live in a fascinating historical moment wherein cannabis is neither altogether legal, nor illegal. Cannabis occupies a legal gray zone that requires a great deal of socio-political improvisation from one day to the next (Reardon, MacKenzie, and Griggs 2012).

The goal of this book is to shed light on the socio-political dimensions of cannabis as the world transitions from Anslinger’s Reefer Madness delusion to an as-yet-to-be-defined future. No one knows what lies ahead. All we know for sure is that legal cannabis will continue instigating a great deal of new research, political intrigue and social change.

The Politics of Marijuana brings together a wide variety of perspectives on the past, present and fast-changing future of cannabis. Even a few years ago, a book like this would not have been possible. For the better part of a century, Harry Anslinger’s Reefer Madness truth regime suppressed any characterization of cannabis that deviated from the one true faith. The Politics of Marijuana provides a wide range of fresh new perspectives from cannabis experts who are finally at liberty to think free from the fetters of Anslinger’s Reefer Madness gulag. ← xvii | xviii →

I urge you to read on. Tyranny falters whenever bright minds roam freely.

Timothy McGettigan, PhD

Professor of Sociology and Principal Investigator

Institute of Cannabis Research

Colorado State University-Pueblo

A Brief Word About the Contributors to This Volume

Beginning with the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937,” Harry Anslinger clamped an airtight lid on public discourse about cannabis. Anslinger’s intellectual violence drove cannabis discourse underground, but never extinguished it entirely. Throughout the Reefer Madness era, people continued to think and talk about cannabis, but, to avoid Anslinger’s wrath, they discussed cannabis in whispers at the margins of their societies.

No one needs to whisper anymore. This book is dedicated to all of the cannabis experts who have refused to be bullied into silence.

The contributors to this volume have all taken courageous stands against Harry Anslinger’s Reefer Madness truth regime. All of the contributors are verifiable cannabis experts, but many are not traditional academic experts. Until recently, cannabis discourse was strictly verboten at most colleges and universities. The goal of this book is to invite cannabis experts (broadly-defined) to shift their much-needed expertise from the social margins into the mainstream of public discourse.

We all have a lot of catching-up to do and, hopefully, this book will help to bring long-hidden cannabis expertise back into the clear light of day.


1. Please send all correspondence to Timothy McGettigan, PhD, Colorado State University—Pueblo Department of Sociology & Institute of Cannabis Research, 2200 Bonforte Blvd., Pueblo, CO 81001-4901, Office Phone +1.719.549.2416, Email: proftim@fulbrightmail.org, Orcid: 0000-0002-6430-9520.


Abel, Ernest L.1980. “Reefer Racism.” In Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years, 200−13. Boston, MA: Springer.

Anslinger, Harry Jacob, and Courtney Ryley Cooper. 1937. Marijuana: Assassin of Youth. New York: Crowell Publishing.

Anslinger, Harry Jacob, and Will Oursler. 1961. The Murderers: The Story of the Narcotic Gangs. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. ← xviii | xix →

Ben-Shabat, Shimon, Ester Fride, Tzviel Sheskin, Tsippy Tamiri, Man-Hee Rhee, Zvi Vogel, Tiziana Bisogno, Luciano De Petrocellis, Vincenzo Di Marzo, and Raphael Mechoulam. 1998. “An Entourage Effect: Inactive Endogenous Fatty Acid Glycerol Esters Enhance 2-Arachidonoyl-alycerol Cannabinoid Activity.” European Journal of Pharmacology 353 (1): 23–31.

Bertram, Eva, Morris Blachman, Kenneth Sharpe, and Peter Andreas. 1996. Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Bleeker, Annie. 2013. “Cannabis: A Potent Problem?” Of Substance: The National Magazine on Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs, 11 (1): 26−9.

Booth, Martin. 2015. Cannabis: A History. New York: Macmillan.

Chasin, Alexandra. 2016. Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Conrad, Chris. 1997. Hemp for Health: The Medicinal and Nutritional Uses of Cannabis Sativa. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1997.

Corner, Paul, ed. 2009. Popular Opinion in Totalitarian Regimes: Fascism, Nazism, Communism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Devane, William A., Lumir Hanus, Aviva Breuer, Roger G. Pertwee, Lesley A. Stevenson, Graeme Griffin, Dan Gibson, Asher Mandelbaum, Alexander Etinger, and Raphael Mechoulam. 1992. “Isolation and Structure of a Brain Constituent That Binds to the Cannabinoid Receptor.” Science 258 (5090): 1946–9.

Dickson, Donald T. 1968. “Bureaucracy and Morality: an Organizational Perspective on a Moral Crusade.” Social Problems 16 (2): 143–56.

Dolce, Joe. 2016. Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis. New York: HarperCollins.

Earleywine, Mitch. 2002. Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Eisenstein, Michael. 2015. “Showdown at the Cannabis Corral.” Nature 525(7570): S15.

ElSohly, Mahmoud A., ed. 2007. Marijuana and the Cannabinoids. New York: Springer Science & Business Media.

Galliher, John F., David P. Keys, and Michael Elsner. 1997. “Lindesmith v. Anslinger: An Early Government Victory in the Failed War on Drugs.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 88 (2): 661.

Gray, Mike. 2013. Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out. New York: Routledge.

Grayson, Kyle. 2001. “Emancipation or Intoxication? Regimes of Truth, Aztec Ontology, Sun Tzu, and the US War on Drugs.” YCISS Occasional Paper Number 65.

Hartnett, Stephen J., ed. 2011. Challenging The Prison-Industrial Complex: Activism, Arts, and Educational Alternatives. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.


XXIV, 272
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XXIV, 272 pp., 1 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Timothy McGettigan (Volume editor)

Timothy McGettigan is Professor of Sociology and Principal Investigator at the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University-Pueblo.


Title: The Politics of Marijuana
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