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The Board of Supervisors in Kern County, California recently banned the store-front operations of medical marijuana collectives. The misrepresentations made by Sheriff Donny Youngblood in pushing for this ban are reminiscent of the propaganda strategies used to justify the federal prohibition on marijuana in the first place.
The first half of the 20th century was an interesting time. People would believe just about anything presented in newspapers, and the general population had a high level of trust overall in our nation’s leaders. Such an environment of trust allowed yellow journalism and political corruption to run rampant and go mostly unchecked. This was a time before McCarthyism, Watergate, and many other glaring examples of 20th century political corruption. We now know beyond doubt that political motivation can often sway our leaders to make decisions not necessarily in our best interest.
In 1937, the Commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger pushed for legislation prohibiting the use of marijuana, citing unsubstantiated newspaper articles, racist propaganda and even outright lies to support his position. The American Medical Association was on record as opposing the prohibition of marijuana, but supporters of Anslinger deliberately mislead legislators when it came time for a vote by stating that the AMA was in accord. This was in fact a lie; the AMA actually considered cannabis to have at least some minor beneficial medicinal properties. They didn’t consider it to be a very strong drug, but felt it needed further research to determine its full medicinal value. They did not consider it dangerous and objected to its placement in the same category as opiates and other addictive drugs. The American Medical Association was absolutely against a prohibition on cannabis.
In spite of objections by the representative from the AMA, members of Congress were swayed by Anslinger’s campaign of misinformation and passed the first federal legislation prohibiting marijuana. Thus, America’s prohibition of cannabis was based on the grandstanding of an ambitious politician, supported by nothing more than sketchy, often racist, anti-marijuana sentiment and yellow journalism — disregarding the recommendations of the American Medical Association and the scientific knowledge of the time.
It’s often noted that people today are a lot more cynical than people in the 1930’s were about our politicians and the decisions they make, as well as about stories the media presents. It’s unlikely that a politician today could lie about having the support of the AMA and expect to get away with it, when in fact the AMA had sent a representative to oppose their legislation. Not only could a politician get away with such a thing in 1937, Harry J. Anslinger and his supporters did.
We like to think we’re more sophisticated these days. Which is why it’s so amazing that the Board of Supervisors in Kern County has allowed the local sheriff to similarly seduce them into enacting a prohibition against medical marijuana. Even though the state legislature has passed bills providing for its regulation and use, the Kern County Board of Supervisors has accepted the recommendation of a local politician and banned the store-front operation of medical marijuana collectives. In the second decade of the 21st century, the medical community in general acknowledges that significant medicinal benefit can be derived from the use of cannabis for many ailments. Yet, based on irrational arguments and the self-admitted inability of the Sheriff’s Department to tell the difference between black market criminals and methodically law-abiding businesses, the Board of Supervisors abandoned the opportunity to effectively regulate and control a significant portion of the medical marijuana commerce in Kern County.
Even more amazing is that in 2011, true to the yellow-journalism practices rampant in the 1930s, the local media in Kern County presented sensationalistic news reports about illegal grows in the county just in time to help support Youngblood’s doom and gloom propaganda. The timing and sensationalism of the news reports was so slanted toward Youngblood’s position it was almost as if he were writing the stories himself. It’s a sad thing to see that level of biased reporting.
Those illegal grows weren’t operating because the medical marijuana laws allowed them. The grows reported were obviously not in compliance with the requirements of the state marijuana laws. In fact they were in violation of many other laws as well. There was no need for any action at all on the part of the Board of Supervisors to control that problem. Youngblood could have easily shut those operations down at any time by enforcing existing laws and regulations. But Youngblood obviously has an agenda, so the KC Sheriff’s Dept. did not move on these locations until it was politically advantageous to do so.
The local media did a great job of sensationalizing the stories, and the KCSD was able to use these examples of illegal marijuana grows to support their position. Not only to claim that all marijuana grows should be banned (even the ones doing everything they could to comply with regulations), but also presented in such a way as to affect the unrelated issue of whether store-front collectives should be allowed. Rather than addressing the issue of how best to regulate the existing businesses already established and serving the community, they used the illegal grow fields as an argument for banning the store-fronts altogether. The illogical nature of the connection is stunningly obvious. Collectives obtain their supply from members of the collective that are registered producers (an obvious opportunity for regulation and control.)
Even though there was massive public support for allowing the store-front medical marijuana collectives with clear regulations for their operation, the Board of Supervisors voted in opposition to public opinion and denied the provisions and protections of California state law to citizens of Kern County. Other than the sheriff’s own political agenda (or his incompetence), there was and is no reason to shut down other growers who are operating in compliance with state law. There’s even less reason to ban the store-front collectives because of it.
What if the Sheriff’s Dept. discovered a company that was manufacturing jewelry illegally? What if they discovered the owner was illegally booby-trapping the shop when it was closed? What if it was discovered the owners were involved in other criminal activities? Would they then push for legislation banning all jewelers? Of course not, they would most likely arrest the owners for the illegal activities and if necessary shut that single manufacturer down. They would have no further concern about other law-abiding jewelry manufacturers in the area that are operating legally. They certainly wouldn’t close down the manufacturers and then continue on to prohibit the operation of store-front jewelry stores as well. The store-fronts are a separate issue from the manufacturers. If any are operating illegally then close them down; if not, then leave them alone.
So why does Youngblood treat medical marijuana differently from any other law-abiding businesses? Well, for one thing he apparently has far more respect for his personal opinions than for laws passed in California. Youngblood seems to have a political stake in cannabis prohibition as a re-election platform and chooses to perpetuate nonsensical anti-marijuana propaganda that has been disproven factually and/or scientifically over and over. The Board of Supervisors, however, has an ethical obligation to make some sort of objective assessment of an issue before acting on it; they failed miserably at this. It amounts to a rather craven abdication of responsibility, giving it over to an unqualified and flagrantly biased local official, who also happens to be facing a re-election campaign soon.
Youngblood also seems to have trouble remembering who he represents. Youngblood has stated on many occasions that marijuana is against federal law. He’s made it very clear that he disagrees with the voters and the state legislature regarding their position on medical marijuana. Even though he’s an elected official of a California county, he doesn’t seem to understand that his first duty is to uphold county and state laws and regulations. It isn’t the sheriff’s job to enforce a federal law if it conflicts with a state law. If the feds want to enforce a federal law then that’s what they have the FBI, DEA, and other agencies for. He certainly should not obstruct the feds, but when there’s a conflict with state law he should leave the enforcement of federal law to the feds.
This ban of store-front collectives will effectively force every legal user of cannabis in Kern County (at least the ones incapable of growing their own) to either do without or deal with criminals. If this was how he dealt with any other type of business he would be declared incompetent and there would be a recall election soon after. But Youngblood is able to cloak his incompetence in a “tough on crime” platform because so many people still believe the anti-marijuana propaganda.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors has proven themselves equally inept. When it was pointed out to them that there should be some clear regulations regarding the operation of collectives, their solution was to eliminate them. Will it somehow be easier to regulate thousands of individuals and small groups who have no visibility at all? That’s the same type of network that exists within the black market. Our elected officials are apparently so naive they do think it will be easier to control that type of network than it was to regulate store-front collectives. This decision, while on a smaller scale, is distressingly reminiscent of Congress in 1932 taking the recommendations of Harry J. Anslinger over the advice of the American Medical Association.
Their decision is so obviously based on years of irrational anti-marijuana propaganda, it’s fitting to remind Sheriff Youngblood and The Kern County Board of Supervisors who they’re in company with. Here’s a quote from their distinguished colleague:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US,
and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers.
Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.
This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations
with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
Harry J. Anslinger, testimony to Congress, 1937
Do we really want Donny Youngblood and the Kern County Board of Supervisors to carry that legacy forward? The prohibition of marijuana by the federal government was based on lies and propaganda Harry J. Anslinger presented to the U.S.Congress in 1937. We should demand more rationality from our elected officials in 2011.