The Dark Side of Proposition 19
Prop 19 has a dark side, something that no one seems to be willing to talk about. Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana will take away a critical tool used by law enforcement every day; convenient probable cause without a warrant. Police officers currently can cite the smell of marijuana (whether smoke or unsmoked) as probable cause to search automobiles and enter the homes of anyone they want. This saves them from the time consuming process of obtaining a warrant when they identify someone who fits the criminal profile.
If Prop 19 passes, law enforcement will be deprived of the probable cause required to search suspected illegal immigrants and other minority groups who are in expensive neighborhoods, driving fancy cars or even hanging on the street corner.
Cannabis was made illegal in America in 1937 with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act, largely as largely as an effort of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family. With the 1934 invention of the decorticator, hemp became a very cheap substitute for paper pulp used in the newspaper industry. Hearst felt that this was a threat to his extensive timber holdings. Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America, had invested heavily in the Du Pont families new synthetic fiber, nylon, which was also being threatened by cheap hemp.
Hearst’s campaign was ahead of its time, a model for conservative public relations and political campaigns ever since. Recognizing that he couldn’t win a rational policy argument, Hearst created a social argument instead; a double barrel approach that combined fear of black people with hatred and distrust of Mexicans. This mixture of hate and fear has proven to be tremendous winner, a go to strategy that corporations and conservative politicians have been able to use ever since to manipulate the masses.
Instead of outlawing “cannabis,” or hemp, the law cleverly used the Spanish term “marihuana”, making it the only law in the United State federal statutes that names an outlawed substance in a foreign language but not in English. The newspaper campaign for the act featured pictures of Mexican men with donkeys and bails of cannabis in the West and Southwest, while in the industrial north was treated to the film Reefer Madness and the south was treated to stories about how smoking marijuana made white women have sex with black men.
The intent of marijuana prohibition was to control production of commercial hemp in the U.S. and protect the paper and chemical industries. Fortuitously, it has proven to be a very effective tool for the state and federal government to control black and Latino men. It has not, however, proven effective in controlling the sexuality of white women, which is still the traditional role of Christianity.