The United States’ longest, unwinnable war is the "war on drugs." Despite decades of arrests and locking up millions of Americans, politicians and PSA’s urging us to “Just Say No,” illegal drugs are still as available as ever.
But why are some drugs legal and some prohibited? Why do we arrest approximately 600,000 Americans each year for marijuana possession, but sell tobacco and alcohol on most corners? Why do we lock up people who use meth for years, and dole out the similar drug Ritalin to our children? It is not based on science and health harm, but most often because of racism, stigma, and who is perceived to be using the illegal drugs.
The social impact company, ATTN: produced a series of short videos called “The Real History of Illegal Drugs” which explains why, when, and how some illicit drugs such as marijuana, MDMA, cocaine, opium and LSD became illegal.
These catchy, well-produced videos have been viewed millions of times on Facebook and other social media channels, packing in an incredible amount of history in a thoughtful and entertaining way.
Check out these excellent videos from ATTN:. They will educate, entertain, and inspire you to join the movement to end our county’s disastrous war on drugs.
Small amounts of cocaine used to be in Coca-Cola and didn’t carry any stigma. Harsh laws came about when the drug became associated with Black Americans. The crack version of cocaine fueled draconian mandatory minimums that are still felt today.Even though the majority of people who use crack cocaine are white, most people arrested and imprisoned for it are black.
MDMA's psychoactive effects were discovered by famed chemist Alexander Shulgin. There was great interest in the benefits of MDMA for therapy. The drug did not become illegal until 1985, when it became popular in the rave and dance scene and then DEA cracked down hard. There is growing interest in studying the benefits of MDMA for PTSD, particularly for military veterans.
Like cocaine and opium, marijuana prohibition is tied to racism. The campaign against marijuana took off when the drug was associated with Mexican Americans and Latinos in the 1930s. President Nixon launched the modern day "war on drugs" and marijuana was a convenient way to go after Black Americans and anti-Vietnam War protesters. Now, we are at a paradoxical time where marijuana is becoming mainstream, as four states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana, yet there are still approximately 600,000 marijuana possession arrests each year.
Opium was a popular drug among white women and used for colicky babies more than 100 years ago. But perception changed when it was used to stigmatize Chinese Americans working on the railroads in the early 1800s. The image of Chinese people using opium led to it becoming one of the first drugs to become prohibited in 1914. Today opium is recognized to have important medical benefits.
LSD was something of an accident, originally created in the late 1930s by a young chemist named Albert Hoffman, and intended for use as a clinical drug. Although it never took the form of mainstream medication, LSD seemed in vogue in experimental medical circles during the period between 1950 and 1965; nearly 40,000 patients—including actor Cary Grant—used some form of LSD for illnesses ranging from neurosis, schizophrenia, and psychopathy. The growing popularity of psychedelics in a time of social and cultural revolution ultimately led to the federal government outlawing it in 1968, although certain psychedelics are still allowed for use in religious ceremonies.