Marijuana

Fear of Mexicans, Not Blacks, Led Kansas to Ban Marijuana

Defending pot prohibition, a state legislator picks on the wrong minority group.

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Garden City Telegram video

Steven Alford, a Republican who represents Ulysses in the Kansas House of Representatives, recently opined that his state banned marijuana because blacks "responded the worst" to it, due to "their character makeup" and "their genetics." He was wrong, of course. The contemporaneous evidence suggests it was mainly Mexicans, along with white teenagers, who were on the minds of Alford's predecessors when they voted to ban marijuana in 1927 (not "in the '30s," as Alford claimed).

Coverage of marijuana in Kansas newspapers and in The Kansas City Star, across the border in Missouri, from the turn of the 20th century through 1930 tied the plant, over and over again, to frequently violent and usually permanent insanity in Mexicans. A widely carried 1904 story, attributed to the Mexican Herald, involved Manuel Guerrero and Florencio Pino, who after smoking cigarettes containing marijuana "ran amuck" in the street, "shouting, vociferating, and attacking everybody." The two men were "captured and sent to the hospital, where they had to be put in straitjackets." It was feared they would "lose their minds permanently, as is the case often with marihuana smokers."

The Iola Register, November 20, 1925

A 1920 article in the Star described "a Mexican in Vera Cruz" who "attacked and killed a policeman and wounded three others" after smoking marijuana. "Such occurrences are frequent," the paper reported, averring that "people who become addicted to smoking marihuana finally lose their minds and never recover." According to the Star, marijuana's impact on "moral self-control" was especially dramatic in poor Mexicans. "With the Mexican peon," the paper reported in 1924, "the outcome is likely to be murder in its bloodiest form, or in any event some unnatural or revolting crime."

These outrages were not confined to Mexico. As Donald Trump might have said if he had been alive at the time, Mexicans were "bringing drugs" and "bringing crime" across the border. "The Mexican is the commonest user of marihuana in the United States," the Star reported in 1919. "While under its influence, he has the hallucination of being a man unseen and becomes dangerous, for he feels he is clothed with such invisibility he can commit any act with the assurance he cannot be seen. He becomes fearless and exceedingly hard to handle."

Blacks did figure prominently in subsequent anti-pot propaganda. But the only mention of blacks in connection with marijuana that I found in these papers during this period appeared in a 1924 Star report about California's "mounting problem" with marijuana, "mainly among Mexicans and negroes." Closer to home, the main worry was that Mexicans would pass their mind-destroying habit on to innocent white adolescents.

The Kansas ban on marijuana was largely the product of agitation by one C.H. Almond, a special agent with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway who, according to a 1926 report in The Hutchinson News, knew from his experiences with railroad employees that "nine out of ten Mexicans who go crazy are victims of marihuana smoking." To his alarm, Almond said, he discovered that Mexicans were selling marijuana to Kansas high school students but could not be charged with a crime because state legislators had neglected to ban the plant. "Continued use of marihuana will cause violent insanity," Almond warned in 1926, urging a group of police officers in Topeka to support a state ban.

After Kansas banned marijuana, Almond successfully lobbied for a similar law in Missouri, also in the name of child protection. As the Star explained in 1930, the wicked weed appealed to "girls and boys of high school age in search of a 'kick' in the accelerated pace of their modern good times." The Star reported that Wyandotte County, Kansas, Sheriff Harry Powers had recently "raided a 'whoopee' party in a deserted house," finding "high school age boys and girls glassy-eyed and befuddled from smoking marihuana cigarettes."

Steven Alford, in short, was wrong even about the bigoted origins of his own state's ban on marijuana. It was Mexicans, not blacks, whose cannabis consumption scared Kansas legislators. They had heard that Mexicans were prone to commit violent crimes under the influence of what the Star called "the most harmful of narcotic drugs," a plant that produced "a species of insanity which frequently ends in horrible death." They worried that Mexicans were leading astray "the flaming youth of the country who do not realize the dangers involved in the drug," as Almond put it.

Asked to explain his remarks (which Brian Doherty noted here on Monday), Alford told The Garden City Telegram, "There are certain groups of people, their genetics, the way their makeup is, the chemicals will affect them differently. That's what I should have said was, drugs affect people differently, instead of being more specific." He added, "It's just the history of how come we are with the drug laws that we do have today, and how come the United States was so prevalent in outlawing drugs. I think we've got to look back to see what has happened in the past to look forward."

While you or I might look back at the racist roots of marijuana prohibition and shake our heads at how readily people can be led astray by fear and hatred of outsiders, Alford looks back and sees sound arguments in favor of continuing that policy. On Monday, when Alford finally seemed to understand that his perspective is not universally shared, he clarified that he was worried about marijuana's "damaging effects on the African American community," adding, "I regret my comments, and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt."

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  1. “I regret my comments, and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt.”

    “See, in good faith I’m even going to ‘take a toke’ off this ‘doobie’.”

    1. That non-apology is so lame even my computer is complaining to me about wasting pixels displaying it.

  2. …his state banned marijuana because blacks “responded the worst” to it, due to “their character makeup” and “their genetics.” He was wrong, of course. The contemporaneous evidence suggests it was mainly Mexicans, along with white teenagers, who were on the minds of Alford’s predecessors when they voted to ban marijuana in 1927 (not “in the ’30s,” as Alford claimed).

    That’s the part he was wrong on? In all of that, he simply got incorrect the 1920’s Kansas thought process?

    Come to think of it, I never thought to question whether Alford was saying that because he believed it or because he thought the original state prohibitionists believed it. I think he could have easily claimed the latter and perhaps softened the outrage orgy. But, he couldn’t even manage that.

    1. Finesse from a GOP State HoR rep? Come on now.

  3. A widely carried 1904 story, attributed to the Mexican Herald, involved Manuel Guerrero and Florencio Pino, who after smoking cigarettes containing marijuana “ran amuck” in the street, “shouting, vociferating, and attacking everybody.” The two men were “captured and sent to the hospital, where they had to be put in straitjackets.” It was feared they would “lose their minds permanently, as is the case often with marihuana smokers.”

    “Several area China-Men were conscripted to assist in subduing the crazed Mexicans, issuing well-deserved haymakers to bring the codswallop under control.”

  4. Sometimes I think it is inherent in the American genes to continually repeat history with all the racist bigoted bullshit.

    1. Wage slavery!

    2. LOL.

      Present-day America is the least “racist” culture on earth. Have you ever traveled anywhere outside its borders?

      1. When we do it, it’s national pride!

        When you do it, it’s white nationalism!

        1. “Please give me Ashkenazim on my 23andMe! I wanna be a sacrosanct nationalist! Oh pretty please Ms. Wojciki, let me be part of the tribe! Ask your sister’s husband if there is anything I can do!”

      2. Chemjeff travels through his mom’s laptop…no need for a passport when you are an internet deity.

        1. He makes broad generalizations about the horrors of the US from his ivory tower on a regular basis. I feel some perspective is in order.

      3. Brazil is less racist than the US.

        1. If you don’t count the indigenous tribes as people, that is.

        2. Eh… I don’t agree that the US is the least racist country, but Brazil is certainly more racist and also a nasty culture of classism running through its veins as well.

    3. Sometimes I think it is inherent in the American genes to continually…

      … elect the most egregious bungler available to rule over us, thereby cementing idiocy in Law.

      … elect the dumbest motherfucker around to stand in front of a camera and say stupid shit.

      … elect the homeliest nerd doofus with the worst ideas and let him impose said ideas on the rest of us.

      Maybe I’m a little angry this morning.

      1. … elect the one who is most proficient in making us feel self-righteous and blameless, and to sacrifice a vaguely-plausible-sounding scapegoat. Illegal humans and Muslims this time around… Genetically improved or even genetic-disease-fixed humanoids next time around, with good luck!

    4. Sometimes I think it is inherent in the American genes to continually repeat history with all the racist bigoted bullshit.

      Which would still be better than Europe, Africa, and large swaths of Asia continually repeating history with all their racist bigoted bullshit.

      1. So perhaps it’s just inherent in human genes.

        1. I don’t think it’s a secret that humans are biased towards those who look like themselves.

  5. Alford didn’t get in trouble because he exposed the racist roots of drug prohibition, he got in trouble because he was validating those racist rationales!

  6. We don’t want them dang Mexicans jumping around like a bunch of Kansas City faggots.

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