A 75-year-old white state representative from Kansas over the weekend cited 1930s racist propaganda in his argument against legalizing marijuana.
According to Republican Rep. Stephen Alford, marijuana and other drugs were outlawed nearly 80 years ago because of Blacks, who were susceptible to drug use thanks to “their genetics and that.”
The Garden City Telegram, which posted a video of Alford speaking, on Monday reported that Alford made the remarks on Saturday during a legislative session at a hospital.
“What was the reason why they [outlawed drugs]?” Alford asked a crowd. “One of the reasons why — I hate to say it — is the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs. It’s because of their character makeup — their genetics and that. And so basically what we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to do a complete reverse of the people not remembering what’s happened in the past. So basically, I’m against marijuana all the way through.”
No one in the audience was Black, The Telegram also reported.
Studies have shown that Blacks use marijuana at about the same rate as whites — however, they are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession (in some states, the disparity is even greater).
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2016 Blacks and whites also reported having used illicit drugs at some point in their lives at similar rates. And the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which released the report, also states that “risk factors” and “protective factors” for substance use disorders are multi-faceted.
SAMHSA reports that race can play a role in substance use — but in a societal way rather than genetic: “In society, risk factors can include norms and laws favorable to substance use, as well as racism and a lack of economic opportunity.”
The historical events Alford referred to to occurred when a racist man took over the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), which led to the creation of the present-day Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The FBN’s first commissioner was Harry J. Anslinger, who headed the agency for more than three decades.
Anslinger prioritized outlawing marijuana and frequently injected racism into his arguments.
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others,” Anslinger was quoted as saying, along with, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
According to CBS News, even the name marijuana is a reference to the role race has played in the war on drugs: “The word ‘marijuana’ itself was part of this approach. What was commonly known as cannabis until the early 1900s was instead called marihuana, a Spanish word more likely to be associated with Mexicans.”
Anslinger also promoted the idea — without basis — that marijuana makes people psychotic. CBS also reported: “The problem was, there was little scientific evidence that supported Anslinger’s claims. He contacted 30 scientists, … and 29 told him cannabis was not a dangerous drug. But it was the theory of the single expert who agreed with him that he presented to the public — cannabis was an evil that should be banned — and the press ran with this sensationalized version.”
Despite Anslinger’s false two-part argument, the effects of his paranoia remain today.
Meanwhile, Alford apologized for his comments on Monday afternoon — after insisting to the Associated Press that he’s not a racist.
“I’m not going [to] make any more remarks about that. To me, that’s neutral. Basically, I got called a racist, which I’m really not, and it’s just the way people — the interpretation of people. To me, I’m trying to look at what’s really the best for Kansas,” he told the AP.
Also prior to Alford’s apology, Darrell Pope, president of the NAACP chapter in Hutchinson, told the AP that Alford is “an idiot” who “shows how oblivious Kansans are to selecting representatives to put someone like that in there to represent them.”