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Is The War On Cannabis A Cult? What Can We Learn About American Politics

By Richard Cowan

Newsweek AMPLIFY - War On Cannabis

The only thing that could make marijuana prohibition a greater tragedy would be if we failed to learn from it, because, as George Santayana, the Spanish-American philosopher, said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Or something like that.

Consequently, below is a slightly updated article I published on MarijuanaNews.com (now offline being edited) in 2003.

I hope readers will see a relevance to the broader political context today.

In April of 2003, the entire Drug War establishment seemed to be in a major panic over the prospect of Maryland lowering the penalty for possession of one ounce of cannabis to a $100 fine for people who can prove medical necessity.

Frankly, the bill was such a farce that it would have done little to help most patients, but one would think that it was making cannabis mandatory for toddlers. Why such a reaction to such an inconsequential bill?

Also See: Two Word Explanation for Marijuana Prohibition: Bad Journalism – CBD Seniors

Meanwhile, the Drug Czar's office announced that it was dropping its goofy ads that tried to link users of illicit substances with terrorism, but they would be redirecting the money to pay for more ads, supposedly aimed at children, that lie about the government's own data on cannabis.

Consequently, the Clinton Administration's version of the Drug War was perhaps more fixated with cannabis than any other, and that is saying a lot.

Late last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration published its "final rules" on hemp foods, essentially banning the sale of all hemp food products by April 21, 2003.

This is taking cannabiphobia to new depths of absurdity.

What is going on here? Is this the result of a rational policy or of a cult?

Let me emphasize that when I compared these anti-cannabis policies to a cult, I am not making a rhetorical point about the Bush/Ashcroft axis of ostentatious religiosity. Rather, there are real parallels to the workings of cults.

  1. Sifting for "true believers." When a cult recruits from the general public, it is not looking at the quantity of the recruits, but at their willingness to surrender their judgment to the cult. If you won't believe that there is a flying saucer waiting for us behind the moon, then you clearly don't belong. In other words, asserting something that most people will not believe is a method of finding the "right stuff."
  2. True believers then become the cadre that will run the organization and feel justified in lying to the unenlightened about the true purpose of the organization. I call this the "Tell-a-little-lie-for Jesus" syndrome.
  3. Any challenge to the core beliefs of the cult is perceived as a threat to the true believers, even though it may seem peripheral to the outside observer.
  4. When a cult achieves political power, it can use the extreme nature of its beliefs to maintain party discipline in the cadres, and intimidate the public. Catechism becomes ideology. Heresy becomes deviationism.
  5. Official statements of blatantly irrational positions that fly in the face of observable facts are not made in order to convince anyone, but rather to engender a sense of hopelessness in those who suspect the truth and disorientation among those who do not.
  6. In the present context, what is going on is so bizarre that anyone who describes it runs the risk of being thought insane. I know from personal experience that if you say that they are lying every time they lie, you will seem like a crank, at best. This has the effect of paralyzing the opposition.

In the 1930s, Germany was probably the technologically most advanced country in the world, so when the Nazis came to power, one aspect of their ideology was called "scientific racism." A Canadian historian, Modris Ecksteins, described the Nazi ideology as being a cult based on "irrationalism crossed with technicism." Sound familiar?

Today, officials of the most scientifically advanced country tell us that "science says" that there is no such thing as medical cannabis. The prohibitionists invoke the word "science" at every turn. Who can be against "science?"

ALSO SEE: Adjusting the Narrative: The Differences Between Hemp & Marijuana Explained

The disadvantage of such a system is that it makes rational retreat impossible without losing the cadre. The cannabiphobic cult is the hardcore constituency of the drug war in general. Hence the suppression of hemp is more important than heroin.

It is at times like this when the excesses of the cannabiphobic cult are at their most extreme that the system generates the most opposition. To paraphrase Dickens, this really is the best of times and the worst of times.

As I concluded in 2003,

We must have the courage and conviction that sustained Martin Luther King, Jr. We have to believe that we will win because we are appealing to the fundamental values of a society built on personal freedom.

If one does not believe that truth and love must ultimately triumph over lies and hatred, then... Well, join a cult.

And meanwhile, in the year 2020, we have learned?

Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and founder of Blue Ribbon Hemp & CBD for Seniors.

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