World History of Drugs (Part II)

“Cocaine Hurricane” by Raj Bunnag

The following is part two in a series by author, George Lewis. 

The United States needed money after the Revolutionary had been won to pay off its’ debt, the taxation of alcohol in 1791, was the solution, America learned quickly that using alcohol policy and later drug laws to control (Chinese) immigrants after they helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. America was on the march and drug and alcohol laws and policy would become a useful tool.

The United States was entering a growth phase that was bringing it into the wealth, status, and influence that no other country had ever seen. The railroad was the internet of its time. The railroad had connected the country from coast to coast. Now travel from the east coast to the west coast no longer took months. products, food crops and people could now reach the east coast from the west and back again in just under a week each way.

Once again, America was facing a labor crisis. Particularly in the west, food and goods producers had more work than they had laborers to fill the workload. The same problem presented itself. There weren’t enough white men to do the work and many whites didn’t want to do the labor-intensive jobs that were available at the time. The slaves in the south could not be used because that would mean removing them from the cotton and tobacco fields there. The south was experiencing a level of growth and wealth from the advantage of slave labor that they were not willing to part with. The demand for cotton and tobacco both domestically and abroad made slave labor so valuable that the country would soon be at war because of it.

Where would America get the labor it needed to meet the demand? It became obvious that all that was needed was to look to its southern borders, where there was a labor force just waiting to be tapped.

In 1848 Mexicans began to immigrate to the United States after the US-Mexican American war. The war was started by the US military invading Mexico and occupying Mexican territory for close to two years. Americans particularly Texans believed that it was America’s right to pursue “Manifest Destiny” In other words, it was a right to take land and resources owned by Mexico There was a belief that America’s destiny was to connect the US with Europe and the Caribbean in the east and to connect the U.S with Asian markets in the west (the Pacific countries).

The land that America took from Mexico became the states of California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. In addition, Texas claimed more of Mexico’s land, started the Mexican-American war. And today they call Mexicans immigrants. For all this land, America paid Mexico $18 million or $480 million in today’s dollars. Not even a billion dollars in today’s money. (Source: “So Far from God: The U.S War with Mexico,” John Eisenhower (1989)

Mexicans like Americans of the time were using marijuana. Even then America knew that marijuana had some medicinal usefulness. In the U.S cannabis was widely utilized as a patient medicine during the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Source: Pharmacy and Therapeutics, MEd MEDIA USA. Medical Cannabis: History Pharmacology and Implications for the Acute Care Setting) At the turn of the century America’s attitude began to change toward the green weed. The change of attitude toward cannabis was motivated by the change in attitude toward Mexican immigration to the U.S.

This change took place right around the time of the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. The immigration of Mexicans to America to escape the violence of the revolution (this sounds familiar) was met by prejudice from Americans, primarily Texans. This prejudice extended to the use of marijuana, the traditional means that poor Mexicans used to get intoxicated.

The police in Texas began to spread the false rumor that weed gave Mexicans superhuman strength and that it made Mexicans more violent. The same lie they would use in the future against northern blacks who used cocaine. They even spread the lie that Mexicans were giving weed to schoolchildren. (Source: Eric Schlosser wrote for The Atlantic in the August 1994 Issue)

A campaign of misinformation was started and that misinformation about marijuana use and Mexicans persisted until in 1936 the infamous movie “Reefer Madness” opened and created even more fear about marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s fact sheet states the there has never been a recorded incident of marijuana overdose. Alcohol is more dangerous than weed. Between 1916 and 1931, twenty-nine states had outlawed weed and by 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act had passed and weed was outlawed nationally. Once again, drugs were being used to affect a social and political change in America. (Disclaimer by Author: I am not promoting marijuana. I am only stating facts.) (Source: Why the US Made Marijuana Illegal: Fear of Mexican Immigrants led to the criminalization of marijuana. by Becky Little)

Women’s rights and prohibition

Almost simultaneously of with the beginning of the Mexican immigration to the U.S in 1848 was the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage Movement began in 1848. It was the beginning of the American woman’s fight for the right to vote. The Suffrage Movement did not reach its goal until August 18th of 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment and the 19th amendment was adopted giving women the right to vote.

Women were instrumental in the fight to prohibit alcohol. Women used their political power to win the national prohibition of alcohol, which was outlawed from 1920 to 1933. Women thought that the removal of alcohol from society would stop, crime and corruption, taxes would be reduced because there would be a reduction for the need of prisons and poor houses and hygiene and health would improve in America. Women were tired of their men working all week and drinking their pay up on payday leaving their families without food and pushing their families into poverty. Prohibition became a huge failure it had an unintended consequence.

Once the Volstead Act (The National Prohibition Act) was enacted in 1919, taking effect 1920, the hope was for a new moral America, but instead organized crime began to take shape. Organized crime found its power in the massive amounts of money it made during the “roaring 20s.” The financial power amassed by organized crime began to infect politics and influence society in a negative way, creating gang wars and murders, creating speakeasies, illegal hidden bars that popped up everywhere. Once again, a mood- and mind-altering substance was affecting political and social change in America and this time creating unintended consequences.

Saloon keeper to whiskey salesman to President of the United States

John F Kennedy’s grandfather Patrick Joseph Kennedy was a saloon keeper in Boston, who expanded his business to importing whiskey. JFK’s father was Joseph (Joe) Kennedy who made a great deal of money as a liquor salesman. Patrick Joseph Kennedy became the first to enter politics when he became a local ward boss and finally a Senator in the State of Massachusetts.

The Kennedy dynasty built by Joe Kennedy was partly built by selling alcohol, making savvy deals and securing sales that were extremely lucrative. In 1933, Prohibition was about to end. Joe Kennedy used his political connections to get contracts to legally import Scotch whiskey and gin from Britain.

The deals Joe Kennedy made with the British distillers, Dewar’s and Gordon’s gin made Joe extremely rich. Prohibition ended in December 1933 and Americans bought Scotch and gin by the case. Kennedy sold his liquor franchise ten years later for $8.2 million, $100 million in today’s dollars. (Excerpted from the book “When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys by Thomas Maier)

The Kennedy family became one of the riches and greatest American political dynasties of the 20th century and that dynasty was funded partly by alcohol. Joseph P. Kennedy’s nine children included United States President John F. Kennedy, and United States Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy.

Once again alcohol played a part in American history, politics, social and world history. The wealth of the Kennedys partly funded by the whiskey trade, produced two United States Senators and a United States President. Robert Kennedy (January 1961 to September 1964) started the downfall of modern organized crime as the Attorney General of the United States, Edward (Ted) Kennedy “The Lion of the Senate” (U.S Senator from 1962 to 2009) was considered one of America’s greatest legislators and John F. Kennedy (President of the United States, January 20, 1961 -November 22, 1963) was considered a cool mind under pressure; of note was “The Cuban Missile Crisis.” Once again, a mood- and mind-altering substance helped create a fortune that in turn became the resource that produced the Kennedy political dynasty, which in turn played a part in the history of the world.

The same year that prohibition ends (1933) in the United States, the world’s most infamous dictator rises to power and the future of Germany descends into darkness. The world had no idea that in six short years the world would be at the doorstep of World War II and drugs would be at the forefront of a world at war…


George Lewis is founder and CEO of Motivational Consulting, Inc. and has more than 18 years of experience in the human services industry. His website is motivationalconsultinginc.com.

Last Updated on November 12, 2020

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