Censorship Is for the Censors: Cannabis Edition

CannabisCannabis[1] is legal in Canada and quasi-legal in places in the US. Yet in the not too distant past, people spent a decade or more for cannabis possession. Even today, you can spend up to 20 years if the police claim you are distributing.

Whether cannabis is a great evil or no big deal depends upon when and where you are. I recently discovered that there are now cannabis affiliates programs. These are effectively advertising programs. For example, if you had a cannabis-related website, you could advertise for a seed or accessory (or, depending upon where you live, cannabis by mail) company and get a percentage of the sale.

Cannabis Goes Mainstream

If you want to get an idea of how this works, check out THCaffiliates.com. It is a very professional site that connects website owners to affiliate programs that they can use.

What I find really interesting about this is just how mainstream this has all become. Cannabis is just another commodity.

To be clear: I have no problem with this. Cannabis is just another commodity. But it is telling that cannabis was once a major boogieman in even more enlightened areas.

In Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers, Thomas Szasz argued that modern drug laws were no different than previous witch laws in the west. It seems society always needs some foil and since tackling real problems is hard, we just make up problems.

Censorship Broadly

This all had me wondering just what the point of these laws is. And I’m not even particularly interested in the drug laws specifically. I’m more thinking of classic censorship of art.

Because of all my writing about film, I constantly run into something strange in the United Kingdom. They don’t have a First Amendment there so it is far easier to censor films.

For example, when Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive came out on video in 1982, it was banned. Just ten years later, it was allowed with 25 seconds cut from it. Eight years after that, it was released in whole.


Once “unwatchable,” Eaten Alive is now passe (but totally awesome).

I see this again and again and again. The difference between something that will “destroy the youth of today” and something that is acceptable or even lauded is a few years. What’s up with that?!

Remember back in 1985 when Tipper Gore got the whole nation freaked out about nasty lyrics in pop songs?[2] There is no proof that the Parental Advisory Stickers actually worked to “protect the kids!” But they sure made middle-class parents like Gore feel better.


Highlights of the PMRC hearings.

Censorship Is for the Censors

And that is the point. Censorship is about making the censors feel better. It wasn’t film-lovers who changed their minds about Eaten Alive after ten years; it was the censors. By then, the stuff in the film was so common it no longer scared them.

And that brings us back to drugs. In the early 20th century, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics looked at making caffeine illegal. They quickly found that its use was so ubiquitous that it was impossible. It’s pretty hard to censor something that everyone is using.

I hope that right now you are taking a long and perfectly legal hit of cannabis.


[1] The word “marijuana” comes from Mexican Spanish for cannabis. It became the default in the United States because Harry Anslinger popularized it in his efforts to make it illegal as head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The idea was to associate it with Mexicans and turn the public against it. This has always been the approach to making drugs illegal from the first anti-drug law in the US in San Francisco where opium dens were made illegal to keep white women safe from those evil Chinese men. Racism is the surest way to get people on board for your small-minded cause.

[2] Note that there wasn’t a law just as there wasn’t a law during the horror comics freak-out of the 1950s. Instead, a bunch of powerful people just bullied the recording industry into self-censorship.