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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Censorship Is for the Censors: Cannabis Edition

  1. “Instead, a bunch of powerful people just bullied the recording industry into self-censorship.”
    The sad truth is that these days it’s just as likely to be the (so-called) Left that is suppressing speech, and defending that practice by redefining censorship as something that only government does (when they censor it’s merely “de-platforming”, which is completely justified and not censorship at all). This follows the precedent set by redefining racism and sexism for the purpose of indicting white Anglo males. And yes, it’s all about the feels, which has become the universal excuse.

    • I started getting into it in the footnote but deleted it because it’s a complex issue and I need a lot of words to discuss it. I do have a problem with the idea that it’s fine to hurt someone’s job prospects because they have unpopular beliefs. Just the same, I’m not going to cry for Steven Crowder when we have a criminal injustice system that does the same thing to millions of people because they were caught using a forbidden substance.

      What’s more, society itself is conservative in the way that some thinking is just not acceptable. I remember the way a JW child was treated in my 6th-grade class for not doing the pledge of allegiance.

      When people go on about “political correctness” or the “regressive left,” I don’t necessarily disagree with them in the specifics. What I do disagree with is the implication that this isn’t a far bigger problem on the right. And I disagree that this is the major issue they claim. Trump’s bullying of the NFL over player kneeling is far more important than all the college kid protests combined.

      • Sure, censorship by the right wing has always been a problem. So I really hate being put in a position where I feel I should defend certain wingnut asswipes (although there are plenty of those in both camps and I don’t reject everything someone says just because I hate their other opinions). As to whether it’s a major problem – there has been more than one recent case in Britain where someone was charged with a hate crime for making a joke. That seems fairly major to me, way beyond even losing your livelihood.

        You may have heard about this guy who goes by “Count Dankula”. He taught his girlfriend’s pug dog to do a Nazi salute and put it up on YouTube. You know, like Spielberg did with that monkey in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”? Funny stuff until the cops come for you.

        I happen to think dark humor is the best humor, but perhaps I was corrupted by my upbringing. After all, when I was just a sprout the whole US was being swept by a wave of “dead baby” jokes. Publishing houses put out entire books full of them.
        https://duckduckgo.com/?q=dead+baby+jokes&t=ffsb&ia=web
        I was also a 60’s “monster kid” and one of my favourite toys was a working plastic model of a guillotine.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zIdj1vrl2g
        In the mid-60’s Aurora was selling a whole line of movie-monster and “Chamber of Horrors” model kits. These kits were very popular but it didn’t take the blue-noses long to crack down and get them off the market.

        At around the same age, I happened across a public library copy of Fredric Wertham’s infamous anti-comicbook screed “Seduction of the Innocent”. Call me naive but I literally couldn’t make any sense of it – to me the book seemed like (and was) just a bunch of insane ravings. I’ve had the very same reaction to much of the public output of both “right” and “left” in recent years. Life in the loony bin.

        • Yeah, I know about Count Dankula. I don’t think there’s a case that this is a big deal. And it is entirely typical of the right wing. Do something offensive and then claim you were only joking. Why is it that a far-right wing comedian makes jokes that just so happen to go along with his political beliefs? I believe he should be able to say what he will. But if you’re a Nazi, own it. In my experience “Nazi” and “ironic Nazi” are absolutely the same things. And if the guy lived in the US, he wouldn’t have been charged.

          A far bigger issue in the UK is the state of its libel laws, not that some asshole gets fined a bit of money for making a video.

          Most stories I’ve heard about hate speech cases turn out to be nothing or a case where someone was actively threatening people. If this were a major problem, people would be citing statistics. But instead, it is just a line of anecdotes.

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