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henry j anslinger

History of the Cups

Denver Cannabis CUp

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It is finally time for the Denver Medical Cannabis cup.  If you are in Denver this weekend, please come and visit us as we will be one of the sponsors of the event!  We are sure patients will gather for another safe event as they have in the past.  But first, a quick look on how we got here…

The first Cannabis cup was organized by Steven Hager, of High Times Magazine.  In 1987 Amsterdam was the most famous of cities for legalized consumption of marijuana. So it was held there, in a great smoke-off to find the finest marijuana that a person could smoke.  In 25 years the contest has matured; there are multiple categories, seeking the best strains, hybrids, consumables, seeds and so forth.  It has also developed into a massive trade show, where builders of bongs can showcase their latest pipes, vaporizers, and novelty papers.  Vendors also bring in t-shirts and other apparel and all other kinds of accessories.  As the Cup has grown, it has incorporated other elements that have accompanied marijuana use.  It has embraced spirituality and the counterculture ideas of the late 60’s and 70’s.  Also, as politics have shifted across the world, so have the ideas espoused by the Cup’s sponsors and attendees.


Today, the United States is host to four of High Times’s Medical Marijuana Cups.  In Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The First one was the San Francisco Cup in 2010.  Last year saw the inaugural events for Denver and Los Angeles also.  These are not just pothead toke-fests as conservative demagogues would paint them; they’re not dens of sin, iniquity and crime, or doorways to destruction.  These are modern affairs, full of people with honorable agendas seeking to help people who are suffering from various ailments. For many of these patients, cannabis holds the best treatments they can hope to receive.  New categories include judging for high CBD (cannabidiol) strains, which the medical community now agrees hold the key to treating many neuromuscular disorders.  One of the largest growing segments of the Cup community is for political activism.  Most major events now have devoted sections to increasing political awareness.  On a national stage most politicians won’t touch the topic of marijuana; there are few candidates, like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, who are willing to discuss it.  But on state and local levels, many politicians are eagerly discussing with their constituents.  Also, there are many active groups like NORML, LEAP and ASA who attend these gatherings and try to increase awareness and activism.  For years the pro-marijuana lobby was small and quietly ignored.  Now attitudes are turning from universal recreational use (like alcohol and tobacco)  to a focus more on compassionate care and medical use, at least in enough cases now to be taken more seriously.    Also, by highlighting the many failures of the 40 year-old “War on Drugs” people have realized that change, on a federal level, is necessary for the health of the Union and its people.  All of this has helped the Cups to grow from crowds of hundreds to tens of thousands of supporters.

The Seattle HempFest is another event that has grown from very humble roots.  The first one was held in Seattle in 1991, with only 500 people in attendance; last year’s event estimated close to 300,000 attendees!  At each of these events people have gathered peacefully for several days.  Recently, Cannabis use, in public, has been tolerated with no ill effects.  Alcohol sales are banned at Hemp Fest, too.  And in that wake, there have been no riots, no fights, no dangerous crimes committed.  This is a far cry from the mighty fears that Henry J Anslinger stirred up when he pushed to have marijuana made illegal in the 1930’s.  In 1991, there were no laws anywhere for compassionate use.  Then, in 1998 Washington State passed their medical marijuana legislation.  In 2003, Seattle made marijuana its lowest police priority and in 2008 the city stated it “would no longer prosecute simple possession cases.”  This year, the state legislation approved patient cannabis gardens and an ordinance for cannabis collectives.  With perseverance and patience, even the smallest of groups can hope to accomplish great deeds.

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Anti-Marijuana Propaganda from the Mid-20th Century

marijuana propaganda

For over 70 years Marijuana has been illegal in the United States.  In that time, the powers-that-be have used many forms of propaganda to maintain their control over people’s fear of cannabis in order to prevent the reforms happening today.  Initially, the fear and hatred of marijuana was stirred up by Henry J. Anslinger and his cunning use of racism and bigotry.  Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst (Hearst publishing) preyed upon the feelings of the white majority and ideas of miscegenation (white women + not-white men).  They also made sure people feared a minority uprising, led by unstoppable drugged-out berserker pot-heads.  To this day there are still people who fear this, and push for continuing anti-marijuana legislation.  However, one fear cannot be stoked continuously for 70 years.  As time went by new fears were co-opted and put to use for the war on drugs.

Cannabis and hemp were made illegal in the 1930’s, but hemp was then re-allowed in World War 2 because of its industrial use.  After the war ended the ban was reinstated and something else was needed to enforce it.  Enter the threat to National Security.  That’s right, after the Nazis were defeated and ideas of Superior Races were less popular the country needed something else to unify it.  America had a new enemy… Communism!  After the war, Anslinger continued to consolidate power into the government apparatus that would eventually become the DEA.  With Senator Hale Boggs as his partner, President Harry Truman was convinced that drugs were being utilized by Communist China to subvert Americans and undermine our democracy.  In 1951 Truman signed the Boggs Act which imposed strict penalties for violating the import/export laws pertaining to drugs. Part of these penalties were tough mandatory minimum prison sentences.  In 1961, Anslinger had JFK used the US influence at the UN to push for an anti-drug convention that eventually saw over 100 countries agree to make marijuana illegal.  It would not be the last time that national security would be used as a scapegoat for anti-drug sentiment.  All of this helped build the reaction to the counterculture of the 1960’s and 70’s.

In the 1980’s and 90’s, most anti-drug PSA’s (Public Service Announcement) were focused on the negative effects of drugs on the mind, body and social ties.  Anybody remember the “This is your brain on drugs” video with the smashed egg?  Well, after the terror attacks of September 11, that type of ad moved to the back burner in favor of a terror and drugs cocktail.  Many drugs are produced and exported by terror-supporting organizations (not going to debate that here) but once again cannabis was also targeted in these ads.  So the teenager buying a bag from his dealer (which was probably grown domestically, in some backwood) is now helping Al-Qaeda to blow up airplanes and shoot marines.  One particular PSA shows two men debating the truth of this.  The skeptic says he doesn’t believe it, and the other guy says “It’s true,” repeatedly until the other man is convinced. There’s no evidence offered, or even a counterargument. He maintains his position and eventually the other guy is converted.  As a 30-second tv spot makes a strong emotional impression, which is the crux of most propaganda.  Facts are distorted in order to evoke an emotional response, which has been proven to create a stronger impression than just a factual argument… so far.

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