This Date in UCSF History: Poisoning the People
Originally published in Synapse on April 13, 1978.
The United States Department of Agriculture recently admitted that, in conjunction with the Mexican government, it has been spraying an herbicide called Paraquat to destroy Mexican marijuana and poppy fields.
Unfortunately, Mexican farmers threatened with the loss of income have responded by harvesting their drug crop early before the crops wither and die.
Paraquat-laced marijuana has been shipped to the United States, and the Haight Free Clinic and other health facilities in California report that individuals have surfaced suffering from related causes of hemorrhage in the lungs from smoking the herbicidal marijuana.
Dr. Peter Bourne, chairman of the President’s Council on Drug Abuse Policy, defends the Paraquat program, arguing that marijuana smoking is a health hazard in any case and that the Mexican government bears the responsibility for the decision to discourage marijuana use in this way.
We urge that the Paraquat program be discontinued immediately.
The use of scare tactics to stop marijuana use in the United States is an immoral policy, since it exposes millions of Americans to a health hazard jointly created by the U.S. and Mexican governments.
In California, possession of marijuana is punishable by fines up to $100. In effect, Americans are being poisoned for the equivalent of a large speeding ticket.
The Paraquat program neither addresses the social demand for marijuana, which is smoked by an estimated 20 million Americans, nor the economic incentive for Mexican farmers to grow the drug.
Five years ago, President Nixon’s Commission of Drug Abuse recommended the decriminalization of marijuana.
This report, of course, was ignored by President Nixon, although certain states, including California, went on to decriminalize use of the drug.
What is needed is a national policy which both decriminalizes use and discourages drug use through education and social reform.
Victimless crimes, such as marijuana smoking, are not solved by turning so-called criminals into victims themselves.