100 years after El Paso became first city in US to outlaw pot, debate remains the same
By AARON MARTINEZ | El Paso Times, Texas | Published: June 3, 2015
EL PASO, Texas (Tribune News Service) — One hundred years ago Wednesday, El Paso became the first city in the nation to outlaw the use of marijuana because it was dangerous — it was described then as causing "a lust for human blood" by its users.
Although the rhetoric has toned down, the same debate rages over its dangers that are spawned by fears, officials said
There is greater acceptance of the drug's beneficial uses and many states have allowed its use.
A violent slaying credited to the drug caused fear throughout the El Paso community in 1913 and two years later, the El Paso City Council passed an ordinance declaring marijuana, known in the early 1900s as marihuana, dangerous and making it illegal.
"El Paso is the first city in the country to take a stand against the traffic in marihuana, know to be the deadliest drug on the market," stated an article published on June 4, 1915 in the El Paso Morning Times. "Marihuana is known to create a lust for human blood in the users and some of the most atrocious crimes committed in the city and elsewhere have been attributed to these fiends."
The path to the prohibition began on Jan. 1, 1913 after a man, who law enforcement claimed was high on marijuana, killed a Juárez police officer and stabbed another as he chased an El Paso couple on the street, according to an article in the El Paso Morning Times.
The El Paso Morning Times reported that police said the man, who is referred to throughout the article as a "maniac," had been smoking marijuana all day.
The ordinance, which went into effect in June 14, 1915, made El Paso the first city in the nation to ban the drug, according to the El Paso Morning Times. Several states, including California and Utah, had already passed state laws criminalizing marijuana. Two decades later, the federal government also classified marijuana as an illegal and dangerous drug.
The articles published during the early 1910s showed the fear and paranoia surrounding the drug that continues to exist today, said U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso.
"The 100 year anniversary is very significant due to the fact that how we view marijuana today has kind of come full circle to where we were prior to 1915," O'Rourke said. "The prohibition in 1915 really starts in 1913 when there was this murder sensationalized by the El Paso Herald and other media outlets about a New Year's Day 1913 incident involving this person presumed to be high on marijuana killing a policeman and wound someone else, and chasing a woman while the whole time brandishing a huge knife."
O'Rourke said the articles focused on a man from Mexico committing the crime and the violence of drugs coming from Mexico, which he said he believes are still the same fears that consume debates in Congress on legalizing marijuana.
"Frankly, it played on a fear some in this country still have of Mexico and Mexicans. It charges a lot of our debates on immigration, the border and national security," O'Rourke said. "It's part of this misplaced anxiety about the U.S.-Mexico border, when El Paso remains the safest city in the U.S. and the U.S. side of the border is safer than the interior of the U.S."
One of the largest arguments made in supporting the legalization of marijuana today — medicinal proposes — was a major point debated a century ago.
After the passing of the ordinance, El Paso physicians came out against it and spoke of the medical benefits of marijuana.
"It is stated by local physicians and druggists that marihuana has legitimate uses," an article published in June 1915 in the El Paso Herald. "It is put up by the foremost drug manufactures in the country and is frequently prescribed, as it is a sedative of value."
The ordinance made it a felony crime for drug stores to sell marijuana.
In recent years, a strong push has been made by several states to legalize medical marijuana. Currently, more than 30 states have passed some form of legislation to allow severally ill patients to legally purchase medicinal marijuana. All forms of marijuana use remains against federal laws.
O'Rourke said the federal government's efforts into researching the benefits of medicinal marijuana have been limited and are leaving a large portion of the population suffering.
There has not been enough research by the federal government into medicinal marijuana use, O'Rourke said. He said 8,000 veterans are treated in El Paso and that the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot give them marijuana as a treatment.
He added "medicinal marijuana could help veterans who are suffering from glaucoma, leukemia or any number of conditions or issues if they could get it from a doctor."
In a 2013 report, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said the science on the benefits of medicinal marijuana has yet to be proven by research and has shown that it can form an addiction.
"The campaign to legitimize what is called "medical" marijuana is based on two propositions: first, that science views marijuana as medicine; and second, that the DEA targets sick and dying people using the drug," the report states. "Neither proposition is true. Specifically, smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science — it is not medicine, and it is not safe. Moreover, the DEA targets criminals engaged in the cultivation and trafficking of marijuana, not the sick and dying. This is true even in the District of Columbia and the 19 states that have approved the use of "medical" marijuana."
Although earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said during an interview on "CBS This Morning" that some studies have shown marijuana could have a beneficial impact on some medical conditions.
"We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful," Murthy said. "We have to use that data to drive policy making."
Texas remains one of the states that has not passed any reform laws legalizing medical marijuana.
Pro-legalization advocates proclaimed the signing by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott of a bill on Monday, which allows epilepsy patients access to low doses of cannabis oil, as "historic."
"While this program leaves most patients behind and we're concerned about its functionality, today (Monday) is one for the history books," said Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. "The Texas Legislature is sending a resounding message: Marijuana is medicine. We commend our Texas lawmakers and look forward to continuing this conversation when the 85th Legislature convenes in 2017."
Abbott was quick to say that the bill will not lead to a reform of marijuana policies in the state of Texas.
"I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana, nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes," Abbott said before signing the bill into law according to the Texas Tribune. "As governor, I will not allow it. SB 339 does not open the door to marijuana in Texas."
O'Rourke said the signing of the bill by Abbott is a small step forward.
"I think it is a rational step in the right direction," O'Rourke said. "I don't think it moves far enough and if we are serious about being effective and efficient with tax payer dollars, serious about keeping marijuana away from kids and if we are serious about focusing on other more significant threats, then we need to move forward with a more rational policy when it comes to marijuana."
He added, "Let's hope 100 years after El Paso's decision (to ban marijuana), this country comes to its senses, does the rational, humane thing and regulates and controls the sale of marijuana. And turns its focus to more dangerous threats to this country."
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