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Welcome Home, Brittney

The joy on Brittney Griner’s face – pure relief expressed in a smile – came as a sweet surprise after all these months of seeing her grim and sad behind bars. 

Why does she need to spend a week getting debriefed (in the name of medical care) at a military base? Are the ganjapreneurs going to have a bidding war over which brand of CBD she’ll endorse? How come, with all the coverage of her arrest and detainment, the Times hasn’t run a single piece about Russia’s draconian marjuana prohibition? We’ve heard plenty about Paul Whelan, who’s doing time for espionage but nothing about the prisoners – users like Britney – who are doing time on possession charges.  Is the CIA promoting a medical marijuana movement in Russia? Undoubtedly they have some hipster-agents.

Marijuana prohibition in Russia and the US had many things in common in the 20th century. In both countries the bans were both rooted in racism and xenophobia. Marijuana came from Mexico and the Caribbean, then up the river from New Orleans, accompanied by jazz. Hashish came from Kazakhstan and lands to the East where it was grown and used by dark-skinned-people. In both countries, marijuana prohibition enhanced the power of the police over the people. And in both countries, bans on marijuana (cannabis in drug form) co-existed with governmental promotion of hemp (cannabis grown for food or fiber).

It was in 1924 – two years after Lenin died and Stalin took over – that the importation of hashish was made illegal in the Russia, the largest republic in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  There had been a brief period of freedom during which the artists cut loose. Had there been hash on the scene at Mayakovsky's readings? Would Lenin have opposed prohibition? It’s not a question of whether he himself was puritanical. The fierce split with Stalin in the last year of his life focused on “the nationalities question.” Lenin had come to think that Ukraine and Georgia and all the republics should have real autonomy. Stalin, mad for private power, wanted control from Moscow. If Lenin had lived and prevailed, would hash have remained legal in Kazakhstan?

In 1928 Stalin, in total command, banned sales of hashīsh, opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine. According to Wikipedia, the forced collectivization of agriculture and liquidation of the kulaks (small farmers) resulted in “shrinking of acreage, low yields, reduction in the commodity share of gross collections.” Hemp-for-fiber production rebounded in the 1930s as World War Two approached. A few years later, in counterpoint to Reefer Madness, the US Department of Agriculture was urging farmers to grow “Hemp for Victory,” 

More from Wikipedia: “Entering the 20th century, use of cannabis (largely as hashish) was confined to Russia’s colonial acquisitions in Central Asia. In 1909, I. S. Levitov produced a pamphlet based on his studies in that region, noting that locals had used cannabis for six centuries or more, and that Russian colonists and cossacks had acquired the habit from the locals.”

In 1934 the USSR “banned the unauthorized cultivation of cannabis and of opium poppy. A direct ban on the illegal sowing or cultivation of Indian hemp was introduced by Article 225 of the RSFSR Criminal Code of 1960, while hemp continued to occupy a significant place in the total volume of agricultural production... It was not until the 1960s that the issue received much attention from the Soviet government.

“In 2004 the drug policy of Russia was liberalized... The possession limit for cannabis was set at 20 grams, so that less than this amount would be only an administrative offense with no threat of jail time. Previously, possessing even a single joint qualified as a criminal offense.

“In 2006 Russia again changed the possession limits for various drugs, but this time to lessen the amounts. In regards to cannabis, the amount that triggered a criminal offense was changed from 20 grams to 6 grams. Less than 6 grams qualified as an administrative offense punishable by a 5000 ruble fine or 15 days of detention.

McPartland on Russian MJ Prohibition

Dr. John McPartland, a leading Cannabis scholar, shared these notes from a work in progress:

A declassified CIA document reveals that “Soviet authorities grew alarmed in the 1970s, when ‘golden youth,’ including famous athletes, began using cannabis. Soviet authorities associated drug use with a waning of ideological beliefs. марихуана, marijuana, entered the Russian language from the USA. Манка, manka or munk, is a new word whose source is mysterious...”

A declassified 1986 CIA document reported that “the Soviets renewed efforts to eradicate Cannabis crops in the Central Asian Republics, the Caucasus (especially Georgia), and eastern Ukraine. 

“The 1979 invasion of Afghanistan exposed many Russians to cannabis and hashīsh. A survey of 3000 soldiers returning home revealed that 53% had used drugs, and hashīsh was the drug of choice. Russian troops purchased hashīsh at market bazaars in Kabul, Jalālābād, Herāt, and along the Kandahār-Chaman road. Soldiers returning from Afghanistan smuggled hashīsh by bribing border guards. Hashīsh spread throughout the USSR during the war. 

“In the 1980s Afghan War veterans became the nidus of a new drug problem in the Soviet Union. Cannabis became a substitute for alcohol, whose availability was being curtailed by the Soviet government. Draconian drug laws were enacted in 1987, and Soviet authorities began cooperating with narcotics agents in other countries. 

‘The USSR dissolved in 1991. The Russian Federation abolished criminal punishment for simple possession, but intensified efforts against cultivation and smuggling. Moscow invited DEA agents to train their police... In 1998 Russia enacted repressive laws against drug use. ‘Russian law now follows the American model’ (Akimov 2001). 

“Russian scientists have collected and tested Cannabis-killing insects in Siberia, with funding from the USDA. Today cannabis, hashīsh, and hash oil can be found anywhere in Russia. Large and sophisticated indoor grows have been discovered around Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

The class identity of the NY Times top editors was revealed Dec. 4 in a front page headline declaring that Congress had prevented a rail “shutdown.” What Congress had prevented was a “strike.” A shutdown could have been prevented by the railroads giving the workers paid sick leave. 

Later that morning on Democracy Now Amy Goodman played Joe Hill’s version of Casey Jones, in which the brave engineer is a scab, devoted to the Southern Pacific, disloyal to his fellow workers. The lyric was published in the IWW’s Little Red Songbook in 1912.  Tom Glazer recorded it on the Songs of Joe Hill, a 10-inch record produced by Folkways in the ‘50s. Amy played a bouncy version by a group called the Rabble Rousers. 

The workers on the S. P. line to strike sent out a call;
But Casey Jones, the engineer, he wouldn’t strike at all;
His boiler it was leaking, and its drivers on the bum,
And his engine and its bearings, they were all out of plumb.

Casey Jones kept his junk pile running;
Casey Jones was working double time;
Casey Jones got a wooden medal,
For being good and faithful on the S. P. line...

There’s something about a ballad – something about the form itself – that frees the writer from fidelity to the actual, literal facts. Historical accuracy is not an essential element in a ballad. In a film script – when Aaron Sorkin glorifies “the Chicago Seven,” for example, it’s outrageous because people are being miseducated. John Wesley Hardin may have been a cold killer, but when Bob Dylan adds a g to his name and describes him as a friend to the poor, it’s allowable. No harm, no foul. 

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