In the Beginning
The drugs that are outlawed today were made that way due to bigotry on the part of the then-leaders of the United States. Thankfully, the US (and, in fact, most of the world) have managed to shed our racist past and build a society in which all men and women are equal, especially in the eyes of the law. But the laws put in place as a result of the racist thinking of a time past remain with us today, a terrible reminder of the way our society was once so discriminatory. Why?
In 1875, the government of San Francisco became the first in the US to outlaw a specific narcotic: opium. This law was passed with a host of others in order to suppress the growing population of Chinese immigrants living in the city at the time. In particular, the government was concerned that these opium dens were "luring" respectable white women into interacting with Chinese men and women, and in some cases they even engaged in sexual relations with them. At the time, this sort of interracial relationship was exceedingly taboo. Thus, the current legal standing of opium has nothing to do with potential health risks or any other reasonable argument. It simply was a way to discriminate against Chinese-Americans.
Only a few decades later, similar arguments were brought to bear against the African-American community. Cocaine, which was rising in popularity among blacks, scared the all-white, all-male American government. A physician wrote in 1914:
"...once the Negro has reached the stage of being a 'dope [cocaine] taker' ... he is a constant menace to his community until he is eliminated."
Newspapers referred to blacks who used cocaine as "Negro Cocaine Fiends" and "Cocainized Niggers." Police officers were quoted as saying, "The cocaine nigger sure is hard to kill." In fact, police increased the standard calibers of their guns (from .32 to .38) specifically to combat the cocaine-using blacks that they imagined to be running loose in the countryside, killing white men and raping white women. Hundreds of black men were lynched during this craze, despite the fact that little evidence exists that such crimes were committed (under the influence of cocaine or otherwise).
African-Americans continue to be oppressed today by discriminatory drug laws. It is not surprising, however, given that most of these laws were created during a time of such extreme racism in the United States.
Following the precedent set by outlawing of opium, cocaine, and alcohol in the first few decades of the 20th century, lawmakers now turned their eyes towards the Latino community in the rapidly expanding midwest. Marijuana (or as it was called then, "Marihuana") became associated with Hispanic persons and other (as was then thought) "inferior" races.
A Neoteric Approach
Once we come to realize that the laws in place today originated via the flawed thinking of bigoted minds, the next logical step is to re-examine all of our existing legislation, and try to determine the best approach to our society's regulation and legal control regarding mind-altering chemicals. If we take the time to reconsider our stand, and then take action to reflect the approach that we decide upon, only then can we say that we have purged ourselves of our shameful and racist past.