President Ulysses S. Grant’s Timeless Observations On “Possession Of The Weed” And Ineffectiveness Of Prohibition

President Ulysses S. Grant’s timeless observations on:

* An “unjust war”
* Smuggling across our border with Mexico
* “Possession of the weed” and ineffectiveness of prohibition

by George Rohrbacher, NORML Board Member
April 27th is Ulysses S. Grant’s 186th birthday. The man buried in Grant’s Tomb still has insights to share with today’s candidates hoping to serve in the White House, and for all of us who would vote for them.
Grant won an appointment to West Point so he might further his education. He detested the work at his father’s tannery. His aspirations were to become a college mathematics professor. He had no designs on the military as a profession. But as fate would have it, Grant became one of American history’s great generals, commander of all Federal forces the last year of Civil War and, at the age of 46, President of the United States.
While in excruciating pain, broke, and dying from throat cancer, Grant wrote his memoirs in an attempt to leave an income for his widow. His good friend, Mark Twain, published them after his death. They were a huge commercial and critical success, ranking today among the best military autobiographies ever written.
In September of 1845, arriving with the invading United States Army at the Mexican boarder on the Nueces River, Grant reported on the very active business of smuggling. Illegal trade was the town of Corpus Christi’s primary reason for existence. But unlike today, the flow of the 19th century smuggling was from the United States into Mexico, not the other way around! Grant says, “The price was enormously high, and made successful smuggling very profitable. The trade in tobacco was enormous considering the population supplied.” The Mexican government maintained a tax monopoly on tobacco sales, which created a huge black market economic opportunity for those who would take the initiative, break the law, and supply the demand.
Second lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant’s plans of returning to West Point to teach math had been dashed by the outbreak of the Mexican War. In the annexation of Texas, Grant said: “For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies…The occupation, separation, and annexation were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union…The Southern rebellion was largely an outgrowth of the Mexican War. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war in modern times. ” The Civil War cost more than 600,000 American lives and its economic effects were felt in the South for a century afterward.
President Grant’s skepticism bristles at the ineffectiveness of prohibition as a means of regulating drug use: “I know from my own experience that when I was at West Point, the fact that tobacco, in every form, was prohibited, and the mere possession of the weed severely punished, made the majority of the cadets, myself included, try to acquire the habit of using it.” Human behavior in this arena hasn’t changed over the last century-and-a-half. Updating Grant’s account from the mid-19th Century to today is quite easy—substitute the new smuggled, prohibited weed, marijuana, for tobacco, and Ulysses S. Grant’s observations are then perfectly up-to-date—back to the future with our 18th President.
Grant’s West Point prohibition axiom has also been shown true in this century by the very opposite approach taken in the Netherlands—that of allowing adults open access to a “prohibited weed”, cannabis. During the entire 30-year Dutch pot experience, without prohibition pressures themselves expanding use, teen and adult marijuana usage rates are, and have remained, substantially lower than they are in the United States where, under a strict system of prohibition, we arrest 830,000 people per year in America’s failed attempt to control cannabis use among our adults.
Since the start of Nixon’s drug war in 1965, we’ve arrested nearly 20 million Americans for marijuana offenses, 89%-90% for possession only. It is time to end America’s insane war on marijuana, our long-running “unjust war”, because “nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions.” Our punishment for this war on marijuana comes complete with a human carnage of over-flowing courts and prisons, oceans of untaxed commerce, and, at times, actual war in our streets.
“Let there be peace,” the last line of his nomination acceptance letter, became Grant’s winning slogan for the 1868 presidential campaign. Let there be peace. What else could be said then after America’s bloodiest and costliest war? Here we are in the 21st Century after more than 70 years of America’s longest war, the war on marijuana, and 20 million civilian casualties, isn’t it time we go back to the future and try “let there be peace” in 2008? End the war on marijuana. Tax and regulate instead.
Quotes are from Grant’s Memoirs, 1885, italics added.
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