As the day dawns on 4/20 and cannabis is celebrated the world round, take a moment to consider a moment captured 34 years ago.
It was the summer of 1988 and the cannabis growers of the Emerald Triangle had become attuned to the thwock-thwock of helicopters and growl of diesel engines that preceded raids conducted by armed agents. Dozens of armed men in tactical gear would chop down their plants. Their income would be reduced to compost in hours.
The Campaign Against Marijuana Program, a united effort between state, local, and federal law enforcement, was formalized in 1983 and dedicated to eradicating black-market cannabis.
An annual report from that year celebrated that after five years of work agents had conducted over 3,600 raids throughout the Golden State and destroyed “1,600 tons of marijuana worth over $1.9 billion”.
California Attorney General Van de Kemp is quoted in the report telling CAMP leaders at a conference that cannabis growers are now getting the message: “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
Police militarization has come under the microscope in our era of accountability. An image from the 1988 report demonstrates CAMP had framed itself as soldiers fighting a war worth-fighting.
A scrum of uniformed men in the dry heat of NorCal summer stands atop a pile of cannabis, raising California’s Bear Republic flag above. Evoking the historic image of soldiers raising Old Glory on Iwo Jima, these CAMP agents framed a photo that communicated force, strength, and dominance.
Now, 34 years later, California is paying grants to cannabis growers that were once raided by CAMP. The Emerald Triangle’s growers are navigating a legal market governed by state actors while the old-timers acutely remember struggling to feed their families after CAMP paid them a visit.
We’ve come a long way since that time. As cannabis gains acceptance and legalization, the outlaw era could seem quaint and old-fashioned. Today, if you are celebrating cannabis, remember our community’s close connections to America’s War on Drugs.