The History of Marijuana
The Devil’s Lettuce
Marijuana is the devil’s lettuce. Mexican immigrants brought the reefer madness to the United States in the 1920s! It will cause a rage, a crazed hatred, and possibly death! Well, that’s what the powers of the 1920s would have you believe about weed. The current state of marijuana in this country is a mixed bag. There are 27 states that currently allow medical use of marijuana in the United States and 7 states that allow the recreational use of marijuana. Even given the states allowing its use, the federal government still classifies it as a schedule 1 drug. Marijuana is increasingly being researched by scientist, in the public and private sector. As the data mounts in our understanding of marijuana, it’s perplexing to see how legislation for its availability is seemingly lagging behind a growing consensus surrounding marijuana safety and potential. The reasons behind this are many, and the history of marijuana is a good place to start.
The History, The Government, The DEA and The Public.
The definition of a schedule 1 drug is defined as “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” by the DEA’s website. Now, I just want to point out the absurdity of this classification, when cocaine, oxycodone, fentanyl, and methamphetamine are all schedule 2 drugs. The simple pot plant is considered more addictive than these drugs, and additionally, it has less medical value than them. These outrageous claims have no basis in scientific fact and are rooted in a racism and anti-immigration sentiment of the 1920/30s. Currently, there is a heroin and opiate epidemic in this country, and marijuana is considered the more dangerous drug by our government based on its scheduling. That in and alone is beyond logic and reason!
Let’s explore the roots of cannabis in this country. In the 1800s and early 1900s, cannabis was sold by many pharmacies and apothecaries (yes, apothecaries) in processed manners such as hashish, liquid droplets, and topical oils/lotions. These products were sold to the public as means to alleviate pain, nauseated feelings, discomfort, etc. without the need of a doctor’s prescription, nor were these products regulated by any government agency for effectiveness, safety, or any other modern requirement for drugs on the market. Labeling of over-the-counter marijuana products was not required by the government until the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. Until the 1920s, marijuana was considered harmless and thought of as a beneficial drug for common uses.
In the 1910s, the anti-marijuana forces in the United States began associating Mexican immigrants escaping the Mexican Revolution with marijuana leaf smoking. They used the marijuana plant as a scapegoat and means to paint these immigrants as violent and horrible criminals. This culminated in the 1930s with a flurry of bogus research linking marijuana use to crimes and unscrupulous behavior. Harry J. Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was the main proponent of the ban on marijuana (some even say as a means to stay in the position). As head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he pushed states to pass the Uniform State Narcotic Act which would ban the use of marijuana recreationally and in research at the state level. By 1931, 29 states had banned marijuana based on this false narrative being peddled to the masses. If only we had rational, objective scientist in government making these types of decisions back then, even though not much has changed in that regard now. In 1936 the movie “Reefer Madness” was produced and further peddled the false narrative that marijuana will cause rage, madness, anger, and death! This got into the American psyche and never left.
The federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 effectively making marijuana illegal in the country nationwide. The tax was later found to be illegal by the Supreme Court due to the way in which it excised the tax from the person who purchased the marijuana. In order to be taxed to make the purchase legal, one needed to first purchase the marijuana then present it to the government to tax it. However, the way the law was worded, you needed to pay the tax before you purchased the marijuana. You can see the problem with the law is that you needed to break the law to pay the tax to not break the law. This is why it was thrown out in the 1960s to help spur on the counter culture revolution!
During this time of illegality, the 1944 La Guardia Report published by New York Academy of Medicine stated that the previous studies on marijuana were flawed, and in fact, marijuana did not induce violence, cause criminality, have addictive qualities and was NOT a gateway drug! In fact, in the 1940s, to help the US war effort, farmers were given hemp seeds and subsidized to grow the plant on their land for the production war materials such as rope, parachutes, and other supplies. The hypocrisy of the government should never cease to amaze you when it needs something from its citizenry. The 1950s, the introduction of stricter sentencing laws, including minimum sentences for possession were instituted. These laws were later removed due to their ineffectiveness in deterring the use of marijuana. A motif that will be later reinstituted in the 1980s and shown to fail in our current day and age (i.e. The War on Drugs).
Some New, and More of The Old.
The 1960s brought forth the counterculture and the prevalent use of marijuana in middle-class white America. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson both commissioned reports that indicated that marijuana was safe, did not induce violence, and NOT a gateway drug. In 1970, Congress repealed the mandatory minimum sentence laws that were widely seen to do NOTHING to eliminate “drug culture”. Congress even passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act that separated marijuana from worse drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and other truly addictive drugs.
These forward thinking, progressive ideas were brought to a crushing defeat by, in my opinion, the worst President to ever serve the US: Richard Nixon (I cite: the war on drugs, the expansion of the Vietnam War, the opening of Red China without any restraints or bargaining, the demonization of the counterculture, the removal of the Gold Standard… I could go on, but I digress.) The Shafer Commission recommended that marijuana be decriminalized, but Nixon outright ignored the recommendation and pushed for harsher laws. The motive for his actions can be summed up by a quote by one Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did!”
These horrid policies were upheld and expanded by President Regan (another terrible president if you truly look at his policies and the effect they had on the longer-term economy and country). He and Nancy Regan started the “Just Say No” campaign and instituted new mandatory minimum sentencing which disproportionately affects African-Americans and minority groups. These laws disrupted their communities and made pariahs out of black and Hispanic men. Currently, we are seeing the devastation of these communities by these laws, and there is push back now to decriminalize marijuana and reduce/eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Marijuana Today and Its Potential
Currently, the environment for marijuana is progressing in the sane and correct direction ever since California passed a law legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. There are 29 states where medical marijuana is legal and 9 in which recreational use is legal. There are still obstacles to researching with the plant, but there is significant push back by the scientific community to understand its palliative effects for chemotherapy, its use in seizures syndromes, and even the effects it may have on psychological conditions such as PTSD. My university has been endowed with over $4.5 million to begin research into the medical uses of marijuana. However, with Donald Drumpf’s pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, coming into power, there is no telling what will happen. (Politico Reports: “As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK “were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In April, he said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that it was a “very real danger” that is “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”) Hopefully, we can learn from the past mistakes on marijuana, and not regress back to the dark ages.
http://www.governing.com/gov-data/state-marijuana-laws-map-medical-recreational.html (Image 3)