posted 29 Jun 2012, 01:21
Marijuana use dates back thousands of years, and is the most popular illicit drug in the world. Many societies in the past have smoked it recreationally and for medicinal purposes. Hemp, marijuana with very little THC, has been a very revolutionary tool for many of these societies as well. In fact, the growing of hemp traces back hundreds of years in North America to when our founding fathers grew it on their plantations. Hemp can be made into very durable rope, paper, clothing, and fuel as well as many other products. Hemp is also one of the oldest domesticated plants ever. So how could it ever attain the status of worldwide illegalization?
The first form of regulation of marijuana in the United States was in the 1850s, when cannabis preparations were distributed out of pharmacies. Stricter drug regulations also happened to follow marijuana regulations, such as penalties for mislabeling and “poison” labels for certain drug preparations. Supported by many big-name pharmacies of that time, marijuana fell under the category of a poison. State laws began to pass regulating marijuana, requiring a prescription for its use. Other states didn’t regulate it, but required a label on marijuana-containing products. These somewhat lax laws on marijuana drastically changed shortly into the 20th century.
Around 1910, several laws were passed heavily restricting the prescribed sale of marijuana and ridding the “poison” laws of their loopholes. A few years after these laws passed, more laws restricted use in some New England states. New York in particular released laws restricting all habit-forming drugs, including marijuana. These laws prohibited those addicted to a substance from prescribing someone else with the same substance, and lowered refill limits all medicines deemed “habit-forming.” Stricter drug laws spread to the West at this time as well.
California was the first state in the West to classify marijuana and marijuana-containing products as poison. The possession of such products was now a misdemeanor, although this infringed upon pharmaceutical cannabis use, and the law was quickly reformed to treat marijuana as the other poisons (available via prescription). Several states in the Southwest, Midwest, and South began passing laws involving marijuana also. One particular issue specific to the Southwestern U.S. was the growing tension between Americans and Mexican immigrants. As job competition between the two parties grew, these state laws were passed in an effort to drive out the marijuana-smoking Mexicans. The association between Mexican immigrants and marijuana fueled the racially-driven fire that would eventually lead to a national ban on marijuana.
In 1925, the Uniform State Narcotic Act was first drafted, although it wouldn’t come into effects until several years later. In the time period between came the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). The bureau encouraged states to adopt the act. Harry J. Anslinger, the head of the FBN, became the prominent figure in the national illegalization of narcotics, including marijuana. The anti-marijuana crusade that he perpetrated included a vast array of propagandized messages, in the form of posters, flyers, and short films. Anslinger claimed that marijuana use causes insanity, very angry, violent thoughts, and could lead to an intoxicated individual committing murders. Some ties were also made to blacks, claiming that black men high on marijuana are very likely to rape white women.
Anslinger Marijuana Propaganda
An example of Anslinger's propaganda.
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 federally illegalized possession and distribution of marijuana for recreation, but preserved medical use of it although it was heavily taxed. Industrial use of hemp was attacked by William Randolph Hearst, a writer of yellow journalism, and Andrew Mellon, the wealthiest man in America at that time. Mellon had heavily invested in nylon, a new and extremely innovative product for its time, a product of the DuPont company. Nylon’s number 1 competitor was hemp, and the hemp industry needed to be brought to its knees before nylon would be in the mainstream.
After the Boggs Act of 1952 and Narcotics Control Act of 1956 were passed, mandatory sentencing for marijuana possession was enacted. The two acts made a user’s first marijuana possession charge a minimum 2-10 year sentence with a maximum fine of $20,000. These mandatory charges, however, were repealed in 1970.
In 1973, Richard Nixon reordered the drug law agencies under one umbrella, in an attempt to centralize the problem. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was founded on July 1, 1973. California reduced its penalties for marijuana possession, and the state’s budget spent on the drug went down 74 percent.
The Reagan Administration reinstated mandatory sentences for marijuana possession and especially heavy trafficking under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The act was amended to operate under a three-strikes rule, creating a mandatory 25-year minimum prison sentence for a third serious offense, including drug distribution.
Yup, still doesn't work.
A breakthrough in 1996, Proposition 215, legalized medical marijuana under control of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative (OCBC). Two years after Prop. 215 passed, the United States federal government sued the OCBC for violating the federal crime of distributing marijuana. The case was won by the federal government on the grounds of federal law not permitting an exception for medical marijuana, and marijuana having “no currently accepted medical use.” It has since been ruled in an unrelated case that although an individual may be permitted to grow, distribute, and/or possess marijuana, he or she is not immune to federal punishment.
Today, marijuana legalization is gaining popularity amongst educated citizens. More knowledge is being transferred than ever thanks to technological advances such as the Internet, and factual education is more available than ever. Under the Obama administration, states breaking the marijuana federal laws are under less pressure than before, as their states’ rights are more honored over federal law. Although the future of marijuana looks positive (Well, from my point of view. :) ), it is a different battle every day, with new studies and arguments being released all the time. We must take things slowly and see what happens. One thing is for sure though: laws involving marijuana will always be a hot topic and never be permanent.