Medical Marijuana has been politicized, demonized and made federally illegal in the United States starting in the 1900’s. But why? Why did a plant that had been used medically and recreationally by humans for thousands of years all of a sudden become illegal?
The answer is relatively complicated and overtly racist of the US government. In short, the United States used propaganda (Reefer Madness in 1937) to condemn it as a drug used by Mexican-American workers claiming it incited violent behavior towards white Americans. Additionally in 1937, Congress introduced the Marijuana Tax Act, which deterred doctors from prescribing medical marijuana to patients by making it extremely expensive.
In 1970, we saw a law passed known as ‘The Controlled Substances Act” as part of President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs. This is what defined the scheduling of drugs we see today, specifically the schedule 1 status of marijuana along with Heroin, LSD, etc. Disregarding many pleas from the Shafer Commission (the investigative body on marijuana) to decriminalize and approve the study of cannabis, Nixon rejected the report all together. He instead decided to utilize Marijuana as a tool to imprison the counterculture, African Americans, and any opponents on the left. A report from his own Domestic Policy Chief states:
“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,” Ehrlichman continued.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black people, 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.”
-John Ehrlichman | Domestic Policy Chief of the Nixon Administration
Nixon continued by creating the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which cracked down heavily on drug users as well as created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This directive resulted in our current rate of non-violent drug crimes resulting in extended prison sentences. In 1973, close to 300,000 non-violent drug users were being put behind bars daily in the United States due to this legislation.
Nearly every President has carried some form of Nixon’s war on drugs over to their platform. There were several attempts to legalize medical use for doctors to prescribe, however, federal crackdowns mainly prevented any movement on the issue. It was due to citizen support, lobbying, activism and ballot initiatives that really started moving the wheel for legalization. This began with the Baby Boomer generation experimenting with marijuana and realizing it is not the vilified plant the government says it is.
This knowledge and credible reports of the medicinal application of cannabis led to the creation of groups like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML for short. NORML promotes grassroots campaigns and education in order to facilitate legalization on the state level. Despite their efforts, the reform really began in 1996 with a with the passage of California’s Compassionate Use Act making cannabis available for medical purposes. In 2012, Colorado began paving the path forward to legalization with the passing of Amendment 64, which decriminalized the use of Marijuana and called for the reassessment for recreational use.
Many states have since followed suit. As of today, 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and 8 of them have legalized it for recreational use. It not only is being seen as a benefit for medical purposes, but also as a needed source or increased jobs and tax revenue in States that have legalized for adult use.
In conclusion, due to highly politicized propaganda and personal vendettas of appointed officials, the United States public has been led to believe that cannabis is a vile drug and has no medical application. Unfortunately, this is something we have been led to believe vs. being able to study the facts. Its medicinal properties have been documented for centuries. In fact the US Government issued a patent to the Department of Health and Human Services in 1999 patenting Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. The same US Government that keep cannabinoids on the Schedule 1 drug list proclaiming it has no medical benefit.
Thankfully the grassroots movements of NORML, the public outcry and the state level governments are making efforts to stop the war on drugs that has unfairly imprisoned countless citizens for petty drug use. It is also providing the ability for many to try cannabis as a more natural medical approach to disease, health and wellness.
To learn more on the ancient history of cannabis, click here.