Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana Legalization: A Brief History

Today in Cannabinoids Garden we are going to learn about marijuana legalization. We hope that the following article will teach you in a short read the long history of marijuana legalization. Just like a rolling stone…

Note from the Editor:

The rapidity with which Americans are currently debating legalizing marijuana has surprised everyone. However, in the middle of this movement in public perception and state law, it’s important remembering how quickly marijuana was rendered illegal. This month, Stephen Siff examines how political and ethnic reasons, as well as how marijuana users were depicted in the media, contributed to the “illegalization” of cannabis over the twentieth century.

More on American current events and history may be found in Origins: NSA and Surveillance, “Class Warfare” in American Politics, Detroit and America’s Urban Woes, High Unemployment, Populist politics and American Politics, Immigration Laws, American Political Redistricting, and the Prohibition Anniversary.

Colorado became the very first state to allow marijuana shops to sell weed for recreational use on January 1, 2014. Celebratory stoners around the state ushered in the New Year by line up at licensed stores to purchase bags of (heavily taxed) artisanal marijuana with names like Pineapple Express & Alaskan Thunderbolt.

Since 1996, when the first statewide medical marijuana legislation went into force in California, the number of Americans having legal access to what is, for many, a delightful substance has increased gradually.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia now authorize the sale of different forms of marijuana for medical purposes; in the past few months, the governor of New York, a state notorious for its harsh drug laws since 1973, announced that he too would seek accommodations for medical marijuana; and recreational marijuana is expected to be available for purchase in Washington State later this year.

Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is now considered a civil crime in the District of Columbia. Indeed an impressive step for South Carolina when it comes to marijuana legalization

In the least restrictive jurisdictions, purchasing medical marijuana requires a quick visit to a “pot doc” — a licensed physician who specializes in prescribing marijuana and can be found through online and newspaper advertisements — for the diagnosis of any of dozens of conditions, such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal discomfort, and depression, which the drug is believed to alleviate.

Medical marijuana remains firmly within the domain of alternative medicine, and particular claims have been confirmed by few clinical research.

After paying a $100 consultation fee, prospective medical marijuana patients are handed a card that lets them to buy at dispensaries or order from delivery services that provide Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa cultivars, as well as potions, baked goods, and candies containing its extracts.

With the present campaign for marijuana legalization at the state level, voters appear to have circumvented the twentieth century’s pursuit of prohibition, which has become more difficult to explain or defend.

Consider that marijuana remains on the federal government’s list of Schedule I medications, the most hazardous of the prohibited narcotics, and is designated as carrying a serious risk of addiction, despite the fact that many physicians disagree.

In contrast to alcohol, heavy marijuana use has not been definitively linked to aggressive conduct or ill health. Under federal law, as a Schedule I narcotic, marijuana is believed to have no medicinal value, despite thousands of patient testimonials to the contrary.

And probably the greatest irony of all is that from the beginning of the century-long prohibition movement, marijuana has become enormously popular. Every year, hundreds of thousands of unfortunate individuals risk criminal penalties for being discovered with a substance that one-third of all Americans have tried at least once, including college students, professional sports, legions of entertainers, and the three most recent U.S. presidents. The substance has become considered as harmless fun in popular culture. On cable television in 2014, a talk show host and a former lawmaker may joke about using marijuana.

As Americans contemplate further marijuana legalization, it is worthwhile to examine how and why this plant’s usage was made illegal in the first place, and why prohibition endures in much of the country more than half a century after its widespread use.

While marijuana usage has been an urgent matter of discussion in our nation for more than a century, physicians and scientists have been mainly silent. Instead, media representations of drug usage and the politicians and advocacy groups who backed them have affected the discussion.

From prevalent to illegal

In states with the most permissive marijuana laws, residents’ access to the substance mimics that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, prior to the first attempts at federal control.

Similar to opiates and cocaine, cannabis was easily accessible in drug stores as both a liquid and a refined substance, hashish. Cannabis was also a frequent component in patent medications and over-the-counter mixtures prepared according to private formulations around the start of the twentieth century.

In the past, as in the present, it was impossible to differentiate between therapeutic and recreational usage of a substance whose objective is to make you feel good. The hashish candy promoted as a remedy for uneasiness and depression in an 1862 edition of Vanity Fair was also “a delightful and harmless stimulant.” Under its impact, all classes appear to get new inspiration and vitality, according to the commercial.

Even though there were cannabis fads during the nineteenth century, recreational usage was not commonly recognized or tolerated.

During this time period, American druggists were familiar with hashish and other cannabis concoctions, and the marijuana plant was widely farmed for the hemp fiber needed to make rope and ship riggings.

However, the habit of smoking marijuana leaves in cigarettes or pipes was essentially unknown in the United States until Mexican immigrants brought it in the early twentieth century. This introduction prompted a response in the United States, probably tainted with anti-Mexican bigotry.

1906 was the first effort at federal marijuana control, with the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act. The statute listed cannabis among the chemicals that patent medicine makers were compelled to include on their labels, so that customers may avoid it if they were concerned.

Then, between 1914 and 1925, twenty-six states prohibited the plant by legislation. The anti-marijuana legislation were generally uncontroversial and enacted without much public outrage or parliamentary discussion.

In the 1920s, buoyed by their success in passing alcohol prohibition, temperance activists shifted their focus to opiates and cocaine, which had become illegal under the Supreme Court’s increasingly harsh interpretations of the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act.

Former Spanish-American War veteran Richmond P. Hobson, who was the highest-paid public speaker for the Anti-Saloon League, started to warn of the grave danger presented by drugs to national survival and national identity. Newspapers and periodicals carried melodramatic and sensationalized articles about the dangers of narcotics addiction and the harrowing plight of individuals ensnared by drugs.

Following a drug incident in Hollywood in 1921, William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers started what would become an annual war against drugs with a hyperbolic and tear-jerking narrative by “sob sister” Winifred Black, well known by her pen name Annie Laurie.

Hearst’s efforts, timed to coincide with Hobson’s annual Narcotic Education Week, exploited a new angle throughout the latter half of the decade: portraying marijuana as the mostly unknown substance of murder, torture, and heinous cruelty (such as this example from 1930).

There is no evidence that Hearst was more racist than would be anticipated of a man of his period and place, despite the fact that Hearst’s prohibition of marijuana was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that immigrants and the lower class smoked it.

The link of murder, torture, and senseless violence with marijuana was not supported by facts or real incidents, but rather by the imaginative imaginations of journalists tasked with sensationalizing the old narrative of drug abuse and addiction. Prior to a few decades ago, the public was familiar with opiates due to their extensive medical usage and with cocaine because to their prevalence in drugstore concoctions, such as Coca-Cola.

Journalists, politicians, police officers, and middle-class readers lacked the same familiarity with cannabis, allowing it to become the vehicle for their worst fears: addictive, personality-destroying, and violent. A new “murder” drug must have appeared like a godsend to the writers tasked in the 1920s with writing annual anti-drug rants for Hearst’s notoriously dramatic publications.

The End of Prohibition, But Not for Drugs

In the 1930s, the nation’s leading anti-drug official took up the fight against marijuana. Let’s see what this means regarding marijuana legalization at that time.

Ironically, Harry J. Anslinger, a former assistant commissioner of the Prohibition Bureau who led the U.S. Treasury Department’s Narcotics Bureau from 1930 to 1962, initially opposed federal legislation banning marijuana because he anticipated that his agency would have difficulty enforcing it.

However, Anslinger sought to capitalize on marijuana-related anxieties while pushing a public relations effort to support the enactment of standard anti-drug laws in all 48 states. Later, he advocated for the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.

In his testimony before Congress, Anslinger cited what became known as his “gore file” of purported murders and rapes perpetrated by persons under the influence of marijuana. (It was assumed that the marijuana was a causative role in the crime.) “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and acts of maniacal lunacy it produces annually can only be estimated,” wrote Anslinger in a 1937 piece titled “Marijuana, the Assassin of Youth” for American Magazine.

It was no accident that the horror film Reefer Madness was released a year earlier.

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which controlled the drug by forcing sellers to pay a transfer tax, was approved by the House after less than a half-hour of discussion and garnered scant coverage in the press. Members of the House appear to have known nothing about the substance. In answer to a query from another member, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) stated that marijuana was “some sort of narcotic,” although Representative John D. Dingle (D-Michigan) seemed to mistake it with locoweed, a different plant.

Congressmen accused a spokesperson of the American Medical Association of obstructionism and misrepresenting the AMA’s position during hearings.

Anslinger advocated for strong legal sanctions against the use of narcotics, especially marijuana, and sought covertly to suppress or discredit studies that contradicted his views on the dangers of these substances or the efficacy of prohibition.

In 1944, when New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and also the New York Academy of Medicine concluded that marijuana was merely a minor intoxicant, Anslinger commissioned an essay in the American Journal of Psychiatry to dispute the conclusion.

Fourteen years later, Anslinger attempted to suppress the publishing of a joint American Bar Association-American Medical Group report suggesting that possession penalties were excessively severe. Indiana University Press finally released the paper after narcotics agents forced the original sponsor to withdraw funds.

In the 1950s, politicians and journalists shown little tolerance or curiosity for distinguishing between illicit narcotics. Heroin, cocaine, and marijuana were all referred to as “dope” because they were deadly, addictive, terrifying, and nasty.

The Children Are Safe? Marijuana Comes to Campus

Midway through the 1960s, perceptions of drugs shifted as reports of a new sort of marijuana smoker, college students, increased.

Along with uppers and downers — amphetamine and barbiturate tablets that had grown commonplace in practically every section of American society — journalists discovered that the children of America’s middle class were experimenting with marijuana.

The significant increase in juvenile marijuana usage throughout the 1960s had no one explanation. Observers have witnessed rebellion against the principles of the preceding generation and the Vietnam War, respect for the free-spirited Beats, and the freedom resulting from an abundance of material prosperity and leisure time.

Many young people viewed marijuana usage as a harmless pastime, maybe the more so since it was illegal. The moderate pleasures of the substance seemed to contradict the reasoning behind its prohibition.

By 1965, the campus drug pandemic dominated the front pages of newspapers, though neither journalists nor politicians were eager to lock up America’s brightest and finest for what increasingly appeared to be a minor misdemeanor.

In the 1960s, even Anslinger acknowledged that the then-existing criminal penalties for juvenile marijuana usage were excessive. In 1967, not just hippie activists but even mainstream publications including as Life, Newsweek, and Look questioned why the plant was even outlawed.

The number of marijuana arrests at the state level increased exponentially between 1965 and 1970. And we seem to be moving away from a positive step for marijuana legalization.

The “Law and Order” Presidency and Drugs

Richard Nixon, who was elected president in 1968 on the promise of restoring “law and order” to a nation shaken by riots, rallies, and assassinations, actively recruited journalists and media executives to engage in what he announced to be a War Against Drug Abuse. A strong step against marijuana legalization.

The public relations campaign included attempts to get radio broadcasters to stop playing drug-themed music and the recruitment of television star Art Linkletter and (strangely) pill-popping Elvis Presley as anti-drug advocates. Presley never actually worked for the anti-drug campaign, but he did ask Nixon for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs identification badge. )

At a White House dinner for television executives in 1970, Nixon received assurances that anti-drug messages would be placed into twenty prime-time programs, ranging from “Hawaii Five-O” to “Marcus Welby, M.D.” (Before this period, television programming, like studio films, eschewed drug-related subject matter.) In 1971, the Nixon government obtained $37 million worth of advertising space for anti-drug messaging by putting pressure on television stations and sponsors.

During the Nixon administration, changes in federal drug policy reduced penalties for certain types of drug offenses, while expanding the powers of law enforcement (including the creation of no-knock and late-night search warrants) and restructuring the federal anti-drug agencies to be more directly responsive to White House control.

In 1970, Congress approved the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which placed marijuana in the category of substances with the strictest restrictions and no permitted medicinal usage. An Assistant Secretary of Health advised reclassifying marijuana awaiting a report by the Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, led by former Pennsylvania governor Raymond Shafer and composed of members nominated by the president, speaker of the House, and president pro tempore of the Senate.

The study, which was published in its final form in 1973, urged for an end to criminal sanctions for marijuana possession as well as an end to the government’s anti-drug education programs, which it criticized as a waste of money. A strong call for the marijuana legalization. Nixon exerted pressure on Shafer to reject the committee’s conclusions, and the president declined to accept the report in public, as captured on White House tapes.

Nixon’s director of the Narcotics Treatment Administration recounted to Frontline documentarians that when he entered the administration, the president informed him, “You’re the drug expert, not me, on all issues except marijuana decriminalization. If you even indicate that you favor decriminalization, you are over. Everything else is up to you to determine. But this one, I assure you, is the real deal.”

Nixon’s aversion to marijuana has a tautological component. The president, who preferred mixed cocktails, disliked marijuana because it was illegal, and he believed that to consume it was to accept the anarchy that was sweeping the nation.

Nixon told Linkletter in a private conversation captured by the White House’s secret recording system, “Believe me, it is true, the thing about the drug [marijuana] is that once people cross that line from [unintelligible] straight society to the drug society, there is a very good chance they will go further.” “You see, homosexuality, drug use, and general wickedness. These are the antagonists of a robust society. “This is why communists and leftists are promoting this material; they are attempting to destroy us.”

As the particular fears that motivated anti-marijuana legislation dissipated, attitudes toward marijuana prohibition became a litmus test for attitudes about the relationship between law and personal judgment. The laws gave the drug an extra attraction for youth experimenting with rebellion, but within the logic of “law and order,” disrespect for the law seemed to be the root of many problems. Nixon claimed that the anti-war protestors were “all on drugs.”

In the 1970s, Attitudes Softened!

In the early and middle 1970s, despite Nixon’s unwavering anti-marijuana attitude, there was a growing agreement that criminal sanctions for marijuana were counter to the public interest, and medical and legal professionals questioned the rationality of draconian anti-marijuana legislation.

The National Parent Teacher Association Congress, the American Medical Association, the American Bar, the American Public Health Association, the National Education Association, and the National Council of Churches all adopted resolution in support of decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana. Consumers Union and the Committee for Economic Development concurred.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the conservative National Review all supported decriminalization in editorials. The film Reefer Madness, which had been developed to terrify the public about the dangers of marijuana, was now being presented as a comedy on the midnight cinema circuit by pro-drug activists.

President Jimmy Carter advocated for the marijuana legalization in 1977, when the drug’s usage had become so ubiquitous and its worries so antiquated. In a 1977 address to Congress, Carter stated that anti-marijuana laws inflict more harm to cannabis smokers than the substance itself.

The Media & Drugs In The Age of “Just Say No”

Nonetheless, not everyone was happy with the growing ubiquity of drugs and the relaxing of attitudes toward them.

In 1976, Marsha “Keith” Schuchard and her husband Ronald were shocked to discover that their 13-year-old daughter used marijuana. A difficult problem arises here for marijuana legalization as a result of the girl’s act. Together with Sue Rusche, a neighbor in their Atlanta suburbia area, Schuchard founded Families in Action, a parents’ organization that supported anti-drug education and zero-tolerance measures.

Within a few years, they had established organizations that provided assistance to tens of thousands of similar groups around the nation. Under contract with the government National Institute on Drug Abuse, Schuchard authored Parents, Peers, and Pot, a handbook for parent organizations. By 1983, over one million copies had been circulated, and over four thousand parent groups had been established.

Schuchard declared in her book that her intention was to shield mentally susceptible youngsters from a popular culture that drove them into drug use, and not to argue for adult prohibition. However, the difference was lost by politicians who capitalized on the popularity of the movement.

As governor of California, Ronald Reagan opposed the marijuana legalization, and as president, he exhibited little compassion for drug usage or users.

In the 1980s, Congress approved three significant anti-drug pieces of legislation, each one more punishing than the last. Reagan advocated for drug testing in schools and workplaces in 1986 to guarantee that they were “drug-free.”

As in the past, the widespread dread of “drugs” differentiated primarily between abstainers and criminals. Drugs were narcotics, but federal sentencing standards made some drugs much worse.

During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the White House launched a large anti-drug media campaign, which was quickly joined by nonprofit and independent organizations. In 1982, Nancy Reagan unveiled her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign slogan at an elementary school, shortly after her husband’s victory to the presidency.

In the subsequent years, Nancy Reagan delivered the phrase at rallies and public appearances around the country, in public service announcements created by the Ad Council, on thousands of billboards, and on dozens of talk shows.

During this time, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which sent police into schools to teach against drugs, was also established, as were anti-drug groups in several schools.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which was created in 1985 by a group of advertising professionals, released its “This is your brain on drugs” public service announcements a few years later.

The media onslaught must also include the White House-sponsored music video “Stop the Madness” featuring New Edition, LaToya Jackson, and Whitney Houston, as well as a brief cameo by Nancy Reagan.

Government polls revealed a drop in drug usage during the 1980s, but eradicating “the plague of drugs” remained an effective campaign topic for George H. W. Bush’s 1988 presidential bid.

Concern over drug usage appeared to peak in September of the following year, when 64 percent of respondents to a New York Times/CBS News survey listed drugs as the nation’s most serious problem, shortly after Bush delivered a speech on the matter from the Oval Office.

The anti-drug media campaign extended long into the 1990s, in every conceivable medium, from television to T-shirts to milk cartons, as a cause seemingly devoid of political implications.

Inconclusive evidence suggests that anti-drug media initiatives were effective in lowering drug usage. A study of the National Kids Anti-Drug Media Campaign from 1998 to 2004 revealed that the $1.2 billion federal project was ineffective in reducing drug use among youth and may have had the opposite impact on certain adolescents by arousing their interest.

Numerous studies revealed little evidence that the DARE program lowered youth drug use. As a result, the program was discontinued in many regions of the country.

These efforts appear to have been successful in bringing attention to the drug problem and sustaining public interest. Even for a president like Bill Clinton, who confessed consuming (but not inhaling) marijuana, continuing to warn the public about the peril and promising a never-ending campaign to combat it must have sounded more politically advantageous than advocating a compromise.

Clinton’s drug czar, Barry McCaffery, paid $25 million to five major television networks in 1998 and 1999 for inserting anti-drug messages into certain prime-time shows, with the White House vetting and approving scripts in advance.

Just Say No - First Lady Nancy Reagan
While riding horses alongside her husband, President Ronald Reagan, the First Lady Nancy Reagan reveals her views on drugs.

The Path toward Marijuana Legalization?

There were still Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, and Cheech and Chong in the media throughout the last several decades, but decades of relentless anti-drug propaganda have made it extremely difficult for anybody to convincingly promote something called “drugs.”

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there have been enduring connections between political choices about drug policy and efforts to sway public opinion.

Fascinatingly, in contrast to the anti-drug campaigns of former years, today’s liberalization initiatives have been mostly successful by reframing marijuana as medicine and concentrating on the economic and social consequences of incarceration caused by drug prohibitions.

Approximately 800,000 Americans are jailed annually for marijuana-related crimes, primarily possession. This engagement with the criminal justice system can result in the loss of eligibility for federal student aid and subsidized housing, among other significant repercussions.

And the “three-strikes laws,” which 22 states and the federal government passed between 1993 and 1995 and which mandated stiff prison sentences for a person convicted of a third felony, ensure that marijuana offenses can lead to dire results.

Although black and white Americans consume marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are nearly four times more likely to be jailed for it.

In a January interview with The New Yorker, President Obama stated, “It’s crucial for society not to have a scenario where the majority of individuals have broken the law, but only a few are punished.”

In addition, all taxpayers contribute the billions of dollars necessary annually to enforce anti-marijuana laws and penalize violators. The prohibition of marijuana has significant repercussions, despite the fact that cannabis frequently elicits laughter.

Insofar as these reasons to stop the illegalization of marijuana have been compelling, voter initiatives rather than the efforts of politicians have been primarily responsible.

Additional liberalization is probable. According to Gallup, 58 percent of Americans now favor for marijuana legalization. This is the first time the company has registered a majority in favor of legalizing since it began asking the issue in 1969.

It seems doubtful that “taking drugs” will become socially acceptable in the near future. But smoking a joint? Maybe.

Depending on the state in which you raise the question, it may already be acceptable.

We hope you enjoyed learning with us about marijuana legalization. You might also be interested in reading about the Cannabis Slang’s Evolution. Until next time, yours, Cannabinoids Garden.

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