Aside from politics, few subjects are more divisive than discussion about the legalization of marijuana. The truth is blurred by swirling conspiracy theories, misinformation, passionate but misinformed defenders and deeply ingrained concerns.
In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215. This was the first modern legislation that legalized marijuana for medical purposes at the state level. Since that time many other states have emulated California. In general this has allowed people that are suffering from a variety of ailments ranging from social anxieties to glaucoma, with a physician’s order, to procure marijuana or cannabis.
The modern chapter in the story of restrictive legislation begins with the Food and Drug Act of 1906 that was passed to address the growing epidemic of opiate addiction. In the late 19th century opiates including heroin and cocaine were largely unregulated. They were ingredients used in many patent medicines and were easily obtained. In the 1890s, the mail order company Sears & Roebuck offered a syringe and several doses of cocaine for $1.50.
At the beginning of the 20th century studies linked cocaine, heroin and opium to crime, prostitution, death, abandonment of families and other societal issues. Tragically many of the reports reflected the prejudicial climate of the period. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an editorial in 1900 that claimed, “Negroes in the South are reported as being addicted to a new form of vice – that of ‘cocaine sniffing’ or the ‘coke habit.’ Chinese immigrants were blamed for importing the opium-smoking habit to the U.S. In 1903 the Committee on the Acquirement of the Drug Habit, concluded, “If the Chinaman cannot get along without his dope we can get along without him.”
The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 required labeling of patent medicines that contained opiates, cocaine, alcohol, cannabis and other intoxicants. In addition to the listing of ingredients, the labeling also contained warnings. The next step was the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914. After lengthy and heated debate Congress deemed that acts taxing and regulating drugs instead of outright prohibition would be less susceptible to legal challenge.
In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act that was built on the precepts of the Harrison Narcotic Act. The Marijuana Tax Act outlawed the possession or sale of marijuana. This was followed by the Boggs Act of 1952 that called for harsh mandatory sentencing of people possessing and selling a number of drugs including marijuana.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is credited with creating the modern misconceptions about marijuana and its medicinal properties. The act established categories or schedules for drugs based upon their medical usefulness or the potential for abuse. Schedule 1 was the most restrictive category. This was reserved for drugs that the federal government deemed to have no valid medical use as well as a high potential for abuse. Marijuana was placed in this category along with drugs such as heroin and LSD.
The act was rooted in President Nixon’s attempt to address the growing influence of the counterculture. The findings of the Shafer Commission, an investigative body appointed by Nixon, that recommended that marijuana be decriminalized was ignored. As a result in coming years physicians and scientists had difficulty obtaining marijuana for research studies. This resulted in the development of medicinal uses for marijuana through grass root initiatives rather than through the normal process of medical, scientific and pharmaceutical research.
The legalization of marijuana, the establishment of businesses such as The Bud Farmacy, and a growing awareness of the medicinal benefits of marijuana are tuning back a century of misunderstanding. It is the dawn of a new era.
Written by Jim Hinckley’s America of Jim Hinckley’s America