For eight decades, the United States federal government has been waging a never ending battle with the cannabis plant. What began as a common pharmaceutical ingredient, quickly was reintroduced to the public as a lethal and unpredictable narcotic, thanks in large part to one overzealous agent. Despite widespread attempts at criminalizing cannabis and its users, the war is now failing. Cannabis prohibition might be celebrating its eightieth birthday, but cannabis tolerance has never been higher.
The golden plant
In 2017, while researchers and scientists are only beginning to study the effects of cannabis on different diseases, druggists of the 1800’s were already well aware of the benefits.
History departments from Ohio State University and Miami University came together to publish Origins, an overview of cannabis’ presences throughout the past. The importance of cannabis to the medical field is outlined quite clearly.
Cannabis, like opiates and cocaine, was freely available at drug stores in liquid form and as a refined product, hashish. Cannabis was also a common ingredient in turn-of-the-century patent medicines, over-the-counter concoctions brewed to proprietary formulas.
It wasn’t just advertised as a medication, either. Vanity Fair ran a print ad for hashish candy, designed to relax and induce a pleasant experience.
The hashish candy advertised in an 1862 issue of Vanity Fair as a treatment for nervousness and melancholy, for example, was also ‘a pleasurable and harmless stimulant.’ ‘Under its influence, all classes seem to gather new inspiration and energy.’ – Origins
Enter the nincompoops
Due to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, companies were required to list cannabis when present in a product. Many began to worry about the long term, and even short term, effects of cannabis on the human body and mind. In 1914, states began prohibiting cannabis use, due to the rising concerns, and by 1925, 26 states had passed laws outlawing cannabis.
Henry Anslinger, an extreme anti-cannabis protestor who served as Commissioner of the Bureau of Prohibition and led the U.S. Treasury Department’s Narcotics Bureau from 1930 to 1962, began to sense the public’s sudden questioning of cannabis and saw an opportunity. He quickly began lobbying for anti-cannabis legislation and prohibition of the dangerous narcotic.
Origins explains how Anslinger effectively enacted a fear campaign to push the issues even further.
Anslinger began to capitalize on fears about marijuana…the association of murder, torture, and mindless violence with marijuana was not borne out by evidence or actual events, but blossomed thanks to the vivid imaginations of the journalists charged with sensationalizing the tired story of drug use and addiction.
On August 2, 1937, the federal government finally stepped in and enacted the Marihuana Tax Act. At the time, placing a tax on something was the government’s way of regulating and prohibiting the use of something, but with less chance of pushback than outright prohibition.
In addition to crushing the cannabis market, the Act also outlawed the production the hemp.
Eighty years of change
The public perception of cannabis is rapidly changing. Now, more than ever, people are opening their eyes to the possibilities presented by cannabis. Not only does it have the power to heal when no other medication can, it has provided jobs to failing economies, financial resources to local governments and schools, and helps to bring communities together.
States like Colorado and Washington, where cannabis legalization are embraced, are reaping benefits unlike anything that could have been predicted. Colorado just reached more than half a billion in cannabis sales, resulting in millions and millions of additional tax revenue for the state.
Eighty years of a mindless drug war is long enough. Although cannabis is still classified as a Schedule One narcotic, the federal government only has so long to keep up the charade.
Just as the states began the vote for prohibition in the early 1900’s, which eventually led to the federal ban, the states are now working to reverse the laws and the federal government will have to follow suit.
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