Marijuana Historical Facts

The same genus of plants (Cannabis) which produces "reefer" also produces hemp (spelled with a lower case "h" whereas the family of plants is spelled with an upper case "H") and this was the primary source of material to manufacture rope. This made civilization possible. Try to imagine Columbus sailing to America without rope. The recreational and therapeutic uses of the marijuana plant were not questioned 100 years ago. Most of the current viewpoint on marijuana can be attributed to the last 80-90 years.

A very informative documentary on the history of Marijuana

Prejudice and Fear Based Marijuana State Laws

The story of the criminalization of marijuana by individual states is interesting and usually unknown to most people. Archival records clearly indicate that the foundation of banning marijuana is based on racial prejudice and fear involving Mexicans and African Americans, specifically the influx of Mexican farm workers into the U.S. in the early 20th century and the recreational use of marijuana by black jazz musicians in the southeastern U.S. through the 20's and 30's.

As a mere example of the mind-set of the times, it is said that when Montana outlawed marijuana in 1927, the Butte Montana Standard reported a legislator's comment: "When some beet field peon takes a few traces of this stuff... he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico, so he starts out to execute all his political enemies" and in Texas, a senator said on the floor of the Senate: "All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy." The Mormon influence in Utah led the way for several states to criminalize marijuana.

Federal Government Law Regarding Marijuana

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created and one Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana. Anslinger was an ambitious man, and he recognized the Bureau of Narcotics as an opportunity to define both a problem and a solution. He immediately realized that opiates and cocaine wouldn't be enough to help build his agency, so he latched on to marijuana and started to work on making it illegal at the federal level.

Anslinger drew upon the themes of racism and violence to draw national attention to the problem he wanted to create. Some of his quotes regarding marijuana:

  1. "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others."

  2. "...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."

  3. "Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death."

  4. "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."

  5. "Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing"

  6. "You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother."

  7. "Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind."

Anslinger retired in 1962 and was succeeded by Henry Giordano, who was the commissioner of the FBN until it was merged with the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control to form the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1968 which was renamed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1971 under then President Richard Nixon.

The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, and the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics marked the beginning of the present controversy regarding marijuana. In the 1950s, strict mandatory sentencing laws greatly increased federal penalties for marijuana possession, but these were removed in the 1970s. In 1964, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs entered into force, placing the U.S. under treaty obligations to control marijuana production and distribution thus, in effect, encroaching on our national sovereignty to deal with this problem within our borders in accordance with the will of the people. In the 1980s, mandatory sentencing laws were reinstated for large-scale marijuana distribution. Three strikes laws were enacted and applied to marijuana possession, and the death sentence was enabled for marijuana drug kingpins.

Marijuana Misconceptions in Modern Times

Then there was the most ridiculous movie ever made entitled Reefer Madness, a shameless attempt to poison the American psyche against a natural herb. Three people were depicted as having smoked marijuana at a party. One smoker became insane, another became a murderer, and the third became monumentally stupid. If you want a deep belly laugh while having pity for human prejudice, see that film. It was directed by Louis Gasnier and starred a cast of unknown bit actors. The actor who played the lead never worked in another film. It was financed by a church group and made under the title Tell Your Children. The film was intended as a morality tale attempting to teach parents about the dangers of cannabis use. Soon after the film was shot, it was purchased by producer Dwain Esper who re-cut the film for distribution on the exploitation film circuit. It never gained an audience until it was rediscovered in the 1970s and gained new popularity among cannabis smokers as a piece of unintentional comedy. Today, it is considered a cult film.

Despite the deep rooted, fear-based prejudice of the American psyche to marijuana, the truth remains unaltered. It is an ancient herb with both medicinal and production properties that has both commercial and recreational effects. To the chagrin of those who are trapped in prejudicial fear regarding marijuana, the cannabis plant produces some of the most effective medicines in nature, a related group of compounds called "cannabinoids." They fit like a key in a lock into receptors located on the cell membrane of every cell in the human body. These receptors are termed, naturally, "cannabinoid receptors." THC (tetra-hydro-cannabinol) is one of these compounds, but like vitamin E which comes as eight different related molecular structures, the cannabinoids are most effective when consumed together. This makes the pharmaceutical preparation of THC (called "Marinol") a relatively weak sister compared to the cannabinoid complex of compounds. The cannabinoids have been used as an herbal medicine for thousands of years and, like most medicinal herbs, represents serious competition to pharmaceutical industry profits; but that is a conversation for another time and place.

Changes in Marijuana Laws

However, in the 1960s and 70s there came a greater acceptance of the view that marijuana should not be considered in the same class as narcotics and that U.S. marijuana laws should be relaxed. The Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1970 eased federal penalties somewhat, and 11 states decriminalized possession. However, in the late 1980s most states rewrote their drug laws and imposed stricter penalties. Opponents of easing marijuana laws have asserted that it is an intoxicant less controllable than alcohol, that our society does not need another accepted intoxicant, and that the U.S. should hue to globalized United Nations' policies, which are opposed to the use of marijuana for other than possible medical purposes.

So far twenty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Three other states will soon join them after recently passing measures permitting use of medical marijuana. Seven states and the District of Columbia have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Most recently, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all passed measures in November legalizing recreational marijuana. California’s Prop. 64 measure allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. Other tax and licensing provisions of the law will not take effect until January 2018.

A number of states have also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Some medical marijuana laws are broader than others, with types of medical conditions that allow for treatment varying from state to state.

Physicians are in a difficult situation. They are unable to prescribe medical marijuana due to federal law, but are limited to recommending it. Most doctors simply avoid the issue. When a licensed physician recommends medical marijuana, patients then obtain their medicinal marijuana by growing their own, buying from coops, or from "care givers" who grow for a number of people. The limitations of these activities are in no way uniform and are regulated by states, cities, and counties into what amounts to a patch-work quilt of regulations across the U.S.