Long before its debut into the United States, marijuana was widely used and popular among some of the world’s earliest civilizations. Hemp was used to produce rope and woven for fabrics around 7000 BC in Central and South Asia (“The History of Marijuana: The Early Years,” 2011, para. 1). Marijuana was referenced in Chinese manuscripts dating back 2700 BC and ancient Indian scriptures have attributed medicinal properties to marijuana. Up until 1913, Cannabis Sativa, its scientific name, was used in all types of medicine in the United States. Due to pharmaceutical reforms and regulatory structure on psychoactive ingredients in pharmaceutical medicines, cannabis was outlawed, along with cocaine and opiates. Seemingly used for centuries throughout the world to aid in such maladies as migraines and joint pain, today people are claiming marijuana is a harmless herb that got caught up in the political and racial crossfire. Voters in eighteen states, including the District of Columbia, have passed propositions legalizing cannabis for medicinal use and two states, Washington and Colorado, have taken it a step further; legalization for recreational use. The people have spoken. They are letting the government know, in a free society, adults must presumptively be allowed to decide what goes into their bodies (“On the Medicinal-Recreational Distinction in Cannabis Law,” 2012).
The Cannabis Sativa plant was in great demand back in the 17th century due to its long fibers which were used for making clothing, ropes, and sails. In fact, The Assembly of Jamestown Colony, Virginia, passed legislation in 1619 making it compulsory for every farmer to grow the Indian hempseed; ironically America’s first marijuana law. Other colonial states like Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania allowed hemp to be exchanged as legal tender and could even be used to pay taxes (“The History of Marijuana: The Early Years,” 2011, para. 5). George Washington grew hemp as his primary crop and Thomas Jefferson as his secondary crop back in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson encouraged other farmers to grow hemp rather than tobacco due to hemp’s many industrial qualities. Even Benjamin Franklin used cannabis as a raw material for his first printing mill. Hemp flourished through the United States early years. In fact, hemp remained the largest cash crop until the advent of the 20th century (“The History of Marijuana: The Early Years,” 2011, para. 7). It was during the 19th century when modern medicine saw marijuana as a pain reliever. Used in medications to ease migraine pain, nausea, labor pains, and rheumatism, scores of medical journals were published flaunting the cure abilities of cannabis (“The History of Marijuana: The Early Years,” 2011, para. 9).
It was during the early 1900s when the pharmaceutical companies decided to remove cannabis from all medications. The country was also experiencing racial tensions with Mexican immigrants. Mexican immigrants were bringing the dried flowers and leaves up from Mexico with them and they would smoke cannabis to relax after a hard day’s work. In the 1930s, pop culture in the jazz age had Kemp Calloway writing about “reefer” and “reefer culture”. From Harlem to the Deep South, jazz musicians were smoking marijuana and this made white America nervous and uneasy. The government got the movie industry involved and made numerous movies to depict marijuana as a drug that would make people crazy, communistic, and blood thirsty. The most famous movie was Reefer Madness. Reefer Madness showed actors smoking marijuana and laughing crazy, eventually killing each other. Reefer Madness, along with 20 or more movies, was made to scare the American public; it was successful, according to History Channel’s documentary entitled, “Marijuana: A Chronic History”.
It was in 1935 when J. Edgar Hoover hired Harry J. Anslinger to head up the FBI to get control over the marijuana issue. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was initiated. This act required farmers to have a special tax stamp to transfer their crop of hemp but the farmers had to bring their crop to Washington DC first to get that stamp, by doing so, they were breaking the law. By 1940, millions of Americans feared marijuana and in the 1950s, the government was telling people it was an “agent of communism” and that anyone who smoked marijuana could probably take over the government.
In 1961 the American government had 160 countries sign an International Treaty and the anti marijuana laws spread to all corners of the world. The 1960s had the younger generation rebelling against the government and marijuana prohibition. The country would never be the same. Marijuana was seen as a way to expand people’s thinking. In 1971, when marijuana use was at an all time high, President Nixon started the “War on Drugs” campaign and he was determined to win. He continued the old rhetoric that people who smoked marijuana were of communist mind set, but not everyone agreed with him. The young people considered themselves part of a counter culture and said individual freedom was at stake and marijuana should be legalized. During the Reagan Administration, Nancy Reagan, a recovering alcoholic and prescription drug addict, came up with the “Just Say No” campaign. It was the first time in years marijuana usage decreased. In the late 1980s, marijuana was harder to find so people turned to the Black Market and most of the marijuana supply was coming from Mexico. As the demand grew, so did crime and violence among street gangs and the drug cartel. According to the History Channel’s documentary: Marijuana: A Chronic History, by 1995 18 million Americans were regular users of marijuana, a 10% increase from 1985.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s researchers discovered it really did help patients with various chronic diseases. According to Cohen (2010), “There is now considerable evidence in the peer reviewed scientific literature that smoked marijuana has legitimate therapeutic and palliative uses that are not accompanied by dangerous side effects. Several studies published after dissemination of the recommendations of four national scientific committees (NIH, AMA, NAS-IOM, ACP), have demonstrated that the drug is safe and effective in controlling nausea and other adverse effects of chemotherapy, relieving multiple sclerosis-induced spasticity, easing certain types of pain, and ameliorating weight loss accompanying AIDS. These data summarize the results of five scientifically based studies (randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled as appropriate) that have been published in peer-reviewed journals.” (pg. 654).
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana as medicine. With the passing of Proposition 215, marijuana no longer was a criminal offense for patients who had a prescription from a doctor. Marijuana has over 100 medical uses and is prescribed for people who have cancer, diabetes, HIV, glaucoma, chronic pain, PTSD, MS, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and migraines, just to name a few. But even today, according to the government, marijuana has no medical use and they insist it is a gateway drug. According to Melissa Ethridge, singer/songwriter and a breast cancer survivor who depended on marijuana during chemotherapy treatments, “Alcohol is the gateway drug, not marijuana. Cannabis is far less dangerous and habit forming than tobacco. If you legalize it, the criminal element will go away.” Albert Einstein said, “The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.” And President Jimmy Carter said, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this clearer than in the laws against possession of marihuana in private for personal use… Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marihuana.” According to Mikos (2012), “the federal government’s uncompromising stance against medical marijuana seemingly exposes the states’ vulnerability to the whims of the national political process, and it has inspired calls for the courts to step in and protect state experimentation …I suggest, however, that the true story of the battle over medical marijuana and its implications for the political safeguards of federalism is more nuanced and less gloomy than the standard account portrays….Indeed, it seems very little consideration was given to states’ rights when the ban was passed as part of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970. And, ironically, the very forces that originally failed to prevent passage of the ban now preserve it against increasingly loud calls for reform. But since the emergence of the medical marijuana movement in California in the mid-1990s, the political process has worked to undermine the federal ban’s impact on medical use of the drug. The reality on the ground today is that the federal ban on marijuana is largely toothless. To be sure, it has bite in individual eases and it clearly shapes the way states regulate medical marijuana. But it hasn’t stopped the medical marijuana movement. More than 400,000 people already use the drug pursuant to state medical marijuana programs.” Legal scholar, Carcieri (2012) spoke to his colleagues on his recently published book, Marijuana at the Crossroads, “The U.S. War on Drugs, especially the war on cannabis, has long raised serious questions of liberty, equality, justice, efficiency, federalism, and foreign policy. In the constitutional domain alone, this war implicates interests arising under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Tenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Twenty-first Amendments…”
By understanding the history of marijuana and the hand the government had in allowing marijuana and hemp to become an illegal substance, it is understandable why the people are taking a stand in legalizing it once again. They want marijuana legalized so they can enjoy the benefits their ancestors did from the use of marijuana. Marijuana is a legitimate medicine that helps with many debilitating maladies such a cancer, MS, and migraines. As the government continues to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars on a war that will never be won the ones who will suffer will be the people. For a those who live by the Constitution, it is only a matter of time before hemp and marijuana are once again legal in the United States.
Carter, Jimmy – Past President of the United States
Carcieri, M. (2012) Marijuana at the Crossroads –
On the Medicinal-Recreational Distinction in Cannabis Law (2012) Denver University Law Review, 89(4), 1011-1016.
Cohen, J. (2010, September).
Medical Marijuana: 2010: It’s Time to Fix the Regulatory Vacuum Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, ().
Ethridge, Melissa – Singer/Songwriter
Einstein, Albert – Scientist
History Channel: Marijuana: A Chronic History, 2010
The History of Marijuana: The early years. (2011, March).
Cannabis Now, (), . Retrieved from http://www.cannabisnowmagazine.com/history/history-of-marijuana-in-america
Medical Marijuana and the Political Safeguards of Federalism (2012) Denver University Law Review, 89(4), 997-1009