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The History of Cannabis

by 420 InSight on August 29, 2014
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Why America Outlawed Cannabis Decades Ago

It is no secret that America has had a love-hate history with marijuana for decades. Millions of baby boomers from the Woodstock era have been at the forefront of the battle to legalize cannabis and have found a number of supporters over the years. According to a 1979 CBS News/New York Times poll, around 27 percent of Americans favored cannabis being made legal.

However, these figures have changed significantly since then. A new CNN News poll in 2014 found 55 percent of Americans in favor of legalization as against 44 who opposed and 1 percent had no opinion. As the country remains divided on the issue, many are still not aware of why the federal government chose to ban cannabis.

Mexico to the United States – The beginning of how pot became banned

The use of cannabis dates back to 7,000 B.C. Although it has its origins in Asia with the ancient Chinese amongst the first to discover its medicinal properties, its ability to cure stomach ailments and cramps saw the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans also take to the drug.

How cannabis found its way to the Americas is still a matter of debate although many historians believe the Spanish conquistadors were the main carriers in the 1500s. America’s tryst with cannabis dates back to the 1800s when it was used for medicinal purposes. From the early 1900s, migrant workers brought cannabis across the border from Mexico to the United States, which was the beginning of the country’s long war against drugs.

From medicinal herb to a recreational drug

Ever since the late 1940s and early 50s, cannabis – commonly known as pot in the smokers’ fraternity – is considered not just a dangerous drug but one with a potential to turn users or ‘potheads’ to experimenting with more dangerous drugs like heroin, cocaine, and other dangerous controlled substances. Its use as a recreational drug became increasingly popular when the federal government banned alcohol between 1920 and 1933, the Prohibition Era. Marijuana was officially criminalized when President F.D. Roosevelt (FDR) (Democrat) signed into law The Marihuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937, making the possession and use of marijuana a felony that warranted a fine of up to $2,000 and 5 year prison sentence.

Tougher laws since the 1950’s

The current ban on possession of cannabis by the federal government is considered by many as an anomaly. Its intoxicating properties were discovered by Chinese physicians over 2,000 years ago. However, the alarming increase in the number of opium addicts revealed at the International Opium Convention in 1909 led to a drug control treaty between major nations which included the United States.

The Boggs Act in 1951 further toughened anti-marijuana laws with lawmakers justifying its move by stating that although cannabis was not addictive it could only lead to users switching to heroin. This is why some people refer to cannabis as a “gateway” drug.

The law imposed stiff penalties for drug violators with Commissioner of Narcotics for the Treasury Department, Harry J. Anslinger, defending the law by stating that over 50 percent of opium and heroin addicts took to the needle after smoking cannabis and found themselves in search of a greater high. By 1958, being caught with a ‘joint’ and possessing cannabis was a felony in all 50 states where any violation led to imprisonment.

The flower power generation and pothead culture

However, the youth counterculture in the 1960s led to a phenomenal increase in the number of cannabis users, which wasn’t restricted to Hispanics and African Americans but a recreational drug to the white middle class as well. By the end of the 1960s, law makers began to rethink their perception on cannabis and how it was different from other dangerous narcotics. Social acceptance of marijuana reached its peak in the 1980s with even Francis Young, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s law judge for administration, came to the conclusion that cannabis could be the most harmless psychoactive substance consumed in the history of humanity.

Is cannabis likely to become legal in the U.S.?

Although the pro-legalization movement hopes for greater acceptance most politicians are wary of the topic and remain in favor of a ban. Many transgressors still face convictions while several initiatives to promote the use of cannabis for medical purposes continue in several states including Washington, Nevada, Oregon, and California, to name a few.

According to 2006 FBI statistics, over 800,000 were arrested for cannabis possession during the year. San Francisco, which is one of the most liberal cities when it comes to cannabis possession (and other reasons as well), still punishes offenders possessing more than 28.5 grams with a six month jail term. Meanwhile, prosecutors and defense attorneys continue to argue on how right and just or wrong and unjust cannabis laws are in the country.

The Present and the Future

The voices that want to punish cannabis smokers and sellers are falling fast all over America. Most people now realize that there are real criminals out there that should be arrested and someone smoking cannabis is not harming anyone.

The future of cannabis in America looks strong. With America’s serious immigration problem, out of control debt, foreign policy in shambles, health care system imploding, high unemployment due to excessive taxes and regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley and Dodd-Frank hurting businesses of all sizes, the controversy over cannabis seems marginal. At this pace, several states in America will have legalized cannabis in the next few years. In about 10 to 15 years at this current progression and feeling towards cannabis, almost half the states will have decriminalized the act of smoking and selling cannabis.

For sellers of cannabis from 2020 and beyond in the states mentioned above and a few other states who are growing weary of locking up cannabis smokers and small time sellers, you will have to have a license in some states to sell large quantities. It will not be any different than selling liquor or cigarettes.

For all the folks who fear their airplane pilot will be smoking cannabis during the flight or their bus driver will be high on this drug, it will no more than the thought of them drinking alcohol or being drunk, respectively. Professionals of all fields will know cannabis should be treated as alcohol―a product to be consumed in their spare time and not during working hours or before they go off to work. The anti-cannabist of the world may never come to their senses on this issue but they do not have to as more and more people realize this is a non-issue and prohibition never worked anyway!

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