Cannabis is one of the most controversial substances in our history, and it’s clear that much of that controversy is yet to subside. Though public perceptions are changing, and many people have started to open their eyes to the potential that lies in this plant, there is still a long way to go before we’re truly there.
And anyone planning to get actively involved in this field in one way or another owes it to themselves to look up the history of the plant, especially in the USA, and draw their own conclusions.
Questionable Roots of Legal Restrictions
A lot has been said about the legal restrictions imposed on cannabis over the years, and people have been growing more and more discontent with the imbalanced approach towards the plant, compared to other harmful substances like tobacco and alcohol.
And while the truth is still murky and will take a long time to reveal itself, it’s starting to become quite obvious that many of these restrictions may have been imposed for nefarious purposes, rather than to protect society.
Between the threat that cannabis posed to various industries at the time it was banned, and police officers using it as a tool to control the masses they deemed criminal, there are many factors that can be pointed out as having contributed to its ban.
Recently, people have started to realize this, which has fueled the movement to legalize the substance in many countries.
The Road To Criminalization
The first laws in the USA that dealt with cannabis were the first wave of poison control laws, which were introduced in the late 19th century. These laws weren’t targeting cannabis, or even recreational drugs, specifically.
Instead, poison control laws were deemed necessary due to the rate of suicides involving a relatively narrow range of readily available substances. These laws mostly restricted cannabis in the same way that medicines had started to be restricted in the United States.
Similarly, the early 20th century saw the Pure Food and Drug Act passed. This was the first federal law that set standards for labeling ingredients and contents. Prior to PFDA, patented medicines were regularly sold with inaccurate or misleading labels.
This Act had the effect of restricting the sale of cannabis, along with a number of other recreational drugs and narcotics, to pharmacies and ensured it required a doctor’s prescription.
The Root Of The Issue
Following the Mexican Revolution, large numbers of Mexicans emigrated to the southern United States. Like many cultures, Mexicans have a record of marijuana use that stretches back to ancient times, and many of those emigrating to the United States bought their fondness for cannabis with them.
Before long, cannabis was associated with foreigners, already viewed with suspicion because they spoke a different language.
The very first cannabis laws, the PFDA and poison control laws, had good intentions. However, any genuine medical or health concerns about marijuana were soon superseded by racial politicking.
By the 1930s, the pretense had been dropped in its entirety. The Great Depression increased public resentment towards immigrants and before long, the US government was armed with research showing that cannabis use led to violent crime, mostly by a "racially inferior" underclass. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act effectively criminalized marijuana possession
You might think that criminalizing marijuana out of fears it would send the "racially inferior" elements of the population into fits of criminal behavior was the bottom of the barrel.
But this is America, and the freedom barrel can always go lower. In 1944, the New York Academy of Medicine published a detailed report that debunked much of the research that current laws were based on.
Following World War 2, large numbers of soldiers returned home carrying not only the physical and emotional scars of the war but a nasty morphine habit to boot. During the 50s and 60s, cheap morphine was plentiful, thanks to the stockpile the US had built up during the war.
The US government dealt with these veterans with characteristic thoughtfulness and compassion, passing the Boggs Act and Narcotics Control Act to ensure these veterans went to prison.
Once the war was over, the widespread availability of morphine created a public health crisis in the US. Poorer predominantly African-American communities were hit hardest by this new wave of addictions.
Before long, the morphine epidemic was being laid at the feet of these communities, with black jazz musicians heavily associated with the drug.
Up until the counterculture revolution of the 1960s, when white middle-class Americans started to experiment with cannabis and other psychedelics, drugs were mostly associated with minorities and poverty.
Progress Is Still Slow
Even though we’re arguably in a great place in the history of cannabis, there is a lot that has to be done. There is still resistance in political spheres for one thing, and it’s up to the people to make the necessary changes to push things in the right direction.
But the people themselves don’t seem convinced as a whole either. There is still a large divide in society with regard to what should be done about cannabis in the future.
The emergence of a range of hemp and CBD products, products that can be produced without the need to grow psychoactive cannabis, has made the issue less pressing to some.
What the Future Holds
That brings us to our next point. While the future is uncertain, we’re at least seeing lots of positive signs for what’s coming. We now have a solid body of evidence showing that cannabinoids have medicinal properties, and there is a growing global acceptance of the medical potential cannabis offers.
However, while we should not overlook the value of medicinal cannabis, we also shouldn’t lose sight of a more fundamental principle, personal freedom.
We now know that using cannabis recreationally does not make someone more likely to do harm to themselves or others. It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify handing down prison sentences for possessing or using cannabis.
Cannabis has been federally criminalized for a long time. However, when you dig into the origins of those laws, you realize that cannabis itself has little to do with them. Attitudes to cannabis have shifted significantly, and given the spread of legalization around the US and Canada, we may have reached a tipping point.