Explaining Marijuana. Its History and Future within the United States.
To blaze or not to blaze? To legally control or outlaw? Weed or no weed? These are some hot questions about a topic that has garnered an absurd amount of controversy throughout the last century–the legalization or outlawing of marijuana. A drug that was once embedded throughout the history books of the United States. AADL.org claims that George Washington grew the plant and it was even on the $10 bill, but marijuana has now turned into a drug that is looked down upon by the law. Now the state laws surrounding the drug are so different depending on the state that it begs the question–what happened to marijuana? Why was it outlawed, to begin with? How has research and views on the drug changed over time? We will explore the history, research, laws, media, public opinion, and more to uncover the question–to blaze, or not to blaze?
Marijuana wasn’t just a 60’s hippie drug that encouraged people to smoke for the next 50 years– Its history is nearly immeasurable. Marijuana use dates back 5,000 years in ancient China, India, and Egypt for many different purposes, especially in relation to medical uses. In America, George Washington farmed hemp in the 1700s and was interested in its potential medical uses. By 1840, marijuana became widely accepted in mainstream medicine and was an ingredient in many over-the-counter products. Ten years later in 1850, Recovery.Org describes the process of Marijuana as such saying,” Marijuana was added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia. It was used as a treatment for opioid withdrawal, pain, appetite stimulation, and relief of nausea and vomiting”. By this time, there weren’t really any concerns about marijuana usage and it was used more for medical purposes. In the early 20th century, however, marijuana became more mainstream and was used pretty regularly for recreational use. The reason for this, as explained by History.com, is that “Immigrants from Mexico to the United States during the tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution introduced the recreational practice of smoking marijuana to American culture. From here, weed conjured up a negative connotation. Massive unemployment and social unrest during the Great Depression stoked resentment of Mexican immigrants and public fear of the “evil weed.” As a result — and consistent with the Prohibition era’s view of all intoxicants — 29 states had outlawed cannabis by 1931”. Due to the Great Depression, there began to become a negative public opinion towards Mexican immigrants which translated to marijuana usage having that same negative public opinion.
Upon doing my research on the heart and soul of the outlawing of marijuana, I ran into the name Harry J. Anslinger at an alarming rate. Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which laid the groundwork for the modern-day DEA, and was the first architect of the war on drugs. When researching his significance, it was best described by CBS News, which states,” If you look for the roots of America’s ban on cannabis, you’ll find nearly all roads lead to a man named Harry Anslinger… Anslinger was appointed in 1930, just as the prohibition of alcohol was beginning to crumble (it was finally repealed in 1933), and remained in power for 32 years”. When looking into his name, you learn not only about his position of power but also the enormous amount of influence he has on the media. In an Infographics video done by the Student Marijuana Alliance for Research & Transparency, they describe this as “Anslinger supplied crime stories to magazines and newspapers citing cannabis as the cause… and then cited the same headlines to justify cannabis prohibition”. Anslinger was also known to have racist motives saying ridiculous things such as,” This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others” and “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”. Anslinger was incredibly racist and used racist quotes and tried to tie them into marijuana being outlawed.
Why was Anslinger so racist? In an article about the war on drugs, they answer this by saying,” Because he ran a police agency, Anslinger saw drugs as a problem for cops rather than doctors and he deployed all of the considerable resources at his disposal to ensure the American people shared that opinion”. His being a police officer only gave him a specific perspective that directly reflects what his views are and how he goes about getting those views across. Overall, while doing deep digging, the outlawing of marijuana was mostly due to racial tensions in connection with the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and radical and manipulative media. The outlawing of marijuana was more of an agenda push than a legitimate safety concern by the United States Government; specifically by Mr. Anslinger himself.
Research and Public Sway
From the 1930s to the 1950s, the hatred and push for marijuana being the “devil’s drug” was elevated with the movie “Reefer Madness”. This film is about how many horrible things happen from marijuana use and further used racial propaganda in order to further the “anti-marijuana” agenda. It is further described in an article about the history of North American marijuana use in the Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology,” The film was intended as a morality tale and cautioned parents against the dangers of marijuana use, portraying its users as insane murderers lost in moral turpitude, brought about directly as a consequence of using the drug”. Its portrayal, on top of the Marijuana Tax Act, and doctors who started to discredit the drug’s medical benefits, the reputation of the drug was at an all-time low. However, after the ’50s, public opinion started to sway a bit. According to PBS.org, “Reports commissioned by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson found that marijuana use did not induce violence nor lead to the use of heavier drugs. Policy towards marijuana began to involve considerations of treatment as well as criminal penalties”. This was the first time a “counter-culture” was created in the United States in the political spotlight. It was going to be interesting to see exactly what this public support could lead to.
The public push wasn’t enough because unfortunately for people who supported the legalization of marijuana, Congress did not agree with President Kennedy and President Johnson as they passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. There was immediate controversy with this as IBtimes.com describes. “Almost since marijuana was first classified this way, advocates have been fighting to “reschedule” it to a lower tier. They argue that the Schedule I classification isn’t justified on scientific grounds. Marijuana is not considered highly addictive nor dangerous except possibly for adolescents who smoke it while their brains are still forming”. This statement by IBtimes is interesting because the “dangerous except possibly for adolescents who smoke it…” is similar to alcohol. In an article simply called Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization they harp on this concept more saying,” If marijuana is anything like alcohol, little harm will come from casual, occasional use by mature adults, and indeed such use might generate considerable benefits.
Moreover, it is also possible that marijuana, like alcohol, generates positive benefits for one population (mature adults) while also causing negative harms for another population (youth and young adults)”.There are also studies that are shown on the Johnson and Wales University health page that prove the medical benefits of marijuana such as lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, preventing relapse, preventing anxiety disorders, preventing seizures, fighting cancer, and more. There are clear medical advantages to marijuana but this begs the question–Why is there still pushback to this day?
The Roadblocks Ahead
We know the medical advantages of marijuana and the racial motives that caused the drug to be banned in the first place, but why is it still outlawed? Is there something we are missing? It’s the same thing that is always missing–money! In an article done by Marijuana ProCon, they claim that legalized marijuana creates steep costs for society/taxpayers that outweigh its tax revenues. They back up this claim by comparing it to tobacco saying,” Annual societal costs from alcohol ($223.5 billion) and tobacco ($193 billion) far exceed the $24 billion in tax revenues they raise”. Law-makers believe that legalizing the drug will cost the United States a lot more money than it will make them, but others are quick to disagree. According to Debt.org,” Economist Stephen Easton, who also teaches economics on the university level, penned an article in Businessweek that suggested the financial benefits of pot legalization maybe even bigger than what Miron predicted. Easton guesses that legalizing the drug could bring in $45 to $100 billion a year”. The financial benefits of marijuana are perhaps the most important aspect when it comes to the legalization of marijuana.
There is also a thought in which they believe that the drug will cause an increase in minors using the drug and could increase traffic accidents and deaths as it did by 62% when Colorado legalized marijuana. An article in the International Review of Psychiatry talks about the mixed results of legalizing marijuana saying,” This review indicates that marijuana policy changes have had mixed effects on U.S. adolescent health including potential benefits from decriminalization and negative health outcomes evidenced by increases in cannabis-related motor vehicle accidents, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations”. Higher adolescent use, the authors believe, can lead to potential decriminalization or at least help the cause. However, they also point out the cons listed before such as an increase in cannabis-related accidents, and emergency room visits/hospitalizations.
One thing is for certain however, public opinion has changed dramatically since the 1950s. Pew Research Center did a poll, which concluded that less than 10% of adults in the United States today believe that marijuana should not be legalized at all. It is safe to say that marijuana has long outgrown its reputation for crime and violence that it had in past times. In a separate poll done by the same team, the results say that from 2000 to 2019, the amount of Americans saying marijuana should be legalized has more than doubled. There is also a lot more of a positive media push than before according to a study shown in an article about news media coverage and public discourse in relation to marijuana. The article claims,” Overall, 53% of news stories mentioned pro-legalization arguments and 47% mentioned anti-legalization arguments. The most frequent pro-legalization arguments posited that legalization would reduce criminal justice involvement/costs (20% of news stories) and increase tax revenue (19%). Anti-legalization arguments centered on adverse public health consequences, such as detriments to youth health and well-being (22%) and marijuana-impaired driving (6%)”. As explained before, the reason marijuana was banned in the first place was media-bias so the study shows a step in the direction of pro-legalization.
As Americans, many have always wondered about why marijuana was illegal and the research that is done behind it that could potentially change that. Digging deep into the history and studies done through time, as well as knowing the potential roadblocks and cons the issue will take in order to be passed, has helped people understand exactly the controversy this topic in the United States has garnered in the last century. As a reader yourself, I hope you now see the spectrum of the issue as a whole and where the outlawing of marijuana came from, and where it’s going. One thing is for certain, for those in favor of legalizing marijuana, the future is looking as bright as ever.