The Illegalization of Marijuana: A Brief History
The legalization of marijuana is one of the most controversial topics in the news today. People are passionate on both sides of the fence. Proponents of legalization cite the drug’s medicinal capabilities as evidence when stating their case. Conversely, people who oppose legalization argue that marijuana is a dangerous substance that has negative effects on people’s health. This article will give a brief history of the illegalization of marijuana and end with a note on the legal status of the drug today.
Marijuana in the 1930s
In 1937, the United States federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively banned the possession, sale, and transport of marijuana. Before this law, marijuana could be sold in pharmacies—afterward, physicians, pharmacists, and farmers were taxed if they tried to sell or grow cannabis. The U.S.’s first marijuana-related arrest occurred in 1937, when a Mexican-American man named Moses Baca was arrested in Denver for possession of a quarter-ounce of marijuana.
Part of the reason why American attitudes toward marijuana began to change in the 1930s is because popular culture started emphasizing the dangers of cannabis use. In 1936, a film called Reefer Madness was released. The movie essentially reiterated how dangerous it could be to use marijuana and illustrated the potential societal impacts of widespread usage.
Despite the growing popularity of cannabis in recent years, the federal government still bans it today.
War on Drugs
During the 1970s, President Richard Nixon spearheaded the “war on drugs” campaign. Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which classified certain drugs based on their perceived threat level. Along with heroin and LSD, marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 drug—and it still is to this day. Since marijuana still has such a dangerous classification, many doctors have difficulty prescribing it to patients who could benefit from its medicinal capabilities. Some physicians are worried about facing penalties from the DEA if they prescribe medicinal marijuana to patients. Proponents of legalization argue that cannabis shouldn’t be a Schedule 1 substance because it’s not addictive and because it has numerous medical uses.
Where Are We Now?
In 1996, California passed the Compassionate Use Act, which made using marijuana for medicinal purposes legal in that state. Some other states followed this trend throughout the 1990s as well. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Since then, 12 states have fully legalized marijuana, 11 states have kept it illegal, and 28 states have mixed laws regarding its usage. It’s important to note that cannabis is still illegal under federal law, so even in states that have legalized marijuana, employers still have the right to restrict their employees from using the substance. Many employers have purchased drug testing equipment to determine if their employees use the drug; one of the simplest ways to detect cannabis is through a five-panel mouth swab.
The regulation of cannabis use has been an ongoing debate, and laws will inevitably continue to change.