Did you know that Americans once readily turned to cannabis for medicinal benefits? Yes, at one point cannabis wasn’t prohibited. By the 1830s, cannabis extracts were used to ease cholera symptoms. By the late 19th century, cannabis extracts were commonly found in pharmacies across the nation, and doctor’s offices would not hesitate to prescribe it to treat inflammation, stomach aches, insomnia, and a myriad of ailments.
Fast forward a few hundred years and cannabis research is now able to back up some of these claims. But, just because these claims are backed by science, doesn’t mean they’re always backed by law. America’s attitude towards the cannabis plant has shifted throughout its history, so why cannabis is illegal?
The Early Rejection
Despite its known medical benefits, the history of cannabis in America began turning negative. As marijuana use became more and more common, it was the police force in Texas that tilted it with adverse effects. In a news excerpt from The Atlantic, the author goes on to mention, “police officers in Texas claimed that marijuana incited violent crimes.”
Quickly, rumors spread that Mexicans were distributing and selling this so-called “killer weed” to naïve American schoolchildren. Historians believe this was in part motivated by the Mexican immigration during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s.
It’s worth noting that at the time, research even labeled alcohol to be more dangerous than marijuana itself. Not to mention, cannabis was never associated with “superhuman strength or violent crimes.” Yet, the way people looked at marijuana continued down a negative path.
The Marijuana Tax Act
Even without scientific evidence to prove that marijuana caused any of the alleged dangerous effects, over 29 states went on to outlaw marijuana between 1916 and 1931. In 1937, The Marijuana Tax Act was introduced, permanently banning it nation-wide, despite countless objections from the American Medical Association who vouched for its medical usage.
The Marijuana Tax Act regulated importation, possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana. It also required importers to pay an annual tax of $24. Any violation of the measure resulted in a fine of over $2,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.
This act pretty much stopped the use of cannabis as a recreational drug. It also had an effect in scientific research and medical testing of marijuana, making it virtually nonexistent. By the 1960s, the federal government and different states continued to classify marijuana as a restricted drug, with even tighter laws attached to it.
Why Cannabis Is Illegal and Where Are We Today?
Gradually, different states started softening penalties for marijuana possession. Even when the federal government continued to cling, as it still does, to policies that started decades ago. Today, 29 states, including Washington D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, in addition to 8 states and D.C. who have legalized it for recreational use. With more states legalizing marijuana, research and testing have gained momentum again, which is why we’re starting to look at other products derivable from cannabis, like cannabidiol or CBD.
The history of cannabis in America, to some, has been attached to racism and xenophobia for decades. For others, it has been the lack of scientific information to prove its medical claims. But, in the meantime, the growing consensus around why cannabis is illegal suggests the re-legalization of cannabis could be in America’s nearby future.