egardless, in America, cannabis was not very widely known or used until the early 1900s, when the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 drove many Mexicans to the United States, bringing cannabis with them, as the plant was widely grown in Mexico. As is truly only something that could occur in America, hysterical claims about the drug began to circulate, such as allegations that it caused a “lust for blood.” In addition, the term cannabis was largely replaced by the term marijuana, which some speculated was done by Americans to promote the foreignness of the drug and thus stoke xenophobia. Around this time, many states began passing laws to ban marijuana. In the 1930s, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics turned the battle against marijuana into an all-out war in order to promote their newly created department. Without any scientific basis, the department sought a federal ban on the drug, relying on marketing campaigns that relied heavily on racism. The head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, claimed the majority of marijuana smokers were minorities, including African Americans, and that marijuana had a negative effect on these “degenerate races,” such as inducing violence or causing insanity. Furthermore, he noted that “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” and that smoking the plant would result in white women having sex with black men.2
The passage of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937 effectively made the drug illegal across the United States. Although this act was declared unconstitutional in 1969, it was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act the following year. That legislation classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug—putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD.3
As with most things, the rationale for illegalizing marijuana was not based on any scientific basis by the federal government. However, one of the worst side effects of this law being passed is that the ability of scientists to fully research the effects of THC—the active ingredient in marijuana—is still limited to this day. As such, trying to figure out the long-term effects of marijuana on humans is not very well understood. However, as I’ll touch on next, you have to put these effects in context with everything else humans consume on a daily basis.
Furthermore, I don’t know anyone who has used marijuana and then run to their local drug dealer to secure a line of cocaine or heroin. I think most people that use marijuana recreationally are not moving on to harder drugs. However, as with most things, I am sure there are exceptions to the rule.
As we stand (or sit) today, United Nations estimates put the number of people that use marijuana around 159 million, or about 4% of the total population of the planet.4
In 1996, California was the first state in the United States to legalize medical marijuana and since then, additional states have legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes, with 15 states having fully legal status for the drug, and New Jersey and New York being the latest states to fully legalize it as of this writing. Additionally, only six states have total bans on marijuana use: Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina.5
The severity of punishment for possession of and consumption of marijuana has long been a thorn in the side of many communities, especially communities of color, where African Americans were almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.6
I am not going to go into a socio-political rant about how unfair and unjust that is and, regardless of how you feel on the issue, the legalization of marijuana in more and more states has reduced the total arrests for possession of the drug since their peak in 2008, when over 800,000 marijuana-related arrests were made.7
In the years to come, my guess is federal legalization will become more possible as more research is done into both the potential consequences and health benefits of consumption, which I will get into in the next chapter.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish