In Part 1 we talked about ancient cannabis and how it has been used throughout the ages.
Today we are going to talk about modern cannabis and how it moved from prominence as a medicine to a recreational drug. Yet medical cannabis is not relegated to the ancient past. Modern medicine uses the term marijuana instead of the ancient name: cannabis but it means the same thing.
The original name can be traced back to the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides. He was a roman army doctor from around 40-90AD who traveled widely on campaigns throughout the Roman empire. He wrote the medical text that virtually all others were based on for over a thousand years and had a special entry for both male and female cannabis plants. It wasn’t until the 1930’s when the plant became known a marijuana in an effort to re-brand it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
By 1621, medical marijuana had made its way into the English Mental Health Book.
Cannabis was entered into one of the most popular medicinal textbooks from the era to treat depression. Because of the work of an Irish doctor working for a shipping company during the colonization of the new world, medical cannabis moved to the Americas.
Cannabis treatments were a staple of a professional doctors curriculum up through the industrial revolution. Before Alaska and Hawaii were states, America had laws on the books that supported medical marijuana in all 48 states. Cannabis was not seen as a recreational drug, it was medicine with little risk of side effects.
But in 1936 all that changed.
Pressure was being placed on the U.S. by the international community to sign the International Treaty on Controlled Substances. While not directly listing cannabis as a controlled substance, the treaty forced all countries that signed to adopt similar drug policies. Propagandists later used the treaty to get cannabis banned across the developed world.
A very popular anti-marijuana campaign burned through the nation. Funded by the government and directed by the talented propagandist Larry Anslinger, “Reefer Madness” was a sensational tale about marijuana. It featured the plant ruining people’s lives through sex, insanity, and horrific acts of violence. Although Reefer Madness was a work of pure fiction, it was accepted by a whole generation as fact with the tenacity of religious convictions. The influential power of the Reefer Madness propaganda laid the groundwork for Larry Anslinger to get cannabis banned.
Larry Anslinger was a potent propagandist that was able to convince the developed world to outright ban cannabis use, cultivation and distribution. He used a mixed media of propaganda to accomplish this. Anslinger was a master of using media and used the newspapers, radio and television to spread a web of half-truths and outright lies.
After spreading a racially motivated panic with the Reefer Madness propaganda, Anslinger convince the U.S. to pass the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Anslinger provided his political masters a new way to target their political opponents voting base. The politically motivated police force acted quickly on the new laws to target the poor.
The Marijuana Tax Stamp Act brought America Modern Cannabis.
On the day the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act was enacted (Oct. 2, 1937) the FBI and Denver Colorado police raided the Lexington Hotel. They arrested a man named Samuel R. Caldwell for selling modern cannabis. He was a 58 year-old unemployed laborer. Three days later, on Oct. 5, 1937 Caldwell became the first person convicted under U.S. federal law of distributing cannabis.
In 1942, cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopeia. When that happened, cannabis lost the last vestiges of medical legitimacy. Because of the International Treaty on Controlled Substances, most of the other countries in the developed world were forced to enact similar rules.
Over the next decades, criminalization of cannabis continued.
As more and more regulations were heaped on medical practitioners, they became unable to prescribe cannabis. Legal penalties increased massively with the Boggs Act of 1951. It established minimum prison sentences for simple possession of cannabis. Thanks in great part to Anslinger’s work, cannabis was classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance in 1970.
Schedule 1 substances are substances no medical benefit and high risk of abuse. The controlled Substances Act of 1970 Classified Marijuana as a having “No Accepted Medical Use”. After the passing of the Substances Act, medical practitioners were barred from prescribing modern cannabis for any medication, effectively removing the oldest known medicine from a whole generation of healers across the globe.
In 1971, the Shafer Commission was created by the U.S. president to determine the merit of criminalizing cannabis. The Shafer Commission was bi-partisan and overseen by congress. President Nixon himself ordered it to determine “if the personal use of marijuana should be criminalized.” The commission came back with an answer and Nixon ignored it because he didn’t like that they believed there was no reason to scale up action against users.
In 1971 president Nixon chose to aggressively pursue action against cannabis consumers by declaring the War on Drugs. Motivated by personal prejudice political corruption, he saw marijuana as a way to get at his political opponents. He even admitted at the time that his reasons for attacking cannabis users and increasing penalties was motivated by personal directives.
Nixon acknowledged his action was not based on empirical evidence.
He increased criminalization despite the commission he put together telling him officially and unequivocally that cannabis use should not be criminalized. Over the next two years, the Nixon built a force specifically designed to scale up violence against modern cannabis users.
The Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA) was established in 1973 by merging the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNND) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) into a single agency. It comes as no surprise that the DEA continues to aggressively pursue cannabis consumers, producers and distributors to this day. They use every tool at their disposal regardless of legality or constitutionality to continue the criminalization of marijuana.
Things continued to go downhill for cannabis in the coming years. It wasn’t until 1976 that Robert Randall (who was afflicted by glaucoma) used the Common Law Doctrine of Necessity (US v. Randall) to defend himself against criminal charges of marijuana cultivation. In 1976, federal Judge James Washington made waves with his ruling. Judge Washington ruled that Randall’s use of modern cannabis constituted a ‘medical necessity’ and the case was thrown out.
The next milestone for modern cannabis crusaders came in the winter of 1991.
Modern cannabis took a step forward with the passing of medical marijuana reform in California. The first medical marijuana initiative was called Proposition P and was in San Francisco. It passed with an overwhelming 79% of the vote in November of 1991.
Proposition P called on the State of California and the California Medical Association to restore hemp medical to the list of available medicines in California, and to stop penalizing physicians for prescribing hemp for medical purposes. It only effected San Francisco but the cogs of bureaucracy had been activated. It would take another 5 years for legislation to go statewide.
Voters in California passed the first statewide medical marijuana initiative on November 5, 1996. Known as Proposition 215, it permitted patients and their primary caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for the treatment of AIDS, cancer, muscle spasms, migraines, and several other disorders. It also protected doctors from state sponsored punishment if they recommended marijuana to their patients.
The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly.
In September of 1998, the House of Representatives debated a resolution called H.J.Res. 117. They passed H.J.Res 117 at the same time Oregon, Washington and Alaska provided their medical marijuana programs. In H.J.Res. 117, Congress declared support for the existing federal drug approval process.
They decide not to reschedule marijuana despite the overwhelming evidence coming forth that it should be decriminalized. While cannabis is classified as having no medical benefit, the United States Department of Health and Human Services) currently holds a patent on medical cannabis.
Patent No. 6630507 covers the use of cannabinoids for treating a wide range of diseases and was submitted to the patent office in 1999. The Department of Health and Human Services was awarded the patent in 2003. Yet the Department of Health is not the only regulatory agency that has chosen to abandon science, compassion and reason.
In 2002, the FDA decided how to use modern cannabis in a study.
They decided that shipping 300 pre-rolled joints to patients in metal canisters was the best way to judge modern cannabis. The material was frequently two or more years old upon receipt by patients and a close inspection of the contents of NIDA-supplied cannabis cigarettes revealed them to be a crude mixture of leaf with abundant stem and seeds.
The study concluded that “cannabis smoking, even of a crude, low-grade product, provides effective symptomatic relief of pain, muscle spasms, and intraocular pressure elevations…” and that “clinical cannabis patients are able to reduce or eliminate other prescription medicines and their accompanying side effects.” The FDA report was ignored by those in power and cannabis remained a schedule 1 controlled substance despite the undeniable evidence.
The DEA has still not reclassified cannabis. It remains a holistic herb used throughout time as a medicine that current U.S. legislators are violently opposed to. While international progress has been made with the UK rescheduling cannabis to Class B and the Netherlands also making great strides in medicinal research, the U.S. still struggles to come into the light. Use of scientific reasoning is about to get even harder for the U.S. government as President Trump decides who will take the reigns of power. Yet his choice of Jim O’Neill to head the FDA (who openly supports cannabis legalization) gives modern cannabis hope for the future. Only time will tell. Thanks for reading.
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