Americas Bi-polar Relationship with Marijuana
Marijuana is one difficult subject to get the facts on. According to opponents of marijuana it is a gateway drug, it causes lung cancer, it is addictive, and it will induce mental disorders. On the proponent side marijuana controls seizures, it can stop cancer from spreading, decreases anxiety, slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, eases physical pain due to disease, it keeps you skinny (But what about the munchies man?), helps veterans with PTSD, soothes Parkinson’s tremors, and can stimulate brain growth among many others. Who do you believe? Who should you believe? In a world of alternative facts and fake news, no one fucking knows anymore. I’m sure you have felt the same stress and fatigue reading other controversies lately, am I right? Ask yourself, who has an agenda? Great question, I would say everyone has an agenda whether it is conscious or not. I’ll tell you what my agenda is, providing good information on a murky subject.
Here we go!
In order to to understand the roller coaster ride of marijuana legality, we have to start from the beginning, 500 BC of course. Marijuana is dated back to Asian cultures around 500 BC where its primary purpose was to provide medicine. Evolving in Central Asia, marijuana made its way to Africa, Europe, and eventually the States where it was used for everything from clothing to rope and yes, even medicine.
The first law to ever be put in place in the United States of America was enacted in Jamestown Coony Virginia in 1619 ordering farmers to grow the commodity. You read that right people, a law requiring farmers to GROW marijuana, my how things have changed. Marijuana not only remained legal in the States, but was touted as one of the world’s largest agriculture crops.
Fun Fact #1 The first bibles, maps, charts, Betsy Ross’s flag, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were made from hemp. (U.S. Government Archives.)
Up until the 1800’s, half of all textiles were made out of hemp and up until the last half of the 19th century half of all medications were made with cannabis in America. Now the hemp that we are talking about in this instance cannot get you high, but it is in the same family as marijuana so when legal action was taken, textile marijuana was lumped in and made illegal as well.
In the early 1900s yellow journalism became prevalent. Yellow journalism was based on sensationalism and crude exaggeration, this style of journalism sparked up innate racism within the American culture by depicting Mexicans and African Americans as “frenzied beasts,” that would smoke marijuana and listen to the devils music, ummmmm you mean Jazz? Ok bro. Yellow journalism is thought to be perpetuated by William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper mogul of his time, you may have heard of his castle on the central coast of California? Yeah, that dude.
So why the heck would a newspaper mogul hate cannabis? Well the theory goes that marijuana is an insanely fast growing plant that can reach maturity in as little as 6 weeks. Marijuana also is one of the most durable fibers to date and was a great alternative to expensive paper made from wood pulp. Proponents of marijuana like to say that after the decordicator was introduced (machine that strips the skin from bark in preparation for processing), and became readily available and financially feasible, this bad boy was going to single handedly take over the wood pulp world effectively making the price of Hearst’s papers to plummet! A big piece of evidence proponents of marijuana like to point to is a paper called POPULAR MECHANIC. This paper rolled out in 1938 with an article called “Billion Dollar Crop,” where it explained that textile hemp was able to make over 5k textiles and 25k products, everything from dynamite to cellophane and now with this decordicator it was no doubt the next big thing. BUT WAIT, theres MORE! Hearst owed large debts to Canadian paper suppliers (made from wood pulp), this would mean it would be in Hearsts’ best interest for a cheaper paper alternative to emerge to print all his newspapers on, so that is debunked. Whats at large is still why Heart promoted yellow journalism, maybe he was just an old fashioned racist? I have no clue.
Another theory was that Du Pont, who had just patented both nylon and a new process to make paper from wood, was nervous about the financial future of his investments. This theory has not been substantiated and has all the makings of a good blockbuster hit, twisted family business, money problems, and conspiracy, something I don’t want to get into but if you are interested, it is an interesting read.
In 1936 a propaganda movie called “Reefer Madness,” by Louis Gasnier debuted depicting marijuana users as rapists, murderers, and lunatics. At this time in America, there was an existing stigma towards anyone of a different skin color and it is thought that because African Americans and Mexicans were known to participate in marijuana use more than their white counterparts, marijuana was targeted and made illegal as a way to lock up these unwanted citizens.
In 1937 The Marijuana Tax Act was put in place and was the first federal U.S. law to criminalize the plant. This act was passed by Congress and it effectively criminalized the sale, possession, or transfer of anything hemp related. At this time you could still grow marijuana as a farmer as long as you had a special stamp granted by the federal government, cool right? EXCEPT, they never gave any stamps out, crushing the industry in one sweep until it served their agenda to support marijuana once again. Hello WWII.
Fun Fact #2 George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers grew hemp. (Washington and Jefferson Diaries. Jefferson smuggled hemp seeds from China to France then to America.)
I bring you to WWII, where the federal government rolled out with their very own propaganda video claiming hemps importance. The Department of agriculture launched the “Hemp for Victory,” program, which promoted farming the plant needed to produce military necessities and even granted draft deferments to those who would grow hemp on the homeland. By the end of WWII hemp was demonized once again.
A Little Bi-polar Are We?
In 1948, congress pulls their head out of their asses and realizes that the claims of “reefer madness,” that marijuana made users were, “violent criminals,” was inaccurate, it didn’t make you violent and angry, it did the opposite, it made you complaisant. The new demonization of marijuana surfaced, weed was evil once again. The governments thinking was because marijuana made you complaisant, it was being pushed by evil commies in order to weaken Americans will to fight the war. FAR OUT thinking haha. Congress took this hogwash and ran with it without a second thought.
1951-1956, sentencing laws intensified for marijuana drug offenses. The Boggs act of 1952, and Narcotics Control Act of 1956 set mandatory sentences for first time offenders at 2-10 years in prison and up to a 20k fine (Today this would amount to ~209k dollars).
Fun Fact # 3 It was legal to pay taxes with hemp in America from 1631 until the early 1800s. (LA Times. Aug. 12, 1981.)
1960s counterculture popularized marijuana and softened a lot of peoples views on the plant and its use. This is most likely due to the increase in the usage of the white upper middle class population. President Kennedy and President Johnson commissioned reports which supported the claim that marijuana did not induce violent behavior or act as a gateway to heavier drugs and therefore policy reform began to involve treatment considerations.
The 1970’s were eventful. Mandatory minimum sentences was deemed superfluous and discarded. A bipartisan commission appointed by President Nixon determined that the personal use of marijuana should be decriminalized, but Nixon rejected their recommendation. Despite Nixons opposition, 11 states proceeded to decriminalize marijuana while others eased up on the penalties. 1973 the Drugs Enforcement Agency-DEA was “founded,” but was actually a merger between two previously established agencies, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNND) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE).
Ahhhh the 80’s, the Reagan years, what a hot mess. Reagan touted that the use of marijuana will undoubtedly lead to permanent brain damage. The study that corroborated this claim was testing the effect of marijuana at the dose of 30 joints a day, on monkeys. In order to determine this claim down to the brain cell level, scientists counted well???? Brain cells, dead brain cells to be precise. The amount of dead brain cells after the death of test monkeys was compared to controls, monkeys that were not subjected to marijuana use. What they didn’t tell people was they weren’t giving the monkeys 30 joints a day everyday for a year as they claimed in the methodology, instead they gave them 63 joints of columbian strength marijuana through the restriction of a gas mask in a 5 minute period everyday for 3 months, ominously and effectively suffocating the monkeys and producing lots of brain damage. As you can see this study was poorly conducted, disingenuous, and by suffocating the monkeys, successfully produced postmortem evidence of brain damage, an effective buzz phrase of the time. Bad Science ya’ll, bad, bad science.
Fun Fact #4 Benjamin Franklin owned one of the first paper mills in America, and it processed hemp (Jack Herer. Emperor Wears No Clothes.)
Studies since this have said the opposite, that it may increase brain cell growth. I found studies from 2005 to 2012 declaring cannabinoids ability to promote embryonic and adult hippocampus neurogenesis (the growth and development of nervous tissue), and produce anxiolytic (anti anxiety drug), and antidepressant-like effects. Fascinating!
During the infamous Reagan years the Anti-Drug abuse Act was signed creating mandatory sentences for drug related crimes and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 was passed creating commensurate punishment for 100 marijuana plants and 100 grams of heroin. That makes sense. Later on in the decade the, “three strikes and your out,” policy went into effect and allowed the death penalty for “ drug kingpins.” In 1989 President Bush Senior declares in a national speech there is a new war, what would come to be the most unsuccessful war in the US, the, “War on Drugs.”
1996 California passes prop 215- The Compassionate Use Act, legalizing the medical use of marijuana and effectively giving a middle finger to DC, the first state to do so. Twenty-nine states, including Washington D.C and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico, allow cannabis use for established medical purposes today.
2018, we have 9 states and Washington D.C., that have legalized marijuana for recreational use while it still remains a schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government of the United States. WASHINGTON D.C IS THE FEDERAL GOVT! Face Palm.
Fun Fact #5 In 1916, the U.S. Government predicted that by the 1940s all paper would come from hemp and that no more trees needed to be cut down. Government studies report that 1 acre of hemp equals 4.1 acres of trees. Plans were in the works to implement such programs. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Archives.)
Want to know about the common Myths and Facts about Marijuana? Click HERE
Want to know more about the Regulatory Barriers Preventing Research into Marijuana? Click HERE
Want to know more about MAPS- Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies ( MAPS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana. Click HERE
So what do you think? Comment below? Did you know some of this stuff?