The history of cannabis is long and rich in its content. I do hope to touch upon many of the interesting and wonderful facts of this incredible plant. For now though, I am going to concentrate on just the most current era and within the United States.
There are moments going back to the early 20th century that are notable in the United States regarding the history of Cannabis. One that stands out from the beginning of that time line is most definitely the year 1937. This would be the year that the Marijuana Tax Stamp act would be brought about. Although there is ample evidence that the Federal Government was highly complicit at many levels and that there were some major players from the private sector that colluded in these acts such as Lammot DuPont and William Randolph Hearst, along with the most influential individual to work towards the marginalization and demonization of cannabis was Harry Anslinger.
Cannabis Prohibition Begins
So this mostly began with one man, Harry J. Anslinger. In 1929 Anslinger was working for the Bureau of Prohibition which while geared towards prohibition of both alcohol and drugs had the primary goal of Alcohol prohibition. By the early 1930’s it would have been apparent to Anslinger and others that this most important role was coming to a close with the ratification of the 21st amendment (repealing the 18th) in 1933 thus ending the prohibition of alcohol. Anslinger most likely would have enjoyed his job (remember this is the time of the Great Depression from 1929 until approximately 1939), not only at the Bureau of Prohibition but also at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to which he was appointed to this post by Andrew W. Mellon the Secretary of the Treasury who just happened to be his wife’s uncle. Can you say nepotism?
Anslinger knew that he would have to come up with something creative to fight against since the fight against alcohol was about to be lost. So why not team up with others (remember DuPont and Hearst, more about them another time) who would not only also benefit from this but would gladly aide him in the fight against this new scourge. Interestingly enough though is the fact that originally Anslinger himself had not seen cannabis as a issue and stated ” “there is no more absurd fallacy” than the idea it makes people violent”. As with far too many government officials he easily forgot this statement and completely reversed himself in 1937 saying “Marihuana (sic marijuana) is a short cut to the insane asylum. … a storehouse of horrid specters … Hasheesh (sic Hashish) makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing.” Anslinger testified to congress in 1937 that “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Marijuana Tax Stamp Act
Wow, now there is a 180 that would make any politician proud! All right he had his demon, so now how to kill it. He, along with the help of the Treasury Department came up with the Marijuana Tax Stamp act in December 1937. This was a crazy catch 22 law so that if a farmer wanted to grow hemp (a non psychoactive form of cannabis and a major industry at the time) or cannabis he would need to obtain this stamp which could only be obtained in D.C. by bringing the cannabis to there to apply for the stamp but doing so was a violation of the law so they would be in turn incarcerated for doing so. So this added up to far to many Americans being jailed for doing what they had done for years; grow cannabis.
From there he let state after state pass laws which outlawed the growth, production or use of marijuana (interestingly enough the last state to follow would be the state of New Hampshire which just happens to have some of the most prohibitive laws for punishment regarding cannabis). OK so that is the beginning of the crazy and devious campaign against cannabis by the Federal Government in a nutshell.
Cannabis Prohibition World War 2
The scourge of 1937 came and went with the demonization of cannabis in full force. It continued this way until early in the conflict of World War 2. Japan had continued its conquest of the numerous islands of the southern pacific which resulted in many difficult consequences for the United States. One of those consequences was the loss of the ability to import hemp which at the time was still a vital raw material for making rope, canvas, clothing. So what did our government do? It went all out to convince Americans that they needed to do their part for patriotism; Grow Hemp! After all of the negative press that they had put out they knew they would have to truly pull out all the stops to convince the people that this would be the right thing to do. The U.S. Department of Agriculture made a fourteen minute propaganda film, Hemp for Victory. The U.S. government even went to the incredible length of urging kids at a 4-H club in Kentucky to grow multiple acres supplying them with the seeds to start! But sure enough once the war was won and done they went right back to the parochial hatred of cannabis. Even going as far as disavowing that the Hemp for Victory film had ever been created!
Well the ’50s came and the U.S. was busy with its’ over abundance and prosperity while mostly just ignoring cannabis. That was just something those kooky beatniks used plus those crazy jazz musicians would have been the pervasive thought of the day. The ’60s rolled in and things were about to start to change. First the war from hell that was a place where young men were finding a plant that started to help them numb themselves to the atrocities that surrounded them. All the while kids at home were becoming more aware and disenfranchised with everything around them from their parents to the U.S government. The biggest change coming would be in the most evil way anyone could imagine; Richard Nixon’s hateful, vengeful war on drugs!
Cannabis Prohibition The Nixon Years
First would come, in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act, under which new guidelines and thus controls would be created regarding all drugs within the United States. There are multiple levels but the worst is Schedule 1 which is exactly where cannabis (marijuana) was placed. It shares this place of infamy with other Schedule 1 items like Heroine, LSD and a few other items that are considered to have no medical value. Just to place things in context Schedule 2 which is not as dangerous contains morphine, cocaine, amphetamines, oxycodone, and more. This gave President Nixon the tool he needed to fight back against some parts of the nation that he hated the most; the youth protesting his war, enlisted who were using, blacks and others (Nixon had a lot of hate for lots of people something that most American citizens truly didn’t know at the time).
It is best expressed by John Ehrlichman; who was counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon, said “Look, we understood we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure.”. Congrats to them for figuring out how to do an end run around the laws of the nation which protected us with falsehoods and lies that they contrived into new hateful and damaging laws! But Nixon was not even close to being done he was just gearing up. In 1971 the term “the War on Drugs” would be coined by the media right after Nixon made a special message to congress regarding Drug Abuse Prevention and Control. Next came the creation of the D.E.A., the Drug Enforcement Agency, which was an amalgamation of the Bureau of Customs, Customs Agency Service; and, other federal office. We can only thank our lucky stars that Nixon’s over reaching desire to have power over everything came to a head and left him impeached and in disgrace by 1974. It is truly frightening to think just what he would have continued to do if he had been left in power and unchecked. Things were indeed dark enough but the true heart of darkness was still yet to come.
The Carter Administration
President Ford would find himself far too busy with discovering himself suddenly in office, that at the most, he would become basically a foot note in the war on drugs. He would simply have continued on with the policies that had just been put into place by Nixon. Unable to waste any effort on contributing to them substantially.
Now, President Jimmy Carter; here will be a mostly sad and conflicted effort for something different. There was just too much going on with the Carter Presidency that by now most Americans would have actually forgotten his stand on cannabis. The most notable event happening during the Carter Presidency of course, the Iran hostage crisis that started around 1979 towards the end of his time in office. By that time most Americans no longer where thinking of how the newly elected President Carter had been calling in 1977 for a “nationwide decriminalization of cannabis”.
It was August of 1977 and President Carter was giving a message regarding drug abuse to Congress. He touched upon many aspects from the nations problems with the use of heroin to cocaine and the many different aspects that were available and should be available to fight these problems. But when it came to cannabis, which was outlined separately within his speech as marijuana for several paragraphs, his views were markedly different. Although he was not whole heartedly endorsing the use of cannabis he was able to recognize that even though only active for a few years, the Federal laws regarding cannabis were more destructive to a person than cannabis itself and not very helpful in preventing cannabis use. A most notable line from that speech is, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed.”. This would sadly be lost as an ideal for many years. It has only been recently brought back to the forefront.
President Carter also felt that “Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana”. Again he was quick to point out that this “decriminalization is not legalization”. He wanted to have people avoid the connection of a Federal criminal penalty for cannabis use. He still did feel that ” chronic intoxication with marijuana or any other drug may deplete productivity”, so he was definitely not in favor it seemed. Although it should be mentioned that in 2011 Jimmy Carter had come out in favor of ending the war on drugs as having seen it as an incredible failure. Yet that tolerant note of that drug speech would never be imagined. That would all change during the last years of his presidency when he would have “bowed to prohibitionist pressure and authorized Paraquat- to be sprayed on Mexican marijuana fields”. This was horrible in its own right. The purposeful poisoning of this crop that undoubtedly would make it to the American consumer. Yet as incredibly insidious an act as this was it would pale in comparison with what the next President and that First Lady would bring to the war on drugs.
1980s- Regan begins the “War on Drugs” and Nancy starts “Just Say No Campaign”
The 1980’s would bring the war on cannabis to all new levels. Of course just as politicians had done before, President Regan would couch his obvious hatred of cannabis with the professed term of the ‘War on Drugs’. Thus trying to show everyone that he was in a battle against all drugs, of course not just cannabis. But just consider a famous quote spoken approximately in 1980 from a stumping speech he gave in which he said the “marijuana, … , is … the most dangerous drug in the United States”. This truly only sets the tone for what President Reagan, his administration, as well as the First Lady herself would now bring with them in their battle against cannabis. Although it had been a stage that was set by Nixon, President Regan would put an extremely tyrannical and militant spin on his version of the War on Drugs.
There would be the new implementation of asset forfeiture laws, zero tolerance (which was regarding not only what would be allowed for evidence to support a crime but in so far as how society itself should view any drug use) and a more militant and aggressive policing force all in the name of eradicating the devils weed. Reagan would go so far a to say, “We’re taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts; we’re running up a battle flag.” There would be the extreme push for drug testing in ALL work places every where with the heavy emphasis on testing for marijuana (something that remains in place to this day). The racial disparity for arrests for all drugs with the emphasis being still more slanted towards marijuana arrests would only continue and grow under Reagan’s administration. Just listening to him a person would swear they hearing the sound track to one the of the anti marijuana propaganda films from the 1930’s.
Nancy Regan on Cannabis Prohibition “Just Say No”
The problem being that this was for real and not at all funny. Reagan was not alone in his endeavors though, he would be joined by a large group of cohorts that would be very prepared to put in their efforts for this ‘war’. The First Lady would be right by his side from the beginning. Nancy Reagan would even go to the point of starting her own separate effort by officially creating her “Just Say No” campaign in 1986. All the while the Vice President, George H. W. Bush, would be busy doing his part in the fight in the war on drugs backed as he had been for many years by pharmaceutical giants such as Lilly, Pfizer, and Abbott to name just a few. There were still many more people in the Reagan administration which would be doing there part against marijuana during the years of his two terms. But soon the end of his presidency would be drawing to a close and he would be finding himself as well as many in the administration in the predicament of trying to find plausible deniability for the Iran Contra scandal and many other problems. Soon his two terms would become just another painful memory within the ‘War on Drugs’. George H.W. Bush would be there to pick up that battle flag and carry it forward.
George H.W. Bush Hated All Drugs
President George H. W. Bush would only serve a short yet intense and highly fraught single term. Not for a single minute should anyone remember differently than the fact that the first President Bush would be against all drugs (so this would include maintaining cannabis prohibition) and would make sure to leave his mark within the war on drugs. It would be near the beginning of his presidency that he would take his first shot with his famous ‘crack’ speech on September 5th, 1989 which he gave from the oval office.
President Bush would use a prop of some crack cocaine which had been bought just across the street. A set up buy made by some undercover agents from the White House. This was the ‘proof’ needed to carry on with the zero tolerance initiatives which had been started by President Reagan. This was his rallying cry, used to double down with the war on drugs and along with the pledge for more funding in order to fulfill the fact that, “we need more jails, more prisons, more courts and more prosecutors.”
Here he would be setting the stage for a wave of incarceration that would be coming. For all the damage that he would still do with the war on drugs; he was once again a President preoccupied with far too many compelling issues. The Gulf War would be just one pressing matter on through with the domestic policy issues (remember no new taxes?) President Bush was dealing with for him to truly concentrate more on the war on drugs.
He wasn’t as able to be focused such as Reagan had been with his First Lady’s program of ‘Just Say No’ or through the insulting “this is your brain on drugs” commercials. Yet again, make no mistake that the senior President Bush had done his part during his presidency and that he had long been making his mark in the war on drugs. Remember he had been Director of Central Intelligence (1976–77) and had even been part of big pharma when he had been appointed as the director of Eli Lilly in 1977. This senior Bush would set the stage ultimately for the next three presidents to come.
Cannabis Prohibition and Bill Clinton
William Jefferson Clinton, a name that conjures a lot of thoughts that scatter in many directions. The two terms of his presidency were filled with many high notes as well as low. He was a president that truly started to work towards helping the LGBT community. The country was heading financially in the right direction. But the two most remembered things of this time would be of course the impeachment/affair but the infamous (if not becoming a major punchline) words of Bill Clinton; ““I didn’t inhale”. This would definitely frame what would be remembered. This all stems from a 1992 interview on British TV where he said; “I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it, and didn’t inhale, and never tried it again.”
Perhaps this is correct, although thinking of it shouts high on the BS meter. Unfortunately what should be remembered has been mostly forgotten in favor of the more salacious happenings. The multiple changes in the laws, mostly for the severity would have a lasting impact upon the people of the United States. Those even within the community of cannabis users would be impacted with extreme severity to this day.
All of that can be simply put into the phrase; ” Three Strikes”. So many people would be punished with a very biased lean towards individuals amongst ethnic minority communities. There would be and are still many people who are being imprisoned for small (as little as a gram) amounts of cannabis. The prison sentences would be obscene to such a level as an individual being sent to prison for 13 years on that ‘third strike’ for the possession of two joints.
This would be the beginning of the prison state that the United States has now become. Hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug sentences fill our prisons every year. This is a lasting impact that should be a stain on President Clinton’s legacy but it has been lost in the shuffle. But things were not going to get better in the least. The next president would double down on everything that his predecessors ever committed against the cannabis community. Hard to believe but George W. Bush would bring a new level of crazy against people who only looked to a plant for medical relief or just for general wellness.
Cannabis Prohibition Under George W. Bush
George W. Bush with considerable controversy would become the first president of the new century while just continuing many of the old guards policies towards drugs and specifically cannabis. The new millennium would bring this new president, along with new twists in the War on Drugs, and sadly with Terror now the biggest and yet saddest change to everyone’s life both here in the States and around the world that will reach no telling how far.
The second President Bush would be known not just for his two terms but of course for so much more in a way eclipsing his father. Everything from the initial election itself through the life changing events of 9/11 with wars and scandals in-between. Ironically enough though it would be this President who would actually have a past, a problem that would be of note and in contrast to the ideal of being that fighter in the War on Drugs.
It would end up becoming widely known; even to the point of being easy comedic fair, that President Bush had been arrested for DUI. This happened in 1976 in the state of Maine when George W was 30 years old. While it is also alleged that President Bush had in his early years a problem with the use of cocaine. George W. had supposedly even been arrested for cocaine possession back in 1972 with his record subsequently being erased.
So a person might even have had a brief moment to think that things would be different in the Bush years but this would most defiantly not be the situation. The subsequent increase of the prison population for drug related crimes that would be non-violent in nature would continue to be on the rise. All of which had its’ roots firmly set in place back during the Clinton years. For all of the damage that President George W. Bush would do in regards to the War on Drugs it would be some of the people he would appoint, the people that he would put into positions of power that would make some of the greatest and longest reaching impacts. These exact individuals would actually go so far to continue to do their best damage right on through he next presidents administration.
The next presidential candidate would stir up great thoughts and possibilities in the cannabis community. But I am getting just a little ahead of my self. Still here in the time frame of the Presidency of George W. Bush there would be a pivotal figure that would emerge.
Even though it would be late in the second term of his presidency; there would be an appointment of a critical foe against cannabis. In November of 2007 a new administrator would be appointed as the head of the D.E.A.; Michele Leonhart and she would bring an incredible new zest to the cannabis witch hunt. Again there was that hope. There was supposed to be that new president on the horizon that might actually bring change.
Barrack Obama Beginning of the End of Cannabis Prohibition
President Barack Obama. This president more than any other before him truly offered hope to the people of the cannabis community. Of course (as many of President Obama’s slogans would attest)President Obama was offering change to so many varied groups it seemed across the nation. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the guy. I think he is a decent guy that got handed a really bad deal with all of the obstructionism from congress(never mind the crazy world just getting even more crazy).
Obama At War With Himself?
Yet to say that he is the most incredible example of an individual seeming to be at war within himself regarding cannabis is the epitome of a repressed trait. He has written about and has openly talked about his cannabis use during his youth. Yet the incarceration rate for non violent drug offenders increased under the Obama Presidency. This includes the alarmingly continuing growing number of young African-Americans (and other people of color) being sent to prison for lengthy terms (this is mostly due to the help of the 3 strikes law).
Amazing when you step back and see the impact all of their actions have had!? Focusing back to President Obama; he had openly run for president for the 2008 election saying that he “… would use science..” as a lens when looking at marijuana and any possible reforms. Yet he seemed to give a blank check to the D.E.A. when it came to giving them the ability to aggressively pursue and prosecute cannabis related cases and letting Michele Leonhart run a personal crusade against cannabis.
Marijuana No More Dangerous Than Alcohol
Once more though he would be found on the opposite side. In January of 2014 in an interview with the New Yorker, President Obama rather famously said, “marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol”. Again turn the page and he would be on record for supporting the DC voter-approved legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in December of 2014. He would go so far as to state that any states that had passed any laws regarding medical marijuana that were abiding correctly would be basically left alone. The attorney general at the time; Eric Holder, would put forth and have others put forth memos outlining these policies.
Yet the D.E.A. along with certain attorney generals would ignore this and attack with incredibly frivolous yet aggressive lawsuits against cannabis dispensaries such as Harborside Health Centers in California. The Obama administration it seems would just ignore these actions. The dichotomy of the Obama administrations actions on cannabis can just go on and on. The ultimate culmination being that he issued many presidential pardons for non-violent drug offenders. All of this while he continued to answer reporters questions if he will legalize (de-schedule) marijuana before he left office simply as “No”.