There is an ongoing change in how cannabis is perceived by the public and politicians. For many years, cannabis was simply outlawed and questioning why seemed like a pointless task. However, as the evidence grows to support the efficacy and safety of cannabis as a medicine. The prospective positive proponents of cannabis lead to questions as to why cannabis was made illegal in the first instance.
As society takes a more objective look at how cannabis is regulated and the laws criminalising marijuana, there are many people investigating the history of cannabis and what was the evidence and reasoning behind outlawing the plant.
It is wise to begin the investigation at the beginning of cannabis’ run in with the law. In the United States in the early 20th century shortly after the Mexican revolution, there was a tremendous number of immigrants moving to Southern American States like Texas and Louisiana from Mexico. The new Americans not only brought with them their language and culture but also the common use of cannabis to treat certain ailments and as a tool for relaxation.
Mexican immigrants referred to the plant as marijuana. However, Americans typically called the plant cannabis. So, at the time, marijuana was a foreign term for the plant. However, the media quickly began to tarnish the reputation of cannabis. False claims about the new citizens and the disruptive influence of cannabis quickly spread and began to formulate people’s opinion on cannabis.
The demonisation of cannabis in the United States was an extension of the demonisation of the new Mexican immigrants. To ensure that surveillance and control systems were in place to maintain leverage over the new Mexican citizens. In El Paso, opium had been made illegal to try and control Chinese immigrants. Cannabis was then made illegal to enable the authorities to have an excuse to search, detain and deport Mexican immigrants.
The nature of controlling people by controlling the goods they brought through customs was successful. This then became a nationwide strategy to increase controls over immigrants that were new US citizens.
Throughout the hearings pertaining the cannabis in the 1930s, claims were made about the capability of cannabis to influence men to become violent and solicit sex. This imagery became the foundation of the campaign against cannabis which ultimately resulted in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively banned the use and sale of marijuana and cannabis.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was deemed to be unconstitutional many years after its inception and it was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s. The controlled substances act was established Schedules for ranking substances correlated to their potential for addiction and lethality. Cannabis was put into the most restrictive category in the United States, which is Schedule I.
A declaration by The Schafer Commission suggested that cannabis shouldn’t be in Schedule I and it even doubted its designation as an illicit substance. However, President Nixon ignored the commission’s suggestions and to this day, cannabis remains a Schedule I substance at a Federal Law Level.
California became the first state to approve medicinal cannabis in 1996. This brought to an end 59 years of cannabis being completely outlawed. Prior to the introduction of the Marijuana Tax Act that was established in 1937, cannabis had a 5,000 year history as a medicine and therapeutic agent across numerous cultures around the world. When you consider this, there is just a brief period of time where cannabis was considered to be dangerous and there were nefarious reasons behind why this became the perception of cannabis.
Those that oppose the use of cannabis in medicine propose that there isn’t enough evidence to warrant prescribing cannabis as a medicine. However, supporters of medical cannabis point to the history of cannabis and the consensus that has been obtained over thousands of years to the medical efficacy of cannabis and its safety.
There are many states in the USA where cannabis now legal for both medicinal and recreational adult use. As the medical benefits of cannabis are supported with greater evidence, a consensus within the medical community will be reached which will facilitate more investment into the space.
The European cannabis sector is a number of years behind the USA. However, great progress is being made particularly on the medical cannabis side. There is increasing investment into developing cannabis medicines and ensuring that standards within the industry are beyond reproach.
The global attitude towards cannabis is gradually shifting towards the acceptance of adult recreational use and that cannabis has true benefits as a medication. Outlawing a substance that can provide relief to those living with debilitating chronic pain conditions, improve a cancer patient’s quality life or limit an epileptic child’s number of seizures seems insane, and finally seems to be realised after over 80 years of cannabis being criminalised.