Why is Cannabis Illegal in the United States?


Cannabis has been illegal in countries all around the world for almost a century. Each country has its own reasons, but in this article, we are only going to cover why cannabis illegal in the United States.

The history of cannabis

Illustration of colonists harvesting cannabis in the late 1800s
illustration of Spanish colonists introducing hemp to North and South America in present-day Mexico and Chile. 1545-1800s

Cannabis has had a long history leading up to its prohibition. There have been cannabis seeds dated up to 10,000 years old found in Japanese pottery relics, along with scraps of woven cannabis fabrics. Some experts believe that cannabis and human beings relationship could date back even further. Archeological evidence suggests that cannabis originated in Central Asia, and travelled with humans as they migrated.

Flash forward to the 1800s. Anglo-American’s and Europeans had been aware of the medicinal benefits since at least the 1830s. During that time period, Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor studying in India documented cannabis extracts and the medicinal effects it had on patients with symptoms like stomach pain and vomiting. Although most medical research from the 1800s has not stood the test of time, Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s work is still relevant today.

The cannabis prohibition 1930’s

Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger announces a series of raids in the nation’s big cities aimed at crippling the narcotics traffic in New York on Jan. 4, 1958. (AP)

Cannabis was made illegal 1930s by a man named Harry Anslinger. Although many of us would like to believe that Harry sat down with some of the top cannabis researchers in the country, and came to a conclusion based on scientific evidence. This was not the case.

Let’s rewind to 1929, Harry Anslinger was put in charge of the Department of Prohibition in Washington, D.C. Alcohol prohibition had been a disaster. Gangs had taken over neighbourhoods, and alcohol was still widely accessible. It was even more poisonous then it was before outlawed. Up until alcohol prohibition ended, Harry Anslinger said that cannabis was not a problem. It doesn’t harm people, he explained, and “there is no more absurd fallacy” than the idea it makes people violent.

But then suddenly, Harry’s attitude towards cannabis changed. He came out publicly, and stated what would happen if you smoked cannabis:

· Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind

·If you smoke a joint you’re more likely to kill your brother

· Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men

·Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing

·I do not think there is such a thing as not being able to cure an addict. Marijuana addicts must go to a Federal narcotic farm.

Harry Anslinger quote from the 1930s

The 1930s witch hunt

This list of quotes from Harry Anslinger could go on and on. But what evidence did Harry have? It turns out that Harry had written to 30 of the top scientists on this subject, asking if cannabis was dangerous. Twenty-nine of the scientists wrote back with a definitive no.

Harry picked out the one scientist that wrote back saying yes and presented him to the world. Harry became obsessed with one case in particular about a boy smoking cannabis, and murdering his parents with an axe. He shared this story with the world and parents all across the United States became terrified of cannabis. This story was based on very little evidence.

This wide-spread of false information lead a fear shocked United States to banning cannabis. They also told other countries they had to do the same. Some countries rejected the idea and said that they will have their drug policy run by doctors. For example, Mexico refused to ban cannabis. So in return, the United States cut off the entire legal supply of painkillers. Without painkillers, Mexican people were dying in agony. So the Mexican government launched a drug war of their own.

But why did Harry Anslinger do this? Why was he trying to convince people that cannabis was something that it wasn’t? Many people including myself, believe that Harry started this cannabis prohibition for two primary reasons:

·Harry was racist, he knew that this would be an easy way to put African-Americans in prison.

·After the alcohol prohibition ended, Harry was still in charge of the department of prohibition. consequently, the department was looking for something to go after.

What is reefer madness?

You may have heard of reefer madness. in the 1930’s the united states government made a campaign to scare parents and young people into thinking cannabis was an extremely dangerous drug. Reefer madness was a one-hour film that would make people believe that smoking cannabis will make you go crazy.

You would think that nowadays the government would rather educate people on drugs, then scare them away with lies? This is not the case, even as recently as 2008 the government is sponsoring propaganda commercials.

anti cannabis advertisement 2008

We have seen this before with sex-education. Schooling systems that teach children to practice abstinence have far higher teen birth rates than schooling systems that teach sex-education. I believe this should be the same with cannabis, instead of trying to scare people away, which obviously isn’t working, teach them about the real effects that cannabis can have on developing brains. In Colorado, We have seen a significant drop in the number of young people smoking cannabis.

Why is cannabis still illegal in the United States?

First of all, the reefer madness propaganda that was started by Harry Anslinger is still around today. Also, the story of the boy who murdered his family with an axe is still shared by people who believe it to be true.

Secondly, many pharmaceutical companies are lobbying against cannabis. If it became federally legal it would hurt their business. If cannabis has the potential to replace pain killers for some people, that is a big no-no in these company’s eyes.

Finally, overturning laws that have been around for almost a century take time. These changes can not be made overnight, especially when there is so much misinformation that is leading people to believe cannabis is something that it is not.

About six-in-ten Americans (62%) say the use of marijuana should be legalized, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Centre survey. October 8th, 2018

Why cannabis shouldn’t be legal

The vast majority of people today believe cannabis is not what it was it made out to be. But, there are still people against legalization. I believe it is important to understand both sides of the conversation before reaching a conclusion. So what are people against legalization saying?

·It is extremely addictive for some people

·Children are increasingly exposed to cannabis

·Cannabis is bad for mental health

·It is a “gateway drug”

·At the moment, there is no concrete way to test if someone is under the influence of cannabis

·The political party they affiliate with is against legalization

There is a lot of reasons why people are against cannabis legalization, these are just some of the most popular out there. Some of these reasons definitely have some substance. But, should cannabis be illegal? Or criminalized?

Why cannabis should be legal

Here are some of the most popular reasons why cannabis should be legal:

·Cannabis is much safer than alcohol.

·It is not possible to die from an overdose on cannabis.

·Legalization will lower crime.

·Legalization will stimulate the economy and create jobs.

·In Colorado, legalizing cannabis has actually led to a drop in the number of young people smoking it.

·People who need the medicinal benefits of cannabis cannot get it while cannabis is illegal

In my own opinion, the pros of legalization outweigh the cons. It’s also important to look at countries that have led the charge on legalization and see the results they have had. Let’s look at Canada for example. Canada has made strong efforts to eliminate elicit cannabis sales, reduce the amount of Canadians with criminal records, and keep cannabis out of the hands of children. By the government monitoring and selling cannabis themselves, this creates a safe supply. Consequently, there are no worries about other chemicals and drugs being mixed in.

I’d love to hear some other people join in on the conversation. Are you for or against legalization?

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