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The Cannabis Chronicles: A Brief Legal History of Cannabis

The Cannabis Chronicles

1906:
Congress passes the Pure Food and Drug Act. Cannabis is regulated as a drug.
1910:
Congress lists cannabis as a narcotic and regulates it as a poisonous substance. Various states begin regulating marijuana in the following years, adding it to a list of “habit forming drugs”.
1930’s:
In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics is formed, headed by Harry J. Anslinger, causing increased scrutiny of cannabis use.
Anslinger was a virulent racist who saw marijuana regulation as a weapon to use against African Americans, Hispanics and other groups he deemed undesirable, including certain entertainers like Jazz musicians. His agency churned out most of the “Reefer Madness” propaganda we now find laughably outrageous.
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made possession and transfer of cannabis illegal except for medical and industrial uses. Cannabis was now being regulated and taxed, putting the United States in the weed business.
In 1938, Congress passes the Pure Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, resulting in the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. Marijuana remains listed as a “dangerous drug”.
1940’s
During World War II, the need for hemp saw the government encouraging farmers to cultivate more hemp than ever before. Yet the medical efficacy of cannabis was still ignored.
In 1947, the DuPont corporation invented nylon, which competed with hemp as a fiber material, resulting in an end to hemp cultivation by the mid-1950’s.
1950’s
Things got much worse for cannabis in the 1950’s when Congress instituted severe mandatory sentences for a variety of drugs, including cannabis. The penalty for cannabis possession as of 1956 became a minimum 2-10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
1960’s
The decade most associated with drug use is ironically the decade of virtually no anti-drug legislation. This would all change after the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.
1970’s
In 1970, the Nixon administration went to war on drugs beginning with the Controlled Substances Act and the creation of the Schedule List for drugs, which identified cannabis as Schedule 1– along with drugs like Heroin– as having the greatest potential for abuse and no medicinal value. In 1973, the DEADrug Enforcement Administration— was formed, and the War on Drugs was truly on.
1980’s
The 1980’s saw the criminal penalties associated with drugs become much harsher under the Reagan administration with the institution of mandatory minimum sentences and the “Three Strikes Rule”. First Lady Nancy Reagan led an anti-drug crusade with increased propaganda– primarily aimed at children and teens– flooding the airwaves. Remember the egg frying while a somber voice intoned, “This is your brain on drugs” commercials?
1990’s
California Proposition 215, passed in 1996, changed everything by legalizing medicinal cannabis in that state. Over the next two decades, other states followed suit, bringing us to the present.
The Present
Currently, there are 29 states with some form of medical and/or recreational use protections for cannabis. States like Colorado are generating huge tax benefits from legal weed while experiencing a net decline in opioid abuse and teen drug use overall. Unfortunately, the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cast a cloud of concern on cannabis legalization.

The fight goes on.

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Vinni BelfioreThe Cannabis Chronicles: A Brief Legal History of Cannabis