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Cannabis Prohibition – A Hazy Trip Down Memory Lane

In 1970, the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (H.R. 18583), which is also known as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Under the CSA, marijuana (and I will refer to it as cannabis since marijuana was used before as a slang derogatory term), was classified with other substances such as LSD and heroin as a Schedule I substance. The definition of a Schedule I substance is that it is illegal to prescribe, possess or sell since there is no medical benefit derived from the substance and it is regarded as highly addictive.

So any inquiry into the current state of the legal Cannabis Industry must take into account the divergence between federal and state jurisdictions.

The legal consequences of cannabis’ federal Schedule I classification are vast and create many impediments to a well-functioning state, and eventual Federal, regulation of the Cannabis Industry. As the media constantly publishes stories about the lack of banking options for the Cannabis Industry, Federal and state banks are reluctant to provide banking services because the sale of cannabis on the Federal level is still deemed to be a criminal act, and any funds associated therewith are the proceeds of criminal activity. Additionally, cannabis’ Schedule I classification prevents the industry from the engaging in interstate commerce since it is still against federal law to do so.

Hamstrung by the Feds

The current state cannabis legalization effort has been hamstrung by the Federal prohibition.

So turning our attention to the long-term historical perspective, cannabis has been known by a variety of names for thousands of years in the Middle East, Africa, China, India, Mexico and the Caribbean. Cannabis has been used for a variety of purposes — medically, religiously and socially.

Contrary to popular conservative belief, cannabis did not suddenly appear in the United States in the 1960s.

Cannabis had been grown in the United States since the colonial period. Hemp was a crop that was grown by the founders of the U.S. because of its ability to be used for industrial purposes – such as rope, twine, and paper. Although it is highly unlikely that America’s Founding Fathers used cannabis for recreational purposes, an occasional article will come out citing the founder’s potential use of cannabis as an intoxicant.

The use and cultivation of cannabis was essentially non-news until the 1930s in the U.S. This is not to say that other countries did not inquire into the effects of cannabis prior to this time. In 1893, the British government established the Indian Hemp Commission, which evaluated the physical, mental, and moral effects of cannabis on the indigenous population of India. Though the results of the Commission are less than laboratory standard, they did indicate little potential physical harm in the moderate use of cannabis and recognized little need in prohibiting the substance’s use. This view was once again reasserted by the British government in the conclusions of the 1968 Baroness Wooten Report.

During other global drug conferences, such as the Shanghai Opium Commission (1909), Hague Opium Conference (1912), and the Geneva Opium Conference (1924-1925), the issue of cannabis prohibition was never raised. Consideration of cannabis globally as an illegal drug, was far-fetched for the times.

The man who led the anti-cannabis charge

However, there is one man attributing to changing this global perception. Harry S. Anslinger was the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930s. He has been said to have engaged in the same type of tactics used by J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI.

After alcohol prohibition was repealed, Anslinger sought to prohibit cannabis use on a federal and global level. With a few stymied attempts such as being denied the ability to place cannabis prohibition on the agenda at the 1936 Conference for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs in Geneva, Anslinger focused on crafting policy for the U.S.. In 1937, with 16 states already having legislation on the books prohibiting cannabis, Anslinger was able to have the Marijuana Tax Act passed by using horror stories and a deliberate campaign of misinformation, which levied a $100 tax on every ounce sold back in the late 1930s and essentially made the cultivation, sale or use of cannabis inaccessible and non-feasible.

On the heels of the misinformation campaign about cannabis that was making the journalistic rounds, then New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia commissioned the N.Y. Academy of Medicine to investigate the use of cannabis and its effects. After six years of study, in 1944 the academy published its findings stating that any similarities between cannabis and narcotics was refuted. The other important findings of the Academy were:

  • The practice of smoking cannabis does not lead to addiction, medically speaking;
  • The use of cannabis does not lead to morphine, heroin or cocaine addiction;
  • Cannabis smoking is not the major determining factor in the commission of major crimes;
  • The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of cannabis smoking in New York City are unfounded; and importantly,
  • The majority of cannabis smokers are Negros and Hispanics.

With respect to legislators and public interest groups that seek further medical studies before ending prohibition, the research that they are seeking has already been conducted numerous times already, and such cries are usually just attempts to delay or derail the process of considering the end of cannabis prohibition.

More government classifications

Additionally, with the current Schedule I classification of cannabis, it makes it next to impossible to conduct medical research regarding the effects of cannabis on a federal level. However, please note that the U.S. government itself has found medical benefits with the use of cannabis, and accordingly, holds a patent on certain cannabis strains and controls a cannabis grow at the University of Mississippi. Fortunately, other countries such as Israel have allowed cannabis research over the last decade and those modern results are available to be studied.

In 1942, Dr. Roger Adams, a chemist, discovered that tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) was the active chemical ingredient that was responsible for the mild mind altering effects from cannabis ingestion. After keeping a special log and testing THC on fellow chemists, Adams concluded that the only adverse effects of the mild hallucinogenic inducing agent was that it created a sensation to eat (the “munchies”). Twenty-two years later in 1964, an Israeli chemist discovered THC-9 and showed that the then chemical content of the cannabis varied between 1 percent to 11 percent depending on a variety of factors such as nutrients, soil conditions and climate.

In the 1950s, the U.S. government classified opiates and cannabis together under the Uniform Narcotics Act, claiming that cannabis was a dangerous drug, in spite of the earlier evidence to the contrary. The Uniform Narcotics Act was to serve a model to the states in how effective legislation could be enacted to address the growing (manufactured) concern of illegal drug use. The bulk of research conducted in the 1960s supported the fact that cannabis is more closely linked to mild hallucinogens than narcotics, which had already been previously established.

In 1962, the White House Conference on Narcotics and Drug Abuse found that, “The hazards of Marijuana (in its classification as a narcotic) have been exaggerated.” In 1967, Harvard Medical student Andrew Weil concluded the physiological effects of cannabis to be relatively harmless when compared to the effects of alcohol. Weil’s paper, published in Science magazine, also stated that “marijuana is a relatively mild intoxicant.”

In 1968, Lincoln Clark once again documented the change of perception exhibited by patients under the influence of cannabis. That same year, Fredick Mengle scientifically documented the temporal disintegration of perception. Also the notion of severe hallucinations, alone from cannabis use, were dispelled in the same study.

In 1969, the Canadian LeDain Commission further concluded that with a typical dosage of cannabis, few acute physiological effects have been detected. The report goes on to state that adverse psychological reaction to cannabis is rare. These conclusions were further corroborated by a study undertaken by M.H. Keeler in 1968.

Not “a major threat to public health”

In 1972, the first report of the National Commission of Marijuana and Abuse stating “from what is known about the effects of marijuana, its use at present levels does not constitute a major threat to public health.” The other stated conclusions were:

  • Cannabis does not lead to physical dependency;
  • Intermittent use of cannabis causes no physical or psychological harm;
  • A temporary impairment of time and spatial perception are demonstrated; and,
  • The incidence of psychosis from cannabis is exceedingly rare.

In the words of Dr. Thomas E. Bryant, the former president of the Drug Abuse Council,

Prohibition and intolerant attitudes often develop against drugs that were used by racial minority groups – groups that were initially feared and repressed for other reasons.”

Cannabis had been considered the drug of poor urban minorities, not the drug of middle class white America.

So the recent successful efforts of ending cannabis prohibition on a state level effectively acknowledges the misguided attempts of the federal government to classify cannabis as something it is not – a dangerous drug.

Instead the states and its residents, have overcome the misinformation and failure of the federal government to address cannabis as a true medical alternative, a sacred religious sacrament and a substance of mild intoxication, which is no different, and in fact in many cases safer, than legally available alcohol.

At some point in the nearer future, the federal government will be forced to address cannabis prohibition head on, but until that day we can give praise and thanks that many states are moving down a different path.

Please feel free to reach out to me at Gainsburg@bellsouth.net if you have any questions or legal issues involving the Cannabis Industry. I am here to serve the cannabis community.

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