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A look at marijuana and the controversies surrounding its use in the us

Marijuana: Effects, Medical Uses and Legalization

The speed with which Americans are now considering legalizing marijuana has taken everyone by surprise. But in the midst of this shift in public opinion and state law it is worth remembering the speed with which marijuana was made illegal.

This month Stephen Siff looks at how political and racial factors combined with the way marijuana users were portrayed in the media to create the "illegalization" of marijuana across the 20th century. On the first day of 2014, Colorado became the first state to permit marijuana dispensaries to sell pot for recreational use.

Across the state, celebratory stoners welcomed the New Year by lining up at licensed retailers to buy bags of heavily taxed artisanal marijuana, with varietal names like Pineapple Express and Alaskan Thunderbolt. Since the first statewide medical marijuana laws went into effect in California in 1996, the number of Americans with legal access to what for many is a pleasurable drug has been steadily growing. Twenty states and the District of Columbia now permit the sale of various forms of marijuana for medical purposes; in the past several months, the governor of New York, a state known since 1973 for its punitive drug laws, announced that he too would pursue accommodation for medical marijuana; and recreational marijuana is expected to be offered for sale in Washington State later this year.

  • A Renaissance is taking place;
  • In 2014 lawmakers blasted DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart on the floor of Congress for failing to reply to questions about whether or not heroin was more or less dangerous than marijuana, which is also often used to treat pain;
  • Harvard Health also reports that the risk of a heart attack is several times higher in the hour after smoking marijuana than it would be normally, and this should be a red flag for anyone with a history of heart disease.

Recently, the District of Columbia decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, treating it as a civil offense from now on. Medical marijuana remains solidly in the realm of alternative medicine, and few clinical studies have been conducted to confirm specific claims.

Cannabis: Promise, risk and controversy

With the current state-level push toward legalization, voters seem to have found a way around the twentieth-century quest for prohibition—a prohibition that has become increasingly difficult to explain or justify. Unlike alcohol, excessive pot smoking has not been unambiguously implicated in violent behavior or poor health. As a Schedule I drug, under federal law, marijuana is considered to have no medical use, although there are thousands of patient testimonials to the contrary.

And perhaps the biggest contradiction of all is that since the century-long drive for prohibition was initiated, marijuana has become extremely popular. Presidents—have experimented with at least once. In popular culture, the drug has become accepted as harmless fun. In 2014, a talk show host can joke with a former congressman about being pot smokers on cable TV.

As Americans consider further legalizing marijuana it is worth reviewing how the use of this plant became illegal in the first place and why prohibition persists in much of the country more than a half century after its use became common.

Interestingly, while marijuana use has been an urgent topic of conversation for over a century in this country, the voices of doctors and scientists have been largely quiet. Instead, the debate has been shaped by media portrayals of drug use and reinforced by politicians and advocacy groups that supported them.

Cannabis, like opiates and cocainewas freely available at drug stores in liquid form and as a refined product, hashish. Cannabis was also a common ingredient in turn-of-the-century patent medicines, over-the-counter concoctions brewed to proprietary formulas. Then, as now, it was difficult to clearly distinguish between medicinal and recreational use of a product whose purpose is to make you feel good.

While there were fads for cannabis across the nineteenth century, strictly recreational use was not widely known or accepted. But the practice of smoking marijuana leaf in cigarettes or pipes was largely unknown in the United States until it was introduced by Mexican immigrants during the first few decades of the twentieth century.

That introduction, in turn, generated a reaction in the U. The first attempt at federal regulation of marijuana came in 1906, with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

In Debate Over Legalizing Marijuana, Disagreement Over Drug’s Dangers

The act included cannabis among the various substances patent medicine companies were required to list on their labels in order a look at marijuana and the controversies surrounding its use in the us worried customers could avoid it. Then, between 1914 and 1925, twenty-six states passed laws prohibiting the plant. The anti-marijuana laws were uncontroversial and passed, for the most part, with an absence of public outcry or even legislative debate.

Flush with success in pushing through alcohol prohibitiontemperance campaigners in the 1920s began turning attention toward opiates and cocaine, which had become prohibited under increasingly strict Supreme Court interpretations of the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act.

The fact that marijuana smoking was a habit of immigrants and the lower class clearly played a role in its prohibition, though there is little indication that Hearst was more racist than might be expected of a man of his time and station.

The association of murder, torture, and mindless violence with marijuana was not borne out by evidence or actual events but blossomed thanks to the vivid imaginations of the journalists charged with sensationalizing the tired story of drug use and addiction. Until a few decades prior, the public was acquainted with opiates from widespread medicinal use, and with cocaine from its presence in drugstore potions including Coca-Cola.

Journalists, politicians, police, and middle-class readers had no similar familiarity with marijuana, allowing it to become the vessel for their worst fears: Anslinger, a former assistant commissioner of the Prohibition Bureau who headed the U. However, Anslinger began to capitalize on fears about marijuana while pressing a public relations campaign to encourage the passage of uniform anti-narcotics legislation in all 48 states.

He later lobbied in favor of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. That the marijuana was a causal factor for the crime was taken for granted. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which regulated the drug by requiring dealers to pay a transfer tax, passed in the House after less than a half-hour of debate and received only cursory attention in the press. House members seem not to have known a great deal about the drug. Anslinger favored strict legal penalties against the use of narcotics, including marijuana, and worked behind the scenes to defund or discredit research that contradicted his views on the danger of these drugs or the effectiveness of prohibition.

When New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and the New York Academy of Medicine produced a report in 1944 concluding that marijuana was only a mild intoxicant, it was pre-emptively attacked in the American Journal of Psychiatry in an article solicited by Anslinger.

Fourteen years later, Anslinger tried to prevent publication of a joint American Bar Association-American Medical Association study that suggested penalties for possession were too harsh.

The report was ultimately published by the Indiana University Press after narcotics agents convinced the original sponsor to drop funding.

The Science behind the DEA's Long War on Marijuana

Through the 1950s, lawmakers and journalists seemed to have little patience or interest for fine distinctions among illegal drugs. The Kids Are Alright? Marijuana Comes to Campus Views of drugs changed in the mid-1960s, with increasing reports about a new type of marijuana smoker: The pronounced expansion of marijuana use among youth in the 1960s had no single cause.

In the sweet-smelling haze, observers have seen mutiny against the values of the previous generation and the War in Vietnaman admiration for the free-spirited Beats, and the freedom born from an excess of material wealth and time. For many youth, smoking pot seemed harmless fun, perhaps just a little more fun because it was against the law. The mild pleasures of the drug itself seemed to refute the logic of the laws against it.

By the 1960s, even Anslinger conceded the criminal penalties then in force for youthful marijuana use were too severe.

  • These numbers could rise as more states continue to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes;
  • The light is bright, too bright for some, but we are slowly getting used to it;
  • Human fetuses exhibit the cannabinoid receptor type 1 in the nervous system as early as 14 weeks of gestation, and animal studies suggest cannabinoid exposure may lead to abnormal brain development;
  • With the current state-level push toward legalization, voters seem to have found a way around the twentieth-century quest for prohibition—a prohibition that has become increasingly difficult to explain or justify;
  • When New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and the New York Academy of Medicine produced a report in 1944 concluding that marijuana was only a mild intoxicant, it was pre-emptively attacked in the American Journal of Psychiatry in an article solicited by Anslinger.

In 1967, not only hippie activists but the solidly mainstream voices of Life, Newsweek, and Look magazines questioned why the plant was illegal at all. Meanwhile, the number of state-level marijuana arrests increased tenfold between 1965 and 1970.