[All this week, GS will be covering stories on Marijuana - its traditional uses, basic biology, criminalization, neurological effects and more. Join us all this week for our in depth study of this fascinating, controversial plant!] Though most gardeners rarely think about it, in the U.S., growing the ‘wrong’ kind of plant could put you in jail. Why are certain plants illegal to own? Throughout history, marijuana has been one of the most prevalent drugs in many societies. In the United States today, Cannabis – the plant from which marijuana is derived, is actually the largest cash crop, surpassing corn and cotton. However, most of the revenue from marijuana is not from production, but from smuggling and dealing.
The two major products of the Cannabis plant, hemp and marijuana, have vastly different uses. Generally speaking, hemp refers to the non-drug or industrial uses of the Cannabis plant. Plants grown for hemp have less than 0.3% of the drug THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Marijuana refers to the recreational drug produced from Cannabis, containing up to 20% THC.
Until the 1900’s, Cannabis was legally produced in the United States for medicines and in making clothes and rope. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution led to an increase in marijuana use in the U.S. Consequently, in 1914 the Harrison Narcotics Act was passed levying high taxes on any business associated with any narcotic, including marijuana. This act was the first of its kind to criminalize marijuana, stating that any business that wasn’t legally authorized and registered to use such drugs would now be considered culpable.
Due to continuous abuse of medical marijuana, however, the American Medical Association held a conference in 1922 to propose the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act. This initiated state mandates and regulations over the sales and possession of drugs, including marijuana and its derivatives, by providing uniform regulations and safeguards for all states.
In 1930, The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was formed and promoted anti-marijuana propaganda by claiming that the overt aggression, violence, and sexual behavior seen in movies were a result of the use of Cannabis. It was in 1937 that Cannabis was officially deemed illegal in the U.S.
Three crucial campaigners are responsible for this movement: William Randolph Hearst, Lamont DuPont, and Harry Anslinger, head of the FBN. William Hearst, perhaps the most famous of the three, was the owner of The San Francisco Examiner and The New York Journal. He was also involved in politics as a congressman from New York.
In the early 1930’s, criticism increased over the extensive usage of paper made from wood pulp. The public viewed hemp as a more eco-friendly option. However, switching paper production from wood pulp to hemp would have been an expensive venture. Hearst used both his political clout and influence on the media to associate hemp with marijuana.
Lamont DuPont, owner of DuPont Chemical Company, also aided Hearst’s campaign to criminalize marijuana. This new potential eco-friendly hemp market threatened DuPont’s new nylon material, patented in 1937, just as it did Hearst’s paper production. Together, with additional political power from Harry Anslinger, they were successful in connecting hemp with marijuana. Thus, Congress passed the Marijuana Act of 1937, making possession of Cannabis illegal under federal law, as well as setting the repercussions for possession extremely high. Even taxation for industrial and medical use was increased by about 100 times.
Two decades later, The Boggs Act of 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 increased the punishment for possession of marijuana by instituting imprisonment. By 1973 all existing drug-related bureaus and agencies merged to form the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). In the 1980’s the “three-strike” law was established, calling for the death penalty for drug lords and life imprisonment for repeat offenders.
The 1990s saw a turn in events. In 1996, medical marijuana was legalized under the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, however this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1998 when a lawsuit was filed against the cooperative for violation of federal drug laws.
Although in the last century many efforts have been made to decriminalize marijuana, governmental regulations regarding drug control have only increased. In fact, this is a major reason behind the War on Drugs. As a prohibition campaign by President Richard Nixon, the War on Drugs (a phrase coined by President Nixon in 1969) was intended to strengthen anti-drug policies and laws in the U.S., while simultaneously attempting to decrease the crime, violence, and international smuggling caused by illegal drugs. And there is no doubt that drug dealing is associated with extreme violence.
Today, the term Drug War refers to the violence within the drug community: the drug dealers, users, smugglers and producers. The violence caused by drug money and smuggling territories is said to know no bounds. Drug activity by infamous Mexican cartels, such as the Gulf Cartel, has led to the deployment of nearly 50,000 Mexican Army troops to territories in Mexico that have long been controlled by dangerous drug dealers. Due to such activity, the Mexican Border has recently been declared by the State Department to be as dangerous as the terrorism-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In the past 2 years, over ten thousand people, troops and civilians alike, have been killed in these areas. This number is more than twice the number lost in the war in Iraq.
On April 17th, President Obama recognized that the U.S. has been playing a frightening role in the proliferation of drug-related violence, revealing that about 90% of the weapons confiscated by drug traffickers have come from the U.S. The White House is still drafting the details on how the government plans to allocate funds and resources to help curb weapon smuggling and border trafficking.
But should marijuana be associated with harder drugs like cocaine and heroin? Research shows that on a scale of addictiveness and mental impairment, marijuana rates well below alcohol and nicotine (Nutt D, et. al (2007).
While marijuana may not appear to cause as much damage as more harmful drugs like cocaine and heroin, the association created between it and other illicit drugs has made it just as dangerous. Because smuggling marijuana does have the same repercussions as smuggling other drugs, it is necessary to include the damage caused by its sale and production with the damage caused by the sale and production of more dangerous drugs. Therefore marijuana may be considered an aggravating factor in the overall loss of life and damage to the economy caused by drug sales and trafficking in this country.
If the U.S. hopes to fix these problems and put an end to the violence and criminal activity associated with illegal drugs, international collaboration is needed find a more finite solution to this very pressing issue.
Discussion Questions: Do you think marijuana should be legal in this country? Why or why not? Given that marijuana trafficking contributes to drug-related violence, should marijuana possession be treated as a felony or misdemeanor?
References and Further Reading:
Good Cop, Bad Cop: Federal Prosecution of State-Legalized Medical Marijuana Use after United States v. Lopez Alistair E. Newbern California Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 5 (Oct., 2000), pp. 1575-1634 Published by: California Law Review, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3481266
“Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse”. Nutt D, et. al (2007) Lancet 369 (9566): 1047–53. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(07)60464-4/fulltext
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