“Get Wise! Legalize!” is a catchy little phrase stolen from a petitioners sign to legalize marijuana here in Hawaii (honolulumagazine.com). Legalizing marijuana is now becoming not just a debate but a movement and it is gaining momentum across the nation.
Hailing from Colorado, I have personally watched and participated in the argument for legalizing marijuana since I was in high school. Marijuana offers many benefits to society on economic, social and medical levels and the truth is that the plant has been made criminal in this country with no real evidence of it being harmful. Now, as American standards are changing rapidly we should take this opportunity to legalize marijuana, to the greatest level. This opportunity should be treated with responsibility and concern for society as a whole. Not everybody wants to smoke marijuana, nor should it be abused. Just like prescription drugs or alcohol should not be abused. Instead, it should be taxed and regulated for the sake of the consumer.
From my high school days when all you could find was “Mexican swag” on a Friday night, to today when you can legally walk into a shop and order off the menu, marijuana use has changed drastically over the past twenty years. I remember trying to grow pot plants in my boyfriend’s basement with some poor lighting and male seeds, which if you don’t know I can tell you… won’t produce anything worth smoking. Now, in Colorado you can legally grow your own plants on your own property with seeds that are engineered to produce only female plants. The kinds of plants my classmates and I would look at in High Times Magazine during lunch period all while day-dreaming of a trip to Amsterdam. During this time in my life I thought that it was important to know the history of marijuana and so I set out to find the answers.
I found out that the history of cannabis in the United States dates back far earlier than most Americans are aware of, going back as far as 1619. In those early years of colonies and first American settlers, it was then that, by decree of King James I, every English colonist was ordered to grow 100 marijuana plants specifically for export and with the British colonization of the Americas, and the high demand for marijuana and hemp alike, American colonists were ordered to do the same (medicalmarijuana.procon.org ). Marijuana wasn't just a desired crop; it translated into big government money. The uses for marijuana plants at this time varied from the use of hemp for ropes and fabrics to spiritual and medicinal purposes. 80% of all textiles, fabrics, clothes, linen, drapes, bed sheets, etc. were made from hemp up until the 1820s, with the introduction of the cotton gin. Until 1883, 75-90% of all paper in the U.S. was made with hemp and until 1937 70-90% of all rope and twine was made with hemp. In the mid-to-late 1800's the 2nd & 3rd most commonly used medications were concentrated cannabis extracts and resins (a.k.a. hashish). From 1850-1942 cannabis resin was used to treat rheumatism, gout, depression, cholera, and neuralgia, and marijuana was prescribed for rheumatism, nausea and labor pains. In 1850 the U.S. Census reported 8,327 hemp plantations of at least 2000 acres in size. Not accounted for were thousands of smaller crops. Even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on Mount Vernon and Monticello. And believe it or not the Declaration of Independence released on July 4, 1776 was written on hemp.
As our country grew some have theorized that the hemp industry greatly threatened the cotton industry and that because it contained the mind altering chemical THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), it was easy to criminalize marijuana and eliminate the industry altogether. If you look at the history of how marijuana became illegal you will see that at first it was an alleged attempt at public safety but was motivated mostly by money, racial prejudice and slander. To assume that the cotton industry had some part in the prohibition of marijuana might truly be an understatement. The cotton industry was threatened economically and during the days when slavery and racial prejudice were tolerated, it would have been quite easy to eradicate their competition.
One conspiracy theory goes as such: “William Randolph Hearst (Citizen Kane) and the Hearst Paper Manufacturing Division of Kimberly Clark owned vast acreage of timberlands. The Hearst Company supplied mostly paper products. Patty Hearst’s grandfather, a destroyer of nature for his own personal profit, stood to lose billions because of hemp. In 1937, DuPont patented the processes to make plastics from oil and coal. DuPont’s Annual Report urged stockholders to invest in its new petrochemical division. Synthetics such as plastics, cellophane, celluloid, methanol, nylon, rayon, Dacron, etc., could now be made from oil. Natural hemp industrialization would have ruined over 80% of DuPont’s business. Andrew Mellon became Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury and DuPont’s primary investor. He appointed his future nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Secret meetings were held by these financial tycoons. Hemp was declared dangerous and a threat to their billion dollar enterprises. For their dynasties to remain intact, hemp had to go. These men took an obscure Mexican slang word: ‘marijuana’ and pushed it into the consciousness of America” (Yurchey, Doug).
In the 1800s, America began regulating the pharmaceutical industry and marijuana, starting with laws like the Vaccine Act of 1813 and the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Cannabis was in fact already available in American pharmacies in the 1850s but was soon on a list of poisons that had to be labeled and regulated when prescribed. The original law to include marijuana as a labeled poison was passed in 1860 following a string of suicides “allegedly” involving the substances later categorized as poisons. As a result, marijuana found in pharmaceutical form was forced to carry a label that stated “poison” in bold upper-case red letters.
Marijuana became associated with Chinese opium dens and Mexican soldiers, neither of which must have been very popular in the late 1800s. Considering that slavery was still an active institution and British colonists, now considering themselves American settlers had almost completely massacred the Indians of Northern America, the setting was already there to support inequality between races. "The political upheaval in Mexico that culminated in the Revolution of 1910 led to a wave of Mexican immigration to states throughout the American Southwest. The prejudices and fears that greeted these peasant immigrants also extended to their traditional means of intoxication: smoking marijuana. Police officers in Texas claimed that marijuana incited violent crimes, aroused a "lust for blood," and gave its users "superhuman strength." Rumors spread that Mexicans were distributing this "killer weed" to unsuspecting American school children (white presumably). Sailors and West Indian immigrants brought the practice of smoking marijuana to port cities along the Gulf of Mexico. In New Orleans newspaper articles associated the drug with African-Americans, jazz musicians, prostitutes, and underworld whites. "The Marijuana Menace," as sketched by anti-drug campaigners, was personified by inferior races and social deviants." (Schlosser, Eric). It was racial prejudices that fueled the fire to smoke out marijuana.
As early as 1911 marijuana has been restricted for its use and all throughout the early 1900s there were multiple bills, acts, and laws put into place to not only stop the use and production of marijuana, but also to criminalize it. “By 1931, government research determined that marijuana was linked to heinous criminal activity "primarily committed by 'racially inferior' or underclass communities," leading to 29 states outlawing the drug outright and in 1932, the Uniform State Narcotic Act gave legislative control of marijuana from the federal government to the states.” In 1936, the movie Reefer Madness was made, claiming that marijuana made people act violently, over-sexually, psychotic, and even suicidal. The film was re-gifted a new life in the early 1970s and became satire among advocates of cannabis policy reform. This movie represents the fear that was instilled in Americans during the years of prohibition and criminalization of marijuana. It shows the ridiculous amount of panic caused by media and prohibition propaganda that tarnished the outlook on marijuana and its multiple uses and benefits to society.
In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act was passed classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug declaring it as "having high potential for abuse, no medical use, and not safe to use without medical supervision" (DEA). It’s truly sad to think that the U.S. Justice System has gone so far as to sentence people to 20-80 years in prison for possessing marijuana, but with laws like California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out”, it is possible to think that some people may have even been put to death. The “Just Say No” campaign during the Reagan administration made it possible to sentence “drug king-pins” to execution, but with no real guidelines to define a drug king-pin, some people may have been wrongly convicted or even executed.
One example of an unjust conviction is that of Bryan Epis. “The first Californian medical marijuana provider to be arrested and convicted for growing pot, Bryan Epis is a bit of a martyr in the medical marijuana movement. Epis’ saga began in 1997, when police arrested him for growing more than 100 marijuana plants in the basement of his Chicago home. Epis testified that he was growing pot for himself and four other patients and sending the excess to a medical cannabis buyers’ club. A jury found him guilty of growing more than 100 plants, as well as conspiracy to grow more than 1,000 plants. He was given a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, toughened in part by his proximity to a local high school. After two years in federal prison, the 9th US Court Circuit granted Epis freedom pending the resolution of Raich v. Gonzalez, which actually turned out to be more bad news. The US Supreme Court ruled that federal drug prohibition trumps state medical pot laws. In 2007, Epis was resentenced to 10 years, but was free pending appeal on $500,000 bail. In 2010, he went back to prison, and this summer, his sentence was reduced to 90 months. But there was a catch: Epis cannot advocate for marijuana policy reform during his sentence or his first 10 years of freedom, when he will be on “supervised release” (Gwynne, Kristen).
Our government has always been known for making examples out of people, and for over-stepping their boundaries. I remember the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in elementary school and our policeman/teacher who lit a joint for us in class so that we could identify the smell of marijuana. But mainly it was so that we could turn anyone in who might be using the drug around us. I couldn’t tell the policeman that I had smelled that smell at home before and that I knew my dad was the culprit! My dad was a great father and I couldn’t relate the evil drug-dealing doper, the big bad boogie man, the criminal, that the teacher was trying to warn us about, to my father! It just didn’t make any sense to me. And fortunately I knew better. If I would have spoken up then, I probably would have had a shattered childhood. My dad was a good dad then and he still is today. His reason for smoking pot was a simple one, he was a hippy; my reason during my teen years was that I was experimenting. But not everyone’s reasons are the same.
Dating back thousands of years to ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt and even the Americas, marijuana has been used for its ability to calm ailments and expand the mind. It has been used in a variety of fashions and forms, but does not have the criminal implications that we have given it here in America. It has never been proven to cause the very things that we have been told it does. People do not get horny or angry after smoking a joint. It won’t make someone go rob a bank or rape their neighbor. At best, it may make someone paranoid or hungry, or laugh uncontrollably. People who try pot and don’t like it, usually know so the first time they smoke it and there should be no pressure for them to “try” it again if they don’t want to. You wouldn’t offer an alcoholic a drink! Or even someone who just doesn’t like to drink that would be rude and inconsiderate. Smoking pot should be on the same level and it should be an adult choice that is made responsibly and marijuana should not be abused.
The benefits that supersede recreational use of marijuana are for those who suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, suicidal tendencies, and much more. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted the following symptoms or conditions under Appendix IV of their Nov. 2002 report titled "Descriptions of Allowable Conditions under State Medical Marijuana Laws: alzheimer's disease, anorexia , AIDS, arthritis, cachexia, cancer, crohn's disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, migraines, multiple sclerosis, nausea, pain, spasticity, wasting syndrome" (medicalmarijuana.procon.org). People who suffer physical illness or diseases such as cancer, chronic pain, and HIV have long been benefitting from marijuana use. Now with this opportunity to expand the acceptance of marijuana into American values, it is necessary to think of how many more people can benefit from its use. I am convinced that there are benefits that have yet to be discovered.
The active ingredient THC, in marijuana belongs to a class of compounds called cannabinoids, which have been used to treat numerous conditions. These people who are ill and have found cannabinoids to be useful in their lives have been given help from the plant to stabilize their mental deficits without the help of man-made pharmaceutical drugs. They have been given the power to regain their appetites or silence the pain whilst they are dying (“Historical Timeline: 2900 BC to Present”). They have been helped by THC, the supposed “devils lettuce,” the very plant that people have been jailed for.
Many of the people that have been helped by smoking pot are advocates for it even after they don’t need it anymore. Rhonda my very best friend of twenty years was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2012. She underwent a double mastectomy and had to do radiation and chemo-therapy for a year. It was awful. It was absolutely heart-wrenching and she was so very, very, sick. She explained the pain to me like fire burning from inside her body, from inside her veins, boiling and bubbling, the poison they put in her trying to burn the cancer out. Nothing helped. She was not a pot smoker and had tried everything that the doctors had given her through the traditional American pharmacy but all to no avail. I listened to my friend who is the most upbeat, positive person I have ever known, breakdown crying on the phone.
I almost jumped for joy when the next time I talked to her she told me that a friend had brought her some pot brownies and THC laced rice crispy treats and that they were helping her so much with the aches and pains of chemo. She was able to recover faster from the chemo treatments and she could actually eat the day after chemo, all of which had been impossible before marijuana. She could still work her job at Home Depot and wasn’t so depressed and worn out from trying not to die. I saw the benefits of marijuana with a whole new personal respect. My friend has been cancer free since March of 2013 and I was blessed to be able to cut the chemo from her hair when I went home to visit her in Colorado that year. She does not continue to use marijuana. She never used it recreationally. For her it was always used as medicine, and I am so very thankful that it helped her when nothing else could.
The medical benefits have touched me personally and deeply, but so too have the economic benefits. I remember being in high school and having my World History teacher assign us homework for Chapter 4. I don’t remember what the chapter was on but I do remember not having a Chapter 4 in my text book. I asked the teacher what I should do and her reply was “to find somebody who did have Chapter 4 in their book and to share the text to complete the homework”. I was flabbergasted! Didn’t teaching students include providing them with the tools necessary to achieve? The answer to that was that our Denver Public Schools didn’t have enough money for school books, let alone gym shorts or jerseys or computers. The basement of the school was always flooded from bursting pipes in the winter, and the school never had adequate heating. The cafeteria was rumored to have roaches galore and good teachers, the ones that really seemed to care were few and far between. Most of them seemed over-worked and under-paid. I am sure that many of them too, were working without the proper tools for success. The answer to fix all of these problems always came down to money. Our state never had enough money to invest into the public school system. Year after year programs were being cut, school bus routes were being downsized and the needs of the students were continuing to increase.
With legalizing marijuana the costs of the school system can be met. Not only can they be met but the Denver Public School system has the potential to flourish. The monetary benefits have become blatantly obvious since pot was decriminalized and made legal for recreational use in the state of Colorado. “There are a couple of layers of tax in place on the sale of marijuana. To begin with, there’s a 10% state sales tax imposed on retail marijuana and marijuana products on top of 2.9% in existing state sales tax (this is in addition to any local sales tax). As with other taxable products in Colorado, the tax is on the final consumer and cannot be included in the advertised price. Together with local sales taxes and special taxes, the tax imposed on consumers in Denver on the purchase of marijuana can reach as high as 21.12%. Denver County accounted for more than half of all medicinal and recreational marijuana related sales tax revenue, while outside of Denver County taxes can be closer to 13%. No matter the level of tax, sales were pretty healthy statewide, with $14.02 million worth of recreational pot sold in January of 2014 alone” (Phillips-Erb, Kelly). That, my friends, is a huge amount of taxes. It is a huge amount of taxes that people are willing to pay and that can be used for so, so many things that have gone neglected in this country. Already voters approved a law last year that requires the first $40 million collected from the special excise taxes to be directed towards school construction. After that the state hasn’t decided what to do with the money yet. If they want to lead the country in the right direction they will continue to fund schools, it should be the top priority. Kids need Chapter 4 to get their homework done, just saying.
Public schools, our national infrastructure, and even our environmental situation are all in a dismal state and will take every generation after us to fix and upkeep them. The tax money from pot could be a great help in the future of our country. “In addition to sales taxes, Colorado also imposes a “retail marijuana excise tax” of 15%. That tax is assessed on the first sale or transfer of marijuana from a retail marijuana cultivation facility and is calculated by taking the average market rate per pound and multiplying it by the weight of the flower times the tax rate. That means it’s not directly charged to the consumer. The state is serious about that last piece: while the tax can certainly be rolled into the overall price as the cost of doing business, it may not be separately stated on a receipt to give the appearance that it’s a consumer tax” (Phillips-Erb, Kelly).
With money coming in from all sides of the medical/recreational marijuana industry it will be interesting to see if its counterpart hemp will make a comeback. Its attributes are geared more towards helping the economy by the diverse uses it employs. Some of hemps attributes include having a higher quality fiber than wood fiber. There are far fewer caustic chemicals that are required to make paper from hemp than from trees and hemp paper doesn’t turn yellow and it is very durable. The hemp plant itself plant grows quickly to maturity in a season where trees take a lifetime. Plastic products can and should be made from hemp seed oil. Hempen plastics are biodegradable and the process to produce the vast array of hempen plastics will not ruin the rivers as DuPont and other petrochemical companies have done.
A large variety of food products can also be generated from hemp. The seeds contain one of the highest sources of protein in nature. The seeds have two essential fatty acids that clean your body of cholesterol. These essential fatty acids are not found anywhere else in nature. And of course clothes can and should be made from hemp. Hemp clothing is extremely strong and durable over time. You could literally hand clothing, made from hemp, down to your grandchildren one day. Today, there are American companies that make hemp clothing usually containing 50% hemp. Although hemp clothing is so durable, hemp products are not allowed to advertise on television. These attributes of hemp are eventually going to outweigh the negative stigmas that still exist for marijuana and people will be discovering all these positive things that marijuana/hemp has to offer.
It is inevitable that in time this country will become a pro-marijuana nation but, we will have to be responsible. I had to give up smoking pot when I decided to become a Mom. I didn’t want to have to explain the smell to my kids like I had asked my Dad to explain to me. All pot shops should be kept at least the same distance from schools that liquor stores are required to be and pot should be only for adults. Of course, the debate about what the legal smoking and drinking age has always been current. If you are able and willing to die for your country at the age of 18 you should also be able to drink a beer and/or smoke a bowl at the age of 18. We as a country are responsible for teaching young adults whether it be 18 or 21 about moderation when consuming any kind of mind-altering, life changing substance.
All of the details, the trial and errors that we will see from the legalization in Colorado and Washington, and all of the states that seem to be soon to follow, will play out quickly enough, and it is just a matter of time for the American view point to change completely. I am convinced that people will “get wise and legalize” and that it will benefit our nation greatly. It’s one small step to righting some of the wrongs of our American history, because after all the marijuana plant should have never been a crime in the first place.
Cardinale, Alexandra “A Brief History of How Marijuana Became Illegal in the U.S.”
14, January 2014 Web. 29, April 2014
Dalley, Allyson “Marijuana Use in the Early Years of the United States”
14, August 2010 Web. 27, April 2014
DEA Website 1, May 2014
Gwynne, Kristen “Ten worst sentences for marijuana-related crimes”
29, October 2012 Web. 27, April 2014
Hill, Tiffany “Why legal pot didn't happen in Hawaii” Honolulu Magazine
April 2013 Web. 24, April 2014
“Historical Timeline: History of Marijuana as Medicine - 2900 BC to Present”
13, August 2013 Web. 1, May 2014
“Medical Marijuana Policy in the United States” Posted in Lifestyle and HD, Managing HD
15, May 2012 Web. 18, April 2014
Phillips-Erb, Kelly “It's No Toke: Colorado Pulls In Millions In Marijuana Tax Revenue”
11, March 2014 Web. 20, April 2014
Schlosser, Eric "Reefer Madness"The Atlantic Monthly, August 1994
Yurchey, Doug “The Marijuana Conspiracy: The reason hemp is illegal”
17, July 2010 Web. 30, April 2014