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Why Is Marijuana Still Illegal? - Part 4

Welcome to the final installment in our “Why Is Marijuana Still Illegal?” series. Throughout this series, we have taken time to break down several reasons why marijuana is an illegal drug, and have discovered that there are a lot of misconceptions about marijuana usage that could give it a bad name - especially among lawmakers. While weed is legal for recreational use in eight states, it is still illegal at the national level.

Our first article in this series talked about the dangers of marijuana to users and to others. Surprising no one - it’s not really that dangerous. While inhaling smoke of any kind can have negative effects on your lungs, overall marijuana is less dangerous than both alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, alcohol is deemed to be the most dangerous drug based on the number of related deaths caused by alcohol. We also discussed that it is impossible to overdose on marijuana, while over 60,000 people die per year of overdoses from other drugs.

Next, we discussed whether marijuana is addictive. While it does meet the criteria of an addictive drug, marijuana addictions are rare compared to a number of users. Additionally, cannabis use disorder is more often a mental dependence on the drug, and does not cause the same kind of physical need or withdrawals that hard drugs or alcohol does.

Finally, you heard it here first, folks: Marijuana is not a gateway drug. While many users of hard drugs got started on marijuana, studies have shown that marijuana use does not lead to the use of hard drugs. This seems to be a correlation between the two, rather than causation, as a vast majority of marijuana users never even try hard drugs.

Today, we’re ending our series by talking about laws that have been passed throughout history to ban marijuana use. This is a subject rife with controversy and has been for decades. While all the factors above contribute to why marijuana is illegal, it all comes down to laws. Marijuana is illegal at a federal level because laws and regulations says it is.

Marijuana Hasn’t Always Been Illegal

You know that crazy thing about how medicinal use of marijuana can kill certain cancer cells, control seizures, treat mental illness, reduce pain, increase appetite, reduce nausea, and help people with muscle control problems live a normal life? Yeah… that’s not new information. In fact, marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years - it’s just that now we have the science to prove it is effective. Records show that as early as the 1830s, doctors began to document the medicinal effects of cannabis for controlling cholera symptoms. By the 1900s, cannabis extracts could be found over the counter to treat common illnesses (of course, heroin was also sold over the counter and that didn’t work out too well).

However, thanks to some unfavorable propaganda, Americans began to fear marijuana and those who used it. Rumors spread that marijuana gave people “superhuman strength and a lust for blood.” In 1937 The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, which essentially made the use and sales of marijuana nationally banned. Even at the time, the American Medical Association opposed the bill, arguing that medical marijuana use should still be legal.  

In 1952, another law was passed that enacted stiff mandatory sentences for all drug offenses, including marijuana use or possession. In the 1970s when the War on Drugs picked up speed, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act which placed different drugs into categories based on their medical usefulness and likelihood of abuse. Under President Nixon, marijuana was labeled as a “Schedule 1 Drug,” placing it in the same category as heroin and LSD. However, within two years, the Shafer Commission (an investigative body appointed by Nixon), suggested that marijuana be decriminalized because its status as a Schedule 1 drug made it difficult to obtain for medical research purposes.

Decriminalization Begins

In 1973, Oregon decriminalized cannabis, and many states followed suit. Some states made it a misdemeanor to have small amounts, rather than a felony, and others began to allow the use of medical marijuana for glaucoma. By the mid-1990s, several states legalized medical marijuana, and by 2012, recreational marijuana was legal for adults in Colorado and Washington. Since then, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. have all legalized the use of recreational marijuana.

Several attempts to legalize marijuana at the federal level have been met with backlash, but experts agree that legalization has a host of benefits, including job creation, consumer safety, and additional tax revenue for state and local governments.

Education Is The First Step

Thanks for participating in our four-part “Why Is Marijuana Still Illegal?” series. We hope that you learned something, and remember, education is the first step in making progress. The more people understand about marijuana use, the more likely we are to see lasting change in the regulation of cannabis products.

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