Mary Jane’s Guide is a resource you can use for talking points, conversations and letters to your legislators. Sources are linked.
The War on Drugs, and in particular the war on cannabis, must be the most ill-conceived public policies ever undertaken by the United States. Covering one hundred plus years and costing one trillion plus dollars, the war’s luster has been largely lost. With the recent introduction of the federal Cannabis Administration and Opportunity and Act, full legalization feels tantalizingly close. What are the most persuasive arguments for change and what facts support them? Here are ten constructs concerning cannabis – prevalence, history, opposition, racism, medicine, safety, penalties, enforcement, federalism, and freedom – that make the case.
Millions of Americans break the law every day when they consume cannabis. In the eyes of the feds, even medical marijuana patients are labeled lawbreakers.
- CannaFacts. Despite being categorized as a tightly controlled Schedule I substance, 126 million Americans broke the last year by using marijuana at least once in their lives. Forty-nine million consumed it in 2020, and 32 million ingested it last month. There are approximately 5.5 million medical marijuana patients, with Ohio’s medical cannabis program counting a half million physician recommendations and 150,000 active patients.
Cannabis has an extensive history in the United States and globally. Foundational in ancient times, it rode a legal roller coaster of acceptance during the early days of the nation followed by periods of strict prohibition and more recently broad public approval of medical and adult use.
- CannaFacts. An ancient village in Taiwan recorded the first use as hemp fibers for clothing over 8,000 years ago. Around 2737 BC, the Chinese were utilizing cannabis to treat over 100 medical conditions. Egyptian scrolls of medicinal plants included marijuana as far back as 2000 BC. The governor of Jamestown mandated its cultivation in 1611. Physicians working in India introduced cannabis to Britain in 1842, and by 1850, cannabis had entered the United States Pharmacopoeia. During the 1800s and early 1900s, it became major content of patent medicine. Then, against medical advice, it was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1941. Further codifying its ban, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) placed cannabis in the most restrictive Schedule I, deemed by the federal government under Section 812 of Title 21 in the U.S. Code as having no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse. Blanket prohibition ensued for twenty five years until 1996 when Californians passed Proposition 215 legalizing medical marijuana in the state. Thirty six states have since followed suit; 19 permit adult use.
Various public opinion polls find overwhelming support for cannabis. The Republican Party holds the decidedly minority point of view.
- CannaFacts. According to Gallup, 68% of Americans support fully legalizing marijuana. That’s up from 12% reported in the pollster’s first survey in 1972. Per the Pew Research Center, a whopping 91% say cannabis should be legal for recreational and medical use. Support skews toward the Democratic Party and independents with a respective 83% and 71% in agreement; Republicans split 50/50, for or against.
Those who oppose the legalization of cannabis have often pressed zealously for an idealistic “drug free world.” In their fervor for eradicating selected substances, one punitive restriction piled on top of another forming a labyrinth of callous laws. An initial soft touch inevitably evolved into a “whack a mole” prohibitionist failure.
- CannaFacts. Throughout the late 1800s and into 1900s, the Progressive Era belief in social purity and moral reform motivated passage of laws, amendments and treaties that criminalized certain substances and activities. Inspired by Harry Anslinger, the “godfather” of drug prohibition, President Richard Nixon in 1971 declared drug abuse “public enemy #1” and launched the “War on Drugs” to halt the use, distribution and trade in substances like cannabis by ensnaring them in the most restrictive regulatory category called Schedule I. Nixon began with a soft touch: repealing mandatory minimum sentences and commencing drug treatment programs. For the anti-drug zealots, this was not enough. During the 1980s and 1990s, with President Ronald Reagan’s own drug war declaration. Congress passed a flurry of anti-drug laws: civil asset forfeiture (1978), increased penalties (1984), mandatory minimum sentencing (restored 1986), driver’s license suspensions (1990), eviction from public housing (1996), denial of federal aid to college students (1998), anti-drug media campaign (1998), and “sneak and peak” searches (2001), to name a few. Further, during the 1990s, the “drug free” movement – meaning blanket drug prohibition – was born with the goal of ridding the world of drugs by set moving target dates. Programs included “just say no“, D.A.R.E. and “zero tolerance”, all of which eventually failed.
Minorities and the poor bear an unequal burden as victims of over-zealous social policies. The so called “good intentions” that begat the aforementioned labyrinth of laws in reality yielded unforeseen consequences, many of which fell on the society’s most vulnerable. Despite an increasing public outcry, these practices continue.
- CannaFacts. The War on Drugs has had a devastating effect on minorities and the poor. Despite lower usage rates than Whites, Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana and six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses than their white counterparts. Arrest and incarceration can affect people in other, worse ways: denial of employment, professional licenses, monetary assets, educational opportunities, and more. These effects can be lasting obstacles to prosperity, security, and mental health. As the Global Commission on Drug Policy found, arresting and incarcerating substance users only fills prisons and destroyed lives, while the substances themselves remain widely available and criminal organizations continue to thrive.
The plants to which anti-drug zealots object are often found over time to be beneficial and subsequently integrated into standard medical care. Such is the case with cannabis whose medicinal qualities have been known since antiquity, whose components are determined to be safe, and whose uses are becoming more accepted and widespread.
- CannaFacts. In 1843, Dr. John Clendinning wrote “Observations on the Medicinal Properties of Cannabis Sativa of India” that contained case reports of various patients being successfully treated with hemp tinctures. One hundred years later in the early 1940s, the logic underpinning the efficacy of those treatments was revealed. Israeli Dr. Raphael Mechoulam made a groundbreaking discovery: the human endocannabinoid system and its receptors. Essentially, the human body runs on internal chemicals that are remarkably similar to those the cannabis plant.Today, a search of Pubmed.gov finds almost 30,000 scientific studies concerning cannabis, with three quarters published in the last 10 years. Over 1,500 identify specific actions that treat various cancers. Still, virtually insurmountable federal barriers remain that thwart scientific inquiry. These include multi-agency scrutiny, low grade supply, no pharma funding, negative federal bias, problems with placebo, varying modes of ingestion, and no standard dose.
Why is it that the some of the safest human activities devolve into the most illegal, controversial and zealously contested political “footballs”? Cannabis is deemed safe, yet saddled illegality and carceral punishments.
- CannaFacts. In 1972, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), filed an administrative petition to reschedule cannabis under federal law. It took until 1988 for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to respond, and when it did Administrative Law Judge Francis Young wrote, “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substancesknown to man.” Still, the DEA denied the petition and cannabis remained in Schedule I. As the agency will acknowledge, it is nearly impossible to overdose from marijuana.
Upon making something illegal, penalties that don’t fit the crime often ensue. At a trillion-dollar cost, anti-drug zeal has resulted an extraordinary number of arrests and incarcerations, only to find that prohibition doesn’t work.
- CannaFacts. In 2019, 500,395 people were arrested solely for cannabis possession, more than the sum of all arrests for violent crimes. Since 1980, there have been more than 15 million marijuana arrests, creating the downstream effect of over incarceration. Today, a half million people reside in jails on drug charges and another 1.15 million are on parole or probation. The drug war has cost United States taxpayers $1 trillion since its 1971. In 2011, 50 years after the launch of the War on Drugs, the Global Commission on Drug Policy found that the drug war simply doesn’t work.
With the drug free activists in control, there may be few short term limits on how far they will go to enforce their ideologies. They can and will expand far beyond their single topic borders.
- CannaFacts. It wasn’t enough to make cannabis illegal under the CSA and assign harsh sentences up to and including the death penalty. The antidrug legislators in Congress needed to stamp out drugs. So they crafted additional, unrelated sanctions, and the tool the that made this happen was drug testing. Chemical tests could be easily administered to determine if a person’s body contained metabolites of illicit substances. A positive test can jeopardize and potentially deny housing, college loans, drivers licenses, assets, employment, licensure, child custody, organ transplants, insurance, and a host of other societal benefits. Did this stop use? The 20 million monthly marijuana users would argue no. Aside from drug test, the government used other methods to sniff out users. The Kyllo decision in 2001 stopped the practice of using thermal imaging (heat) to find marijuana grows. Drop-A-Dime programs and similar tip lines report drug activities to police. Law enforcement often goes undercover to infiltrate dealers or bursts into private homes with no-knock warrants.
Because of federalism – the sharing of governmental power with the states – each of the 50 states can legislate 50 different regulatory modes for marijuana. They can establish their own rules, opt in medical and/or adult use, and set penalties or no penalties as they see fit. Meanwhile, cannabis remains verboten at the federal level.
- CannaFacts. For the 50+ years after passage of the CSA,cannabis as an illegal drug has lived clandestinely in a federalist framework. Despite a complete federal ban, 37 states have some kind law permitting the medical use of marijuana, and 19 have legalized non-medical adult use. Twenty-seven have decriminalized possession of small amounts, including Ohio in 1975. Only three states have no legal cannabis access whatsoever. For example, possession of three ounces in Idaho is a felony punishable by 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In Michigan, that amount in the home is no fine, no time. The same would be true under Ohio’s medical marijuana program. Federally, however, possession of any amount the first time – three ounces or a simple leaf – accrues a misdemeanor charge with one year prison time and a $1,000 fine. The plant is indeed regulated differently by each state, and the implications of crossing state lines or international borders can be tenuous since doing so violates federal law. Marijuana users have faced a myriad constraints. Yet, despite these obstacles, cannabis didn’t silently go away as the opposition wished. Instead, it now forms a vibrant $20 billion market.
The Declaration of Independence (Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness),along with the Ohio Constitution (Life, Liberty, Property, Happiness and Safety) guarantee certain inalienable rights. They belong to all citizens, including cannabis consumers, advocates, cultivators, dispensary workers, medical doctors, and others who work in this industry. Anti-cannabis laws spit in the face of those American values, leaving a fundamental question: Is cannabis so egregious its users must be denied the basic tenets of freedom?
- CannaFacts. Even though the plant has an ancient history, a track record of safety, and an entire bodily system (ECS) that runs on similar chemicals, cannabis remains in CSA’s most restrictive Schedule I, illegal at the federal level. Four attempts have been made at rescheduling, the first in 1972 right after enactment of the CSA; the DEA denied it 22 years later. A second petition based on medical claims was rejected in 2001. A subsequent filing in 2002 was axed by the DEA in 2011. Again in 2016, the DEA refused rescheduling. More recently, bills to legalize marijuana have twice passed the U.S. House but stalled in the Senate. Related measures such as banking and use by veterans have been attached to, then removed from appropriations bills. One might surmise that the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) would bestow a right to use a very safe plant that contains those same chemicals. Unfortunately, because of dystopian prohibition, marijuana to this day remains in a legal quandary. Life, liberty and happiness need not apply.
If the War on Drugs has taught us anything, it’s that prohibition doesn’t work. Even so, antidrug crusaders will continue to pursue their drug free world. They will ignore the popular support, prevalence, history and safety of cannabis. They will gloss over racism. Tougher enforcement and harsher penalties won’t assuage them. They will try mightily, but in the end, they will fail – at a trillion dollar cost of lives, families and freedom. It’s long past time for Congress to pass the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity and Act or at least federal legislation that can bring sanity and logic to this ancient plant. Here again are ten constructs – prevalence, history, opposition, racism, medicine, safety, penalties, enforcement, federalism, and freedom – that make the case. The time to act is NOW!
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