By now, most pro-cannabis activists are familiar with how marijuana went from being a legal plant used by our founding fathers and settlers moving west, to an illegal drug on the Schedule 1 list.
Not much different than today, early Americans used cannabis as medicine, and hemp for its numerous industrial applications such as clothing, wagon covers, rope and paper. George Washington was a hemp farmer after all; cannabis is deeply rooted in our country's history.
Then things got weird in the first half of the 20th century. Marijuana suddenly became public enemy number one and was linked to racial smear campaigns. A concerted effort led by Harry Anslinger to make cannabis out to be the bad guy led to the now infamous film Reefer Madness, ultimately resulting in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (also known as the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937).
The Marijuana Tax Act became the federal law that first criminalized marijuana. Eight decades worth of literature has been written exploring all the rationale behind who and what led to the tax act coming to fruition. But it's fair to say not everyone was on board. There were enough people who thought better of it and fought the law for years. Actors, musicians, suburban white kids and artists all opposed the federal government's decision.
Timothy Leary arrestvia reddit
Pro-pot activism reached a critical mass in the 1960's during the free love hippie movement, and ultimately culminated with the case of Leary v. United States. Hippie movement icon Timothy Leary was arrested in a small Texas town on a minor marijuana possession charge.
It's important to note Leary was a professor with a PhD and considered a highly intelligent man. He saw an opportunity to use his arrest as a lightning rod for the subject of decriminalizing marijuana. When he went before the Supreme Court, he challenged the 1937 tax act on the grounds the law required self-incrimination, which violates the Fifth Amendment.
The Supreme Court sided with Leary and pro-cannabis supporters, unable to argue with the conflict of constitutional amendments. In 1969, the highest court in the land ruled unanimously that the Marijuana Tax Act was unconstitutional.
Congress had no choice but to repeal the act, but they did so by passing the Controlled Substances Act as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.
Nixon was no fan of marijuana. Refusing to let the Supreme Court have the last word, he got together with the DEA and moved marijuana to the Schedule 1 list in 1970, which classifies the "most dangerous" controlled substances.
Ignoring fact and research, including his own commissioned studies that showed cannabis can cause cancer cells to 'commit suicide', Nixon appointed a crew of anti-pot officials who laid the groundwork for what we now call the War on Drugs.
Since then, there have been brief glimmers of hope where the clouds parted and rational thinkers on the Supreme Court bench attempted set things right, but cannabis remains illegal. However, those days may be numbered. We are getting closer to the day when society realizes this plant has more benefits than risks.
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