Marijuana Prohibition Turns 80

MarijuanaArrestsTimelineEighty years ago, on October 2, 1937, House Bill 6385: The Marihuana Tax Act was enacted as law. The Act for the first time imposed federal criminal penalties on activities specific to the possession, production, and sale of cannabis – thus ushering in the modern era of federal prohibition.

“The ongoing enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of color,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco.”

Congress held only two hearings to debate the merits of the Marihuana Tax Act, which largely consisted of sensational testimony by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Director Harry Anslinger. He asserted before the House Ways and Means Committee, “This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.” His ideological testimony was countered by the American Medical Association, whose legislative counsel Dr. William C. Woodward argued that hard evidence in support of Anslinger’s hyperbolic claims was non-existent.

Woodward testified: “We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. … You have been told that school children are great users of marijuana cigarettes.  No one has been summoned from the Children’s Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit among children. Inquiry of the Children’s Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and know nothing particularly of it.” He further contended that passage of the Act would severely hamper physicians’ ability to prescribe cannabis as a medicine.

Absent further debate, members of Congress readily approved the bill, which President Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed into law on August 2, 1937. The ramifications of the law became apparent over the ensuing decades. Physicians ceased prescribing cannabis as a therapeutic remedy and the substance was ultimately removed from the US pharmacopeia in 1942. United States hemp cultivation also ended (although the industry was provided a short-lived reprieve during World War II). Policy makers continued to exaggerate the supposed ill effects of cannabis, which Congress went on to classify alongside heroin in 1970 with the passage of the US Controlled Substances Act. Law enforcement then began routinely arresting marijuana consumers and sellers, fueling the racially disparate, mass incarceration epidemic we still face today.

Despite continued progress when it comes to legalizing or decriminalizing the adult use of marijuana, data from the recently released Uniform Crime Report from the FBI revealed that over 600,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016.

After 80 years of failure, NORML contends that it is time for a common sense, evidence-based approach to cannabis policy in America.

“Despite nearly a century of criminal prohibition, the demand for marijuana is here to stay. America’s laws should reflect this reality and govern the cannabis market accordingly,” stated NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, “Policymakers ought to look to the future rather than to the past, and take appropriate actions to comport federal law with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.”



0 thoughts

  1. Historical context for anyone who doesn’t know;
    The Marijuana Stamp Act was ruled unconstitutional in 1969 by Leary v. United States:
    Then in 1970 Nixon had to get reelected so he followed a crooked scheme to blame drugs on our socioeconomic inequality (y’know, because drugs make decisions, not people) and then was born the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, under which current federal prohibition remains law. Even African American Congressman bought the bad idea to treat a health issue as a criminal justice issue unwittingly and disproprtionately incarcerating their own race for decades to date.
    But despite the brief relief of 69, both the Marijuana Stamp Act and the Controlled Substances Act were rooted in systemic racism to create profit for beaurocracies, synthetic petroleum and “medicine” industries and for profit private prisons to displace minority communities to supply cheap labor.
    Perhaps the most astonishing hypocrisy of 1937 was that blaming Mexicans for importing “marijuana” convinced poor white farmers to unwittingly vote to prohibit the hemp that sustained their farms. Now when has a campaign to blame Mexicans for our made to fail drug policies ever worked again? Surely the white working poor wouldnt fall for THAT again…

  2. For years adults and teens have been taught this stigma, they have been forced into believing the stigma by politics not by any choice of there own mind as a human , this is also the same method of racism being taught throughout the years .. these two however it maybe have been linked together by politics and social order not by any normal logical mind thought in its truth ..
    The AG said he finds it hard to believe we want this on ever street corner , now is he really speaking the truth ? No as he knows all to well that’s not the truth and of for some reason if he actually believes this then he needs some serious help and should not be in a position of the AG ..
    It is hard to undo what people have been taught in general , the truth is a hard pill to swallow because sometimes it’s blocked by the ego and corruption of the system. Sooner or later this fight for bringing this off the list will end with it off the list as they can’t hind behind those smoking mirrors forever ..

  3. I am pretty sure that the Congressmen and Senators that are so anti-marijuana (e.g. Mitch McConnell) are the same ones that have the NRA’s back (i.e. they support guns, rifles, assualt weapons & etc.) but consider cannabis consumers to be criminals deserving of prison time… Seriously, go figure!

    1. Here’s the NRA’s lame excuse for their deliberate silence over the needless violence over Castille’s death while in possession of a controlled substance and a firearm:

      Could it be that cops and psychotics buy more guns and ammunition than weed smokers? Is that why the NRA remained silent when a Federal Judge determined it a felony to be in possession of marijuana and a weapon? Fascinating how the Federalists can determine in 2006 that the 2nd amendment really meant “individual” right to a firearm not a “militia” as written in our Constitution and interpreted for centuries… And a Trump administration can make guns more accessible to the mentally ill… While all we weed consuming gun owners want to do is treat our mental health and gun rights as a mental health issue, not a criminal justice issue. But silly me, we live in an unchecked capitalist society bent on extreme polarization for profit. Weed legalization just doesnt sell enough guns, does it Dana Loesch? Bet those sexy locks and curls do! Probly smokes weed too, the dirty hypocrite…

      1. @ Julian,
        I’ve had it with the NRA, and so-called gun rights in general.

        Gun owners can make arguments about freedom which go a long way with me. But I have had enough of the political tyranny, the race-baiting, and the violence.

        I’m ready to support repealing the second amendment.

      2. Careful Mark, going from one extreme to another is what the NRA and quite frankly the GOP are counting on. What we need is balanced legislation that puts the Constitution into modern context. If we go with all or nothing, when we allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, when we dont compromise, laws dont get passed and bad people win elections.

        Weve had the conversation before about how capitalism and socialism need to check eachother for constant accountability. And the greatest example of American Socialism is our military. Thats why theres no greater more effective way to federally legalize marijuana than providing it to our veterans. The banks have too much money tied to prohibition from the DOJ to Big Pharma to give way in the private sector. There is some promise that the Farm Bureau endorsed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. But we need to ask ourselves as activists how do bills get passed?
        The first most obvious answer is look at what we purchase and from who and I’ll tell you which Congressman got bought and sold. In other words, “follow the money.” We are gaining allies in Congress (C’mon Beto! Join the Cannabis Caucus!) But what about strategy?
        The ugly truth about passing any legislation is the NRA, GOP and marijuana prohibition have capitalized on “Just Say No.” It’s easy to pass legislation that prohibits, obstructs and doesnt have to govern… (but not so much for assault rifles… because we have to explain to the gun nuts that the Federalist Society got the courts to say the 2nd amendment means its our individual right to bear arms, when in fact it was designed to defend the right to bear arms to militias because the only reason many Americans even fought during the Revolution was so they would get issued a rifle which we needed for hunting more than defense).

      3. @ Julian,
        Well, if the gun lobby won’t defend us, why should we defend them?
        We accepted reasonable regulations, and they must also. There is nothing sacred about the second amendment to me.
        If they won’t play nice, we’ll just have to take away their guns.

      4. Oh I didnt say “defend the NRA” Mark… Im saying lets pass balanced, realistic legislation. Respect our opponents for what they are (as in see the gun manufacturers behind the NRA or the stnthetic industries behind our prohibitionist Congressman) and lets meet them at their game and pass laws that work.
        Beyond that lets support, vet and vote for candidates that agree with our positions. At least then we can face the next generation and say we did everything we could.

      5. I have to apologize Mark; I was taught the “right to militia” was added to the 2nd amendment to reward militias that fought for the revolution by letting them keep their guns. Certainly giving the states equal protection from being disarmed is a fundamental for the 14th and 2nd amendments, depending on whether the court argues for “strict” or “intermediate scrutiny” or takes a “rational basis” argument.
        But as it turns out, the “right to militia” was added primarily so militias could be formed to capture slaves. So even the origins of the 2nd amendment, which was certainly not created for an “individual basis” is in fact a racist amendment that was created to get Virginia’s vote:
        Thats why the language says “state” and not “country.” The framers knew the difference, which is reflected in the 10th amendment.
        I know it was the Federalist Society, with members like Ted Cruz behind the ridiculous decision in 2008 to claim gun ownership an “individual” right…
        But it seems clear according to the Constitution that the 2nd amendment was severely weakened if not nullified by the 13th amendment that abolished slavery. So like it or not we dont have the right to form militias because slavery is unconstitutional.
        Whew! Glad I solved THAT one! Now on to watch this Gerrymandering case in Gill v. Whitford so we can get rid of a few racist judges and Congressman and legalize marijuana! This case is riding on the first amendment and its looking like Justice Kennedy gets it;

  4. Wow, it took us 80 years to get this far? Basically a lifetime to make any kind of real progress. That is absolutely baffling. Anyways, couldn’t agree more with NORML’s stance on the matter: it’s time to apply common sense and use scientific evidence as the basis for our policies. Cheers to that.

  5. Here’s an interesting piece of news from this week;

    Justice Keegan admits to going to a party when she was younger “where there was marijuana” while arguing over a DC tresspassing case. The purpose of her argument was based on whether the arrests are warranted if someone is invited to a party and does not know the owner of the home, but she extended the argument as to whether marijuana could be present at the party. Sort of a “plausible deniability” case that could have big ramifications especially in DC where local law permits the private use of marijuana.
    Question: Does Justice Keegan want to get invited to a party with weed in it? If the partygoers win this case, does this set a federal precedent to protect Americans, including politicians, when they are invited to parties or fundraisers where they unwittingly discover marijuana is present? More importantly, if the partygoers win this case, does this mean we can invite Congress to our next lobby day and get them high?

    Police made fewer AND ALOT arrests for marijuana-related offenses last year than they have in any year since 1996, according to CRIMEDATA the FBI released Monday.

    Still with that being said statistics show astounding number of arrests, authorities in the U.S. made 643,000 arrests for marijuana-related charges in 2015 ? or about one every 49 seconds. Charges related to the drug accounted for 5.9 percent of all arrests, and about 43.2 percent of all drug arrests.

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