What Is the History of Marijuana Legalization in the United States?

What Is the History of Marijuana Legalization in the United States?

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What Is the History of Marijuana Legalization in the United States?

The U.S. has a connection with marijuana that dates back to the Colonial Era. Early farmers were encouraged to grow cannabis crops by the government to aid in the production of hemp-based commodities like rope, sails for the shipping industry, sacking, and clothing. The oil extra of hemp seeds was also used in paints, soaps, and varnishes. Even George Washington grew hemp on his Mount Vernon farm as a cash crop and to aid in his fishing operation located along the Potomac.

Towards the end of the 19th century, marijuana was a frequent ingredient in medicinal products which were openly offered in pharmacies. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the U.S. saw an influx of Mexican immigrants who enjoyed using marijuana for recreational purposes. Per usual, irrational fear and prejudice towards the plant blossomed because the drug was now being associated with immigrants. Campaigners seized on the opportunity to warn of the encroaching “Marijuana Menace.” 

When the Great Depression hit, vast unemployment increased anti-immigrant sentiment and escalated government concern about the use of the drug. By 1931, 29 states had outlawed marijuana. In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. To properly understand the history of marijuana legalization in the U.S., we have to look deeper into how it became illegal in the first place.

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  • What was the purpose of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act?

    Some would say the purpose of the Marijuana Tax Act was an orchestrated maneuver by interested parties to reduce the hemp industry by burdensome taxation. The push for the Act was led by businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hurst, and the Du Pont family. Randolph Hurst, who was a newspaper magnate, saw that the cheap production of hemp pulp was a threat to his vast timber holdings used in the manufacturing of paper. Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury and also the wealthiest man in the U.S. He had invested a great deal of money in the DuPont family’s newly invented synthetic nylon, which was a competitor of hemp.

    The bill was written by Du Pont lawyers, and the American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the bill because the taxes would largely be borne by doctors and pharmacists prescribing the drug for their patients. Furthermore, the legislative counsel for the AMA objected because the bill was written without the legally binding time to prepare arguments against the bill. Additionally, the bill used the term “marijuana,” not “cannabis,” which was the name the medical professionals recognized. Many people in the medical field didn’t even know what they would be losing if the bill passed. 

    The first arrests happened shortly afterward in Denver City, where one man was charged with possession and another for dealing. Essentially these men were arrested for not paying taxes under the Tax Act. Under President Johnson, the Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recognized the Tax Act raised an insignificant amount of revenue and was essentially a way to criminalize the purchase, sale, and possession of marijuana. 

    In 1969, the courts ruled in Leary v. United States that part of the Act violated the Fifth Amendment since merely seeking a tax stamp incriminates an individual. In response, Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act. This Act listed marijuana as a Schedule I substance meaning that it had a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

  • What was the Boggs Act?

    In 1951, the Boggs Act was passed by Congress. The Act established mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes imposing two-to-five year minimums for first offenses of drug users and traffickers. The Act failed to curtail the use of illegal drugs, and in fact, drug use exploded during the 1960s. Judges and even prison wardens realized how ineffectual mandatory minimums were in reducing drug use. Both President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson created commissions to study ways to reduce drug use. The next administration sought a different route to curtail drug use in the U.S.

  • What was the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act?

    In 1969 President Richard Nixon’s administration developed a plan that addressed drug addiction through rehabilitation and gave more effective tools to law enforcement as well as a repeal to mandatory minimum drug sentences. This, however, was a short reprieve to harsh sentencing since Congress reinstated mandatory minimums in the late 1980s. The reinstatement was in part a knee-jerk reaction to the highly publicized drug overdose of the basketball player Len Bias and the popularization of a parent’s movement against marijuana which led to the “War on Drugs.” No hearings, debates, or studies were utilized with the reinstatement. 

    During the period between 1987 and 2007, federal correctional spending increased 550 percent, with American taxpayers spending $5.4 billion on federal prisoners in 2007 alone. Millions of children were affected by harsh sentences as they saw parents locked away for long stretches.

    Campaigns to decriminalize or lessen offenses for possession of marijuana started in 1973 in the following states:

    • 1973: Texas
    • 1973: Oregon
    • 1975: Alaska, Maine, Colorado, California
    • 1976: Minnesota
    • 1977: Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota
    • 1978: Nebraska
    • 1978: New Mexico
    • 1979: Virginia

    It should be noted that Alaska and South Dakota recriminalized cannabis later. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized minimal amounts of marijuana for personal use, meaning possession is treated as a civil matter involving no jail time. It’s no longer treated as a crime.

  • When did marijuana laws start turning around?

    The trend towards the legalization of marijuana began in 1996 in California when the state established laws that allowed the use of cannabis for medical use through Proposition 215, and the legalization of recreational use followed years afterward. Proposition 215 followed on the heels of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders’ opinion that legalizing drugs could help reduce crime, and the concept should be an area of study. She paid for her controversial views and was forced to resign.  

    Medical cannabis use was legalized, or possession was decriminalized in the following states from 1998 through 2012:

    • California 
    • Arizona 
    • Oregon
    • Alaska
    • Washington
    • Nevada 
    • Maine 
    • Hawaii 
    • Colorado
    • Maryland
    • Vermont
    • Montana
    • Rhode Island 
    • New Mexico 
    • Michigan 
    • Massachusetts
    • New Jersey 
    • Delaware
    • Connecticut 
  • Recreational legalization of marijuana started in 2012

    Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. To date, 18 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults, with Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Ohio expected to follow sometime in 2022.

    Recreational use of marijuana is still a controversial topic for some individuals. However, in states where legalization initiatives make it to the ballot, in most cases, the propositions have passed with a majority of the vote. In fact, some hopeful candidates eyeing political positions are bluntly pro-marijuana, leaving advocates for change optimistic for the future of policy change.

  • How does marijuana legalization impact social justice? 

    Marijuana Justice Bill - In 2019, Senator Cory Booker, Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Barbara Lee, and Representative Ro Khanna introduced the Marijuana Justice Bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. Their stance is that the War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs; instead, it’s been a war on people. Notably, people of color and those with low income. 

    The bill sought to not only decriminalize marijuana at the federal level but also expunge the criminal records of people who had been convicted of marijuana possession. The bill also provided an incentive for states to change their own marijuana laws through the use of federal funds if their laws showed an unfair effect on low-income individuals and people of color. The bill would also impact individuals that are currently in prison for marijuana-related offenses opening a doorway for judges to reevaluate their sentences. 

    The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act - Sponsored by Representative Jerrold Nadler, this bill is closely aligned with the Marijuana Justice Bill, which would reverse the criminalization of marijuana at the federal level and address the issue of over-incarceration of low-income people and people of color. 

    While bills like these offer tremendous hope, should they make it all the way to President Biden’s desk, there is still some concern he would sign it into law since he is opposed to marijuana legalization for adult use but supports reform for cannabis decriminalization, record expungement, and allowing states to set their own marijuana policies. 

  • How does marijuana legalization impact personal injury law?

    While there are many positive aspects to the legalization of marijuana in the United States, with the use of any kind of mind-altering substance comes risks. Some arguments against cannabis include the risk of driving under its influence. Although it is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis, we know that illegalities don’t always stop someone from making poor choices. Like alcohol, cannabis, whether inhaled or ingested, can cause impaired body movement and difficulty problem-solving and thinking.

    Suppose you have been injured in a car accident where the other driver was impaired due to marijuana use. In that case, our personal injury lawyers may be able to help you. On the other hand, if you were responsible for causing an accident while under the influence of marijuana, we may still be able to negotiate with your insurance company to cover a portion of your medical bills and other damages. It all depends on the state in which you live and other circumstances.

    Another aspect to consider when using legalized cannabis is the potential for side effects like depression, anxiety, and product contamination. Suppose you feel like you’ve been harmed by using marijuana. In that case, it may be that the dispensary or the commercial growers, edible bakery, or concentrate manufacturer could be liable. The only way for us to tell if you have a case is to fill out our free case evaluation and allow our cannabis attorneys to review the facts and evidence.

    The history of marijuana legalization in the U.S. is very long and complex. Who knows where the future may take us. But whenever there are new and changing laws, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer to navigate the hurdles of the legal process to gain compensation for your injuries. Morgan & Morgan lawyers can provide you with expert legal counsel in your time of need.

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