From being something that was banned and harshest of actions were taken on those found possessing it, to being something that has now been legalized across most states and is even being allowed for ‘recreational purposes’, marijuana has been on quite a journey across the US. For years, if you wanted weed the only option was to get it in a hush-hush deal with a dealer. But those days are gone now, because you can now legally grow your own weed in the comfort of your home.
The whole act of banning weed in the first place was a game of perceptions as the US wanted to be tough on narcotics and had hence launched this ‘war on drugs’. While a number of drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which are usually called ‘hard drugs’ were the key target, marijuana also got clubbed along with them and was declared a banned substance with penalties getting harsher by the day.
Under Richard Nixon’s presidency, things particularly took a harsh turn when the War on Drugs was launched. To give our readers the context of the times, this was the same time when a lot of cocaine and other similar drugs was being imported from South American countries, and ‘Drug Lords’ had risen to notoriety all over the world.
When Nixon declared drugs as ‘Public Enemy Number 1’ of America, this actually led to a harsh crackdown on people who smoked weed as well. Let us no take a quick look at the history of the criminalization of marijuana in the US:
History of Criminalization of Marijuana in the US
Up until the early 1900s, everything was fine and people could smoke weed as and when they wanted to. However, from 1906 to the mid-1930s, restrictions began to increase on the sale and consumption of marijuana, and it was even classified as ‘poison’ in some states. In the mid-1930s, the Marihuana Tax Act came along and was the first specific act in the US which aimed at controlling the sale of weed.
In the 50s came the Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act, both of which had heavy penalties and a jail time ranging between 2 to 10 years. However, these were still the years that marijuana was permitted along with a prescription. As we moved into the ’70s, there were a number of reorganization acts that were done, and in 1973 the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) was formed to increase this crackdown on drugs.
Over the years, arrests over possession of weed skyrocketed and at its peak in the mid-2000s, almost 900,000 people were arrested on a yearly basis for possessing weed. However, this is also around the time that attitude towards marijuana began to change. People became more accepting of the fact that it was becoming clear that the weed legalization movement was here to say – and they had a point.
Decriminalization of Marijuana in the US
As the war on drugs intensified, a number of people actually came out in support of legalizing marijuana. These included not only the common citizens who were smoking weed but even celebrities such as Cheech and Chong who were on the frontlines of this movement. As years passed, names such as Snoop Dogg, Rob Van Dam, and a number of other famous public figures were known to be stoner-icons.
However, the first success that came the way of people who wanted to legalize weed came around the late 90s – a full 25 years after the DEA was created. In 1998, California became the first state in the US to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana which can be used, as per the law, “without valid scientific evidence and FDA approval”.
By this time, science had also made major progress and a lot of research had been done towards the medicinal benefits of marijuana and it had become evident to everyone that weed is no longer the ‘devils herb’ that it was thought to be and actually carries quite a few medicinal benefits. Most other states have since followed and over the past two decades,
Today, there are only a few exceptions. Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Indiana, Mississippi, Ioha, Kentucky, Kansas, and Idaho, for instance, allow only CBD Oil and not marijuana. In Nebraska, marijuana is outright illegal for all users. Recreational use is banned in a few more places. However, attitudes are changing all over the US and it is expected that by the end of this decade, every state would allow weed to be consumed for medicinal as well as recreational purposes.
These changing attitudes are also visible with the rise in the number of dispensaries and seed banks in the United States. Another important statistic is that while over 850,000 people were arrested in 2009 for possessing weed, that number is falling at a rapid pace as cannabis arrests fell to almost 600,000 in 2015. The latest numbers are expected to be even lesser, perhaps half of what was seen in 2009.
Why is Weed Being Decriminalized?
Today, you can walk into a dispensary and buy weed legally. You can even get it for recreational smoking, just to ‘get high’ and not just for medicinal use. This is something that was unimaginable in the mid80s to mid90s when crackdowns had become intense. Looking at it, there are actually a number of reasons behind the decriminalization of weed:
- One of the most significant reasons is the relentless pressure from the people all over the US. Movements have been going on for generations and people have been pressuring the government into legalizing weed. This has finally resulted in these reforms over the past twenty years. Celebrity endorsements have also led to the strengthening of these movements.
- Another major reason is that jails were being filled with people who were found possessing something as harmless as a weed. With close to 900,000 arrests being made on a yearly basis in the mid-2000s, it was high time that something was done to lax these laws so that the people don’t have to suffer.
- Science, too, has made major advancements over the years, and by this time we are now at a point where THC and CBD can be separated from the marijuana plant and can be used as one wants. The medicinal properties of weed came to the limelight and were a major point raised by the protestors.
- Lastly, the tax revenues were too attractive for the governments. Today, the marijuana industry is raking in billions of dollars in taxes and is something that is good for the state treasuries as well as helps boost business in the states.