January 19, 2022

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PERSPECTIVE: A Quick History of Cannabis Prohibition | GreenState

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The factors that led cannabis to be regulated and banned differently in the early decades of the 20th century were fueled by politics, greed and racism, rather than science.

Cannabis has been used as food, fiber, and medicine in many different countries and cultures for thousands of years. It was only banned in the US for the last 82 years, starting with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Previously, cannabis was part of the US Pharmacopeia and was widely used for analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anticonvulsant indications. In fact, US drug companies like Eli Lilly and Bristol-Meyers Squibb have made commercial tinctures for cannabis.[1]

Harry Anslinger was the appointed commissioner of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, where he drafted the Marijuana Tax Act. This law imposed taxes on hemp and cannabis products from which neither doctors nor pharmacists were exempt. He also used the Mexican name for cannabis, marijuana, a term unknown in the medical community.

The AMA rejected this legislation. In a statement to the House Means and Ways Committee on May 4, 1937, AMA legal adviser Dr. William C. Woodward: “There is nothing in the medicinal uses of cannabis that is in any way related to cannabis addiction. I use the word cannabis before the word marijuana because cannabis is the right term to describe the plant and its products. The term marijuana is a mixed breed word that crept into this country across the Mexican border and has no general meaning other than referring to the use of cannabis preparations for smoking. It is not recognized in medicine. Woodward continues, “To say, as has been suggested here, that the use of the drug should be prevented by an prohibitive tax, loses sight of the fact that future research may show that there are significant medicinal uses for cannabis.” [2]

Titans in the industry like William Randolph Hearst supported the illegal manufacture of hemp because it was a cheaper competitor to wood. He also used his newspapers as a platform to spread racist propaganda about Mexicans and African Americans, describing them as being lazy and violent about smoking marijuana.[3]

And just like Dr. Woodward feared the final blow to cannabis as a drug came in the 1970s during Nixon’s presidency with the Controlled Substances Act, which listed cannabis as Appendix 1, a “high-potential drug that is not accredited for medical use and abuse.” lack of accepted security “[4] This will thwart any meaningful future research.

[1] Pasanti S, Bifulco B. Modern History of Medical Cannabis: From Widespread Use to Prohibitionism and Back Again. Trends in the Pharmacological Sciences. March 2017; 38 (3): 195-1. 198

[2] Woodward W. Testimony Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives. May 4, 1937, http://www.druglibrary.org/Schaffer/hemp/taxact/woodward.htm.

[3] Frye P. Medical Marihuana Guide: Cannabis and Your Health. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield; 2018: 6-8

[4] Andersen L. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, https://www.drugs.com/csa-schedule.html. Updated May 18, 2018

Dr. Leigh Vinocur is a state-certified emergency doctor who also has a cannabis consultancy practice for patients and the industry. She is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians. And in the opening class for the country’s first Masters of Science in Cannabis Science and Therapeutics at the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy.

This blog was not written or edited by Hearst. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

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