Could the United States be a cannabis-friendly nation in its entirety within the next few years? With Jeff Sessions stepping down from his position as Attorney General, the U.S. stands a good chance at following in Canada’s footsteps. On October 17, the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) went into effect across the Great White North and weed became legal at the federal level. Now, the U.S. cannabis industry is under pressure to keep up.
Sessions was one of the biggest pot-hating politicians of all time and with him gone, President Donald Trump (a supporter of cannabis reform) is now left to choose a replacement. A recent Democratic-House flip puts cannabis legalization in eyesight, not to mention the fact that Trump has vowed to make a “solid commitment” to cannabis reform. Attitudes have undergone a significant transformation outside of political boundaries, too.
According to a survey by Pew Research Center, public opinion on cannabis in the U.S. is shifting more towards reform, as opposed to prohibition. The survey results showed how six-in-ten (62 percent) of Americans are in favor of legalization. This is thanks in large parties the map of scientific evidence that is now enabling doctors to prescribe patients with medical cannabis for the treatment of widespread conditions.
But how did prohibition start? Let’s rewind to the beginning of the 1900s.
Pot Prohibition Begins to Permeate the U.S.
It all started back in 1906, when restrictions on cannabis came into effect as part of the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906). Complete prohibition ensued in the late 1920s; around the same time that the Great Depression kicked in. Cannabis was regulated as a drug during the mid-1930s and by 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was drafted by anti-cannabis prohibitionist Harry Anslinger. Soon, the plant would be outlawed for both medical and recreational purposes with the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970.
Cannabis’ Negative Stigma Starts to Fade
At the start of the 20th century, state-level prohibition kicked in. Cannabis was forbidden under federal limitations that went into effect in 1937, with changes only occurring in 1973. It was in 1973 that Oregon broke through and became the first U.S. state to decriminalize weed. California followed in Oregon’s footsteps and made history as the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996.
Opinions on cannabis were altering drastically at this point. Some years later, in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first places on the U.S. map to legalize weed for recreational purposes. Legalization is spreading like wildfire, with more states adapting their laws every month or couple of months, so it seems.
How Racism Contributed to Prohibition
In the 1900s, Mexican immigrants escaped the political unrest in their country and descended on the U.S. Their recreational cannabis-smoking habits caught on and served as the inspiration for a 1936 movie called “Reefer Madness”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most positive portrayal of pot, with violent scenes in the movie prompting the media to spread propaganda that it was a ‘gateway drug’ when in fact, science is proving quite the opposite.
After Harry Anslinger initiated the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, he advertized the plant as a violence-inducing substance. He targeted black and Hispanic people as the primary consumers. During his crusade on what he promoted as “marihuana,” – the Spanish term for cannabis – he purposely connected weed with the Mexican immigrant population.
He forcefully spotlighted the black and Hispanic community as being violent drug users. Anslinger’s law had only been passed for one year and it was already contributing to harsh restrictions on cannabis. By this point, it was three times more likely for a black to be arrested in violation of narcotic drug laws than whites.
Medical Discoveries Propel Pot Prohibition
Although racism is a major component of cannabis prohibition, pot legalization is also making life a lot better for many incarcerated Black/hispanic offenders in California. “The Golden State” recently enacted more relaxed laws that give incarcerated drug offenders reduced sentences.
With a move like this, California is taking strides to overcome race/ethnicity disparities in misdemeanor cannabis crimes. This is indicative of a momentous shift in perspective on the cannabis plant. Combined with an emerging field of scientific evidence pinpointing cannabis’ medical potential, from its antitumor properties to its immune system-bolstering qualities, cannabis reform looks to be on the horizon.
African-American “Cannapreneurs” are Entering the Legal Weed Space
Oh, how things have changed. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the legal cannabis space are African-Americans. Take Whoopi Goldberg for example. The African-American actress has launched a range of cannabis-based products designed to relieve menstrual pain in women. Her brand is called Whoopi & Maya Medical Cannabis.
Wiz Khalifa is another one. The successful rapper has joined forces with River Rock Cannabis to develop a range of cannabis strains and related products. Then there’s Hope Wiseman who, at the age of 25, became the youngest dispensary owner in the U.S. Her company is called Mary & Main. Let’s not forget about owner and president of District Growers, Corey Barnette
These are just a handful of examples. Even former President Barack Obama admitted to using cannabis in his younger years. Positive signs like this suggest we are progressing from the cannabis-relates racial disparities and can shift our attention to the most important thing: legalizing cannabis at federal level.