Colorado kicked off the new year with the opening of the 3D Cannabis Center, in addition to other stores across the state, in Denver after recreational marijuana use was legalized in Nov. 2012 and sales began Jan. 1. Washington will follow the western state with sales starting in mid-2014.
This landmark year is a crucial time in a long history of cannabis use in the United States that dates back over 100 years. Considering that history makes this legalization of cannabis that much more momentous.
Marijuana was first a drug that caused widespread public fear, due largely to the fact that it was introduced for recreational use north of the border by Mexican immigrants who flooded into the U.S. after the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
The Great Depression in the 1930s exacerbated the fear of immigrants, creating an escalated public and government concern about the problem of marijuana and leading to it being made illegal in 29 states by 1931.
During the 1930s, marijuana was criminalized, with possession of it restricted to individuals who paid a tax for medical use. Federal drug laws followed 20 years later, making marijuana possession carry a minimum sentence of two to 10 years in jail with a fine of up to $20,000.
All of this controversy would inspire French filmmaker, Louis Gasnier, to make Reefer Madness in 1936, a cult classic film still popular among generations today, due in part to its musical satire adaptation that debuted on Broadway in 2001, and the 2005 made-for-TV film based on the play.
The harsh penalties associated with marijuana were repealed in the 1970s, with eleven states decriminalizing marijuana, only to see it become illegal again nationwide in 1986 after the signing of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act.
Now in 2014, Colorado has become the first state in America to open recreational pot stores, like the 3D Cannibas Center, after voters approved the law in November, 2012. If the legalization proves successful, a ripple effect across the States is expected to follow.
According to the Washington Post, there are enough signatures to put legalization before voters this year in Alaska. Oregon is reportedly likely to come next, and by 2016, six other states – Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada – hope to be discussing legalization. Supporters are also hopeful that lawmakers will push for legalization in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
This is all in sharp contrast to public beliefs about cannabis held one hundred years ago. Recreational use of marijuana has evolved from being part of a widespread culture of fear to a part of a widespread culture of joy and support.
However, it is not without its critics. Although it is widely regarded as a drug with legitimate medical benefits, not much conclusion has been definitively reached as to any harmful effects, despite much speculation.
Some believe that cannabis causes impaired decision-making and has a negative affect on short-term memory. One study in New Zealand found that users that had been followed since birth had lower IQ scores than non-users. Though this was debunked a few months later, after another report concluded that it was more likely that socio-economic factors contributed to the lower IQ scores, not marijuana.There are also those who believe that marijuana causes schizophrenia and cancer. However, data to support this and many other claims is weak.
With the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, and sales booming at retail outlets like Denver’s 3D Cannabis Center, the drug is expected to be put under a microscope. Even though marijuana has been around the U.S. for over a hundred years, research on it is just beginning, and with an increase in users smoking it legally, new findings on the harmful effects as well as further medical benefits are sure to come out over the coming months and years.
By Kollin Lore