Cannabis culture is on the rise in the United States and worldwide. Cannabis, the scientific designation for the flowering plant also known as hemp or marijuana, has seen a surge of popular and scientific support over the past few years. There are initiatives in several states to support both medical and recreational use of the plant.
Cannabis use has been stigmatized for decades in the United States, becoming criminalized in most states in the 1920’s and 1930’s as the prohibition culture sought to restrict access to mind-altering chemicals, including alcohol. Laws like the Uniform State Narcotic Act and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 have formed the legal basis for modern prohibitions against use of the plant.
The federal government of the United States designated cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic under the 1970 Controlled Substance Act; this designation, shared by a variety of opioids and psychedelic hallucinogens, indicates that the plant has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and a lack of safety even when used under medical supervision.
Under this designation it is illegal for any person or entity to manufacture, distribute or possess the substance, or even a counterfeit of the substance. Despite several attempts to reschedule the plant, the United State Supreme Court has ruled in US v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative (2001) and Gonzales v. Raich (2005) that the federal government has the right to criminalize and regulate cannabis, even when prescribed for medical purposes.
Prior to criminalization, cannabis or hemp, was a highly valued cash crop and highly sought after for a number of industrial and pharmaceutical purposes. As early as 1619, a degree by King James I to The Virginia Company mandated that all colonists grow at least 100 plants to be slated for export. The use of hemp for textiles and rope was virtually universal in the 18th and 19th centuries
Critics of cannabis prohibition have argued against the strict stance the government has taken against it virtually from the beginning. Many pro-reform organizations argue that initial public perception of the substance has been engineered through a propaganda campaign of slander and misinformation. The 1936 film Reefer Madness is often singled out as a particularly inaccurate, melodramatic and propagandist piece of fiction. Its portrayal of cannabis users and the effects of smoking the plant have been relegated to the realm of camp humor, as evident by the 2004 re-release of the film on April 20, a day regarded in the pro-cannabis community as International Weed Day.
Efforts to decriminalize the plant began in earnest during the 1970’s, spurred by widespread use of the plant among the dominant youth culture and nascent medical research into its possible clinical applications. In 1978, a man named Robert Randall successfully sued the federal government after his arrest for growing cannabis for use in treating his glaucoma. In response, the presiding judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration to begin a cannabis farm on the University of Mississippi. The program was discontinued in 1992 under President George H.W. Bush in response to AIDS patients petitioning for access to the plants produced by the farm.
There are several advocacy groups currently working to have cannabis rescheduled, decriminalized and/or legalized. The Marijuana Policy Project, The National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Law, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, The Drug Policy Alliance and several other organizations are currently operating in the United States and internationally to effect repeal of prohibitions, especially against the medical use of the plant and its derivatives.
There is significant support for the potency of cannabis in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, glaucoma, diabetes, nausea, Tourette’s syndrome and even cancer. Some patients undergoing chemotherapy an antiretroviral drug schedules also report a diminishment of the negative side effects of those powerful medications when using cannabis.
There is a growing body of clinical research and anecdotal evidence that indicates that cannabis, and its active cannabinoids THC and CBD, are useful as ameliorative for any number of conditions. Although there is currently no medical consensus on the efficacy of the plant as a medicine, which advocates attribute to a lack of clinical trials, 20 states and the District of Columbia currently allow prescription of medical cannabis. Internationally, a growing number of nations allow medical use of cannabis; this list includes Canada, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Italy, Finland, and Portugal. Germany recently opened its first cannabis café in Berlin.
By Mark Clarke