“Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis, marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.” (Young). Francis L. Young, DEA Administrative Law September 6, 1988 For a DEA official to want to take marijuana out of schedule. and put it in Schedule II or a lower class in the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 is without reproach. Over the years, marijuana has become more socially acceptable. But is America ready for the legalization and legal repercussions that come with this major change? This paper will examine the long history of marijuana in America. Prohibition of marijuana, law reforms, civil liberties And unjust and spotty enforcement of marijuana laws.
Marijuana was first documented in America when settlers from England in the 17th century brought the plant to Jamestown, Virginia (“Medical Marijuana Policy in the United States”). The plant was used for medicinal purposes along with creating fabrics, ropes, sails, and clothing. In 1619, the Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring that every farmer produce hemp. This allowed the colonists to use the plant as a legal tender. In the 1930s, due to the Great Depression, mass unemployment was reported. With the escalating number of Mexican immigrants, this led to outlandish claims linking the use of marijuana to criminal behaviors primarily in “racially inferior” or underclass communities due to the fact that the Mexican immigrants introduced the recreational use of marijuana to the American public.
Thus “Reefer Madness” was born, and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed by Congress, indefinitely criminalizing the plant for medicinal, personal, and industrial uses (“Marijuana Time Line”). During the 1940s in WWII, the government coined the phrase “Hemp for Victory” to get as many farmers as possible to grow hemp for clothing, marine cordage, and military necessities, even going so far as to offer draft deferments to the farmers who could grow hemp. In the 1960s and 1970s, the counterculture was embracing marijuana and going against the mold of the country. The Controlled Substance Act was passed in 1970, which is Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This Act created five classifications. Although Congress passed the Act, they let the FDA and DEA decide. What should be added to and removed from this classification scale?
Therefore, removing or changing a scheduled substance to another or removing a substance all together does not require the passage of the law; instead, in the case of marijuana, a rescheduling hearing can be called upon to review any previous laws, much like an appellate court would. In 1989, President George Sr. Bush televised his “War on Drugs” speech, in which he asked Congress for a 2.2 billion dollar increase on the drug budget (Bush). During the Ronald Reagan administration, he enacted the mandatory sentencing act and added “three strikes to the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, creating the sentencing commission. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 reinstated all mandatory sentences, including large-scale cannabis distribution.
Later, an amendment was added to introduce the three strikes law, which means 25 years for consecutive crimes. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana, with 55% in favor and 44% against. In November 2012, legalization was a big topic in Colorado and Washington State. The polls that night showed how ready Americans are for the ratification of our marijuana laws. Amendment 64 was passed with 55% of the vote and 44% against (“Amendment 64”). Washington State’s Initiative 502 was passed with 55% of the voters supporting legalization and 44% of them opposing it.
In American society today, we shouldn’t have to ask why marijuana should be legal, but that burden is on the government to show why it shouldn’t, and none of the explanations are especially convincing, with little to no scientific facts aiding their stance. Civil liberties is a big issue within the legalization of marijuana; many people feel that it is our fundamental civil right, something mature adults can consume at their leisure or for medicinal purposes.
Even conservative republicans such as Pat Robertson and libertarians like Ron Paul notice that marijuana prohibition is an infringement on our rights as Americans, something the constitution should protect, as opposed to the federal government outlawing a substance with little to no harmful properties recorded (“Pearlmen”). In 2010, black Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate at which white Americans were arrested, despite comparable usage rates between the two races. Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU, Ezekiel Edwards “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and their communities.” Needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people each year in the criminal justice system. The right of an individual to decide what is acceptable for them is the foundation of civil liberties.
The enforcement of unjust and spotty rulings in cases that involve marijuana happens daily to hundreds of thousands of people. Many people are sent to prison for marijuana possession not specifically for possessing marijuana but because they have committed crimes in the past. Marijuana policy is one in which federal responsibilities are delegated to the states and neither is held accountable for the results. The federal marijuana policy is to prohibit the manufacture, distribution, supply, and use of marijuana except in approved research projects. The federal government relies on local and state law enforcement to deter and make arrests for the sale of marijuana to consumers; however, states can’t afford to fully enforce this federal mandate. The federal government’s dependency on local and state law enforcement guarantees inconsistencies in the enforcement of the laws. The policy’s objective is to achieve effective control over the marijuana market, which it has drastically failed at. With the number of people getting arrested for simple possession going up and the availability and access to the plant rising as well, we can see that this policy is not doing what it was designed to do.
Determining if America is ready for the legalization of marijuana is not up to one person; we as a country have the obligation to stand up for what we feel is right, and after examining all of the information, I feel that the history of marijuana via prohibition, law reform, civil liberties, and unjust rulings is enough to form a biased opinion on whether it should be legalized or not.
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