What You Need to Know about Legalizing Cannabis
I wanted to get clear on this issue. I wanted to find some kind of truth about cannabis, and issues around its legalization. To look at it from a fair angle, to vote on it having made a fair decision. And is it, in fact, a good and necessary drug? Is it actually a healthy option?
First, why are we so confused about this plant? Why are humans so divided on its use, as opposed to the clear notions about alcohol, caffeine, cocaine and other narcotics?
Why is it a Schedule I drug? It isn’t as harmful or addictive as heroin. That’s pretty clear. Could it really help people? Why are we just now figuring out all that cannabis can do? Why all the conflicting notions and confusion?
The reason why, I found out, is because the federal government has not only restricted research on cannabis, but also has made it illegal.
A Little History:
The actual roots of cannabis criminalization seem to be steeped in racism.
In the early 1900s, the Mexican Revolution brought thousands of Mexicans into the United States, and they brought marijuana with them. Cities and states began to outlaw the plant, and therefore, incriminating the newcomers and outliers of society. Xenophobia.
A man named Harry Anslinger would be the first appointed to run the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which was created by the United States Treasury. In 1930, marijuana was not considered important enough to be controlled by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Anslinger, though, was dead-set on making marijuana illegal. Anslinger and the Treasury Department cloaked the criminalization of marijuana as a tax issue, and the Marihuana Tax Act was passed in 1937. Registered cannabis handlers were taxed $1 per ounce, and unregistered were taxed $100.
Anslinger raged war on marijuana. My own thinking is that it scared him (because he didn’t know anything about it). He proclaimed cannabis to be murderous and violent. The drug of felons.
But others were more skeptical, taking a more objective approach. Walter Bromberg, a leading psychiatrist in New York at the time, did a study at the Bellevue Hospital and found that marijuana did not cause addiction like opium and cocaine.
And before this, the British government in 1893 commissioned a study on cannabis, called the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission. Researchers spent years studying the drug, produced an eight-volume report that found “the use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all.”
The U.S. Army did its own report in 1925 in the Panama Canal Zone, as marijuana was plentiful in Central America. That committee also found no “appreciably deleterious influence” on people who use it.
Then Fiorello LaGuardia grew alarmed about New York’s weed peddlers and having read the Army report, asked the New York Academy of Medicine to figure out what’s really going on with marijuana. Over the next five years, this LaGuardia commission did the most comprehensive study and report since the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission.
The results of this commission: Of the 16,854 criminals in New York county court’s psychiatric clinic, only 67 were marijuana users, and only 6 of these had committed a violent crime. The LaGuardia Commission found that marijuana did not lead to addiction, did not lead to use of narcotics, was not widespread among young people, and did not cause crime among young or old.
After this report, which might have been a direct affront to Anslinger’s ego (would have been quite embarrassing to find out that something you have been railing on for years was not actually a bad thing), announced that anyone who researched marijuana without the permission of his bureau would be arrested and tried federally.
Hence, the lack of knowledge we now have about cannabis and its effects. The government has been restricting research since the 30s. And still is.
Then there came Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act, which after Leary v. United States (wherein the US agreed with Timothy Leary that the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was self-incriminating), divided the drugs into Schedules according to how restricted they should be. These schedules were based on medical use, known effect, harm and abuse.
The Shafer Commission:
Medical authorities said marijuana was a mild hallucinogenic, not a narcotic. Lack of research led to a confusion about where to schedule cannabis. Yet another commission was employed: the Shafer Commission.
The Shafer Commission brought its 1,184-page report to Nixon. It found everything that the government had been saying about the drug to be completely untrue. The gateway-drug theory, began in the 1930s by Anslinger (who was protesting all the reports that found marijuana to be non-violent and non-addictive) was debunked by the Shafer Commission.
Nixon, politician like them all, ran for his second term by starting the war on drugs. He created the DEA. Marijuana was again villainized. Shafer and his commission were forgotten.
This war was carried on by Reagan, into the 80s. Every now and then, someone would speak out like DEA administrative law judge Francis Young who said that marijuana was one of the safest, most therapeutic drugs known to man, and that its being a Schedule I was “unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”
Those protests were never heard, buried under more sensational news and events.
In the meantime, police were being rewarded for small, but easy pot busts as a continuation of the war on drugs. The majority of these busts were arrests of people of color. Millions of lives were ruined over a few ounces of marijuana.
The Prison Industry Profits:
This led to an abundance of profit for the prison industry. Prisons (private and federal) were making a lot of money, and as a consequence, so were smaller prisons and counties. Small sheriff departments were making bank as big prisons filled, and smaller county prisons provided relief for the overflow. It was profitable to arrest whoever didn’t have the resources to speak out. Still is.
So the states started to decriminalize, thank goodness.
But here’s where we need to think clearly. According to all that, to me, decriminalization seems important: The first step in the right direction to knowing what to do about cannabis.
What are we learning now about Cannabis? Should it be legalized?
The government is yet still restricting research on marijuana. There is one study that is trying to study vets with PTSD.
Pain and depression among vets can be unbearable. Many don’t seek treatment, but of those that do, they are sent home with pain-killing opioids, antidepressants, and other drugs. This led to an alarming increase of opioid-addiction among vets.
But as for narcotics? Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Bayer are encouraged by the DEA to actually manufacture heroin, cocaine, meth, LSD and other Schedule I drugs. Why? For “an adequate and uninterrupted supply of these substances under adequately competitive conditions.”
The only government-sanctioned research for marijuana is at the University of Mississippi greenhouse, under contract by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIDA has to approve all research projects, and this approval is usually delayed and never granted.
Benefits Discovered Finally:
In 1996, the Institute of Medicine did a comprehensive study of medical marijuana. This study found that “scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea/vomiting, and appetite stimulation.”
It also proved be valuable for chronic pain relief, epileptic seizures, and as a drug to suppress intraocular pressure for glaucoma patients.
Again, the government, in the form now of Janet Reno and Barry McCaffrey, said they would prosecute any doctor who prescribed cannabis.
But in a National Institute of Health lab, award-winning neuroscientists (Aidan Hampson and Julius Axelrod) found that cannabinoids were advantageous for limiting neurological damage due to stroke and trauma. They found it is a neuroprotectant.
So cannabinoids could be used to treat neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. These scientists stated that CBD (cannabidioil) was even better because CBD does not have the psychotropic effects of THC.
NIH applied for and was granted a patent for medical use of CBD.
But McCaffrey, keeping strong the fearful legacies of Anslinger, Nixon, and Reagan, tightened the rein again on “any research that could lead to smoked marijuana as a licensed drug.” It’s now against the Department Health and Human Services to conduct any research that could lead to positive findings about marijuana for any medical condition. This was in 1999.
But today is today. Now we are studying.
In the meantime, states have been legalizing marijuana for medicinal and in some states, like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California, DC, Vermont, Alaska, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, for recreational use.
Vets who are using medical marijuana anyway are raving about using indica strands of THC. Cancer patients are lauding medical marijuana’s ability to relieve nausea and pain, to stimulate appetite, to calm the mind.
There’s a high percentage CBD-strand of cannabis called Charlotte’s Web that’s helping children with Dravet’s syndrome which is a form of pediatric epilepsy.
People are using CBD cream for pain relief and therapeutic healing. Now studies are being done for multiple sclerosis, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, cancer, sickle-cell, depression, anxiety, pain relief, etc.
Let’s look at what could go wrong with legalization:
And you know they’re doing their research on what could be harmful. Because the government’s been fearful about marijuana since the beginning of the 20th century.
The most harmful thing, truly founded in science, about marijuana is that pot hinders short-term cognition and memory. Pot can change developing brains, essentially changing dispositions and mental capacities. People under 21, just as with alcohol or any drug, should not be allowed to take this drug.
This is about brain development. Just as you would tell your children not to drink until they are 21, you would be sure to do the same with cannabis. Just as you would tell your children not to touch opioids, they should be told not to smoke weed. That is so clear.
There is also the warning, backed by studies, that cannabis should not be used by those with schizophrenia or with a family history of schizophrenia. In those with family history, pot can bring the onset of schizophrenia sooner.
But there’s the unavoidable truth of cannabis in the context of the world of substances.
Tobacco and alcohol together literally take lives. The incidences of marijuana leading to death are little to none.
Marijuana isn’t a neurotoxin like alcohol, and unlike smoking tobacco, it doesn’t cause lung cancer. There have been little to no links to lung cancer due to the THC which actually cancels the effects of the smoke on the lungs.
Just as with nicotine, cannabis can be vaporized. The question of smoking is halfway out the window.
Then there’s the opioid epidemic which has personally touched almost every single person’s life. How would the legalization of marijuana change and affect the painkiller problem? We have yet to see, but perhaps, medical marijuana has a substitute for medical painkillers could be a help. Again, that is serious, as all of this is.
But in terms of my vote, I want to know as much as possible. I want unrestricted research on cannabis and how it could help. And how it could hurt. I want to see the whole picture.
I want to see the rebuilding of communities of color who have been hit with criminalizing marijuana. I want to speak up for real patients who need it. I want to learn about free and unrestricted research on cannabis. I want to see young people making smart decisions, not only about cannabis, but also about alcohol and other drugs. I can’t wait to see what else CBD and other cannabinoids can do.
I think CBD is going to be a major factor in all of this. It might become an important, safe part of healthcare. It seems to me like an important nutrient.
I know it’s pretty obvious where I stand:
My vote is for the hurting and healing. I vote yes.
Certainly, we can change it from a Schedule I, at the very least. Certainly, we can be open-minded, step away from our egos and long-held beliefs, come up with effective regulations and find a happy peace when it comes to this natural drug, this plant that might be able to help, and like all things, must be respected for any ways that it could harm us.
Of course, we must pay attention to all sides of the argument. But on a realistic level, we have been kept from a truth. This long-term lie needs to be exposed, at least. Let the public make up its own mind.
Information is power. Let’s not block it anymore.
Let’s not judge or stick to firmly to our beliefs. Open your mind to look at something objectively from all viewpoints.
A good way to start clearing old beliefs and opening the mind is meditation. If you need to start a practice or get back into it, this free program has helped hundreds:
Data and information from this article came from a special edition of Time Magazine: Barcott, Bruce. Marijuana Goes Main Street. Time Inc. Specials.
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