“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Today is the day we celebrate the birth of our nation and the moment we declared ourselves free and independent of the tyrannical rule of the British crown. In 1789, George Washington took office and became the first President of the United States, representing American values of independence, individual liberty, and equality on a global stage. We hold these same values today, though the current debate regarding marijuana legalization calls into question the notion of individual rights.
Marijuana use in the United States has been illegal only since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Act classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, claiming that marijuana has both a high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use. The reality of the situation though, is that hemp played an economic role in American society since long before it was even America.
In the 1640s, the British King demanded the colonists plant and export hemp to create maritime ropes for British ships. Hemp was also grown for domestic purposes and commonly grown to make cloth. Hemp stabilized the soil unlike tobacco, which rapidly depleted the soil’s nutrients. Hemp, like tobacco, was a cash crops grown by numerous Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington.
In 1906, the federal government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, requiring the labeling of ingredients and state regulated medicine, including that of cannabis. (Surprise, surprise. This is still necessary today.) Popularized use of marijuana dramatically increased during the Roaring Twenties and the era of Jazz. Louis Armstrong defended the use of the plant and its aid with creativity.
The 1930s however, saw the beginning of federal government regulation and the path towards banning the use of marijuana. After the repeal of alcohol prohibition, Harry Anslinger, head of the federal Bureau of Narcotics and author of the Gateway Drug theory, focused his attention on marijuana. He commented, “No one knows, when he places a marijuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a philosopher, a joyous reveler in a musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer.” This uncertainty surrounding the effects of marijuana was never satisfied with government research, yet the federal government made marijuana use illegal in 1970.
In 1982, President Nixon appointed a commission to study marijuana, but when the commission concluded marijuana should be decriminalized and regulated, Nixon rejected the commission’s findings. Still, to this day there is only one marijuana research lab under contract with the federal government. No private lab can conduct research on the medical benefits of marijuana.
Now, two states (Colorado and Washington) declare marijuana legal and decriminalized as they have listened to the will of their people. On this July 4th, it is important to remember the role individuals play in American Government. It is the will of the people that declared independence from Great Britain and it is the will of the people our lawmakers are elected to uphold and respect. George Washington wrote in response to Shay’s Rebellion, “It is to be regretted…that democratic states must always feel before they can see. It is that which makes their governments slow, but the people will be right at last.”
Marijuana legalization is occurring across the country. It has proved a slow process, but we are hopeful that our politicians (go to the middle of this page for a list of American politicians who admit to having used cannabis) will listen, sooner or later, to the will of the people. After all, it is both fitting and proper that they do.
Happy 4th everyone!