(Source) Fear of “the other” is at the core of marijuana prohibition. At least that is the conclusion that may be drawn from a review of its history, as outlined in a 70 page article in the 2009 Volume of the Utah Law Review. The article, entitled Medical Marijuana: The Conflict Between Scientific Evidence and Political Ideology, calls for a rescheduling of cannabis in the light of current research demonstrating both its safety and efficacy.
The fears and irrationality which have held the prohibition of marijuana in place for much of the twentieth century, and on into the twenty-first are no basis for law, according to the article’s author, Peter J. Cohen *.
The article states: The decision whether to legalize the medical use of marijuana should be based on a dispassionate scientific analysis; neither disapproval by the legislature nor approval by popular vote should be dispositive. [URL, Vol 2009, No. 1, p. 102]
Marijuana has been treated as a dangerous drug by the United States Government since 1937, with its use and sale federally prohibited. There was a brief exception to this policy during World War II when farming and production of marijuana, in the form of industrial hemp, were temporarily encouraged.
According to the ULR, During the early part of the last century, localities and states with large Mexican American and African American populations began criminalizing marijuana use as a way to exact some measure of control upon an unwanted element of society. Public discourse on the subject was limited to yellow journalism, particularly through the Hearst Newspaper chain, as well as government funded propaganda in the form of “public information” motion picture releases with fictional stories of crime, murder and insanity resulting from marijuana use.
Since the reasons for the initial ban were racial in nature and linked to fear and distrust of Mexican immigrant and African-American culture, where marijuana was used recreationally, no verified scientIfic evidence of the supposed dangers of marijuana was ever presented during congressional hearings. On the contrary, the AMA testified against the ban, but this testimony was withheld from legislators.
After one and a half minutes of debate a congressional vote was taken, and the Marijuana Tax Act was born. Most members did not realize they were actually voting to ban what they knew as hemp, which, parenthetically, was poised to be a billion dollar agricultural crop nationally. Indeed, marijuana, or cannabis had been used for nearly 100 years in the US as a safe and effective medicine prior to 1937, and as a source for fiber since the founding of the our nation. It was grown by both Washington and Jefferson, as considered an essential resource.
1972 Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act which ranked drugs and other substances in terms of perceived dangers at a time when marijuana use was linked to vigorous anti-war protests. In spite of the recommendation of a Presidential Committee formed to assess the impact marijuana use (subsequently called the Shafer Report) which supported legalization, cannabis was positioned at the pinnacle of substances which per the CSA, had “no current use for medical treatment in the United States, a high-potential for abuse, and were unsafe even under a physician’s care.”
Furthermore, unlike LSD, and heroin which share the Schedule I distinction, the US government retains a strict monopoly on the production of cannabis, in effect, completely stymying scientific research on the substance unless the goal was to prove harm.
As a result, frustrated activists had to turn to the legislative process and public referendum on the state level in order to make what they perceive as an effective medicine available to those who need it.
This is a flawed approach, according to the articles author, and he calls for rigorous, non-ideological science-base research under the FDA to prove or disprove the safety and efficacy of cannabis, and that subsequent scheduling or re-scheduling should be based solely upon those results.
* Peter J. Cohen, is an Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; B.A., Princeton University, 1956; M.D., Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1960; J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, 1995.