An interesting history on the medical and legal history of weed in the US. I didn't realize how bad the misinformation around it has been, or how much money and energy has been wasted in fighting its spread. Lower rating is just because it gets a little slow at times and it's LONG.
Wooldridge did not condone or advocate drug use of any kind, but he had enough horse sense to recognize that by banning marijuana the U.S. government “essentially drives many people to drink.”
Ancient peoples during the Neolithic period found uses for virtually every part of the plant, which has been cultivated by humans since the dawn of agriculture more than 10,000 years ago. The stems and stalk provided fiber for cordage and cloth; the seeds, a key source of essential fatty acids and protein, were eaten as food; and the roots, leaves, and flowers were utilized in medicinal and ritual preparations.
In 2008, an international research team analyzed a cache of cannabis discovered at a remote gravesite in northwest China. The well-preserved flower tops had been buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, most likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, about twenty-seven centuries ago. Biochemical analysis demonstrated that the herb contained tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. “To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent,” concluded Dr. Ethan Russo, lead author of the scientific study. “It was clearly cultivated for psychoactive purposes” rather than for clothing or food.
Hemp, the common English name for cannabis through modern times, usually refers to northern varieties of the plant grown for rope, paper, fabric, oil, or other industrial uses. It derives from the Anglo-Saxon henep or haenep. Differences in climate account for the paucity of hemp’s resinous secretion compared with its psychoactive twin closer to the equator.
There is a general consensus among scholars that cannabis, a plant not native to “the New World,” as the Europeans viewed it, was introduced to the western hemisphere in the sixteenth century through the slave trade.
For hundreds of years, all the major European maritime powers—the English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese—depended on a quality hemp harvest to maintain their fleets.
The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to enslave Africans and bring them en masse to the Western hemisphere. This is how cannabis took root in Brazil, a Portuguese colony, in the early 1500s.
Hemp farming and processing played an important role in American history. Its legacy is evident in the names of numerous towns and hamlets from the Atlantic coast to the Midwest—Hempstead, Hempfield, Hemp Hill, and variations thereof.
Early American farmers and their entire families wore garments made from hemp, wiped their hands with hemp towels and hemp handkerchiefs, inscribed words on hemp paper, and sewed with hemp yarn. Hemp was considered so valuable that it served as a substitute for legal tender in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century America.
Washington was growing hemp for seed and fiber, not for smoke. There are no references in his diary to smoking any of that good shuzzit. Washington and other American revolutionaries were notorious boozers, not puffers.
“Why was Washington so keen on maximizing hempseed production? To develop a home supply,” Aldrich explained, “so the colonies would not have to rely on another country, particularly England, for such a critical substance. This was a national-security issue.”
Thomas Paine hyped hemp in Common Sense, his influential clarion call for independence that persuaded many Americans to support the revolution. Paine cited the fact that “hemp flourishes” in the colonies, providing a homegrown source of paper, clothing, rope, linen, oil, and other essentials, as an argument to convince the colonists that they could successfully secede from Britain.
Thomas Jefferson penned the original draft of the Declaration of Independence on Dutch hemp paper.
By mid-century, hemp was America’s third-largest crop, exceeded only by cotton and tobacco.
One of the curious characteristics of this “powerful and valuable substance,” O’Shaughnessy observed, was the “contrary qualities” of medicinal hemp, “its stimulant and sedative effects.” He found that hemp “possessed in small doses an extraordinary power of stimulating the digestive organs [and] exciting the cerebral system,” while “larger doses induce insensibility or act as a powerful sedative.”
O’Shaughnessy was describing what would become known in modern pharmacological parlance as the “biphasic” effect, whereby smaller amounts of a particular substance pack a potent therapeutic punch while larger doses have the opposite effect. (A large dosage might even make matters worse by exacerbating onerous symptoms.)
This notion conflicts with the assumptions of the allopathic school that would come to dominate Western medicine. Allopathic logic maintains that if low doses of a drug act as a stimulant, then a larger dosage should stimulate even more.
In 1860, the Ohio State Medical Society conducted the first official U.S. government study of cannabis, surveying the medical literature and cataloging an impressive array of conditions that doctors had successfully treated with psychoactive hemp, ranging from bronchitis and rheumatism to venereal disease and postpartum depression.
“To understand the ravings of a madman, one must have raved himself, but without having lost the awareness of one’s madness,” he wrote in Hashish and Mental Illness.
But Nietzsche, who called alcohol and Christianity “the two great European narcotics,” was not averse to the therapeutic use of cannabis. “To escape from unbearable pressure you need hashish,” Nietzsche wrote.
After the U.S. Civil War, Gunjah Wallah Hasheesh Candy (“a most pleasurable and harmless stimulant”) was available via mail order from Sears-Roebuck. The average American pretty much was at liberty to use any drug that he or she desired.
For the most part, psychoactive hemp products were eaten in nineteenth-century America and Europe, not smoked.
Adopted by urban America’s bohemian set, smoking hashish was not viewed as habit-forming or as an inducement to violence, addiction, or antisocial behavior; on the contrary, it was considered stylish and elegant.
There was no stigma attached to cannabis and no cause for alarm until U.S. prohibitionists targeted “marihuana,” the alien scourge, during an early twentieth-century upsurge of nativism, scapegoating, and political repression.
The resin—a kind of natural, frosty varnish—coats the leaves and acts both as a sunscreen and an insect repellant.
If a sticky residue is left on their hands, they know the weed is good. Stripped and bundled, the cola-bearing branches are carried to a large shed and hung upside down on special drying racks for ten days. Then the marijuana is pressed into bricks and smuggled into the United States.
Whereas the salt of the earth smoked pot as a palliative to help them cope with everyday tedium and despair, those of a more affluent standing tended to blame the problems of the less fortunate on the consumption of cannabis. Its initial association with the dregs of society—landless peasants, bandits, bootleggers, prisoners, and so on—made marijuana a convenient scapegoat for deep-rooted social inequities.
Their stoned exploits in northern Mexico were immortalized in the well-known folk song “La Cucaracha” with the chorus about a hapless foot soldier (“the cockroach”) who can’t function unless he’s high on marijuana: La cucaracha, la cucaracha Ya no puede caminar Porque no tiene, porque no tiene Marijuana que fumar
“Roach,” modern-day slang for the butt of a marijuana cigarette, derives from this song, which inspired a dance and an Oscar-winning musical of the same name.
The emergence of marijuana smoking in early twentieth-century America was catalyzed mainly by the tumultuous Mexican Revolution, which caused hundreds of thousands of brown-skinned migrants to flee to the U.S. Southwest in search of safety and work. Smoking grass became commonplace among dispossessed Mexicans in border towns such as El Paso, Texas, which passed the first city ordinance banning the sale and possession of cannabis in 1914.
While well intended, the law gave unprecedented power to federal bureaucrats to decide which drugs a person would be allowed to consume. Under the auspices of the Pure Food and Drug Act, U.S. officials would prohibit the importation of cannabis for anything other than strictly medical purposes.
Until 1906, there had been little concerted effort on the part of the federal government to regulate the manufacture, distribution, or consumption of psychoactive substances. Cocaine was still in Coca-Cola; heroin and hypodermic kits were available through Sears. No drug was illegal. The Harrison Act of 1914 extended federal control over narcotics so that a nonmedical consumer could not legitimately possess opiates or cocaine. For the first time, the U.S. government asserted a legal distinction between medical and recreational drug use.
Thanks to strong lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry, marijuana was not covered by the Harrison Act. From a federal perspective, cannabis didn’t seem to pose much of a problem at the time. Most Americans were not yet aware of marijuana and few people, other than marginalized Mexicans and blacks, smoked it.
several western and southern states proceeded to outlaw the herb, with California taking the lead in 1913, a move that served as a pretext for harassing Mexicans, just as opium legislation in San Francisco forty years earlier was directed at another despised minority, the Chinese. In each case, the target of the prohibition was not the drug so much as those most associated with its use. Typically in the United States, drug statutes have been aimed—or selectively enforced—against a feared or disparaged group within society.
In 1925, the U.S. government convened a formal committee to investigate rumors that off-duty American soldiers based in the Panama Canal Zone were smoking “goof butts” for kicks. It was the first official U.S. inquiry into cannabis, and it concluded that marijuana was not addictive (in the sense in which the term is applied to alcohol, opium, or cocaine), nor did it have “any appreciable deleterious influence on the individual using it.” On the basis of this assessment, previous orders prohibiting possession of the weed by military personnel were revoked in 1926.
“The prestige of the government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by Prohibition,” Albert Einstein observed when he visited the United States in the early 1920s. “Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than laws which cannot be enforced.”
Speakeasies—known as “blind pigs”—catered to millions of adults who brazenly flouted the law against alcohol. The cocktail was invented around this time in an effort to disguise the awful taste of bootleg hooch. Liquor poisonings, not surprisingly, were commonplace.
The most notorious rumrunner of his day was Bill McCoy, whose exploits gave rise to the well-known expression “the real McCoy,” which originally referred to the high quality of his liquor.
On August 11, 1930, Harry Jacob Anslinger became the director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) in Washington, D.C. He would run the FBN with an iron fist through six presidential administrations spanning more than three decades.
Anslinger didn’t pay much attention to cannabis until 1934, when the FBN was floundering. Tax revenues plummeted during the Great Depression, the bureau’s budget got slashed, and Harry’s entire department was on the chopping block. Then he saw the light and realized that marijuana just might be the perfect hook to hang his hat on. A savvy operator and an extremely ambitious man, he set out to convince Congress and the American public that a terrible new drug menace was threatening the country, one that required immediate action by a well-funded Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
During the Third Reich, the verminization of religious and ethnic minorities went hand in hand with Rauschgiftbekämpfung, the “combating of drugs” to promote racial hygiene. Nazi racialist policies and the demonization of marijuana by Anslinger and Hearst were parallel historical phenomena—both exploited fear and hatred of the Other.
To gain public support for his crusade, Anslinger depicted marijuana as a sinister substance that made Mexican and African American men lust after white women. One of the worst things about marijuana, according to the FBN chief, was that it promoted sexual contact across color lines. “Marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes,” Anslinger frothed.
Members of Congress held only two one-hour hearings to consider the Marihuana Tax Act. The final witness and lone voice of dissent was Dr. William Woodward, the legislative counsel for the American Medical Association (AMA), who challenged Anslinger’s claim that cannabis was a dangerous drug with no therapeutic value. AMA doctors, Woodward asserted, were wholly unaware that the “killer weed from Mexico” was actually cannabis. He accurately predicted that federal legislation banning marijuana would strangle any medical use of the plant.
By this time, the use of cannabis as a remedy had been supplanted by newer medicines such as aspirin, barbiturates, and morphine. All the newer drugs were water-soluble and therefore could be injected with a hypodermic needle—unlike fat-soluble cannabinoid compounds, which couldn’t be administered intravenously. The practical problems posed by marijuana’s insolubility and its variable impact contributed to an early twentieth-century decline in the medicinal use of cannabis tinctures.
Just four years after relegalizing the consumption of liquor, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Marihuana Tax Act by a voice vote without a recorded tally. Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt without fanfare, the law went into effect on October 1, 1937. It was a day of infamy for pot smokers everywhere. Yellow journalism, racial bias, and political opportunism had triumphed over medical science and common sense.
The first person arrested for violating the Tax Act was fifty-eight-year-old Samuel R. Caldwell, an unemployed Colorado farmhand. On October 2, 1937, the day after the Tax Act became law, Caldwell got caught selling a couple of marijuana cigarettes to a man named Moses Baca. For this crime, Caldwell was sentenced to four years of hard labor at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, and fined a thousand dollars;
Among those who earned their modest living from selling reefers at New York City jazz venues during this period was a young hustler known as Crazy Red, who landed in prison and transformed himself into Malcolm X.
The FBN moved methodically to choke off access to medicinal cannabis. Brushing off scientific data that conflicted with his hard-core ideology, Anslinger adamantly maintained that marijuana was not a therapeutic substance. Doctors were no longer able to prescribe cannabis-derived medications. Due to onerous licensing rules, wholesale pharmaceutical dealers stopped distributing cannabis tinctures. By 1941, thanks to arm-twisting by the commissioner, cannabis was officially removed from the United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary, wherein Indian hemp had previously been listed as a remedy for more than one hundred ailments.
So in 1942, the OSS established a secret Truth Drug committee, which considered a range of chemical mood-changers, including alcohol, caffeine, and peyote, before selecting a highly concentrated liquid acetate of Cannabis indica as the best speech-inducing substance for espionage interrogations.
The La Guardia committee examined and debunked virtually every claim that Anslinger made about marijuana. All the catastrophic reasons he gave for outlawing cannabis were refuted by this committee, which concluded that Americans had been needlessly frightened about marijuana’s supposed dangers.
Scarcely a decade after telling Congress that cannabis was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind,” Anslinger did a 180-degree switcheroo and declared marijuana a threat because smoking the herb turned people into docile zombies—to the point where stoned U.S. citizens would be neither willing nor able to fight the Red Menace within and without. According to the FBN chief, cannabis was now part of a Commie plot to sap America’s strength. “Marijuana leads to pacifism and Communist brainwashing,” Anslinger asserted in a 1948 congressional testimony.
He contended that marijuana, by arousing a desire for greater kicks, was the first of a series of falling dominos that inevitably led the user to hard drugs, and hard drugs led to doom and self-destruction. Most young addicts “started on marihuana smoking . . . and graduated to heroin,” Anslinger told Congress. “They took to the needle when the thrill of marihuana was gone.”
In 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Amendment, which upped the penalties for all narcotics offenses and specified the same mandatory-minimum punishment for marijuana and heroin violations: two to five years in prison for first-time possession.
Cassady’s generosity got him in trouble when he was busted for offering a few joints free of charge to a couple of plainclothes cops. Convicted and sentenced to two terms of five years to life, he ended up serving a couple of years in San Quentin.
Ginsberg believed that the U.S. government prohibited cannabis, a consciousness-altering botanical, as a means of enforcing conformity among its citizens. Conformity of consciousness, the most insidious kind of conformity, had become a hallmark of Cold War America.
A few weeks after Kennedy was elected president of the United States by a narrow margin, Ginsberg and his partner, Peter Orlovsky, visited Harvard University, JFK’s alma mater, to participate in a psilocybin experiment conducted by psychology professor Timothy Leary.
Like cannabis, LSD was well regarded among scientists for its medicinal potential long before it gained a reputation for recreational abuse. Grass and acid would both be instrumental in catalyzing the countercultural rebellion that erupted later in the decade.
In 1963, the White House Conference on Narcotics and Drug Abuse concluded that the hazards of smoking marijuana were “exaggerated” and that harsh criminal penalties (which in Georgia, for example, included the death penalty for selling pot to a minor) were “in poor social perspective.”
Once they tried marijuana, many Americans wondered if they could trust the government to tell the truth about anything.
Official disapproval of marijuana had less to do with what the weed actually did than with what it seemed to represent: disrespect, bad manners, licentious sex, a lack of patriotism, laziness, permissiveness in general.
The so-called Baby Boom generation was a unique demographic phenomenon—by 1965 half of America was under thirty. It was a decade of unparalleled economic prosperity and middle-class affluence; the U.S. Gross National Product doubled during the 1960s.
A tipping point for cannabis in the United States occurred in 1964. That was when white America discovered pot and marijuana became a household word. It was also the year when the U.S. surgeon general released a widely publicized report on the health hazards of cigarette smoking. For the first time, it became common knowledge that cigarettes caused cancer and other serious diseases, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans annually. Yet the U.S. government continued to subsidize tobacco growers. The hypocrisy of singling out marijuana for criminalization, while sanctioning tobacco, a deadly, addictive poison, was glaringly obvious to anyone with a half-open mind.
On August 16, 1964, a young Haight-Ashbury resident named Lowell Eggemeier strutted into a San Francisco police station, calmly lit a reefer, took a big toke, and exhaled slowly. “Arrest me,” he challenged the cops, who promptly did just that. Eggemeier’s in-your-face gesture marked the beginning of the marijuana legalization movement in the United States.
Smoking marijuana was unavoidably a political act, an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. (“If a law is unjust, it’s your responsibility to break it,” said Gandhi.)
The release of the 1968 Wootton Report, a comprehensive study by the British Parliament’s advisory committee on Drug Dependence, sparked a heated public debate when it gave cannabis something very close to a clean bill of health.
The Wootton Report drew a clear distinction between hard and soft drugs, a distinction hitherto unrecognized by the British legal system. Cannabis, according to the report, was “very much less dangerous than opiates, amphetamines, and barbiturates, and also less dangerous than alcohol [and] it is the personality of the user, rather than the properties of the drug, that is likely to cause progression to other drugs.”
At one time or another, the report noted, tea and coffee as well as alcohol and tobacco had been condemned in much the same terms as cannabis was dissed in the Sixties.
CBS News, citing U.S. Army intelligence reports, later revealed that nearly one out of six protestors in Chicago was an undercover agent.
The government’s use of informants and provocateurs who spouted inflammatory rhetoric in order to incite others to violence was part of a no-holds-barred covert campaign to disrupt, fragment, and neutralize the forces of dissent in the late 1960s. Law-enforcement personnel enjoyed vast discretionary powers to monitor, infiltrate, and sabotage liberal and leftist organizations.
In the late 1960s, the social fabric of the United States appeared to be unraveling. Bombarded by daily television images of street fighting, campus upheavals, black power radicals, and pot-smoking longhairs, an increasing number of Americans feared their country was on the verge of collapse. To many onlookers, the widespread consumption of marijuana was a symptom, if not the cause, of public disorder and moral decay.
Whereas usually U.S. customs inspectors would wave nineteen out of twenty vehicles through without close scrutiny, today was different. It was Day One of Operation Intercept, the Nixon administration’s indelicate attempt to reduce the smuggling of marijuana into the United States.
Intercept, the opening salvo of Richard M. Nixon’s as yet undeclared war on drugs, failed to stem the influx of Mexican marijuana. (The running joke was that interdiction efforts failed more often than Hollywood marriages.) The amount of reefer seized during the controversial operation did not exceed the average twenty-day border haul.
Its principal goal was to force a reluctant Mexican government to crack down on domestic cannabis cultivation at a time when the herb accounted for nearly 10 percent of the country’s total exports.
Nixon’s law-and-order cabal may have been riding top-saddle for the moment, but what really counted in this instance was the law of unintended consequences. The higher the price that cannabis commanded, the more enticing it became for adventurers and high-rolling entrepreneurs, who diversified, so to speak, and availed themselves of other smuggling routes by land and sea.
His lawyers argued that the punitive Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 entailed a form of double jeopardy—if a person sought to acquire a marijuana tax stamp, as the law required, then he or she would be admitting an intention to commit a crime. In other words, Leary’s attorneys reasoned, the Marihuana Tax Act was unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate oneself. The Supreme Court agreed, ruling unanimously in Leary’s favor on May 19, 1969, in a landmark decision that struck down the legal basis for marijuana prohibition.
Dubbed by President Nixon as “the most dangerous man in America,” Leary was denied bail. With little chance of early release, the forty-nine-year-old counterculture icon faced a virtual life sentence in jail.
The Brotherhood of Eternal Love had provided money to finance the prison escape, and Leary lived on the lam for more than two years until BNDD agents caught up with him in Afghanistan.
On October 27, 1970, Congress ratified the Controlled Substances Act, which was part of a larger piece of legislation (the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act) that gave a green light to “no-knock” raids by narcotics agents and placed all drugs into five different categories or “schedules,” ranking each according to their safety, their medical uses, and their potential for abuse. Attorney General John Mitchell labeled marijuana a Schedule I narcotic, a category reserved for drugs of maximum danger that had no therapeutic value. The designation was supposed to be temporary, pending further review by a presidential commission.
Heroin and LSD were also deemed Schedule I; cocaine and methamphetamine were labeled Schedule II, a lower category of abuse, because they had medical applications.
Nixon linked cannabis to loudmouthed radical protestors. “They’re all on drugs,” he brusquely told an aide. Susceptible to bouts of paranoia, the commander-in-chief blamed “the Jews” for spearheading efforts to legalize cannabis. “You know it’s a funny thing, every one of those bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob?” Nixon asked his closest adviser, H. R. Haldeman. In private conversations with his inner circle, Tricky Dick also savaged African Americans. “[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to,” Haldeman wrote in his diary.
Nixon doubled down on the Anslinger lie, and soon marijuana-related arrests would exceed the number of arrests for all violent crimes combined in the United States.
Presley’s antidrug shtick was ironic, and sad, given that he was high as a kite when he visited Nixon. Addicted to a combination of barbiturates, painkillers, and amphetamines for most of his adult life, Elvis died of a polydrug overdose in 1977.
the Shafer Commission reaffirmed the findings of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, the Panama Canal Study, the La Guardia Commission, and the Wootton Report.
Nixon never even read the report before he rejected its policy recommendations. Cannabis would remain a Schedule I drug, meaning that it was deemed unsafe for use even under a doctor’s supervision—a determination made not by medical experts but by the U.S. Justice Department. And Governor Shafer, needless to say, never got appointed to the federal bench.
After medical marijuana was relegalized in California, Mikuriya treated hundreds of alcoholic patients who got their lives back after switching to pot. In general, he found that an increase in the consumption of marijuana correlated with a reduction in the consumption of alcohol. As far as Mikuriya was concerned, marijuana was not a gateway drug to addiction—it was an exit drug.
Politicians took note and in 1976 the California legislature approved the Moscone Act, which reduced the penalty for possessing less than an ounce of pot from a felony to a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $100 fine—a prudent fiscal move that would save Californians more than $100 million a year over the next decade in enforcement costs alone.
Nixon, a heavy drinker, drew a rather fuzzy distinction between marijuana and alcohol. “A person doesn’t drink to get drunk . . . A person drinks to have fun, while a person smokes pot to get high,” the president told a friend. But the president wasn’t having much fun while hitting the bottle during his truncated second term. Addicted to sleeping pills and amphetamines and often soused on liquor, Nixon staggered through the White House in a daze, talking to portraits of past presidents that hung on the walls.
One of Nixon’s parting gifts to the American people was the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the most powerful and costly narcotics control apparatus ever assembled.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, more than 80 percent of the heroin sold on America’s streets came from Southeast Asia. And in a macabre, metaphoric twist, packets of heroin were smuggled to the United States in body bags with dead soldiers returning from Vietnam.
After a few puffs, Randall noticed while staring out the window that the tricolor halos he usually saw around a nearby streetlight had disappeared. Optical halos were one of the telltale symptoms of his disease and—voilà!—they were gone. Immediately he made the connection: “You smoke pot, your eye strain goes away. Ganja is good for you.” He began a program of self-medication, using marijuana on a regular basis—with positive results. Regular checkups with his eye doctor confirmed that cannabis significantly reduced his intraocular pressure. Randall had serendipitously discovered that marijuana, a plant millions of people smoked for fun, was “more than a recreational drug.” The “goofy relaxant” turned out to be “a critical medication” for his illness.
In a sworn affidavit Hepler asserted that without marijuana Randall would go blind. During a two-day nonjury trial in D.C. Superior Court, the defendant argued that any sane person would break the law to save his or her eyesight. Judge James A. Washington agreed and Randall was acquitted.
Randall felt it was important to speak out and do all that he could to help others who might benefit from medical marijuana. His indefatigable efforts compelled the Food and Drug Administration to establish a special “Compassionate” IND [Investigational New Drug] Program, whereby desperately ill patients, if they were very persistent and lucky, could gain access to government-grown cannabis. For twenty-five years until his untimely death in 2001, Randall smoked ten legal marijuana cigarettes a day. And he never went blind.
the NIDA investigators discerned that ganja smokers drank much less alcohol than nonsmokers, lending credence to the notion that widespread marijuana use was the main reason for significantly lower levels of alcoholism in Jamaica than anywhere else in the Caribbean.
Scientists who investigated these claims found that the fishermen could see better at night for the same reason that Robert Randall was able to control his glaucoma with cannabis—the anti-inflammatory herb greatly reduces pressure on the eyeball, thereby improving nocturnal sight.
The ganja moms and their kids did not appear to be harmed by marijuana exposure in the womb; there were no physical abnormalities, no cognitive deficits, and no neonatal complications; nor were there any discernible disparities between the three-day-old babies of mothers who used marijuana and the three-day-old nonexposed babies.
Dreher was surprised to discover that after one month the babies of mothers who had used ganja throughout their pregnancy (whether nauseous or not) were actually healthier, more alert, and less fussy than one-month-old infants whose mothers did not take cannabis.
Test results for one-month-old infants whose mothers also ingested ganja while breast-feeding were “even more striking,” according to Dreher. Heavily exposed babies were more socially responsive and more autonomically stable than babies not exposed to cannabis through their mother’s milk: “alertness was higher, motor and autonomic systems more robust, they were less irritable, less likely to demonstrate imbalance of tone, needed less examiner facilitation . . . than the neonates of non-using mothers.” When all the children were retested at ages four and five, Dreher’s team “found absolutely no differences” between the children of ganja moms and the children of nonusers.
Marijuana is “among the most forgiving medicines we know,” said Humes, who described cannabis as a “neurological laxative” that “acts to surface anxiety which the user holds within himself.” Doc touted the weed as the best remedy for stress, “the necessary medicine for the nation’s anxiety-tension problem.” “America is so sick,” he declared, “and cannabis is the specific medicine for the disease that afflicts us.”
President Jimmy Carter ushered in a brief period of ganja glasnost (the Russian term for “openness”) when he told Congress in 1978, “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to the individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use.”
Reagan picked up where Nixon left off and called for a “full scale anti-drug mobilization,” a “nationwide crusade . . . to rid America of this scourge.” In a radio address on October 2, 1982, Reagan conflated all drugs, including cannabis, into one ultimate bogeyman: “We’re making no excuses for drugs—hard and soft, or otherwise. Drugs are bad, and we’re going after them . . . We’ve taken down the surrender flag and run up the battle flag. And we’re going to win the war on drugs.”
Reagan convinced Congress to amend the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act so that U.S. soldiers could enforce civilian law on American soil. With Reagan leading the charge, the war on drugs became a real war and the once sacrosanct distinction between military ops and civilian policing evaporated. Because of the drug war, law enforcement throughout the United States would become militarized. In the name of domestic security, Reagan rationalized cutting social programs and channeling funds into military hardware (helicopters, tanks, high-tech surveillance equipment) and paramilitary training for SWAT teams and other police units, whose main task entailed serving drug-related search warrants in cities and towns across the country.
Although the Fourth Amendment guarantees against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” a Supreme Court ruling in 1984, redolent with Orwellian implications, gave law enforcement a near-blanket authorization to search for marijuana on private property without a warrant. Henceforth, police in paramilitary gear could break into people’s homes with impunity and ransack the premises looking for cannabis. Legal scholar Steven Wisotsky called it “the drug exception to the Bill of Rights.”
Nancy Reagan was not a casual user. She was a chronic user, a prescription tranquilizer addict, according to Patti Davis, who suspected that her mother’s high-profile antidrug advocacy may have been a form of denial and “a subconscious cry for help.”
Subsequent studies called into question the efficacy of D.A.R.E., which taught schoolchildren that smoking grass would lead to perdition. But Uncle Sam cried wolf too often: First marijuana was said to create maniacal killers, then to produce inert masses of lazy indulgers. When teens caught on that they weren’t getting the straight dope about marijuana, they were more likely to ignore warnings about genuinely dangerous drugs.
Dr. Weil emphatically rejected the view that altering one’s consciousness is implicitly a dereliction of human nature. Scientists have noted that intoxication persists as a fundamental drive throughout the animal kingdom, which suggests that the desire to go beyond normal waking consciousness is deeply instinctual. “The ubiquity of drug use is so striking that it must represent a basic human appetite,” said Weil, who underscored the importance of recognizing the value of other states of consciousness in order to teach people, particularly young people, to satisfy their needs without engaging in self-destructive behavior.
Irv discovered that if he smoked pot every couple of hours, he didn’t have to rely on doctor-prescribed muscle relaxants, opiates, and grog-inducing tranquilizers to get by. Although he felt no euphoric effects from cannabis, the herb somehow kept his disease in check, inhibiting tumor growth and enabling him to fully participate as a productive member of society.
But the main drawback of Marinol was that it lacked marijuana’s full range of therapeutic attributes. Synthesized in a lab, Marinol was a single-molecule medicine—only THC. Cannabis, by contrast, has more than four hundred natural compounds, including dozens of cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids, each with a unique medicinal impact, which interact synergistically in a way that buffers THC’s tricky psychoactivity.
Although some clinically depressed patients achieved positive results with prescription antidepressants, many did not. The FDA approved these drugs—for adults and children—despite numerous studies showing that they worked no better than a placebo. What’s more, Prozac and other serotonin-boosting compounds had nasty side effects—headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and libido, liver failure, bone-density depletion, and increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and suicidal behavior.
A study of American mothers and their babies found that fetal exposure to Prozac disrupted neurological development and increased the risk of autism and newborn heart defects. Nearly one in three infants born to women taking antidepressant drugs showed signs of withdrawal. Exposed neonates had seizures, bluish skin from lack of oxygen, feeding difficulties, low blood sugar, rapid breathing, and other symptoms.
cannabidiol (CBD), a unique natural substance present only in cannabis and hemp, activates brain receptors that modulate the ebb and flow of serotonin.
When federal legislation made it easier for law enforcement to seize the property of drug suspects, shadowy marijuana moguls started planting on public lands so as not to incur forfeiture penalties. Many growers moved their operations indoors to avoid detection via helicopter and U-2 aerial surveillance.
Seal and several other highfliers worked both sides of the street under U.S. government protection—transporting weapons to the contras and returning with weed or white powder. The quid pro quo was simple and time-tested: If you helped the CIA’s proxy army, then U.S. authorities would look away while you smuggled drugs into the United States.
the Anti–Drug Abuse Act, breathtaking in its scope, which Reagan signed into law in October. Twenty-nine new mandatory minimums with dizzyingly steep sentences went into effect immediately, including the newly defined crime of selling marijuana within a thousand feet of a school. In addition to nixing the possibility of probation or parole even in minor possession cases, these harsh mandatory-minimum guidelines left federal judges with no discretion when it came to punishing drug offenses.
The result was predictable: Incarceration rates exploded. In 1980, roughly 500,000 people were locked up in state and federal prisons; by the time Reagan left office in 1989, the number of prisoners had doubled.
Even though whites and blacks used illegal drugs at about the same rate, blacks were arrested, prosecuted, and jailed at much higher rates than whites.
The Anti–Drug Abuse Act of 1986 mandated much longer sentences for possessing crack than for powder cocaine, a measure aimed at black ghetto dwellers.
An occasional toker who had puffed at a party three weeks earlier might test positive, while another worker who had snorted coke or binged on booze a couple of days before the test would pass with flying colors. That’s because nonpsychoactive cannabinoid metabolites remain in the body much longer than traces of cocaine or booze.
Reagan’s war on drugs was a sham so long as American intelligence supported groups that peddled narcotics.
In the fall of 1974, while high on LSD, Herer had a Eureka moment: Anything made from trees or petroleum could instead be made from hemp! This multipurpose plant possessed a near limitless potential for phasing out environmentally destructive industries.\
nylon fiber, as the chief villain in the antihemp conspiracy. Industrial hemp could have advanced the growth of a sustainable, carbohydrate-based economy instead of a noxious, hydrocarbon-based economy, but that dream was shoved aside by DuPont and other synthetic chemical firms, according to Herer, who alleged: “If hemp had not been made illegal, eighty percent of DuPont’s business would never have materialized, and the great majority of the pollution which has poisoned [our] rivers would not have occurred.”
When cannabis was outlawed, DuPont’s chief financial backer, Andrew Mellon of the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, was also treasury secretary of the United States. Secretary Mellon was Anslinger’s boss. (The Federal Narcotics Bureau was a branch of the Treasury Department.) And Anslinger, it just so happened, was married to Mellon’s favorite niece. Herer presumes—but never proves—that Mellon leaned on Anslinger to block a natural alternative to DuPont’s synthetic schemes.
three-year-old boy with cancer who underwent surgery at a hospital in Spokane, Washington. The child vomited for days after each chemotherapy treatment. He could barely eat. He lost weight and strength. His immune system was compromised. The boy’s mother heard that marijuana might provide relief. She got some pot from a friend and baked marijuana cookies for her child. She brewed marijuana tea. “When the child ate these cookies or drank this tea in connection with his chemotherapy, he did not vomit. His strength returned. He regained lost weight. His spirits revived. The parents told the doctors and nurses at the hospital of their giving marijuana to their child. None objected. They all accepted smoking marijuana as effective in controlling chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting,” Young noted.
According to Young, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 did not give the DEA the power to tell doctors if they could or should not include cannabis in their medical practice. The matter of scheduling marijuana was supposed to have been resolved by the medical community, not by law enforcement.
But the ruling of an administrative law judge is a recommendation, not a binding order, and Young’s ruling would be ignored by the DEA director, John Lawn.
In 1992, seventeen major European cities signed the Frankfurt Charter, agreeing to tolerate the social use of cannabis, but the United States was moving in the opposite direction. Some 340,000 people in the United States were busted for pot that year, including Jim Montgomery, a paraplegic who used marijuana to relieve muscle spasms.
When laws are flouted on such a huge scale, the laws themselves start to look ridiculous.
No one understood how smoked marijuana could stop an asthma attack in seconds, not minutes.
Initially identified by Professor Allyn Howlett and her graduate student William Devane, cannabinoid receptors turned out to be far more abundant in the brain than any other G-protein-coupled receptors.
There are few cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem, the region that controls breathing and heartbeat—which is why no one has ever suffered a fatal overdose of marijuana.
Researchers soon identified a second type of cannabinoid receptor, dubbed “CB-2,” which is prevalent throughout the peripheral nervous system and the immune system. CB-2 receptors are also present in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs.
THC stimulates the CB-2 receptor, but this does not result in the psychoactive high that pot is famous for (because CB-2 receptors are not concentrated in the brain); THC binding to CB-1, the central nervous system receptor, causes the high. The CB-1 receptor mediates psychoactivity. CB-2 regulates immune response. Marijuana is such a versatile substance because it acts everywhere, not just in the brain.
An “animal model” of osteoporosis, for example, was created in normal mice and in knockout mice without cannabinoid receptors. When a synthetic cannabinoid drug was given to both groups of osteoporotic mice, bone damage was mitigated in the normal mice but had no effect on rodents sans CB receptors—which means that cannabinoid receptors are instrumental in regulating bone density.
The human immune system, an amazing physiological wonder, kicks on like a furnace when a fever is required to fry a virus or bacterial invader. And when the job is done, endocannabinoid signaling turns down the flame, cools the fever, and restores homeostasis. (Cannabinoids—endo, herbal, and synthetic—are anti-inflammatory; they literally cool the body.)
Anger at the government was palpable in rural pot-producing counties, where state police were refused food and gasoline during harvest season. It got very personal. “Why does your husband want to take Christmas away from our children?” the wife of a state trooper was asked.
“The highest killer on the planet is stress, and so many people medicate themselves in one way or another. But the best medicine for stress, if you have to take something, is pot.”
The wasting syndrome was one of the telltale signs of HIV infection—and the leading cause of death. Sickened gays found that marijuana, an appetite stimulant, was the most effective and least toxic treatment for HIV-associated anorexia and weight loss. Without cannabis many AIDS patients would not have been able to tolerate the severe nausea and other harsh side effects of potent, life-saving protease-inhibitor drugs when they finally became available in the late 1980s. For people with AIDS, marijuana was a matter of life or death.
Once in office, Clinton failed to pursue any meaningful drug-policy reform. On the contrary, he escalated the war on drugs. The president who didn’t inhale broke his campaign promise and declined to reinstate the Compassionate IND program for seriously ill Americans, thereby forcing tens of thousands of people into the unenviable position of having to obtain their medicine through illicit means.
The number of jail sentences nationwide for marijuana offenders during Clinton’s two terms was 800 percent higher than during the twelve years under Reagan and Bush Senior. Eager to outdo GOP law-and-order zealots, Clinton signed legislation that cut off federal aid to student marijuana offenders and other drug violators. Armed bank robbers, meanwhile, remained eligible for federal aid.
Life is stressful, pot is good for stress, and relieving stress is beneficial to one’s health. Therefore, Peron reasoned, anyone who smokes pot is self-medicating, whether consciously or not. If people take Big Pharma meds for anxiety, social awkwardness, and various stress-related conditions, then why shouldn’t cannabis be used to ease stress and lighten one’s mood? Why is that not therapeutic?
Michael Krawitz, a disabled Virginia-based air force veteran, was told by VA physicians that he had to sign a “pain contract” to get opiate medications. The contract stipulated that he could not use marijuana or other Schedule I drugs. When Krawitz refused to sign and submit to drug tests, his VA care was cut off.
Noelle Bush (daughter of Governor Jeb of Florida) was arrested that year for trying to use a fraudulent prescription to buy Xanax, the antianxiety drug, at a Tallahassee pharmacy. She was later sentenced to ten days in jail and led away in handcuffs for hiding crack cocaine in her shoes while in drug rehab. If America’s drug laws were applied evenly and consistently, Jeb Bush and his family would have been evicted from their publicly funded mansion, just as poor people living in public housing were thrown out of their homes when a household member was busted for using illicit drugs. But Noelle Bush and other drug offenders from wealthy families were typically given every break in the book. Only poor students were punished for drug violations by having their financial aid revoked; wealthy students, who didn’t need financial aid for education or rehab, were not affected by this penalty.
Three top executives of Purdue Pharma didn’t go to jail. They each pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of misbranding a product—the painkiller Oxycontin (the trade name for oxycodone)—and paid $34.5 million in fines, but none spent a day in prison. The company itself copped to a single felony and paid a bigger fine for misleading the public when it underplayed the dangers of this highly addictive slow-release opioid. Known as “Oxy” or “hillbilly heroin” on the street, Purdue Pharma’s multibillion-dollar blockbuster was linked to thousands of overdose deaths. Of the almost 500,000 hospital emergency-room visits in the United States in 2004, more than 36,000 involved oxycodone, according to federal government estimates.
Surveyed by the National Association of Counties (NAC) in the summer of 2005, five hundred local law-enforcement officers from throughout the country identified meth as the number one scourge. The NAC chastised Team Bush for obsessing over weed while ignoring the savage, real-world consequences of methedrine addiction.
The Economist, the blue-chip British magazine, editorialized that the FDA’s stance lacked “common sense,” adding: “If cannabis were unknown, and bioprospectors were suddenly to find it in some remote mountain crevice, its discovery would no doubt be hailed as a medical breakthrough. Scientists would praise its potential for treating everything from pain to cancer, and marvel at its rich pharmacopoeia—many of whose chemicals mimic vital molecules in the human body.”
“We know more about marijuana than we do about penicillin,” said Weil. “Marijuana has been researched to death. Marijuana is one of the safest drugs known to medicine. It has a startling lack of toxicity compared to other drugs.”
According to scientists at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, cannabinoid remedies could also help adults with dementia by fostering neurogenesis in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory and learning.
Could smoking pot prevent Alzheimer’s? “It might actually work,” says Ohio State University professor Gary Wenk, whose research lab “demonstrated that stimulating the brain’s marijuana receptors may offer protection by reducing inflammation and by restoring neurogenesis.”
Studies from scientists around the world have documented the anticancer properties of cannabinoid compounds for various malignancies, including
But extensive epidemiological research sponsored by NIDA and other federal agencies failed to substantiate a real-world link between smoking marijuana and lung cancer.
The only knock on smoked cannabis: Chronic consumption could irritate the esophagus and respiratory organs, a problem easily remedied by using a vaporizer or ingesting cannabinoids via tinctures or edibles.
Booze is implicated in more than 100,000 sexual assaults each year and 100,000 annual deaths in the United States due to drunk driving and alcohol-related violence. Worldwide, alcohol kills more than 2.5 million people annually. If drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be ranked right up there with heroin and crack cocaine, if not higher.
Miron’s report projected that ending pot prohibition nationwide would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, while taxing the herb would bring in $6.2 billion annually—a potential net gain of close to $14 billion.
For kids with attention deficit disorder, pot doesn’t impair—it helps them focus. “My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was six,” a woman from Grass Valley, California, acknowledged. “He was hyperactive and had trouble in school, but we didn’t want to put him on Ritalin. Too many side effects. When he got to high school, I suddenly noticed that he’d calmed down and could concentrate. I couldn’t figure it out. Then he told me that he started smoking pot.”
Then consider signing up for my Monday Medley newsletter. It's a collection of fascinating finds from my week, usually about psychology, technology, health, philosophy, and whatever else catches my interest. I also include new articles, book notes, and podcast episodes.