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Marijuana in America

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Marijuana in America
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Marijuana is a drug that has played a significant role in American history and culture. The drug has been used in several forms, from practical uses to recreational uses. Marijuana also once defined a generation of American people. As of today, marijuana is illegal for recreational use, with some states allowing the drug to be used for medicinal purposes only. The debate has begun in federal and state governments for decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana, which has brought about questioning the effects that the drug has on people. Is marijuana a gateway drug that leads people to use harder, more dangerous drugs or is this theory a scare tactic to persuade people to keep from using the plant? Marijuana began its history in the United States as a plant that was grown to produce rope, clothing and sails for boats as early as the 17th century. The plant, known as hemp, was first brought to America by the Puritans, a group of people from England that immigrated to the United States to escape religious prosecution. As the people began to create communities, leaders encouraged farmers to grow hemp. In 1619, the Virginia Assembly approved legislation that “required every farmer to grow the hemp seed because the plant’s large role in producing material” (Booth, 2003, p. 173). The plant was also used as legal tender in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to pay property taxes. By the 18th century, marijuana was one of the most produced crops of the colonies. Even the fore fathers of the United States grew the plant. George Washington once said, “Make the most you can of the Hemp seed and sow it everywhere” (Booth, 2003, p. 195). Washington’s primary crop on his plantation was hemp as well as Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson also wrote the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Laws were made that punished farmers that did not grow hemp during a shortage, with fines levied against those that decided not to grow the plant. In the 1840s, medicines that contained marijuana began to be sold in pharmacies. “From 1850 to 1942, marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia as a useful medicine for nausea, rheumatism, and labor pains and was easily obtained at the local general store or pharmacy” (Booth, 2003, p. 221). During this time, doctors would prescribe a cough suppressing syrup made of cannabis and chloroform for adults and children, as seen in the picture below.
[pic]
By 1906, the United States government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, a new law that required labeling any cannabis contained in over-the-counter remedies. Although marijuana was being used for medical and practical purposes, recreational use of the plant was not widely practiced. In 1910, after the Mexican Revolution, Mexican immigrants flooded into the United States and introduced American culture to the recreational use of marijuana. This allowed the drug to become associated with the immigrants, and the fear and prejudice about the Spanish speaking newcomers became associated with marijuana. Anti-drug campaigners warned terrible crimes were attributed to marijuana and the Mexicans who used it by saying that marijuana “aroused a lust for blood and gave its users super human strength” (Sloman, 1979, p. 96). As fear spread over the ramifications of marijuana use, the United States government began to take steps to regulate the drug. Federal government officials created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 to encourage state governments to control the problem with marijuana. Harry J. Anslinger was appointed as the head of the FBN. Anslinger claimed “cannabis caused people to commit violent crimes, act irrational, and act overly sexual” (Sloman, 1979, p. 158). Anslinger also helped the FBN create propaganda films, which promoted his views on marijuana and other drugs. In one anti-drug speech Anslinger exclaimed, "How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured...No one knows, when he places a marijuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a joyous reveler in a musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer" (Sloman, 1979, p. 161). The government continued to regulate marijuana by passing the Uniform State Narcotic Act in 1932. This act forced states to accept responsibility to control marijuana use and prosecute against it. By the middle of the 1930s, all states had some regulation of marijuana. As states began to control and prosecute marijuana use, the federal government stepped up with punishing those that participated in consuming marijuana. Marijuana was first severely restricted as a recreational and medicinal drug in the U.S. by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The law did not prohibit marijuana use but imposed such a heavy tax that legal sale and use became nearly impossible. “Annual fees for the tax were $24 ($337 adjusted for inflation) for importers, manufacturers, and cultivators of cannabis, $1 annually ($14 adjusted for inflation) for medical and research purposes, and $3 annually ($42 adjusted for inflation) for industrial uses” (Booth, 2003, p. 335). The arrests began in October of that year, with Samuel Caldwell being the first person to be arrested for selling marijuana without paying the mandated tax. Even with the passage of laws, which banned marijuana on a federal level, people continued to consume marijuana, reaching an all-time high in the 1960s. A change in political and cultural climate brought about a more lenient attitude toward marijuana use. More people began to focus on the rise of Communism, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, with drug regulation becoming an afterthought in people’s minds. Middle-class Americans began to use marijuana more frequently and the drug identified with the counterculture or hippie movement. The attitude on marijuana began to change with the news of reports the Presidents Kennedy and Johnson commissioned during the 1960s. The reports found that marijuana “did not induce violence, nor lead to the use of heavier drugs” (Booth, 2003, p. 503). Although these reports suggested that marijuana was not dangerous, laws did not change to allow the drug to be legal. Instead, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control merged within the Justice Department to create the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. With this merger, policies including marijuana began to involve considerations of treatment as well as punishments. Scientists and other medical professionals began to debate over the dangers of marijuana when drug use became rampant in the 1970s. In 1975, Denise Kandel introduced the “Gateway Hypothesis, a term used to describe the pattern of drug usage” (Reid, 2008, para. 5). The gateway hypothesis insinuates that if a person begins to use marijuana the person will turn to harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Most studies used adolescents as subjects to test this theory and found the theory to be correct. In most cases, the adolescents followed a particular order with drug use, starting with nicotine and inhalants, moving to alcohol, then to marijuana, then to harder drugs. The data obtained from Kandel’s study can be seen with this graph:
[pic] Other scientists disagreed with Kandel’s theory and conducted different studies. These studies concluded that other factors, “familial behaviors and environmental issues, contributed to the use of harder drugs, with marijuana not being a factor in continued usage” (Moroz, 2000, para. 6). The studies found that adolescents would turn to drugs most commonly found in the area of which they lived, rather than starting with marijuana. Also, if a parent or older sibling was using a particular drug, the adolescent was most likely to use that particular drug. By the 1980s, drug use was at an all-time high. The United States government stepped in again, this time with a campaign against drugs. The campaign, known as the “Say No to Drugs” campaign was led by President Reagan and his wife, Nancy. The campaign focused on adolescents, with an emphasis on teaching the dangers of drugs. Nancy Reagan visited several schools to promote the campaign and commercials were made that featured well-known celebrities that helped to convey the message to adolescents. The most famous anti-drug commercial featured an egg representing a person’s brain and the act of frying the egg to represent what happens to a person’s brain when the individual consumes drugs. The campaign is considered a success because the number of adolescent drug users began to decline, and continues to do so today, as seen in the graph below. [pic] Despite the fact that many Americans caught on to the anti-drug message, many experts believed that including the gateway theory into anti-drug propaganda did not influence adolescents to refrain from using marijuana. Scientists and doctors conducted surveys that asked adolescents “if being told marijuana leads to continued drug use, would this information influence their decision to consume marijuana” (Lessem, 2006, para. 4). The results of the surveys were mixed. Some adolescents admitted that they would continue to use marijuana, without the fear of the gateway possibility. Others said they would not try marijuana for fear of turning to harder drugs. The results concluded that “the individual’s decision to continue to consume, not the drug itself, determines a person’s drug use” (Lessem, 2006, para. 7). By the mid-1990’s many states were considering to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996 with the passing of Proposition 215. “Proposition 215 removes state-level criminal penalties on the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis by patients who possess a written or oral recommendation from their physician that he or she would benefit from medical marijuana” (Booth, 2003, p. 487). Patients diagnosed with any illness in which medical use of marijuana has been deemed appropriate and recommended by a physician are legally protected under this act. Soon after California legalized marijuana for medical use, 13 other states and the District of Columbia also legalized medical marijuana. In these states, a medical marijuana user can “possess one to twenty-four usable ounces of marijuana without being prosecuted, depending on the state in which he or she lives” (Booth, 2003, p. 523). Many of the states have also decriminalized marijuana on a state level, but federal law still prohibits the use of marijuana in these states. Recently, California has gone a step further in decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana by introducing Assembly Bill No. 390 in 2009. With this bill, marijuana would become legal for recreational use for users 21 or older. The bill was heard by California legislature, but delayed because of calendar restraints. Then in February 2010, Assembly Bill No. 2254 was introduced as an addition to the previous bill. Assembly Bill No. 2254 proposed the taxing of marijuana used for recreational use. California voters will have a chance to vote on this bill in the November 2010 election. If California legalizes personal use of marijuana, will other states follow? Legalizing marijuana could help many cash-strapped states by taxing the product, as California’s bill proposes. A majority of Americans believe that this could be a simple solution, but others disagree. Other Americans have concerns and fears that legalizing marijuana will cause several problems such as a rise in the crime rate or users turning to harder drugs. To ease the minds of concerned citizens, federal and state governments must look into education of moderation with the recreational use of marijuana and effective regulation of the drug. Marijuana is not a gateway drug, but a drug used in a pattern of drug use. It is not the drug that causes a person to use, but the individual’s decision to use the drug.

References
Booth, Martin. 2003. Cannabis: A History. London, England: Doubleday.
Google Images. (2008). http://images.google.com/
Lessem, J., Hopfer, C., Haberstick, B. Timberlake, D., Ehringer, M., Smolen, A., et al. 2006. Relationship between adolescent marijuana use and young adult illicit drug use. Behavior Genetics, 36(4), pp. 498-506. doi: 10:10.1007/s10519-006-9064-9.
Moroz, Kelly Scott. 2000. Drug use: Initiation and progression. M.Sc. dissertation, University of Calgary (Canada), Canada. Retrieved February 26, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AATMQ55227).
Reid, J. 2008. Drug use sequencing and Kandel’s Gateway Hypothesis. M.S. dissertation, Clemson University, United States—South Carolina. Retrieved February 26, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 1456432).
Sloman, Larry. 1979. Reefer Madness: The History of Marijuana in America. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press.…...

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