When you think of federal legalization, what comes to mind? The new legilsation being brought forward at the state level in places like Washington and Colorado? The divided senate in Washington DC arguing over the dangers and regulatory problems facing the drug? Or the long road at both the local and federal level in even find things to agree over?
Well recent news has uncovered that this debate is nothing new. In 1969, Time Magazine released a cover for their October issue which ran the headline: "Marijuana. At Least 12 Million Americans Have Now Tried It. Are Penalites Too Severe? Should It Be Legalized?"
That decade, notable for its embracement of counter-culture music, drugs and the "summer of love" points to the commonality at the root of this question and the debate that has spanned years, and even generations. But the history surrounding legislation and public knowledge was not new... even then.
The federal government first regulated marijuana in 1937, when Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. As with the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914, Congress deemed an act taxing and regulating drugs, rather than prohibiting them, less susceptible to legal challenge. As a result, the 1937 legislation was ostensibly a revenue measure. Just as the Harrison Act used taxation and regulation to, in effect, prohibit morphine, heroin and other drugs, the Marijuana Tax Act essentially outlawed the possession or sale of marijuana. More stringent measures followed. In 1952, the Boggs Act provided stiff mandatory sentences for offenses involving a variety of drugs, including marijuana.
Then, it was shortly after this Time Magazine cover, in 1970, that Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which established categories, or schedules, into which individual drugs were placed depending on their perceived medical usefulness and potential for abuse.
Schedule 1, the most restrictive category, contained drugs that the federal government deemed as having no valid medical uses and a high potential for abuse. Part of Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, the Controlled Substances Act placed cannabis into Schedule 1, along with heroin and LSD, more due to Nixon’s animus toward the counterculture with which he associated marijuana than scientific, medical, or legal opinion. Indeed, in 1972 the Shafer Commission, an investigative body appointed by Nixon, recommended that marijuana be decriminalized and thus removed from Schedule 1.
Nixon vehemently rejected the Commission’s report. The Schedule I designation made it difficult even for physicians or scientists to procure marijuana for research studies. Defining marijuana as medically useless and restricting research access ensured that it would not be developed for use in medicines through the normal medical, scientific and pharmaceutical protocols.
The results of this debate are seen today of course, and are now more ubicitous than ever... but at least the foundation for it is nothing new.