The federal prohibition of cannabis has been a complete catastrophe. For almost a century, the prohibition of cannabis has led to the incarceration of millions of U.S. citizens and the loss of billions of dollars in revenue.Though its medical uses have been known for thousands of years, the illegal status of cannabis has made scientific study difficult and has slowed the advancement of medical research. Further still, keeping cannabis illegal has only worsened racial tensions and financial inequalities nationwide. While cannabis, also known as marijuana, remains illegal on a federal level, it is currently legal for medical use in 33 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia. The overwhelming majority of Americans support the legalization of cannabis for medical use and believe that its senseless prohibition must soon come to an end for the benefit of their health.
The cost of keeping cannabis illegal is astonishingly high. More Americans are arrested for marijuana possession than for robbery, sexual assault, and murder combined. Statistics show that a person is arrested for cannabis every minute. According to the Harvard University Department of Economics, the costs associated with the enforcement of cannabis prohibition reach an estimated $14 billion dollars annually. Those with criminal records for possession often have difficulty obtaining proper employment and receiving higher education which further damages the economy in the form of lost wages. These facts have not been ignored by states such as Washington and Colorado who have legalized cannabis and generated millions of dollars in tax revenue which has been used to improve education, healthcare, and infrastructure in their states. Many other states have been following their example.
Cannabis prohibition is more than a financial issue, however: it is also largely an issue of racial inequality and injustice. The federal prohibition of cannabis is rooted in anti-Mexican and anti-black sentiment which originated in the 1930s. By using the word “marijuana”, the spanish term for cannabis, lawmakers demonized the plant by associating it with the influx of immigrants in the South. Harry Anslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics ran a successful campaign against cannabis in 1937. In his testimony before Congress he stated, “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.” He also said, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.” Harry Anslinger made sure to use the word marijuana when discussing cannabis in public as well as in his propaganda film Reefer Madness. As a result, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed and it effectively criminalized cannabis. Today, Americans of color are disproportionately more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for cannabis than white Americans, even with the rate of use being the same.
The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Americans support the legalization of cannabis. Patients across the country report the medicinal benefits of cannabis in treating many health issues such as relieving insomnia, anxiety, depression, and treating seizures. The chemical compounds found in cannabis, such as CBD and THC, have been shown to relieve pain and inflammation. This has been particularly helpful for patients with Multiple Sclerosis and nerve pain. Due to its ability to relax muscles, cannabis has been effective in treating Parkinson’s. Additionally, cannabis has shown it can treat the pain associated with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions affecting Americans without the negative side effects of pharmaceutical medications such as opioids. The treatment of PTSD in combat veterans is another example of medical cannabis being beneficial. Many veterans and their therapists have called for more studies in this area and an end of government restriction and interference.
Despite its federally prohibited status, many Americans continue to use medical cannabis legally in their State. Others find themselves in a position where they would like to obtain more information but, due to the negative stigma and the illegality in their area, cannot do so. Further complicating issues is the fact that the medical community at large has generally been dismissive of cannabis. This is beginning to shift, however, as more and more studies are being published which underscore the many benefits of medical cannabis, thrusting the discussion into the mainstream. Cannabis oils, vapes, and edibles have become popular ways to administer the medicine and products containing the chemical compound CBD are immensely popular and sold nationwide in various forms. Support for medical cannabis is more popular than ever and there are multiple bipartisan decriminalization bills currently being introduced in Congress including the STATES act and the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. Cannabis must be made legal on a federal level so that all Americans can benefit from its proven medical uses without the fear of government penalization.