Historical acts and facts that have influenced cannabis legislation

1906 Federal Food and Drug Act

              The Federal Food and Drug Act was the first time the government started controlling the regulation of food and drugs (including any medicines that contained such items as cannabis). It was meant to oversee the branding, packaging, and risk of contamination of these items.  This Act did not outlaw or tax any products, but rather it was just the beginning step of government regulation of consumed products.  It expanded the government’s reach to cannabis, since cannabis was on the USP-NF list of drugs.  This act also paved the way for the governments to enact the Opium Act, which banned opium for the first time.  This government regulation would soon spread to other drugs, including cannabis.

1914 Harrison Act

              The Harrison Act of 1914 saw the registration of prescription recommendations by doctors.  This was also the first time that the government began taxing medicinal drugs.  These taxes, however, were used more to direct the behavior of Americans rather than just raise revenue.  The government was imposing drug regulation, not through criminalization, but rather through taxation (such as high taxes on cigarettes today).  If taxes were high enough in products that contained cannabis, people would be discouraged from using them.  This also raised revenue for the government.  While this is the first time that the government is seen directly trying to influence drug use behavior, it is just the beginning of the strict regulation and enforcement that would soon follow.

1930 Anslinger takes control of Bureau of Narcotics

              In 1930, Harry Anslinger took over control of the Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger was an outspoken and staunch supporter of all things prohibition.  In fact, he was still an advocate of alcohol prohibition even after it was repealed.  His legacy, until he left his office in 1962, would, again, be prohibition no matter how the scientific and social data refuted his beliefs. He gave speeches and rallies all over the United States to groups about the horrors of cannabis and how the drug should be loathed.  He brought about the “reefer madness” era in which he touted that cannabis would turn ordinary people into rapists and murderers. He made comparisons between alcohol and cannabis, saying that they would ruin society and the moral compass of Americans.  He even went so far as to manipulate data and skew anecdotal evidence to support his crusade.  His zealous battle over cannabis also stepped from deeply seated racism – against minority communities in the United States as well as immigrant populations, especially from Mexico.  His ardent campaigning led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 that was the first effort to criminalize the cannabis trade.  His lasting legacy is seen to this day in the federal criminalization of cannabis and its place on the Schedule I drug list, touted as a substance with no medical viability.

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