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Whilst the early 20th century saw the gradual decline in the acceptance of medical marijuana, The late 20th century has seen what we can hopefully call the peak of its persecution. During this time it was pretty much banned out right in most countries. However, it also prompted real, scientific research into the properties of medical marijuana. Research that has largely shown that the governments of the world have overreacted. This article will outline some key points in recent history, to hopefully give you a better understanding of how we have ended up with the situation we have today.
In 1951, the USA passed the Boggs Act. This new piece of law established mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crime, there was no distinction between traffickers and minor recreational users. This was largely a result of the left over fear and hysteria of the 30's, when government officials and prominent businessmen ran nonfactual smear campaigns against the use of cannabis. When the Boggs Act was passed it was incorrectly believed that drug addiction was contagious and incurable, so anyone associated with its misuse had to be locked away (note, medical marijuana was still technically legal in some areas of the US). In 1956 this was ramped up; cannabis became classed under the Narcotic Control Act. Anyone found in illegal possession of marijuana faced a mandatory 2-10 year jail sentence and a fine of $20,000 under this new law.
All of this drama and overreaction scared the 1st world. It led to the UN (which the USA is a major part of), passing the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This states that:
“A Party shall, if in its opinion the prevailing conditions in its country render it the most appropriate means of protecting the public health and welfare, prohibit the production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession or use of any such drug except for amounts which may be necessary for medical and scientific research only, including clinical trials therewith to be conducted under or subject to the direct supervision and control of the Party. “
This basically means that cannabis in any form, medical marijuana included, is illegal as a standard unless otherwise approved by the government of said country for government controlled medical or research purposes – and not many did approve its medical use now that they effectively had a clean slate for its prohibition. This convention set up the US government with everything they needed to push federal level prohibition. This was the peak of the worldwide oppression of weed. Now that it was pretty much outlawed everywhere the only way for cannabis to go was up.
In 1964, Dr Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem successfully identified THC as the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, until this point no one had really known how medical marijuana worked. It was a huge step in cannabis science and allowed for the first synthesization of THC into man made product.
The next blow to be dealt to cannabis prohibition came from the UK. In 1968 the Wootton Report, created by the government Advisory Committee on Drug Dependance, found that cannabis is less dangerous than the consumption of alcohol and other drugs. They found that:
"the long term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects... Cannabis is less dangerous than the opiates, amphetamines and barbiturates, and also less dangerous than alcohol..."
This means that as long as it is consumed sensibly, much in the same way a lot of people enjoy a drink every now and again, it will cause no harmful effect....fancy that.
Many governments were not to be deterred by this though, especially the US who had started its demonization. In 1970 the US congress passed the Controlled Substances Act. This outlawed the use of cannabis outright on a federal level, including the use of medical marijuana. This was done because the US government thought there was not enough actual research into cannabis and its effects – it created the Schafer Commission in order to gain some of their own scientific evidence on exactly what the implications of marijuana are. In the wake of this act the group NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) was founded. They are a non-profit organization that advocated the end to cannabis prohibition.
In 1971 President Nixon stated that he would not legalize marijuana, not even for medical use, no matter what the Shafer Commission recommended, he further went on to declare a war on drugs, pouring money into anti-drug schemes to try and stamp out drugs at their source, including trying to stamp out cannabis.
In 1972 the Shafer Commission concluded its research. They found no harm in the use of medical marijuana on a reasonable, personal level, much like the UK had previously. They recommended it be decriminalized. Nixon rejected this report. Do not lose heart though, this was still a dent in the armor of cannabis prohibition. As a result of this report eleven states went on to decriminalize the possession of marijuana for medical use, meaning that marijuana could be used for medical purposes again. This had to be done in the privacy of your own home though, possession in public was still illegal. There was also no legal way to obtain it.
In 1976 Robert Randall, a resident of Washington, DC won the right to use medical cannabis for the treatment of his glaucoma. He was taken to court on criminal charges but won due to his medical condition, it was ruled that Mr. Randall had to be supplied government controlled medical marijuana. He was the first ever American citizen to receive government supplied medical marijuana, he laid the way for many more to come. The no tolerance stance of the US was falling apart. It was also in 1976 that the Netherlands also decriminalized the use of marijuana on a personal level, allowing for the famous Coffee shops it is renowned for to come to life. It still technically remained illegal though.
1978 Saw another change in the perception of marijuana for medical use. The federal government of the US started supplying other patients with medical grade weed. The state of New-Mexico also passed law formally recognizing the medical value of marijuana for the first time, over the next few years more than 30 states would also do so.
1990 saw the discovery of cannabinoid receptors within the brain, another huge piece of the puzzle as to how exactly medical cannabis works.
In 1992 Endocannabinoids were discovered, this is the chemical compound within the body, the body's own natural form of THC. With a better understanding of how the body functioned and how medical marijuana effected it, scientists and campaigners had a better argument for the legalization of medical cannabis.
1996 saw the formal legalization of medical cannabis within California, USA. This was the first state and Western authority to legalize the cultivation and possession of marijuana by prescribed patients. This made it now completely legal, not just decriminalized and tolerated. Patients no longer needed to rely on the government for their supply.
Around this time there was a lot of campaigning for the legalization for medical use of marijuana in the UK. The National Health Service ruled that much more research was needed into it before it could make a decision.
In 1999, 5 more US states formally legalized the use, possession and cultivation of personal supplies of marijuana by medical patients. Patients had to be on a register, meaning that use for medical purposes could no longer be used as a defense if anyone not on the register was arrested for possession. This not only helped get marijuana to those who needed it, but helped cut down on street trading.
As you can see, the late part of the 20th century saw the oppression and gradual relaxation of medical marijuana, especially in the US. These views have started to affect the way the world as a whole looks at marijuana, with more and more countries starting to decriminalize or legalize the use of weed for medical purposes – all thanks to the research conducted after its prohibition.