As the movement for marijuana legalization gains more and more steam, it is becoming harder to believe that such restrictive laws were ever made against it in the first place. Today, the majority of young adults are in favor of legalization. Even people who wish to keep it illegal have had to admit that marijuana, though they disapprove of it, is relatively harmless and has real medicinal uses.
All the while marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug. A Schedule I drug is defined as a substance that has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medicinal use. Considering the myriad of studies that have been done on marijuana, its potential harm, and its uses for various disorders, this couldn’t be further from the truth
If even some of marijuana’s biggest critics are no longer sticking to its mischaracterization as a Schedule I drug, then how did it ever end up classified in this way in the first place?
You could say that it all began with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, but in truth the negative public perception of marijuana goes back much further than that. Criminalization began at the turn of the 20th century, with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Further revisions to the act made it so that narcotics, including marijuana, were labeled as “poisons.”
Following the passage of these laws, marijuana gained an increasingly bad reputation due to the fact that it was reportedly used by eastern immigrants and by Mexican farm workers. It should come as no surprise that racist attitudes of the early 20th century played a role in how marijuana was viewed, especially due to the fact that the Great Depression brought about increased tensions between migrant workers and Americans who were having trouble finding work.
Further laws restricting marijuana use and sale were enacted even prior to the Great Depression. In 1925, the International Opium Convention resulted in a ban on the exportation of what was called “Indian Hemp.” 1925 also saw the first draft of the Uniform State Narcotics Act. This was one of the first pieces of legislation which gave the Federal Government power over the regulation of narcotics.
This was followed up by the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) in 1930, which was accompanied by a hilarious public service announcement that proclaimed marijuana to be a “powerful narcotic in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death!” Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the FBN, claimed that marijuana resulted in irrationality, violent crimes, and that it caused people to become “overly sexual.”
The next big development in the legal status of marijuana in the United States came with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This effectively outlawed the possession and transfer of cannabis, even hemp strains which contained little to no THC. In the following years, mandatory sentencing and harsher punishments were put in place by Congress for anyone caught possessing marijuana. Even first time offenders faced a minimum of two to ten years. Surprisingly, in 1969, the Supreme Court found the Marijuana Tax Act to be unconstitutional.
Congress reacted to this finding in 1970 by passing the Controlled Substances Act, the act that finally classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug and which was signed by President Richard Nixon. This classification put marijuana in the same category as drugs such as heroin. Many hallucinogenic substances, such as LSD and psilocybin, were also included as Schedule I drugs.
Curiously enough, LSD and psilocybin have recently been studied for their potential to treat addictions, PTSD, and to help terminally ill patients come to terms with their death. These findings, once again, point out how absurd it is to claim that all Schedule I drugs have no possible medicinal use.
The question of why marijuana is a Schedule I drug really has no good answer other than that this classification came about as a result of fear mongering and a willful ignorance of actual medical science. We are no doubt on the verge of a wave of legalization, and history will remember the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug as a big mistake – a mistake that sadly ruined many lives before it was finally corrected.