History of US Cannabis Laws: Part II


In part one, we covered the history of hemp and cannabis in the US, and detailed how attitudes and laws changed throughout the years. Our journey ended in the fifties.  These were bad years to be a pot smoker. The decade was full of harsh penalties for anyone caught enjoying or distributing marijuana. Here in part two, we’ll dive into the latter half of the twentieth century and discover how hemp and cannabis laws started to evolve.

Things Get Better

Attitudes finally began to relax a little bit in the sixties as young, upper middle class white people started experimenting with pot.  President Kennedy actually released an advisory which recommended the dismantling of the FBN and the restoration of power to the medical community to determine medical use of a drug.  His successor, President Johnson, passed the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963, which categorized addiction as a mental illness.  The Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act which eventually followed in 1966 permitted treatment as an alternative to prison for drug convictions.  While people don’t typically associate marijuana with addiction today, treatment was certainly a better option than prison for offenders.

In 1970, Congress repealed many of the mandatory penalties for drug-related offenses. Officials realized that the harsh cannabis laws of the 50’s had not prevented the rise of marijuana use in the 60’s.  The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act placed marijuana in a separate category from other narcotics and eliminated mandatory federal sentences for the possession of small amounts.  In 1972, the Shafer Commission advised President Nixon that personal use of marijuana should be decriminalized.  Unsurprisingly, Nixon rejected their proposal, but eleven states did decriminalize the drug throughout the seventies while many others lessened penalties.

Things Get Worse

In 1973, The US Drug Enforcement Agency was born.  This agency combined the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement.  By 1976, conservative parents were advocating for harsher regulation of marijuana and the prevention of its use by teenagers.  These angry parents had the full support of the DEA. Their work actually became the precursor to the 1980s War on Drugs.

In 1986, the situation took a turn for the worse.  President Reagan implemented the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which revived mandatory sentences for drug-related crimes.  This act increased federal punishments for marijuana possession and distribution.  It was later amended to add the now-famous “three strikes and you’re out” policy, which implemented mandatory life sentences for repeat drug offenders, and even the death penalty for “drug kingpins”.

The Bush Years

Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, pledged to continue the War on Drugs.  In 1989, the government launched Operation Green Merchant.  The operation persecuted businesses that advertised specialized growing equipment that could be used to grow marijuana.  Not content with simply targeting these businesses, the DEA took the situation a step further. They utilized United Parcel Service records to trace deliveries of indoor growing equipment and seeds. Their final move was to raid the homes and businesses of the recipients.  When all was said and done, Operation Green Merchant resulted in the arrests of 1,262 individuals, the destruction of 977 indoor cannabis grows, and the confiscation of $17.5 million in assets.   

Bush was not done penalizing people for lighting up.  In 1990, the federal government passed the Solomon-Lautenberg Amendment which declared that drug offenses, including marijuana, would result in the suspension of the offender’s driver’s license.  Individual states were bribed to comply with the promise of federal highway funding.  

The Clinton Years

A milestone in cannabis legislation occurred in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana (Proposition 215).  Federal laws had not budged, but five other states (Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Maine) still followed suit and legalized medical marijuana before the end of the millennium.  

In 2000, former President Clinton stated that “…small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places and should be…”.  His support is really too little too late. During Clinton’s back-to-back terms as President, America experienced a record number of marijuana arrests.  In total, more than 4,175,357 people were arrested between 1992 and 1999.  He also opposed efforts to legalize medical cannabis and threatened to rescind DEA prescribing licenses for medical professionals who recommended marijuana to their patients in compliance with state laws.

The Present

As we know, the country remains divided in terms of cannabis laws. However, in present day, marijuana is legal medicinally and/or recreationally in a majority of the US.  Attitudes have thankfully mellowed out.  The 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp, has resulted in innovative ways to enjoy a versatile plant with a complex legal history.  Today, there’s more ways to get high than ever before.  Celebrate these new opportunities and choose between delta 8 or HHC.  Enjoy a blunt, preroll, or disposable vape as you appreciate all the legislative movement that had to happen to bring us where we are today.