Photo credit: http://scienceoholic.com/goodness-of-marijuana/
Yesterday, I was invited to go on a field trip to a legal dispensary. It didn’t take me long to agree to go on the trip. I first started smoking pot seriously in early 1972, when I was 18. I had tried it earlier but didn’t really have access and probably didn’t understand the high. I now refer to myself as a semi-retired professional smoker. I have always been honest with my healthcare providers and have not really kept it a secret. Though I am usually low-key about it and fool myself into believing I can mask it, most people recognize me as a pot-head immediately. I rarely purchase weed and am really a light-weight these days, but I couldn’t resist this momentous occasion, so off we went to Massachusetts.
It would have taken us an hour and a half if we hadn’t missed a turn and wound our way through back roads. We started to make the turn our GPS directed us to make up a steep dirt hill, when we noticed the “Road Closed” sign falling over. We backtracked and finally found the right road, finally making our way to our destination. We weren’t expecting the long line or the police line blocking off the side street that led to the completely full parking lot. Luckily, we found parking on the street very close by. It was a chilly day but not frigid, so I didn’t mind the wait. We met a few people near us, one from South Carolina and another local fellow. Folks in line were from all walks of life and all ages. There was a shorter line for those who had ordered ahead online. Being from out-of-state, I didn’t want to try that. Then there was a separate line for patients who were getting medical marijuana.
The facility was very well run. They checked IDs outside before you walked in the door and again at the counter to make sure you were of age. They handed us printed menus with descriptions of the products, what strain, was it Indica or my preferred Sativa, or was it a hybrid blend of the two. They even told you if the blend was more of one or the other. The description included what kind of effect you could expect. Were you looking for pain relief, a heavy body high, a more energetic and creative high; were you looking to reduce anxiety or increase appetite, etc. There were edibles, oil, wax, tinctures, and bud. The prices were higher than what you would pay on the street, but it was an interesting experience. I have to say, I was very impressed. Once inside, while waiting in line, there were greeters there to answer any questions you might have, and the counter people were also very helpful and informative. It was very professional, and all in all, it was a very cool experience and only took an hour from the time we parked. I’ve stood in line for concert tickets much longer, and this was an historic moment for me.
So how did marijuana become illegal to begin with? On August 2, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the first federal marijuana law, which prohibited the substance. Back then, they spelled marijuana with an "h". The act took effect in October of that year and effectively banned the possession of pot by requiring users to obtain a tax stamp, which they couldn’t buy without providing details about the amount and location of their marijuana and incriminating themselves in the process. Thanks in large part to Timothy Leary, the LSD guru, that law was found to be unconstitutional and overturned in the 1970s, but at the same time, they passed the Controlled Substances Act, ensuring that marijuana stayed illegal. Before the 1930s, doctors were prescribing cannabis extract for stomach aches, migraines, inflammation, insomnia, and other ailments. As early as the 1830s, Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor working and studying in India, discovered that cannabis could be used to relieve some cholera symptoms such as vomiting and stomach pain. Since then much research has been done, and it has been shown to help with glaucoma, cancer and much more. Cannabis is very useful as a medicinal plant, and hemp is a great renewable resource for paper and other fibers and even for oil. So why was it outlawed?
In the early 1900s, soon after the Mexican Revolution, there was an influx of Mexican immigrants. They brought their culture with them, including the use of marijuana, which they spelled marihuana, as a relaxant and medicine. There were also middle Eastern immigrants who brought hashish with them. America, unfortunately, has had a long history of being anti-immigrant, and this time was no different. Americans were already using cannabis extract but were unfamiliar with the term “marihuana.” When the propaganda against it started, most people didn’t realize that they were talking about a medicine that they were very familiar with and depended upon. Then, the oil companies got on board because they could make more money off of oil than hemp. Continuing in a long tradition of blaming people of color for the ills of society, horrific crimes committed by people of color were cited, fueling the fires of an already frightened populace. It wasn't long before Congress got involved.
At the congressional hearing that took place to decide on this important issue, Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (the DEA’s predecessor), described the effects of marijuana as follows: “Some individuals have a complete loss of sense of time or a sense of value. They lose their sense of place. They have an increased feeling of physical strength and power. Some people will fly into a delirious rage, and they are temporarily irresponsible and may commit violent crimes. Other people will laugh uncontrollably. It is impossible to say what the effect will be on any individual.” Although the American Medical Association testified that “there is no evidence” of marijuana’s danger, the law passed both the House and Senate and went to FDRs desk for his signature. That law levied a tax and required detailed information about the product and the patient. Strict penalties were in place for those who broke this law, and the practice of incarcerating people for pot began.
In the 1940s, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, commissioned a study on marijuana use in the city. The research found that its use didn’t contribute to the use of harder drugs nor was it a factor in causing crimes or juvenile delinquency. These findings were essentially ignored. I have been a pot smoker for a long time. I’m not a criminal or a drug addict. I am kind, accepting and easy-going. I have found that marijuana helps my chronic back pain and my arthritis. I’ve tried CBD oil, and that helps my arthritis but not my back pain. For that, I need the CBD and THC combined. I’d rather not be high all the time, but when the pain is really bad, I turn to what I know works. I asked my doctor about medical marijuana and was told that she doesn’t prescribe it. That leaves me little choice. I can’t function in constant pain. I take risks when acquiring this much needed medicine because of these antiquated and unfounded laws. I know others who are in the same situation and know a young man who spent time in prison because he supplied it illegally to cancer patients who were greatly helped by it.
If we believe that marijuana should be legalized, we need to call our representatives. Or, we need to work to get a measure on the ballot. In Massachusetts, their representatives refused to legalize it. It took a ballot measure to put it through, and it didn’t pass the first time around. Every state can pass their own measures, if we all do the work necessary. Maybe someday, it won’t be such a big event to be able to buy or grow what we should all be able to have. Hopefully, at that time, people who were arrested for selling this helpful plant or for possession of it will be released from prison to live productive lives. Meanwhile, I will celebrate the small steps we are making and keep pushing for the larger ones.