Did you know using marijuana, heroin, and cocaine used to be a legal activity in the United States? It used to be legal for anyone to walk into a store and buy marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. Did you know marijuana was used by many people and usually sold in pharmacies? Did you know Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington all grew hemp on their farms? Benjamin Franklin started a paper mill where only hemp was used to make the paper.
Marijuana and hashish (a stronger form of marijuana) was extensively used in gathering places called “tea pads”, rooms where people went to use the drug. Mexican immigrants are often credited to introducing marijuana as a recreational drug; however, others that used marijuana heavily were jazz musicians and people in show business. Suddenly, it was decided to make the drug more difficult to obtain when, in 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, regulating the labeling of products containing alcohol, opiates, cocaine, and cannabis, among others. The law went into effect Jan 1, 1907.
In fact, in 1937, when the Marihuana Tax Act, (Pub. 238, 75th Congress, 50 Stat. 551 (Aug. 2, 1937), was passed, but it still did not criminalize the use or possession of marijuana, but made it illegal by federal law. What it actually did was impose a tax on the commercial use of it. President Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of justice found in 1967 that it raised too few taxes and that the revenue generated from having the tax stamp was too little because people did not buy the stamp. It appears that most illegal drugs were not outlawed because they were dangerous, but as a way to persecute unpopular groups of people and for political reasons.
Heroin, derived from a flower known as “opium poppies”, was used as a recreational and medicinal drug. From 1898 through to 1910 heroin was marketed as a non-addictive morphine substitute and cough suppressant. The Bayer Company (Bayer Aspirin) marketed heroin as a cure for morphine addiction before it was discovered that heroin is rapidly metabolized into morphine. Essentially, heroin was just a quicker acting form of morphine. It became one of Bayer’s biggest historical mistakes.
The cocoa leaf, from which cocaine is derived, is used worldwide by many cultures, even today. Cocaine was also used for a variety of medical uses, including against the addiction of morphine, as an analgesic for pain, and as a stimulant. It could be bought from drugstores in the form of cigarettes or in small boxes of powder, along with a mixture that included a needle to inject it. In 1885 the U.S. manufacturer Parke-Davis sold it with the advertisement stated, “supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent, and … render the sufferer insensitive to pain.” Coca-Cola even used it in their first recipe for their soft drink.
Fast forward to the present.
Today, more people are sentenced to prison for drug violations than all other violent crimes combined with the number of inmates increasing by seven-fold each year. Thousands have been sentenced to long prison terms for just the “crime” of having one marijuana cigarette in their possession, let alone the typically stronger sentences against those in possession of heroin or cocaine. This has contributed heavily to over crowded prisons, crimes against persons, and crimes against property.
Legalizing drugs would make people and property safer, end prison overcrowding, and free up police resources to fight more serious criminal activity, such as murders, rape, arson, and other heinous crimes against people. It would unclog the court systems by reducing the number of people being charged and who should instead be in an alternative program for drug abuse. Placing a tax on the use and possession of drugs would increase revenues to the States and the federal government while at the same time, crippling crime organizations who make billions of dollars every year by importing and selling drugs in the United States.
Safer drugs would also result if they were legal. Certainly safer than the drugs found on the street that are often diluted and have other substances that are dangerous, added to them. The dangers associated with aspirin, bleach, common household cleaners, matches, modeling glue and microwaves are not used as reasons to make them illegal. At this time, there are no drug testing for levels of sugar or caffeine as a requirement for employment or grounds for dismissal, however, if caffeine were declared “illegal”, coffee would become the next “illegal product” that people will commit “illegal activities” to obtain.
Even so, marijuana itself has not been found as the sole contributing factor in any death in the United States, according to an exhaustive search of the literature or of the statistics found in the U. S. Drug Force Administration. Though marijuana is mentioned, it is usually in combination with alcohol or other drugs. Marijuana alone has not been shown to cause an overdose death, either. Think about how many people die from alcohol related accidents or suicides using both alcohol and barbiturates. Then look at how many deaths have been attributed directly to the use of marijuana. There are few if any and none has been documented.
If you are accused of a drug crime today, the process is often slow, sometimes taking a year to go to trial. Legalizing drugs would eliminate and reduce the strain on the court system, freeing judges and investigators to handle other cases that are not drug related more thoroughly and swiftly. It would also decrease the number of law enforcement agencies that have gone corrupt in trying to make money off the drugs while hiding behind the law enforcement badge as a cover.
Some people will say that drugs should be illegal because they are evil, immoral, or somehow fundamentally bad. That is not a legitimate dispute. It is a subjective argument at best and certainly has no place in making law. The solution is quite simple: if you do not do drugs, then you are not breaking the laws, whether the laws are correctly applied or not. If what the other person is doing offends you, walk away, just as you would if he or she were smoking a cigarette next to you.
In 2003, the “War on Drugs” cost $20 billion dollars in federal money alone. In 2007, it was up to $60 billion between the state and federal agencies. This amount of wasted money for an obviously flawed and failed “War on Drugs” is more than enough to fix our Social Security system and provide help to many families who need it. It is also enough to pay for the college tuition of almost every student in the United States today. That does not even include the costs involved for arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and housing of the convicted. With drug offenders making up over 60% of the US prison population at an average cost of $40 thousand per convicted inmate, not counting housing, and lost wages, this is overspending of the highest order with the least amount of return.
What the government has found out (and even those who refuse to admit it), but trying to stop drugs is like trying to stop people from drinking alcohol. When Prohibition in the 1920’s was instituted, all it did was drive people to manufacture, export, and sell alcohol privately and thus deprived the government of revenue it wanted. It was a mistake and Prohibition was soon abolished. The same should be done with the so-called “illicit drugs” today by taxing, and supervising the manufacture, and standardization of the drug system for resell to the public. Already some areas are “decriminalizing” small amounts of marijuana. What remains to be seen if whether the government will step in, make it a legal drug under the auspices of the FDA and DEA, and take it out of the legal system where it does not belong.
Twelve reasons why drugs should be legalized
Marijuana History and Timeline
Legal history of cannabis in the United States
Annual Causes of Death in the United States