It's a story of highs and lows when talking marijuana 

Historically histrionic horticulture

click to enlarge Medical marijuana dispensary sign
  • Library of Congress
Editor's note: On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 23, Colorado Springs City Council voted 5-4 to ban recreational marijuana sales in the city. For a full report on the decision, see this Colorado Springs marijuana update.

It would be simple to say that the marijuana you know today has essentially been on the losing end of a public-relations campaign started 80 years ago by people who feared its effect on their industries. Unfortunately, the reality is far more complex, because we're not talking about a plant with a track record from the last century. We're talking about a bundle of greenery whose roots in public life reach back at least five millennia, when Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi described what he called ma as a plant possessing both Yin and Yang.

And despite so much of what you'll read in the following about efforts to fight the plant, even the presidency of the United States has fallen to the foliage, instead of the other way around. "We are now on our third straight (so to speak) President who, the evidence more than suggests, have personally flouted the laws against having possession of marijuana," wrote the New Yorker on May 6. "But the incumbent is the first who has an irrefutable history as an 'enthusiastic' (his characterization, not mine) stoner."

It's certainly not lost on many advocates that had Barack Obama been arrested for possession and distribution, he would have possibly been undone by the very laws he presses on many medical users across the country.

Anyway, now the debate comes to recreational marijuana, and what role it will have in Coloradans' lives. On Tuesday afternoon, after the Independent's deadline, Colorado Springs City Council was scheduled to rule on recreational marijuana sales in the city. Its decision was almost sure to be either to enact a moratorium on sales, or ban them entirely; Councilors hadn't even asked the city attorney's office to draft an ordinance for straight regulation and allowance.

In what follows, we take a shot at putting yesterday's Colorado Springs retail pot ban in greater American context.

1611 Cannabis is planted in Jamestown, Va., alongside tobacco. Domestic production of the plant is encouraged until after the Civil War, when other materials begin to compete with hemp.

1765 In his diaries, George Washington describes the planting of cannabis at Mount Vernon. Apparently, the first president "began to separate the male from the female hemp ... rather too late."

1874 The New York Times publishes an article called "The Use of Tobacco: Increase in the Consumption of Narcotic Stimulants" where the writer tells of a medical treatment common to certain Mexican soldiers. "On one occasion when he was suffering intensely with the toothache, an old sergeant suggested that if he would smoke a hemp cigarette it would put him to sleep and relieve his pain."

1906 The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, considered the beginning of the Food and Drug Administration, requires accurate labeling for certain comestibles, as well as for legal substances like alcohol, heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

1911 Massachusetts becomes the first state to outlaw cannabis, not because of general concern, but to discourage future use of "hypnotic drugs."

1915 President Woodrow Wilson signs the Harrison Act, which mandates that all prescriptions of opiates or cocaine be registered with the federal government. This bill will provide the framework for marijuana laws to come.

1916 The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues Bulletin No. 404, titled "Hemp Hurds as Paper-Making Material," which finds: "After several trials, under conditions of treatment and manufacture which are regarded as favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood, paper was produced which received very favorable comment both from investigators and from the trade and which according to official tests would be classed as a No. 1 machine-finish printing paper."

1920s The popularity of cannabis increases due to Prohibition. It is not yet considered a social threat.

1931 The Great Depression causes American mistrust of Mexican immigrants, provoking hastily conducted research to connect violent behavior with marijuana. By the end of the year, 29 states have outlawed the substance.

1933 William Randolph Hearst launches propaganda campaign against marijuana. Some speculate that as an investor in the paper business, and prominent newspaper baron, Hearst merely wants to eliminate competition from hemp farmers. Andrew Mellon — Secretary of the Treasury, one of the richest men in the country, and an investor in the Du Pont family's nylon — is also anti-hemp.

1936 Reefer Madness, an anti-cannabis propaganda film by French director Louis Gasnier, is released. Before long, it's purchased by Dwain Esper, who re-cuts the movie for the "exploitation film" circuit. It will be largely forgotten about until Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), starts showing it for laughs at pro-marijuana festivals in the 1970s.

1936 The Federal Bureau of Narcotics — which was replaced by the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1968, and later merged into the Drug Enforcement Agency — portrays marijuana as a dangerous substance that leads to narcotics addiction.

1936 The last of America's 48 states enacts restrictions on marijuana, and aspirin and morphine begin to replace it in medical fields.

1937 Congress passes the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 in response to studies on the addictive qualities of marijuana. It can now only be used for medical purposes, and only if possessors pay excise taxes and jump through myriad legislative hoops. It will later be replaced, in effect, by the Controlled Substances Act.

1937 The American Medical Association opposes taxation of medical marijuana, claiming it does not cause addiction.

1937 Samuel R. Caldwell is the first marijuana seller convicted under the new federal law. He is sentenced by a court in Denver to four years of hard labor in prison.

1942 The federal government releases the black-and-white film Hemp for Victory, encouraging farmers to grow the plant for rope, clothing and the like. More than 375,000 acres are produced for the war effort.

1942 Marijuana is erased from the U.S. Pharmacopeia — the official book of approved medical drugs — thus temporarily eliminating the remains of the plant's medical legitimacy.

1951 Louisiana Congressman Thomas Boggs sponsors the Boggs Act, an early foray into mandatory sentencing. First-time offenders risk two to five years in prison and a $2,000 fine, roughly $18,000 in today's dollars.

1956 Congress passes the Narcotics Control Act, which increases minimum sentences and fines.

1967 Summer of love. The United Press International reports: "Illicit marijuana traffic in the United States has more than doubled in the past two years, spreading at an alarming rate among middle-class college students ..."

1968 The University of Mississippi becomes the official grower of marijuana for government research.

1970 Congress passes the Controlled Substances Act, establishing the "schedule" classification of drugs and categorizing marijuana as Schedule I: highest abuse potential and no accepted medicinal use.

1970 NORML is founded in the effort to end marijuana prohibition.

1971 President Richard Nixon denies requests for legalization from Raymond Shafer, chairman of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. "I can see no social or moral justification whatsoever for legalizing marijuana," says Nixon. That same year, the president calls drug abuse "public enemy number one in the United States" and establishes the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention.

1976 In Washington D.C., Robert Randall, who has glaucoma and eventually dies of AIDS, becomes the first patient to legally use medical marijuana.

1978 The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) administers marijuana to seven patients under the "Compassionate Use" program.

1982 Section 280E of the federal tax code bans tax deductions on "trafficking controlled substances." It is still active today, despite conflicts with 18 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

1982 First Lady Nancy Reagan begins her "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign. As PBS' Frontline puts it, "The movement focuses on white, middle class children and is funded by corporate and private donations."

1985 The Food and Drug Administration approves Marinol, a medication for nausea and loss of appetite, made from individual cannabinoids in marijuana.

1986 President Ronald Reagan signs the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which increases mandatory sentences for those who sell or possess marijuana and other substances, and appropriates $1.7 billion for the effort.

1988 The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 is passed, establishing the Office of National Drug Control Policy. President George H.W. Bush appoints William Bennett as its first director.

1992 Department of Health and Human Services terminates the Compassionate Use program.

1996 California becomes the first state to fully legalize medical marijuana, after 55.6 percent of voters OK Proposition 215.

1998 Former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bush release collaborative statement urging citizens to vote against state medical marijuana initiatives.

1998 Alaska, Oregon and Washington legalize medical marijuana. Sixty-nine percent of Washington D.C. voters pass Initiative 59, a similar measure, but its implementation is blocked by Congress until December 2009.

2000 Colorado passes Amendment 20 and becomes the sixth state to legalize medical marijuana. "Qualifying medical conditions include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS/HIV, some neurological and movement disorders such as multiple sclerosis, and any other medical condition approved by the state," reads the ballot text.

2002 Studies conducted under the FDA's Compassionate Investigational New Drug program show that clinical cannabis improves quality of life.

2006 The FDA expresses opposition to smoking marijuana for medical purposes: "There is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful ... No animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use."

2006 The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church reveals its support for medical marijuana. "This resolution declares support for the medicinal use of cannabis sativa (also known as marijuana)," reads the recommendation, "and directs the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to actively urge the Federal government to amend and adopt such laws as will allow the benefits of marijuana treatment for such diseases as cancer, AIDS, and muscular dystrophy."

2008 The American College of Physicians releases a paper stating its support of non-smoked forms of marijuana, also advocating for researching medical uses and halting criminal prosecutions.

2009 Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issues a memo to the country's U.S. Attorneys, stating, "As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." This sets off the "green rush," with hundreds of medical-marijuana dispensaries opening across Colorado.

2010 Recognizing the need to regulate burgeoning industry, not to mention tax it, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signs House Bill 1284, to provide rules for dispensaries, and Senate Bill 109, to prevent physician abuse.

2010 The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs releases a directive stating that vets who partake of medical marijuana in states where it's legal to do so will no longer be disqualified from clinical programs.

2010 With Congress finally having allowed for implementation of Initiative 59, Washington D.C. legalizes medical marijuana.

2010 The El Paso Board of County Commissioners votes 4 to 1 in favor of referring a ban on medical-marijuana facilities in unincorporated areas of the county to the ballot. It eventually fails by 892 votes. The same year, the city of Colorado Springs decides to allow for MMJ dispensaries, and institutes licensing and zoning regulations.

2011 The DEA finally denies a long-standing request from marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access to reclassify the substance as a Schedule III, IV or V, which would allow for expanded use.

2011 In response to push-back generated by federal raids against medical-marijuana facilities in California, Montana and elsewhere, the Department of Justice issues a second clarifying memo authored by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. "The Ogden Memorandum was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution," he writes, "even where those activities purport to comply with state law."

2012 Like the state of Washington's Initiative 502, and despite opposition from politicians including Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado's Amendment 64 ends marijuana prohibition. More than 55 percent of state voters — including 51.2 percent of those in Colorado Springs — approve the measure.

2012 Connecticut and Massachusetts pass laws allowing for medical marijuana, joining 16 other states and the District of Columbia. According to procon.org, as of June 28, 2013, six more have legislation pending.

2013 Among other legislation passed in the wake of Amendment 64, Gov. Hickenlooper signs House Bill 1317, regulating retail sales of marijuana to citizens over the age of 21. Local governing bodies are given the option to regulate some or all of the different facets of marijuana sales and production, or opt-out completely.



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