May 10, 2021 3 min read
Even though today the legalization of weed is a question that concerns many people across different societies around the world, this has not always been the case. Discussions about weed legalization revolve around the questions of whether legalization of marijuana can reduce crime, whether it is right to legalize weed and how marijuana use is affecting consumers’ health and daily lives, along with its possible positive effects on people suffering from different illnesses and conditions. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to explore the origin of weed criminalization and trace the possible reasons for marijuana to become illegal in the 20th century, after its long history of being part of human culture.
Looking objectively at the questions surrounding marijuana’s criminalization, it is inevitable to wonder what the reasons behind the decision were to make the plant illegal. The history of marijuana shows that there are many factors from the social and political life that influenced the legislative decision to make marijuana illegal. Therefore, the illegality of weed is not only a matter of legislation, but it was a rather complex resolution of pending societal issues at the time.
For the most of human history marijuana has been freely used and in the 19th century it was even sold in shops. But it has not always been used for the same purpose as today. Before the Mexican immigrants introduced marijuana for what we now call ‘recreational purpose’, the hemp fibre created from the plant was mostly used in the United States in shipping gear and ropes. Even though marijuana has been widely cultivated, it was the Mexicans who introduced smoking the plant to the American society and, in a way, made the plant popular.
The first prohibition laws happened between 1914 and 1925. At the same time the anti-Mexican xenophobia was spreading and people often associated Mexicans with the plant because they were the ones who introduced it to the American society. Later, in the 1930s marijuana was thought of as a possible reason for men of colour to become violent. Those ideas resulted in the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act which banned the use and sale of marijuana in the United States. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act was when the ranking of substances was introduced and marijuana was placed in the dangerous category, officially being criminalized.
What is interesting about the legislative measures in the first half of the 20th century is that they happened without much controversy or public debate. People did not pay much attention to the passing of laws criminalizing marijuana. By contrast, today there are activist around the world who devote time to try to educate people about the positive effects of marijuana and try to show that criminalizing it only prevents positive outcomes for society. Cannabis rights groups often pressure governments to change their view on marijuana and the pressure has resulted in many states’ legalization of weed in the United States. Although the situation is quite different in Europe, activists on the Old Continent have successfully fought for the toleration of marijuana use and it has worked in countries such as the Netherlands and Spain. In Portugal, all drugs are decriminalized to which activists and researchers have all contributed.
The discussions surrounding the legalization of weed are concerning people from all social groups, including the most famous ones. Some of the most famous pioneers of weed legalization are Morgan Freeman, who is particularly supportive of the legalization for medical use. Another actor - Woody Harrelson has been trying to promote change in the way people think about marijuana and in the way the government approaches it. TheNew York Daily News reports that he is on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Other famous advocates are Rihanna, Seth Rogan and Bill Gates, although he has admitted to supporting the legalization, but not to use marijuana himself.
Weed criminalization is an interesting issue which has only been brough to people’s attention in the past century as the attitudes towards the use of the plant change. The changing attitudes mean that the current state of marijuana as mostly illegal in most parts of the world can quickly change and it is a matter of educating people and informing politicians about the newest findings regarding the positive outcomes of marijuana use.
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