Weed: It's Not Legal, So It Must Be Dangerous – Right?

This article was originally published on Hoban Law Group, and appears here with permission.

“Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”

– U.S. Controlled Substances Act

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.  You understand what I’m saying?  We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.  We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.  Did we know we were lying about the drugs?  Of course, we did.” 

– John Ehrlichman, White House Domestic Affairs Advisor (1969-1973)

Law in The United States

As an attorney who focuses on law, I’m often asked why I am so passionate about a plant which the U.S. government has classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, a classification supposedly reserved for the most dangerous and addictive drugs out there.  “They wouldn’t have made it illegal if it wasn’t dangerous, right?” is a question I hear all too often.  Answering this question requires us to take a bit of a deep dive into American history, circa 1900.

At the onset of the 20th century, extract was a well-known and widely used medicine in the United States.  At the time, pharmaceutical products were available without a prescription, almost entirely unregulated, frequently mislabeled and occasionally found to contain dangerous adulterants.  In order to address these problems, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 which established the first classifications and regulations for medicinal drugs.  Many states, however, felt that the federal legislation did not go far enough to protect the public and began to pass their own, more restrictive laws regarding pharmaceuticals, including cannabis.  These laws, well-intentioned as they may have been, laid the groundwork for what was to come.

Cannabis Law History

By 1910, tensions in the western and southwestern parts of …

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