The journey of marijuana legalization has been full of controversy and change, from the 1930s up to today. Once criminalized throughout the entire country and shunned by the U.S. government through aggressive anti-drug propaganda and campaigns, marijuana is now becoming legal in many states for medicinal or even recreational use.
Marijuana Use: Government Resistance and Public Defiance
In the 1930s, the U.S. government took a strong stance against the sale and use of marijuana with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 and the criminalization of marijuana in 1937. In 1936, the propaganda film Reefer Madness demonized marijuana as a “violent narcotic” that was sure to bring dangerous and undesirable symptoms such as uncontrollable laughter, hallucinations, and acts of violence to anyone who used it. Throughout the 1930s, the U.S. government warned the public that if they used marijuana, they would be supporting Mexican criminals who grew tons of marijuana across the border and sought to sell it to white high school students. This, however, did not stop the American public from quietly using the drug in the 1940s and 1950s, hiding it in books and buying it discreetly from door-to-door salesmen.
Once the 1960s and the counter-culture movement arrived, the American public became bolder about defying authority to openly use marijuana, despite controversy, government resistance and legal repercussions. Widespread protests occurred, and scientists began testing marijuana for its potential medicinal use. The U.S. government continued to fight marijuana use throughout the 1970s and 1980s with anti-drug campaigns in schools and on television as well as police dogs that could sniff out marijuana inside luggage at airports as marijuana use rose during the Vietnam War.
The Legalization of Marijuana
Marijuana activism continued in the 1990s, and the voting public could not be silenced. As early as 1996, medical marijuana use was legalized in California. The new millennium brought a rapid succession of marijuana legalizations around the country. In the year 2000, the use of medical marijuana was legalized in Colorado. In 2002, marijuana activists in New York and all around the world began holding rallies to promote the legalization of marijuana during the “Million Marijuana March.” In 2010, medical marijuana use became legal in Washington, D.C., while, incidentally, voters struck down a proposition to legalize recreational marijuana use in California. In 2012, the use of recreational marijuana became legal in Washington. Recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado in 2012.
Marijuana Legalization Today
Voters in New York are anticipating the legalization of medical marijuana within the next 18 months. All they need is the signature of governor Andrew Cuomo on the “Compassionate Care Act” bill. Cuomo supports this bill because he feels that people with certain illnesses should not have to suffer needlessly when their pain could be alleviated through the use of medical marijuana, including children who suffer from epilepsy and seizures. 22 states have already legalized medical marijuana use in some form, and New York would be the 23rd state to do so.
The journey that marijuana legalization has taken since the 1930s demonstrates the power of the American public to change the course of history when they are determined and persistent enough to demand changes in legislation. At this point, marijuana legalization for medicinal or recreational use is sure to continue in other states as well.