A History of Cannabis Prohibition
Using cannabis and its derivatives as holistic medicine is nothing new. Before Western medicine, there were natural remedies that were primarily plant and alcohol-based. Almost 5,000 years ago, the Chinese were using a derivative of cannabis in their healing practices. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used cannabis as a remedy for inflammation, and Indians and Middle Eastern cultures used its mind-altering properties in religious ceremonies. All of this occurred before 1 AD. Hemp was cultivated on almost every continent by the late 1600s. In modern times, hemp and cannabis extracts were combined with alcohol and sold as cures by traveling salesman through the early 1900s. There are several factors that ultimately led to cannabis and hemp prohibition. One of those factors was immigration to the United States as a result of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s.
“Mexican immigrants referred to this plant as ‘marihuana’. While Americans were very familiar with ‘cannabis’ because it was present in almost all tinctures and medicines available at the time, the word ‘marihuana’ was a foreign term. So, when the media began to play on the fears that the public had about these new citizens by falsely spreading claims about the ‘disruptive Mexicans’ with their dangerous native behaviors including marihuana use, the rest of the nation did not know that this ‘marihuana’ was a plant they already had in their medicine cabinets.”
The 1930s hearings on marijuana laws were dominated by claims that marijuana caused men of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women. This propaganda was the primary support for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which banned consumption and processing.
At the same time, a publishing and timber mogul who already had a vast fortune realized that eliminating hemp as a competing source product would make him a boatload of money. William Randolph Hearst took full advantage of his publishing platform, and used it to influence popular thinking and to denounce and discredit the capabilities of hemp as a source product. Up through the 1940s, hemp was planted by farmers in America, and it can still be found along the edges of fields in places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Colorado.
Today, we are faced with the issue of how to make cannabis and hemp legal and available again. The federal government is making money off the production and sales of cannabis and hemp, but no banking solutions or federal regulatory solutions have gained traction. Primarily, cannabis is treated as a supplement or holistic remedy. Doctors can provide a prescription for a medical cannabis card, but they have no sound research to rely on for recommending cannabis as a treatment.
It’s left to the retail employee or “budtender” to discuss cannabis-related treatment options with a patient. A budtender cannot recommend or make any claims that cannabis should be used to treat certain ailments; they can only provide information about the product. But, every day in this industry, retail employees recommend a product to a consumer because it treats or alleviates an ailment. This is exactly where holistic/supplement medicines get themselves into trouble. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) provides oversight and regulation of, well, drugs. It will be a process of years for the federal government to reschedule and regulate cannabis. They will have to decide how to group cannabis (or provide original and specific regulations) with similar substances in order to provide a banking solution and collect taxes. That could take a decade or more.
In Colorado, we have spent nearly a decade with a regulated medical cannabis system and almost five years with recreational cannabis. The country is looking to us as a model for other state systems. But, maybe we should be looking at the model of holistic medicine for guidance as to how to operate until federal oversight is enacted. We have seen some regulated markets flourish while others have not fared as well. What makes one market more successful than others? Regulations and regulators. When the regulators work with the business owners, the markets tend to flourish. In places where the regulations are so restrictive that the business owners cannot make a profit, the market does not grow. Creating a one-size-fits-all regulation for cannabis across state lines seems like a daunting task. In the long run, if all states adopt similar regulatory practices, it will be easier to transition to a federally regulated industry.