This final topic is deliberately last for several reasons. First, in sequencing these issues, this one can override the good decisions in earlier four. Second, with our modern generation this one might just be the most controversial, not because of facts, but because of propaganda and politics.
The legalization of drugs like marijuana has been a long and arduous debate in our society. The debate originates with the post-Vietnam War generation, but today it is one where politicians are conceding, to win over younger voters. To be on the legalization side of this discussion you need to either ignore history or medical facts. There are medical conditions where hallucinogens may help with pain or mental stress, but those are targeted at medical uses not recreational uses.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries cocaine was legal and widely used in “Patent Medicines.” Cocaine, and closely associated drugs, were marketed as a pain reliever, nerve settler, and stimulant, and had been around since 1805. The Patent Medicine business perpetuated the use of heroin, cocaine, morphine, opium, and alcohol all marketed as miracle cures for everyday ills. They were marketed as safe and effective. There were advertisements for calming unruly children, teething, calming nerves, pain relief, hay fever relief, headache cures, diet, and weight control. Cannabis extract was also in the mix and claimed to relieve pain, cure sleeplessness, and loss of appetite. This activity was protected by patent laws which allowed manufacturers to obscure ingredients in formularies.
The Civil War helped spread the use of opioids as soldiers were given opium for any number of illnesses. The Federal Government distributed ten million opium pills and almost three million ounces of opium powders just to the military. Many soldiers returned home addicted to opioids, and others returned to a world where doctors widely dispensed the drugs as miracle cures. By the 1890’s it is estimated that one in very two hundred Americans was addicted to opioids. Toward the end of the 19th century, the use of opioids continued, as doctors had few other remedies for many medical conditions. These addictive drugs were often prescribed to middle and upper-class women., for depression, cramps, and a “feel good” afternoon pick me up.
A shift away from middle-class and upper-class women and quiet use to streetcorner junkies, prostitutes, opium dens, and heroin addicts, changed attitudes about addressing opium problems. In 1914 the Harrison Narcotic Act effectively created a ban on opium prescriptions by doctors supplying addicts. This morphed into a general prohibition on all opium products. It took a great deal of reeducation with doctors who had used them for decades as a remedy.
By the 1920’s the opinions about unregulated drugs had turned and several regulations and agencies sprang up within the Federal Government to begin controlling what drugs could be introduced with and without regulation. The FDA and other agencies were born during this period. Other countries also began to question unregulated sale and importation of opium-based products. Marijuana fell into this new regulation because it was feared as governments cracked down on harder drugs, addicts would turn to marijuana as an alternative.
In 1930 the Federal Government created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics with Harry J. Anslinger as its head. He was a staunch advocate for banning marijuana. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, and the sale of marijuana was made illegal except by permit for medical reasons. Since then, there has been tightening, loosening, and retightening of regulations and laws concerning marijuana and other drugs as illustrated with our national struggles with oxycodone and fentanyl in recent decades.
“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Just as the Civil War ushered in an era of opioid use in the 19th century, the Vietnam War ushered in an era of marijuana acceptance in the 20th century. But unlike the 19th century, marijuana has become a gateway drug to opioid problems seen before, not an alternative when the opioids are taken away.
The turning point in general availability and law enforcement came in 2013 when at the suggestion of President Obama, the Justice Department ceased to prosecute marijuana as a federal offense. That gave the green light to the States to begin loosening regulations and laws at the State level. From that point forward the legalization of marijuana has become a wedge issue for politicians, a way to curry favor with younger voters. So long as younger voters favor marijuana legalization, and there are votes to be harvested, marijuana legalization will march on. Like cocaine in the 1920’s, it is only when the health crisis hits us in the head that the trend will reverse. Surely, we would not be so stupid as to repeat the 19th century cycle again, or will we? However, a driving influence with many politicians is often tax revenue, and marijuana legalization holds great promise for licensing fees and taxation.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites many articles on marijuana and the long-term effects of its use. In 1922 they had these observations:
- In 2021 18.7% of people aged 12 or older (52.5 million people) reported using cannabis in the previous 12 month.
- In 1922, an estimated 8.3% of 8th graders, 19.5% of 10th graders, and 30.7% of 12th graders reported using cannabis/hashish in the past 12 months.
- Among people aged 12 or older in 2021, an estimated 5.8% (or about 16.3 million people) had used cannabis in the past 12 months.
- Recent data suggest that 30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.
- Marijuana use disorder becomes an addiction when the person cannot stop using the drug even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her life.
- The primary fear of marijuana abuse was as a substitute for opioids.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites other studies where evidence is starting to reveal that early exposure to marijuana can:
- Lower IQ points
- Impede normal dopamine reactions.
- Prime the brain to use other more stimulative drugs.
- Lower school grades and student ability to concentrate.
- Increase the likelihood of workplace accidents.
- Like smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana can increase the danger of lung cancer.
The sooner our current cycle of acceptance of marijuana and opioids runs its course, and we outlaw them, the better. They are wrecking the health of our youth, creating a new addicted generation, and destroying families. The current trend among importers and manufacturers of opioids to mix fentanyl in with other drugs should scare all of us enough to push for greater regulation and outright bans on sales of marijuana. It is obvious that our international enemies are taking aim at our society through drugs and social influence of our youth. Creating an addicted society only weakens us on the world stage.
In this discussion addiction to any substance is a disruptor to a person’s life. You can do everything well and in the right order (school, marriage, children, faith) and it will all be thrown away in a minute with addiction.
The sum of our decisions determines our destiny!
Research Source Materials
Inside the Story of America’s 19th-Century Opiate Addiction, By Erick Tricky, Smithsonian Magazine, smithsonianmag.com, January 4, 2018.
Is marijuana a gateway drug?, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nida.nih.gov, May 24, 2021.
The Brookings Institution, “Welfare Reform & Beyond #28,” by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, September 2003.
Vintage ads for when cocaine and heroin were legal 1880 – 1920, Author Unknown, rarehistoricalphtos.com, accessed April 21, 2022.