Medical cannabis will bring benefits to many
Come September, Marylanders can finally reap the benefits of the statewide medical cannabis program, which voters approved in 2013. Thanks to a hundred years’ worth of drug war propaganda, some people are apprehensive about this new program. Dispelling these myths is the best way to assuage any lingering fears from concerned citizens.
Many cultures utilized cannabis for centuries prior to the American drug war. Africans used it for diarrhea, dysentery, malaria, rheumatism, and typhus. Latin Americans and Caribbeans brewed cannabis tea to help with colic, menstrual cramps, and sleep disorders. Even in the United States, physicians treated patients for epilepsy, nausea, pain, and spasms with a cannabis tincture.
Cannabis fell out of favor in the first quarter of the 20th century when the federal government conflated the “drug problem” with African-Americans and Mexicans, two particularly despised groups in America who happened to prefer smoked cannabis over patent medicines. Harry Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics helped perpetuate these myths, claiming that cannabis “made black men forget the appropriate racial barriers and unleashed their lust for white women.”
The New York Times joined the crusade as well, running headlines like “KILLS SIX IN A HOSPITAL: Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife” and “MEXICAN FAMILY GO INSANE: Five Said to Have Been Stricken by Eating Marihuana.” The mass moral panic induced by this climate eventually led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which required people to purchase a stamp in order to possess cannabis — a stamp the government simply refused to issue.
Taking a page from Anslinger, Richard Nixon used similar tactics during his presidency. His administration couldn’t punish people for wanting civil rights or for protesting the war, but they could penalize people for possessing cannabis, considered a federal crime under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
The 1980s saw Just Say No, an anti-drug campaign spearheaded by a woman with a painkiller addiction herself. Since the 1990s, however, Americans have become increasingly aware of the truth behind marijuana, which accounts for its partial legality in 26 states today. While individual states have loosened up on their marijuana laws, the federal government remains stringent.
Which is a shame. Twentieth-century drug laws have barred millions of Americans from learning about and utilizing the infinite benefits of cannabis. The plant could be especially useful now, with the country in the midst of an opiate epidemic. A 2014 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that opiate overdoses decreased by 25 percent in states with legal cannabis. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 418 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2016. Applying that 25 percent figure to Maryland, a medical cannabis program could have saved the lives of at least 104 people, if not more.
Marijuana prohibition does far more harm than the drug itself. It’s time to stop saying no and start making sense.