By Frank G. aVice, DVM, BS Pharm
MarijuanaCannabis, often called marijuana, was believed to be used by early Chinese physicians, probably as an herbal therapy.
Records dated as early as 2737 B.C. mention medical treatments using cannabis for a variety of illnesses including gout, malaria, and constipation, along with other claims of successful medical cures. However, these medical uses were never dependable and as a result, early physicians used it only in limited capacity. Throughout history there are reports of Cannabis use for its intoxicating properties and the literature is full of cultural ceremonial use of cannabis from South America , the Orient, the Middle East, and on into Europe. However, this ancient crop was also used for the long stem fiber portion of the plant which could be fashioned into fabric for clothes and rope for the shipping industry. Some reports suggest that Cannabis sativa was grown at Mount Vernon by George Washington during the mid to late 1700’s. He apparently was growing the plant for its fiber content and not for its psychoactive properties. In his heart, Washington the politician was an innovative farmer who recognized America was growing and needed new industry which included Cannabis fibers for rope.
The dependency on industrial Cannabis fibers continued until the 19th century without much concern about Cannabis intoxication or abuse. However, during this time, medical advancements into pain management and anxiety control were following the new science of psychology. Americans were searching, asking and needing better health care. It was later, during the early 20th century that the general public began to understand the psychoactive and intoxicating potential of Cannabis. As the health care dilemma continued to grow, unsavory medical therapy was fostered resulting in sick patients being offered all sorts of concoctions called medicine.
Early American healthcare needed help. It was at this pivotal time that the United States government felt the need to protect the public from potential harmful medical practices. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was enacted in an attempt to offer oversite for consumer product protection, therefore it seemed reasonable to continue enacting legislation for other general public safety concerns. Yet during these years, there was no domestic negative attitude toward Cannabis. It continued to be sold legally in pharmacies throughout America, as long as these products were labeled and recorded at the time of purchase. Even so, attitudes were beginning to change. In 1930 and progressing over the next seven years, thirty-six states had laws regulating the use, sale and possession of marijuana. By now Cannabis was referred to as marijuana following concerns by the public of its ability for potential abuse. Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of narcotics at the time, made it his mission to rid the U.S. of all drugs, including Cannabis. His influence played a major role in the introduction and passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which outlawed possessing and selling the product. Now, years later, many of the arguments against Cannabis find their origin in the 1930 attitudes promoted by the over-reaction of one man. Mr. Anslinger stated that “traffic in marijuana is increasing to such an extent that it has come to be the cause for the greatest national concern.”
Whether this statement was true or not, the national fear had been kindled. As the 1930’s rolled on, fear of marijuana dangers increased. In the mid-1930’s, the Narcotics Bureau acted to support federal legislation for the passage of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. This federal law did not outlaw Cannabis or its preparations, but taxed the grower, distributor, seller and buyer, making it nearly impossible to have any dealings with the plant. This new uniform law specifically named Cannabis sativa as the Cannabis specie whose leafy plant material is illegal. The intoxicating properties of Cannabis (marijuana) are typically considered preparations obtained from the plants flowering top and leaf material. As these Cannabis plants are harvested, the primary psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, is concentrated in the sticky resin of the flower.
As a general rule, a more highly concentrated form of THC is found in the resin of the flowering plant with less in the plant’s long stem fibers.
Government had a lack of understanding between the familial relationship of fibrous hemp Cannabis and the flowering Cannabis specie. This lack of understanding prompted additional legislation and laws restricting and prohibiting all Cannabis plant growth. With these 1937 restrictions, the domestic fibrous hemp market declined significantly, even though the goal of this new law was primarily designed to regulate the psychoactive varieties of Cannabis. In 1941, as world events changed, and the United States entered World War ll, a need for the American farmer to grow and cultivate hemp was stimulated. As these agricultural efforts were rekindled, the U.S. government pushed the war theme “Hemp for Victory”, encouraging farmers to grow as much hemp as possible. Following the war, the demand for domestic hemp fibers ended and all government contracts were canceled with the Roosevelt administration banning all industrial hemp production. The governmental restrictions on Cannabis growth has lasted ever since 1945, with the exception of some experimental acres managed by the Kentucky Department of Agricultural. In 1970, the Richard Nixon administration passed the Controlled Substance Act and created the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Controlled Substance Act implemented schedules, or classes, for compounds considered having strong abuse potential. Currently,
Cannabis is DEA classified as a schedule l compound, which is “a compound with high potential for abuse without any currently accepted medical or treatment benefit in the United States.” DEA understands that Cannabis, marijuana, is the only major drug of abuse grown inside the United States and they are aggressively striving to halt its growth and cultivation. Many legal implications remain, since there is intoxication potential from a number of Cannabis species recognized throughout the world. This botanical debate attempts to separate three main Cannabis species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Currently the District of Columbia, along with 29 states, have legalized Cannabis, commonly called marijuana. The states that legalized Cannabis considered it eligible for legalization based on the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”, which means any power not given to the federal government is given to the people or the states. However, despite states’ rights and medical Cannabis laws, allowing states to manage medicinal marijuana, all varieties of cannabis are still illegal under federal law.
The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substance Act, which does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of Cannabis. As a general rule, the federal government does not feel Cannabis has any current medicinal benefits and still considers it a dangerous drug. Therefore, until the federal narcotics law regarding marijuana is changed, federal law enforcement officers may prosecute medical marijuana users, even if these patients live in states where medical marijuana use is protected under state law. To ease the fear and tension, in 2014 and 2015 Congress relaxed the federal marijuana prohibition and since 2016, Congress approved a budget amendment prohibiting any Justice Department funds from being used against states currently using medical marijuana. Even though there have been multiple legal challenges, these Justice Department restrictions on states using medical marijuana are designed to expire in September 2018 without additional congressional oversite. Today, nearly all federal regulatory agencies, except the Drug Enforcement Agency, have started to ignore concerns related to medical marijuana use, even though Cannabis is still under restrictive federal law. Mitch McConnell, United States Senate Majority Leader, recently introduced legislation known as the Hemp Farming Act of 2018. This bill would legalize hemp and remove it from the federal list of controlled substances which would allow it to be re-classified, placing it in a new DEA schedule.
Senator McConnell stated “By legalizing hemp and empowering states to conduct their own oversight plans, the hemp industry will receive the needed tool to progress.”
The author wishes to thank the following literary references; Kari Franson, “Medical Marijuana” January 2017, The Rx Consultant. Ray Oakley D” Drugs Society and Human Behavior” 2nd edition pages 392-385, David T. Courtright, “Dark Paradise” Conor Friedersdorf; “ The Superiority of a States’ Rights Approach to Marijuana” January 4 2018. Michael Tanner; “ Marijuana Policy is Best Left Up to the States” February 2017.