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History of Marijuana Laws: 10 Key Dates in American Policy

By    |   Sunday, 29 March 2015 06:37 PM

America’s history of marijuana law seems to have come full circle.

The country’s first statute criminalizing the drug was a tax law enacted nearly 80 years ago. Today, the legalization of marijuana offers a large carrot: billions in new tax dollars for threadbare government coffers, according to economists.

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Another carrot? The United States saves nearly $7.7 billion each year in enforcement costs. 

Before we talk about the present, let’s look at the past and how we got here. Here are 10 key dates in the history of marijuana laws:

1. Marijuana laws in 20th century began in 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act was enacted. The measure required all products with cannabis as an ingredient to be labeled. 

2. In 1910, Mexican immigrants came to the United States bringing the leaves and buds, or the recreational form of cannabis. As use increased, the public grew fearful of marijuana’s influence and effect. By 1931, 29 states outlawed marijuana followed by the federal response to public opinion with the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937. 

3. In 1951, the federal government’s stance on marijuana was cemented: the drug was considered as harmful as other narcotics such as cocaine. Federal mandatory prison sentences were imposed ranging from two to 20 years for marijuana possession.

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4. By the 1960s, public sentiment toward marijuana had changed from fear to a growing enjoyment of the drug. Recreational use increased and scientific studies showed that pot did not lead to violence.

5. In the 1970s, the federal government passed the Controlled Substances Act, which made it illegal to possess, use, sell, or grow marijuana. The law also officially moved pot into the dangerous narcotic category, labeling the drug a Schedule 1 substance that led to abuse. Later in the decade, government policy again followed the changing attitudes of Americans. Several mandatory minimum sentences were overturned.

6. In 1986, federal policy again reversed course under President Ronald Reason’s tough stance on drug use. The public had become fearful about marijuana and other drugs as a crime wave hit the country. New mandatory sentences for marijuana use which were enacted.

7. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which was dubbed the Compassionate Use Act. The new law allowed people suffering from cancer and other diseases to use marijuana for pain relief.

8. From 2000 to 2011, a large number of states followed California’s stance on medical use of marijuana. However, most were reluctant to decriminalize recreational use. 

9. In 2012, Washington and Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults over 21.

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10. On Feb. 15, 2015, President Obama signed a Congressional bill that required federal acquiescence to states that had medical marijuana use laws in place.

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America's marijuana laws history seems to have come full circle. The country's first statute criminalizing the drug was a tax law enacted nearly 80 years ago. Today, the legalization of marijuana offers a large carrot: billions in new tax dollars.
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Sunday, 29 March 2015 06:37 PM
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