Parts of the United States and Canada enter the most lucrative medicinal and recreational market in the world.
In 1937, America started the longest lasting prohibition in their history. For cannabis enthusiasts, 1937 represents a pivotal point in the plant’s political history and one which has only recently started to change. In Canada, history is much the same. Prohibition in Canada, lasted 95 years before it finally saw a full reversal in 2018. Prohibition in America is ongoing but spotty.
North America has had a turbulent history with the use, sale, and cultivation of cannabis. In Canada, this started in 1923, without many pretexts. The government matter-of-factly announced an amendment to the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act, which included cannabis. There wasn’t very much lead up to the change, and very little debate at the time.
Interesting Read: What Was Cannabis Before Reefer Madness?
In the following years, there was some discussion of its usefulness as a medicine, but little change in the rule of law. The final, and lasting decision, came in the late 1930’s when the government’s attitudes markedly shifted and cannabis was banned for good.
The United States Criminalized Cannabis
In the US, individual states began restricting cannabis as early as 1906. State by state, more governments shifted toward criminalization and away from knowledge about its medicinal values. They started requiring medicines containing cannabis to be labeled as poison. By 1937, cannabis was effectively prohibited under the Marijuana Tax Act.
By 1970, with more and more people returning to cannabis, the government passed the Controlled Substance Act. One year later, Richard Nixon launched the longest war in America’s history – the war on drugs.
Cannabis prohibition, in both Canada and the US, has cost trillions, and ended the lives of tens of thousands, especially as the war traveled into Mexico and Central America. The US spends $3 billion a year fighting the war on cannabis. In 2015, almost half the people arrested for drug crimes in the US were for cannabis, that’s 650,000 people! Most experts agree this drug policy has failed to make a dent in drug use, sale, and production.
Where Does Cannabis Stand Today?
In 2001, the Canadian government granted patients with approved illnesses full access to medical cannabis. Under the Canadian Medical Marijuana Access Regulation, the government allowed patients to choose to grow their own medicine or purchase from an approved source, called a Licensed Producer.
In October 2018, Canadians received the right to light up recreationally. Under Bill C-45, the country now allows for possession, use, and sale of recreational cannabis. Each province maintains specific controls overuse, including distribution and age restrictions, but it is now widely legal across the country.
Despite legalization, in specific regions, the federal government is still cracking down on ‘illicit’ dispensaries operating outside of the new legal framework. The government has also only approved the use and sale of raw cannabis and concentrates under 30 percent potency. Edibles, topicals, and stronger formulations are still banned.
In America, there are now 34 states (and counting) that have voted to allow access to medical cannabis. There are 11 states which allow for recreational cannabis and another 13 whose governments have, at the very least, decriminalized it. Despite the state level support for access to medical and recreational cannabis, the federal government has cannabis regulated, as a Schedule I drug.
In 2018, the U.S government started making moves suggesting its historic opinions on the plant may be changing. For one, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the non-psychoactive compound CBD under the brand name Epidiolex.
The DEA has also followed use, rescheduling the CBD molecule (not the entire plant) from Schedule I to a Schedule V substance. Finally, in the Fall of 2018, the Trump administration requested public comment about the reclassification of cannabis. Clearly, the gears are shifting, albeit slowly, in America.
From Gateway Drug to Licensed Dealer Ends Prohibition in America
Both the Canadian and American governments (at least at the state level) have made some dramatic shifts in opinion on cannabis over the last decade or so. For nearly a century, leaders demonized cannabis and labeled it as the gateway drug. Anyone who smoked one joint was sure to spiral downwards into drug addiction to heroin or methamphetamine.
It took a lot of steam to turn the war on drugs around, but today most local governments are considering the advantages of a regulated cannabis market. The reasoning behind the shifting position is two-fold: science and economics. Scientifically, it’s getting harder to ignore the significant medical benefits of the plant. The growing body of research has also widely disproven the gateway drug theory. According to science, cannabis is not as dangerous as we were once taught.
The second and more important reason is the economic benefit of legal cannabis. Canadians are projected to spend $7 billion on cannabis in 2019, an enormous boost to their national economy. This prediction replicates similar trends in recreational states, like Colorado and Oregon. Colorado’s market may crack $1.5 billion by the end of 2018, and Oregon may break $50 million.
Governments today are making an about-face on cannabis policy because it’s lucrative. Governments are the new dealers, and for the very same reasons – it just makes economic sense. You can’t deny the science, nor can you deny the returns.