It’s no secret that history repeats itself, it’s just not always obvious while it’s actually happening. Case in point: America’s seemingly endless war on marijuana can trace its roots directly to the prohibition era, which was a spectacular disaster in every way. This is a topic that TWB has posted about before, and also one that is certainly tied to why we, as an industry, call this plant cannabis and not marijuana.
But, do you ever wonder why alcohol (one of the most lethal, destructive, and addictive substances in the world) is perfectly legal and marijuana isn’t? For answers, it’s helpful to look back on America’s failed experiment with alcohol prohibition (spoiler alert: prohibition didn’t stop people from drinking!).
Prohibition: The Criminalization of Alcohol
Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, was deemed “the noble experiment.” It was intended to reduce alcohol-related crime and corruption, as well as improve health and hygiene in America. You have to remember, before Alcoholics Anonymous was created in 1935, there were virtually zero successful treatments for alcoholism. Essentially, alcohol addiction was a death sentence.
Unfortunately, “the noble experiment” created anything but a noble, healthy environment. Because people couldn’t get alcohol legally, they started making it themselves. A slew of health and hygiene issues ensued. People even died from consuming homemade brews, or “bathtub” alcohol.
But that wasn’t all. The illicit liquor trade created countless opportunities for criminals, and as a result, jails and courthouses were overflowing with so-called bootleggers. The public health and safety issues continued to get worse and worse, and prohibition actually made alcohol abuse an even bigger problem than it already was. Not only did people continue to drink, but they were now drinking dangerous homemade booze sold by gangsters.
The Criminalization of Marijuana
Fast forward to 1937 and you’re in for a big dose of déjà vu. Harry Anslinger, the first Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner, claimed that marijuana could lead to insanity if it was used enough. Anslinger had no scientific data to back up his claims, but his propaganda convinced the majority of the public to side with him. Anslinger helped usher in the creation of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively criminalized the possession and sale of marijuana.
According to a 2016 report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, almost 137,000 people are behind bars on the grounds of simple drug possession. Scores of Americans have been imprisoned for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Prisons and courthouses are overflowing with people arrested for possession of drugs, marijuana in particular. The parallels to the prohibition of alcohol aren’t exactly subtle, and yet the country has been reluctant to admit Prohibition 2.0 has failed, spectacularly.
Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I drug, which means the only way to access it in many cases is illegally. That’s led to a thriving black market for marijuana and other popular drugs. Despite the war on marijuana, millions of Americans still consume the drug regularly.
We started this piece with a simple question, “Why is alcohol legal and marijuana isn’t?”
There is no good answer, no rational reason, no logical explanation for why alcohol is perfectly legal and marijuana isn’t. History repeats itself, but we should learn from our past mistakes. Prohibition didn’t work during the Roaring 20s, and it won’t work in the 21st century either.
Author Bio: Whitney Diedrich is a budtender and marketing specialist at Greeley Gallery, a family owned and operated Portland dispensary. Since 2014, Greeley Gallery has provided a safe and comfortable environment for customers to get the information they need, and the highest quality cannabis products available.