Fortunately, there have always been individuals and groups fighting hard for cannabis legalisation since the cannabis ban. Partly due to their work, the dominoes have started to fall and the ban is now slowly crumbling. Below are 10 memorable and purely positive moments in the fight against cannabis prohibition. What is your favourite moment?
One of the milestones included in the article “10 milestones in the history of cannabis” is the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This stealth tax measure is seen as the start of cannabis prohibition; a ban that had (and still has) great impact on the cannabis policies in the rest of the world.
Fortunately, there have always been individuals and groups fighting hard for cannabis legalisation. Partly due to their work, the dominoes have started to fall and the ban is now slowly crumbling. Below are 10 memorable and purely positive moments in the fight against cannabis prohibition. What is your favourite moment?
1965: The emergence of the counterculture
In the 1960s of the last century, a counterculture emerged that had had enough of the war in Vietnam and who opposed the capitalistic and materialistic society.
Cannabis was one of the cornerstones of this “hippie” lifestyle and led to a fierce debate about whether this drug should be legalised. Experts fell over each other with claims about both the alleged harm and the positive medicinal and therapeutic properties of cannabis. There was an increasing awareness that laws for cannabis possession were very strict.
1970: The origins of NORML
NORML, which stands for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was founded in 1970 by Keith Stroup.
Although there were (and are) many groups working for the legalisation of cannabis, NORML was one of the first organisations active across the USA (and beyond). The objective of this non-profit organisation is to sway public opinion towards the legalisation of non-medical cannabis in the United States and the decriminalisation of the responsible use (and cultivation) of cannabis by adults. Today there are similar organisations active globally under the banner of NORML, such as NORML Canada and NORML UK.
1970: Holland Pop Festival
From Friday 26 to Sunday 28 June 1970, the Holland Pop Festival took place in the Kralingse Forest in Rotterdam.This musical event has gone down in history as the Dutch answer to the American Woodstock Festival that took place a year earlier.
The festival was an important step in the decriminalisation of cannabis, because although cannabis was openly used at this event, the police did not intervene.
An important moment, because formerly no distinction had been made between soft and hard drugs. But from 1970, this began to change. The first coffee shops such as Mellow Yellow and Sarasani also opened around this time. As cannabis use did not or practically did not cause any problems, yet the use of hard drugs was getting out of hand, especially in Amsterdam, the decision was taken to experimentally tolerate cannabis.
1971: John Sinclair Freedom Rally
John Sinclair is a famous figure in American counterculture. He was involved in various activist groups such as LEMAR and the White Panther Party. Sinclair was also the long-time manager of counterculture band The MC-5.
His activities were not appreciated by the authorities in Michigan and in 1969 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two joints to undercover police officers. This led to numerous protest rallies and concerts, culminating in the “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” on 10 December 1971. This protest concert attracted 14,000 visitors and featured, among others, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Lennon even wrote a protest song especially for Sinclair.
Partly as a result of all these efforts, the Supreme Court admitted that cannabis is not a narcotic and that its possession should receive lower punishment. Three days after the protest, Sinclair was released, the law was changed and another 140 prisoners were released. Read more about John Sinclair here.
1976: The official tolerance policy in the Netherlands
The experimental tolerance of cannabis entered a new phase in 1976. In that year, a new Opium Law came into force which made an official distinction between soft and hard drugs. The soft drug cannabis was decriminalised and the Netherlands became the first country in the world to do so. A revolutionary moment!
The government at the time announced its goal to remove cannabis as quickly as possible from the sphere of criminality and fully legalise it. The government realised that, because of international treaties, legalisation would entail a long process, but did go ahead and decriminalise cannabis. In 1980, the Public Prosecutor published new guidelines for the retail sale of cannabis, allowing for the tolerance of cannabis retail points (coffee shops). However, the next step – full legalisation – never materialised. Indeed, while the Dutch policy is being copied worldwide, the frontrunner in this story seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
1996: California becomes the first state to legalise the medicinal use of cannabis
At the time of writing, 23 states and Washington D.C. have laws in place for the medicinal use of cannabis.
Partly because of this, the perception of cannabis has changed significantly in the United States, and has resulted in the regularisation of the recreational use of cannabis in some states. California was the state to set this domino effect in motion. After 56% of its voters voted “yes” to Proposition 215 on 5 November 1996, California became the first American state to legalise medicinal cannabis. It was a historic moment in the same country that invented the cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs.
2012: Washington and Colorado become the first states to fully legalise cannabis
In 2012, Washington and Colorado in quick succession became the first states in the United States to legalise the possession and sale of cannabis for recreational use.
Although at that time nearly 20 states had legislation for the medicinal use of cannabis, this moment marks a very important turning point in the history of cannabis prohibition; 75 years after the establishment of that prohibition by the US, the first US states turned back the decision by saying “no” to the criminalisation of citizens for the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis.
This sent a clear signal to the federal government, which continues to class cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug together with heroin, among others.
2013: Uruguay becomes the first country to legalise cannabis
The die was cast in 2013. After a year-and-a-half-long process with many setbacks, on Tuesday 10 December 2013, Uruguay made history by becoming the first country in the world to legalise all activities regarding the import, export, cultivation, production, distribution and sale of cannabis!
The driving force behind this impressive milestone was José Mujica, the then President of Uruguay. Like many other leaders on the South-American continent, Mujica concluded that the War on Drugs had failed. Mujica believed that the criminalisation of cannabis users had to stop and that this required a new strategy. Countries such as Chile, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia share this need, but Uruguay remains the first country to have actually done something about it.
2014: The UN is not a straightjacket for drug legislation
Many countries point out various international treaties that would supposedly make it impossible to reform cannabis laws. One of the main treaties was supposedly that with the United Nations, but that appears to be incorrect. At the 57th meeting of the “Commission on Narcotic Drugs” of the United Nations, which took place in March 2014 in Vienna, Yury Fedotov, chairman of the UNODC (the UN agency that deals with “drugs and crime”), said the following:
“The United Nations is not a straightjacket for member states and the drug control conventions are not providing for any sanctions. They are built on the principle of the good will and compliance with international law, and it is up to each government to decide if they are complying or not complying with the provisions of international law.”
2014: Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C.
In November 2014 the legalisation wave in the US continued its momentum when the residents of the states of Alaska and Oregon also voted for legal cannabis. And that was not all: Washington, D.C. also voted in favour – the district that houses the federal government of the United States. More states are expected to follow in 2015, including Arizona, Hawaii and New York.