USA It is strange that in a country where people are allowed to both sell and carry firearms, some are still amazed at the prospect of totally legalising cannabis. The United States has always been considered to be the world's spokesperson.
It is strange that in a country where people are allowed to both sell and carry firearms, some are still amazed at the prospect of totally legalising cannabis. The United States has always been considered to be the world’s spokesperson. It has unilaterally set itself up as the world’s rightfully leading power and as a model to be followed by the first world. There are many who think that despite the fact that the Americans are undoubtedly world leaders in numerous fields, they have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the regulation of our beloved cannabis plant.
The debate on cannabis has started, but it is seen as something foreign. Legalisation has been controversial topic for many years and the fact of the matter is that the country’s political leaders are unable to come to an agreement over the pros and cons of a total regulation of cannabis. It is true that there are many countries such as Uruguay that have long since initiated the process of normalisation through more flexible and tolerant legislation with regard to the cultivation, possession, sale and consumption of cannabis, and there is no doubt that the United States is trying to follow the same path.
Differences between decriminalisation, non-criminalisation and legalisation
First of all, it is important to highlight the differences between decriminalisation, non-criminalisation and legalisation. These are different concepts used in discussions on drugs.
Decriminalisation entails that previously punishable offences are no longer prosecuted, despite them remaining offences. The advantage of decriminalisation is that relevant cases can be downplayed and even closed. However, the incident remains an offence. The difference is that it is no longer prioritised.
Therefore, decriminalisation does not mean an individual can use drugs with complete impunity. Rather, it means possessing small quantities will no longer involve a disproportionate punishment for the consumer, while previously they could have even gone to jail.
Decriminalisation can result in non-criminalisation of the act itself. That is to say, although the act, in this case, the use and/or consumption of cannabis, is prohibited and even penalised, it is by no means a crime. In actual fact, this act is no longer seen as a criminal matter, but rather a matter for civil law, thus putting the penalty for cannabis use on the same level as a traffic violation, for instance. So while in some ways, the individual concerned is ‘punished,’ in no way has a crime been committed.
Legalisation, however, drastically changes the situation, because what was previously prohibited is now legally allowed. What this means is that in certain situations, the sale, possession, use and consumption of cannabis can no longer be considered an offence, as it has started to be governed by specific regulations.
Remember, the decriminalisation and non-criminalisation of cannabis do not mean that it is legal, but rather that the penalty has become less harsh, more flexible and fairer for the consumer. For that reason, we can only speak of legalisation when cannabis comes under a legal framework and there are specific regulations for it.
Having clarified these terms, we can now better understand the current status of cannabis all over the world in general, and the United States in particular. The distinction between decriminalisation and legalisation is important, because only a few states have moved towards legalisation. Nevertheless, although other states have merely decriminalised cannabis, it can be regarded as good news given that decriminalisation is undoubtedly a first step towards the normalisation of cannabis.
The History of Prohibition
But let’s start from the beginning. Before discussing which parts of the United States have embarked on the process of legalisation, it is important to look back at history and ask ourselves, why did cannabis stop being legal? What happened? Why is it that what was once an uncomplicated and common practice is now, in many places, complicated and abnormal?
Let’s take a look at the history and travel a bit back in time.
Looking back, a long time ago, the Cannabis plant was just an inexhaustible bounty and resource. So what happened?
How did the first steps towards prohibition come about? Simply put, as so many other things throughout history, cannabis came to be seen as a threat to the ruling and affluent class.
Nearly all of us know about the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which was the first step towards a senseless prohibition, the effects of which are still being felt today. But we can go back in time further still.
According to historical accounts, Randolph Hearst, the renowned press baron, lost a huge amount of money when hemp began to be grown. Hearst was a paper manufacturer and the fact that his Mexican neighbours had started planting hemp scuppered all his plans for expansion. Not only did he lose money, he also lost a huge amount of land and therefore a large chunk of his business.
How dare these ‘second class’ citizens take away everything he had! Hearst was in no way going to just let this happen, so he decided to use his own newspapers to denounce cannabis. He knew perfectly well that if he portrayed cannabis as an evil and dangerous drug, this would put a stop to his competitors growing hemp. Thus, he had no qualms about taking this approach. He took the easy route, striking where it would hurt most and where he could have the greatest impact. Hearst claimed that people who smoked cannabis turned into murderous monsters and turned public opinion against the plant until every trace of it was eradicated. Moreover, he set about inventing racist theories (and of course publishing these on the front pages of his newspapers) on Mexican criminals and cannabis consumption. Society’s reaction, as we all know, was entirely predictable, and of course the backlash soon came. Just as in a domino effect, Hearst destroyed all hopes of seeing cannabis cultivation continue and thrive.
Of course, he didn’t do this all by himself. He had the bigwigs were behind him: Harry J. Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) the banker Andrew William Mellon, the Du Pont family (who hasn’t heard of their watches?)… and a long list of society’s richest figures. With their combined power, it was hardly surprising that they killed off the hemp industry and everything to do with cannabis. In fact, had they wanted to, they could have killed off any other industry.
If we add to this the advent of the pharmaceutical industry, which for obvious reasons also saw cannabis as a threat to its wealth, things become even more complicated and harder to resolve. We all know what happened from then on and the absurd bans which we are dealing with today are just repercussions of these events.
For these individuals and their impregnable power base, it didn’t matter that hemp was more environmentally-friendly, durable, resistant and cheaper. It also didn’t matter to them that cannabis is a medicine and was the light at the end of the tunnel for numerous diseases. As always, at the end of the day the most important thing was, and probably still is, money and power.
But now we are seeing things change…
Almost all at once, the United States got rid of its outdated ban. Let’s take a closer look at how things changed.
The first state to end the ban was California and in 1996 it became the first state to legalise the consumption of cannabis for medicinal purposes; a historic move that would serve as a future model. In fact, many states followed suit in approving cannabis for medicinal use.
2012. Washington and Colorado
It was to take another 16 years before the US surprised the world again, when in November of 2012, Washington and Colorado took the lead. Both states became the first to approve the legalisation of the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use.
2014. Minnesota, Florida, New York…
On 1 January 2014, cannabis began to be sold legally in Colorado for recreational use, thus paving the way for the first legal market for cannabis in the United States.
In May of 2014, Minnesota legalised medicinal cannabis, although the state’s legislation only applies to cannabis extracts.
In June of that year, the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, gave his final and immediate approval to the draft bill on medicinal cannabis for the state. Sadly, a few months later the medicinal cannabis initiative fell through miserably after having failed to gather enough votes, and was therefore not added to the constitution.
Immediately following Florida, the state of New York did exactly the same thing in June of 2014, thus becoming the 23rd state to legalise medicinal cannabis. This was a somewhat bittersweet victory for New Yorkers, as Governor Cuomo’s restrictions put a damper on things for them. We will see what happens in 2021, when the current medicinal scheme expires.
In 2014, it was Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C.’s turn
November 2014. Exactly two years had elapsed between the amazing precedent set by Washington and Colorado, and the decision by Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C. to legalise the recreational use of cannabis.
The State of Oregon voted in favour of Measure 91, which legalises the possession, use and sale of recreational cannabis for adults over 21 years of age. It was also very noteworthy that 70% of voters in the District of Columbia approved Initiative 71 to legalise cannabis. Indeed, Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington D.C., announced on live television that the possession of cannabis would be legal from 12:01 on Thursday, 26 February 2015 in the capital city of the United States.
As of that moment, Initiative 71 allows those over the age of 21 to possess between 50 and 60 grams of cannabis, smoke it at home or in private areas, share up to 30 grams and grow up to six plants at home (of which only 3 can be mature plants). It is worth pointing out that these measures are not applicable to the areas of the city that are under the federal jurisdiction. In fact, 29% of Washington D.C. is under federal jurisdiction (including national parks, military properties and public housing). In these places, the ban on carrying any amount of cannabis remains in place, in accordance with federal law, which still prohibits possession and consumption.
The prospects for 2016: plans before the end of the year
At least a further 20 states, where there are a number of activist initiatives in place, look set to regulate cannabis in the course of 2016. There is no doubt that this will be a red-hot issue in the upcoming and highly-anticipated presidential election in November. The states that have moved forward and now regulate cannabis for medicinal or recreational use will join the ranks of the 35 states that have already legalised cannabis in one way or another.
The states of Californian, Nevada, Arizona and Maine are among the favourites to legalise cannabis for recreational use before the end of this year. As we have already discussed, the consumption of cannabis for recreational use is already legal in Washington, Colorado, Alaska, the District of Columbia and Oregon. Specifically in Oregon, medicinal use has been legal from 1 July 2015 and carrying small amounts will no longer be penalised from 1 January 2016.
Likewise, several initiatives have been launched to regulate the medicinal or recreational use of cannabis, or both, in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
Ohio also joined the list when, on 8 June 2016, Governor John Kasich signed into law a bill legalising cannabis for medicinal use. Pennsylvania did the same only months before, on 17 April 2016.
States that have not formalised the legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis have at least taken the first steps towards this process. Vermont, for example, put forward a proposal at the beginning of 2016, whose aim was to put an end to cannabis prohibition as well as legalising it for recreational use.
For this reason, it is unsurprising that, according to data from several surveys conducted among US citizens, more than half of the country’s population now supports cannabis legalisation.
We at Sensi Seeds are encouraged by the fact that the United States is continuing down the path towards ending prohibition and closing the final chapter of a book they themselves had started.