Citizens of Colorado and Washington States voted to legalize cannabis on Nov. 6, 2012, surprising the nation and its leadership. But, for a small group of dedicated advocates, this was the culmination of 40 plus years of determined, hard work. Their ultimate goal: to end the War on Cannabis, and to legalize its use for food, fuel, fiber, and medicine.
Cannabis Prohibition launched in 1937, when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, and the historic efforts to change this law began immediately. The American Medical Association testified in Congress to stop the loss of this important medicine, as did birdseed manufacturers, who feared that “birds would not sing” without cannabis hemp seeds in their food. The bird fans got an exception to the law, for denatured cannabis hemp products, but the doctors lost the fight to prescribe cannabis medicines, despite the fact that cocaine, morphine, and other dangerous drugs were widely available for use.
Counterculture hero Timothy Leary successfully challenged the Marihuana Tax Act in 1969, and the United States Supreme Court revoked it. But, Congress spared no time creating even worse laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, and several supplementary treaties to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
President Nixon declared “War on Drugs,” in 1971, and by the mid-70’s nearly half a million Americans were being arrested for cannabis each year. It was time for advocates to get organized and fight back.
People forget that in the early 70′s possession of any amount of marijuana, even just a seed in your pocket, was a felony with a minimum sentence of a year in prison. The California Marijuana Initiative of 1972 failed to pass, but we regarded 1/3 of the vote a huge victory. “It convinced the State Legislature to reduce the penalty to a citable misdemeanor in 1975,” says longtime activist Michelle Aldrich.