People have been using marijuana and hemp for generations upon generations. In addition to being used as a medicine and as a recreational drug, people have also used the hemp plant for rope, sails, clothing, and all sorts of other goods.
The plant’s history dates back thousands of years, and in the grand scheme of things, it has only been illegal for a small increment of time relative to its total history. Hemp clothing traces date back six millennia, but back in the early days, it may not have been as commonly used as a psychoactive substance. Either way, when you consider that marijuana has only been illegal for less than 100 years out of an estimated 8,500 or so years that it has been around, the substance has only been illegal for about 1% to 1.5% of its life.
The time period between the 1900s through 1940s was when marijuana really started to get a bad rep. In 1906, the “Pure Food and Drug Act” made it so any over-the-counter products containing cannabis had to be labeled. Between this act, the Mexican Revolution and the heavy immigration that followed, and anti-drug fear mongers, the public started to see the drug in a negative light. By the late 1930s, the “Marijuana Tax Act” had set the stage for illegal marijuana.
Between that late 1930s and today, marijuana advocates have worked to reverse this decision. From the peaceful protests and movements in the ’60s and ’70s, to the texts and books written by legalization advocates, those who are pro-legalization have always worked toward this common end goal. Why, all of the sudden, are pro-legalization groups starting to see success after all these years?
1. Americans are weary of prescription drugs
When people see these commercials that tell them a medicine will help their foot stop hurting, but it may cause heart failure, or it’ll help with constipation, but it may cause extreme diarrhea, it’s natural to be a bit concerned.
Although we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on prescription meds, we still see lawsuit advertisements regularly. “If you or someone you know has suffered from this horrible condition after taking an acne medication, call this 1-800 number.” And, with 88% of people over the age of 60 taking at least one medication, it’s alarming.
So, along comes marijuana. It’s been around for as long as any of us can remember, and most people have either tried it or know someone who has. Sure, there may be a few problems that come along with it, but it’s more familiar to society as a whole than some of these new drugs that come onto the market (even to non-users).
2. Information spreads instantly
Legalization advocates in the past had to face a serious challenge: Spreading their message. Anti-drug campaigners had the advantage prior to the internet, as they often had both the funding and support needed to spread their message through print media and even television. Political offices have declared Wars on drugs (including marijuana) and “marijuana is bad” was the primary message that the public heard.
With social media and blogs allowing for the instant spread of information by virtually anyone who has something interesting to say, legalization proponents have been able to have their message heard loud and clear. They have also been able to gather reasonable amounts of facts, data, and evidence quickly and without some of the cost constraints that they faced in years past.
3. They are making the right points — money and science
A major difference between today’s marijuana legalization advocates and those from the past are their arguments. Instead of “peace, love, and legal marijuana,” they are now arguing “tax benefits, reduced court and law enforcement costs, and medicinal benefits.”
These advocates are smart, and they know exactly which buttons to push. They’ve collected data on the size of the market and the amount of money (in the form of tax revenues) each state could earn by legalizing the substance. Because marijuana is such a topic of interest, media organizations analyze, publish, and republish this data. This, combined with other factors, has changed the public’s view of marijuana. You can see in the chart below that in 1969, 84% of the country was against legalization and only 12% was for legal marijuana. As of Gallup’s last poll in October, 51% of the country is for legalization and 47% is against it.
These three components — the smart legalization advocates who are making the right arguments, the speed and ease at which information travels, and the televising and publicizing of the prescription drug market’s dangers — have made it the perfect time for legal marijuana to swoop on in.