America’s congress shamed itself 72 years ago today with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. Responding not to any actual need, but instead to yellow journalism and the efforts of prohibitionist Henry Anslinger, congress outlawed the possession of cannabis.
Forty years later on this same date, perhaps the only intelligent thing ever said by an American president about marijuana was uttered by Jimmy Carter. Four decades after Americans were denied their right to possess or use cannabis, President Carter said,
- “Penalties against a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana for personal use.”
Despite these words of wisdom, these same penalties were not only retained, but increased during the drug war escalation of the 1980s. Tragically, over three decades later, nearly 15 million Americans have had their lives mangled by needless and cruel arrest and prosecution by their own government for cannabis “crimes” with no victims.
Congress did not have in 1937 (nor constitutionally should it have now) the power to prohibit American citizens from possessing cannabis. Remember, an amendment to the constitution was needed to prohibit alcohol; and cannabis prohibition should require a similar change to the constitution. This requirement was avoided by Anslinger and congress in 1937 by forming the prohibitive legislation in the form of a stamp tax, for a stamp that could not actually be purchased. Such legal nonsense caused the US Supreme Court to overturn the act in 1969, pointing out that it calls for self-incrimination, a violation of the 5th Amendment. By the way, the legal challenge to this self-serving law was made by none other than activist Timothy Leary.
Unfortunately, cannabis was firmly prohibited in the 1970 Controlled Substance Act. Cannabis was classified as a Schedule I drug, incurring the most severe penalties against any banned drug. Over 800,000 Americans were arrested for possession of cannabis in 2007. Drug war bureaucrat extraordinaire Henry Anslinger’s toxic legacy continues unchecked.