Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Cannabis legalization looks to be right around the corner and almost inevitable. 33 states have passed adult or medical use laws and the federal government is seriously contemplating multiple legalization bills. Sounds great right? For the consumers, it’s definitely a step up, but the business owners are still facing hurdles that normal businesses don’t have to worry about. Many companies feel slighted on regulations that restrict routes of marketing, ask for excessive packaging for products, and block them from creating any products that might entice children. However, there are reasons why these regulations are in place. All we need to do is to take a trip down memory lane to figure it out.
This is not the first time cannabis was on the precipice of being legal. In the 1970’s a massive surge of support for cannabis flooded the country. NORML and High Times were formed, cannabis advocates locked arms with the anti-war group, and Vietnam veterans came back from the war touting how much cannabis helped them. To top it off, 11 states had decriminalized cannabis by the end of the 1970’s.
Jimmy Carter ran in support of decriminalizing cannabis and appointed Peter Bourne (who convinced him to support the decriminalization effort) as the “Special Assistant to the President for Drug Abuse". Peter Bourne had close ties with the president of NORML, Keith Stroup, who was a major influence in many legislative documents like the draft paper on drug policy in 1977. He was prominent in the capital and had an office across the street. Stroup was so confident in the strides being made that he claimed in High Times that cannabis will definitely be nationally legalized by 1980. But that’s when the movement came to a sudden halt.
In 1978, the cannabis movement was severely affected by the Bourne Scandal. Bourne was exposed to the public after Keith Stroup leaked to Gary Cohn (Investigative Reporter) that he was snorting cocaine at a High Times party, which led to uncovering his illegal acts that made him resign. Not only did this severe the movement’s direct line to the president, it also caused upheaval in NORML. Once it was found out that Stroup leaked the information, he was exiled from the organization. But this event paled in comparison to the damage the anti-drug parent movement did to cannabis reform.
To preface, there were some troubling revelations that sprung up in the mid to late 1970’s. Paraphernalia purchases by adolescents at head shops were on the rise in decriminalized states, along with a slew of products for sale that resembled children’s toys. This, among other reasons, are what many believed to have triggered an uptick of adolescent cannabis consumption that reached record highs.
In 1976, Marsha “Keith” Schuchard caught her 13-year old daughter smoking cannabis. She was so angered by what she found that she decided to bring the neighborhood together to create the group FIA (Families in Action), which promoted anti-drug education and zero-tolerance policies. Her organization quickly grew past her Atlanta neighborhood, attaining thousands of similar groups across the country in only a few years. Once the organization spread through the country, Schuchard set her focuses on halting decriminalization bills and advocating for anti-paraphernalia laws. FIA started what is now hailed as one of the largest grassroots movements in America. This caught the attention of an entering First Lady, Nancy Regan.
Once Nancy Regan stamped her name to champion anti-drug policy, it was the beginning of the end for the cannabis movement. Bolstered by her husband’s powerful proclamation of declaring a “War on Drugs”, Nancy Regan worked hand-in-hand with the FIA to not only block cannabis legislation, but to overturn every existing state that has decriminalized cannabis. Within a few short years, every state had recriminalized cannabis, with some adding harsher penalties than before. The beginning of the 1980’s also spurred the “Just Say No” movement that Nancy Regan championed herself, claiming to have come up with the term.
Long story short, the movement died because we did not put a focus on nor set proper regulations around adolescents. No matter whether you feel the concern is unfounded or not, parents will always protect their children above everything else. Last time, we provided a gaping hole for that movement to step in and squash reform. We see it now, and so do the politicians that were there during that era. This time they’re not making that mistake again. So, although you might not be happy with some of these strict regulations, just remember that this is the safest way forward to proper regulated reform and a first step towards more widespread acceptance.