Ancient China, India, Korea, and more were rich markets for hemp, cannabis, and marijuana for tens of centuries before the modern era. Most users and practitioners sought medical care, but none of them complained about the psychoactive buzz attached.
Fast forward, and our experience probably originates with farming and use in Mexico. As in other places, cannabis was used for medication, pleasure, and spiritual ceremonies. The Spanish had brought some to North America with the Explorers, and the English surely brought the oil to Jamestown in 1611.
But, the stigma attached to cannabis probably dates to its arrival from Mexico in the late 19th-century years of the Mexican Revolution. It treated wounded soldiers, and it satisfied immigrant customs. The immigrants first settled in the Southwest where borders were porous and nationhood shifting. So, the right and access to cannabis went unhampered.
And, then, things went wrong!
In the first 25 years of the 20th-century, waves of racism, arrival of huge numbers of European immigrants, and political nativists and temperance populists became media stars. Cannabis use, already well entrenched among minority peoples, musicians, artists, and others, was linked with violence and crime – more often unfairly than not.
Louis Armstrong, renowned jazz artist, recorded “Muggles” in 1928. Cab Calloway, singer and bandleader, recorded “Reefer Man” in 1933. Blues singer Bessie Smith asked for “a reefer and a gang of gin” in 1933. Stuff Smith’s lyrics went, “Dream about a reefer five feet long."
The same mindset that was progressively prohibiting alcohol led to anti-marijuana laws in an increasing number of states until the passage of the Federal Marijuana (they called it Marihuana) Tax Act in 1937. Superficially a revenue act, the Marijuana Tax Act taxed and regulated drugs. According to Time, this made the law “less susceptible to legal challenge” than outright prohibition. But, the courts would find it unconstitutional in 1969.
But, long after alcohol prohibition ended, the Boggs Act (1952) would mandate heavy penalties for a whole menu of offenses involving a large catalog of drugs. But, the longest lasting legislative problem remains President Nixon’s “Just Say No” tool, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. And, this was the introduction to the era of the expensive and ineffective War on Drugs.
The Act created the Drug Enforcement Agency that categorize substances of concern. Still with us is Schedule I: “drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The schedule specifically names “heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.” And, that federal stigma attaches today.
So, that leaves us looking for at least 7 ways to remove the stigma around cannabis:
- Education: Rumor, misinformation, and fake news about cannabis use are best destroyed with education. Valid research information has been suppressed. Solid research has been discouraged. And, populists have spread the “bad” news about the “evils” connected with cannabis. But, the increases popularity and the easy access to internet resources have reduced that threat.
- Popularity: Large numbers never prove anything. But, the increases popularity of cannabis and cannabis-derived products shows there is something to the “wisdom of the crowd.” The increasing approval of use spreads throughout the socio-economic demographics including your friends and family.
- Responsible use: Increasingly users break the stereo-stoner type. Professionals, white collar workers, blue collar workers, moms, and students are using as much as the couch-locked, gaming pothead. And, they are using non-smoking options increasingly in search of pain relief and relaxation rather than psychoactive high.
- Non-smoking: Increasing options in edibles, oils, topicals, and more, some under major branding efforts by celebrity users, allow end-users the freedom to enjoy benefits without committing to anti-social and toxic smoking.
- Canna-economy: Some economic forecasts predict tax revenues from U.S. sales will reach $17 billion by 2021. That number may prove inflated, but anything close to that means meaningful income to state treasuries, enough to attract the interests of states still resisting decriminalization and legalization.
- Advocacy: Individuals can help reduce the cannabis stigma by showing up to support advocacy. There are marches, online forums, social media, and other means to spread the message. If you want your rights decriminalized, you must work with your state advocacy organizations to engage and hold your state officials’ attention.
- Children: The legalization of cannabis purchase, possession, and use will affect the black market that has fed teens for decades. It promises quality control and limited accessibility. It provides a working alternative to opioids and their high risk. And, it increasingly serves the interests of children suffering from epilepsy, spasms, autism spectrum, MS, and MD.
The stigma attached to cannabis is the product of misinformation, religious zealotry, and political populism. That’s not to underestimate its negative impact. But, these 7 ways to remove the stigma around cannabis offer tactics to undermine these falsehoods.
It will take a responsible citizenry to make the stigma lift. And, frankly, some element of it will always be there. Some of the concerns are well-founded. Cannabis has related to crime, it has led to addiction in some, and it has cost users financially.
But, once “legitimized” by responsible forces, governed by reasonable forces, and recognized for the health benefits it proffers, the stigma should lift, making room for needed research, smart management, and quality controls.