At the beginning of the 20th century, New York City was home to over 4,000 hash bars. Lloyd Pharmaceuticals flooded American medicine chests with cannabis tinctures from a Cincinnati factory. President McKinley extolled the virtues of cocaine wine in international advertisements. Friedrich Bayer's Heroin pill provided a popular way for Americans to ingest opiates without cumbersome pipes and poppy resin. Legions of Dr. Feelgoods plied tonics from horse-drawn carriages at state fairs and baseball games. Apothecaries blended custom cures for ailing customers at the counter. Consumers decided what was safe and how much to use. When too many Americans became addicted to morphine, heroin and opium, cocaine and cannabis products were banned as well.
Marijuana has been federally illegal in the US since 1937. What was then a mainstream medicine, food and industrial staple was banned after a hackneyed smear campaign orchestrated by William Randolph Hearst. The media baron frightened the public into thinking cannabis led to interracial rape, human slaughter, insanity and anarchy. The value of his vast timber fields was being threatened by the hemp industry as it made strides in paper production. With the help of Harry Anslinger, head of the Treasury Department's nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a gullible public agreed to replace cannabis with timber, petrochemicals and refined opiates.
As the century progressed, Hearst's newspapers and radio networks served as Anslinger's anti-drug megaphones. In radio addresses and articles the public was warned. “Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters... Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing...” A career narc, Anslinger espoused the evils of drugs from diplomatic pulpits, convincing Japan, Venezuela and other nations to follow the US' punitive model. Later, as US Ambassador to the United Nations, he cemented US teetotaling into international law.
By depriving the global economy of cannabis products Anslinger permanently and radically altered the social, environmental and economic system everywhere. No one is that powerful anymore. A zealot like Anslinger would now be relegated to talking head status on right-wing news networks. Public perceptions about opiates and cannabis have evolved. The question now isn't when marijuana will be legalized, but how. Since pharmaceutical companies are quite successful selling opiates and SSRI''s through hard fought legal channels, it will take time to replace them with cannabis. Unfortunately for them, cannabis is easily produced in a tomato garden, is not addictive and thus far less likely to be as profitable.
The internet evaporated the effect of Anslinger-inspired drug propaganda in short order. All polls indicate the public no longer believes marijuana is dangerous. Meanwhile, the only person able to unwind the bureaucratic malaise stagnating the American cannabis industry is a reformed pot and cocaine user from Hawaii. As President, Barry “The Interceptor” Obama can authorize the rescheduling of “marihuana” from 1 to 5 in the Controlled Substances Act hierarchy at any time. Yet he procrastinates, like the stoner he will always be.