There has been no shortage of ironies pointed out by cannabis supporters and reformers in discussing issues in cannabis policy and the social attitudes that accompany it. Do we even need to rehash how the federal government continues to list cannabis as having no medicinal value when well over half the country has legalized it for medicinal use? We’ll refrain from commenting ad nauseum on this, yet there are many more contradictions woven into cannabis policy, history and culture. From the difficulty of legalizing fully in states where support for legalization is the strongest, to the fact that there’s no legal way to start a new state’s medical marijuana industry from scratch, below are just five of the ironies in cannabis today.
The more individuals that support legalization in a certain state, the more competing legislative proposals tend to be introduced in that state. Different groups with differing interests compete for support for their unique proposal, which can end up splitting pro-legalization voters into factions, and making it impossible to accumulate the support required to pass any one legalization proposal. California, for instance, has been at the forefront of the movement toward legalizing recreational marijuana for decades, yet thanks in large part to competing proposals, it has already been beaten to the punch by four states and D.C., with the potential for many more to overtake it in 2016.
When the original Prohibition experiment was enacted in the United States in 1920, it created a new breed of citizen: the scofflaw. Overnight, innocent people were made criminals, and where previously, unlawful behavior had been relatively rare and socially scorned, suddenly, a huge proportion of the populace found themselves frequently and openly in violation of the law. Rather than encouraging temperance, habitual lawbreaking simply became commonplace. The same has proved true with cannabis prohibition; with 44% of Americans having tried cannabis (according to Gallup), about one in four U.S. citizens technically counts as a criminal under federal law, and this sort of lawlessness has become as rampant as the consumption of alcohol was during Prohibition.
When The War on Drugs pushed marijuana onto the black market, it made surreptitious growth and transportation of cost-effective quantities of marijuana extremely difficult. As such, the development of highly potent plants optimal for trafficking was significantly incentivized. “Drugs are more potent today…but that's largely because of the drug war, not despite it,” writes Johann Hari for the Los Angeles Times. “As crackdowns on a drug become more harsh, the milder forms of that drug disappear — and the most extreme strains become most widely available.” Today, cannabis is between 57 and 67 percent more potent than the pre-prohibition cannabis of the 1970s.
What happens when a new state legalizes marijuana for medicinal purposes? Inevitably, an illegal act must transpire to spark the state’s new industry. Ignoring seeds that are within state borders prior to legalization, which already fall into the illegal category, the alternative is to source seeds from states who have already legalized cannabis. As it is federally illegal to transport cannabis, including its seeds, across state and national borders alike, any seeds must therefore be acquired illegally.
As cannabis gains more mainstream acceptance and understanding than ever, the potential of cannabis as a means of weaning addicts off of harder drugs is being taken more seriously. With the epidemic of opioid abuse in particular, studies such as one published by Columbia University in July 2015 have supported this hypothesis. “From 1999 to 2008, the U.S. saw a 300 percent increase in overdose deaths from painkillers,” summarized Ali Venosa for Medical Daily. “Despite its reputation among many as a gateway drug or otherwise dangerous substance, deaths directly resulting from an overdose of marijuana are nonexistent.” Instead, evidence that cannabis can help address withdrawal symptoms increasingly suggests that it could actually help save lives that might otherwise be lost to addiction.