The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was the result of these co-conspirator efforts (last week’s article). It placed a tax on the sale of cannabis and made it economically infeasible to use. When part of the act was ruled unconstitutional in 1969 (Leary v. United States), Congress responded by passing The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. This act classified cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. Schedule 1 drugs are the worst drugs—heroin, LSD, etc. The law was supported by the pharmaceutical industry because they had no direct use for the natural plant. A natural plant cannot be patented. They would use parts and pieces of the plant altered just enough to create synthetic versions which were patentable. They could produce these artificially replicated chemicals into drugs, patent them and then sell them for money.

Over the decades, enforcement of marijuana laws has often been excessive and unreasonable. An example is Weldon Angelos. Angelos sold marijuana to a police informant over the course of several meetings. The marijuana sold had a value of $350. Angelos had no prior criminal record and never brandished a gun. A legal caveat called stacking in the federal law required a mandatory sentence with no wiggle room. Angelos was sentenced in November 2004 to 55 years in prison! The judge in the case, Paul Cassell of the U.S. Court for the District of Utah said he had no choice but to impose it. Judge Cassell called the sentence “unjust, cruel, and irrational.” He urged President Bush to commute the sentence and noted it was far more than the minimum for hijacking, kidnapping, or rape. It was totally disproportionate. This kind of travesty of justice is not unique as three quarters of a million people in the United States have been arrested for possession of marijuana. After serving thirteen years in prison, on May 31, 2016, Angelos was released. It was only through the efforts of a compassionate Salt Lake City prosecutor that he was freed. Fortunately, more and more states have passed laws legalizing the possession of cannabis. The federal government has publicly agreed to not enforce the existing laws on the books. The tide is slowly turning to decriminalize the use of this plant.

Former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) administrative law judge, Francis L. Young, testified at a petition seeking to reschedule cannabis, “There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality…By contrast aspirin, a commonly used, over-the-counter medicine, causes hundreds of deaths each year.” Because it is a Schedule 1 drug, research by law is restricted on the substance.

For more information, see There’s An Elephant in the Room. Next week: How cannabis relates to glycobiology

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