A cannabis-infused edibles company that my dispensary recently started selling products from, 1906 New Highs, gave all the employees one of these pins recently that simply state: "I'VE GOT DRUGS." I wholeheartedly stand behind the concept they'd like to present with these pins. We wear them as employees in the legal cannabis industry in Colorado that interact with a drug on a daily basis in our chosen profession, and the fact that my dispensary doesn't approve of the message (and won't allow us to wear the pins at work where they are most relevant to us) really inspired me to share my perspective with others. "Drug" is not a bad word. Neither is the word "marijuana." Therefore, I feel that it's important for people to understand the history of these words, as well as why we carry certain connotations with them.
Merriam-Webster defines a "drug" as: a substance used as a medication or in the preparation of medication, and also as: (sometimes and often an illegal) substance that causes addiction, habituation, or a marked change in consciousness. An etymology of the word states that "application to 'narcotics and opiates' is late 19c." From late 14th century until late 19th century, the word was associated with medicine, chemical ingredients, and dry goods (many medicines at the time consisted of dry herbs).
So, looking at the definition, we're talking about cannabis (marijuana), both medicinal and recreational. We're talking about any kind of pharmaceutical medication. We're talking about caffeine/coffee. We're talking about alcohol, cigarettes, and sugar. We're talking about chamomile tea, for goodness's sake. The word also describes illegal narcotics and opiates, but it does not exclusively represent those types of consciousness-altering substances. I believe it's time we allow the word "drug" to mean what it means, and not let it be a frightening symbol for impending law enforcement action.
Marijuana is, very simply, a synonym for the cannabis plant. It plays no confusing game of choosing its application. However, its history is inherently tied in to the history of the word "drug."
History Lesson You Won't Get at School
In the late 19th century, New York was the first state to make local laws banning marijuana. Other states followed suit in the first decades of the 1900's. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, stating:
"That for purposes of this Act an article shall also be deemed misbranded: ... if the package fails to bear a statement on the label of the quantity or proportion of any alcohol, morphine, opium, cocaine, heroin, alpha or beta eucaine, chloroform, cannabis, chloral hydrate, or acetanilide."
This Act was originally intended, or so it seemed, to protect consumers from unsafe food and drink production. Yet it also inadvertently made cannabis into a collective with addictive and dangerous drugs like opium, morphine, heroin, etc. Then the Harrison Narcotics Act (1914), which was originally intended as a labeling law for opium and opiates, quickly turned into a federal drug prohibition that made clear it would not accept challenges on its authority. In 1921, during "STATE OF MINNESOTA ex rel. WHIPPLE v. MARTINSON, Sheriff", Justice Day wrote:
"There can be no question of the authority of the state in the exercise of its police power to regulate the administration, sale, prescription and use of dangerous and habit-forming drugs... The right to exercise this power is so manifest in the interest of the public health and welfare, that it is unnecessary to enter upon a discussion of it beyond saying that it is too firmly established to be successfully called in question."
For clarification, I'll paraphrase: We're assuming unquestionable authoritative power over drugs and drug laws because people are addicted and unwell. Over the following years, this created a culture that we still experience today. We generally do not question the police, or court rulings, or government officials. Somehow, a plant that can be used for hundreds, if not thousands, of purposes is still being demonized.
Allow me to introduce someone you've most likely never heard of: Harry Anslinger. Anslinger was a strong proponent of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, and spent years prior to its passing proclaiming the dangers of using cannabis to the non-marginalized public (AKA wealthy white folks). He was somehow able to convince a large portion of the public that cannabis was a harmful drug, so the Marihuana Tax Act ended up passing in 1937, despite a long and intense debate over the possible medicinal uses of the drug.
Popularized recreational use of cannabis in the States had been short-lived when the Marihuana Tax Act was passed. It began mostly with migrant workers from Mexico, then spread to the African-American and jazz communities throughout the 20s and 30s. Anslinger passed around propaganda that claimed marijuana would cause violent behavior and mental illness, because he was able to associate that with these marginalized minority groups. This negative association of the plant and certain races regarding recreational use created quite a powerful stir in the folks in charge, and all medicinal and industrial benefits were completely disregarded.
This campaign against marijuana stuck so well in the public perception that widespread recreational use didn't begin again until the 1960s. Throughout the 1960s, much information had been uncovered to show that Anslinger had no real evidential basis for his claims of marijuana's negative health or social impact. It had also become more common knowledge that his motives were most likely political in aim. In 1969, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was found unconstitutional. For fear of recreational cannabis use rising, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was passed. This Act put different drugs and psychotropic substances into Schedules, from most closely monitored and restricted (Schedule I) to least monitored and restricted (Schedule V). Cannabis was listed as Schedule I, despite objections and opposing recommendations from the medical community. As a Schedule I drug, the government has labeled cannabis as a drug with no medicinal applications and with a high potential for abuse, not even to be prescribed under care of a physician.
The Schedule I classification of cannabis has been challenged numerous times, and more than one judge ruled that cannabis should be tested for medicinal use due to its evidentiary potential. Over two decades, the Scheduling of cannabis as having no medicinal value was challenged in court five separate times. The DEA denied the rescheduling appeals every time, and upheld the Schedule I classification of cannabis and hemp. Their final denial of reclassification of cannabis was in 1994. The government still confidently claimed that it has no medicinal utility, despite the fact that a synthetic version of THC was being produced and used in a pharmaceutical medication called Marinol. Today the American people are still engaged in a battle with the DEA to reschedule cannabis as a drug with possible medicinal value so that we can actually research what that might be. Many states have already created their own legislature allowing medicinal and even recreational access to cannabis and cannabinoid usage.
Now how do you feel?
There is absolutely no reason we should still be accepting a social stigma against marijuana or the term "drugs." Language is not a constant; it's ever-evolving. We've got to evolve with it and become conscious of how we use it. Many words in the English language that the average American would probably label as "bad" words are being reclaimed and re-popularized. We must make the effort to redefine words that become stagnant in their time-relevant meanings.
Wearing this pin around on my hat has definitely garnered some unapologetically disapproving looks, as well as a couple of engaging conversations in which I was able to express my views to those who were curious enough to ask. If the ones who don't ask questions want to make assumptions, they are more than welcome to do that. However, I encourage everyone to ask questions whenever you find yourself making assumptions about someone. It might be that they're experiencing things from a different perspective than you, or that they have information to share on the subject.