History

The Controlled Substances Act

By David Jenison

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the first federal law that restricted cannabis, and hundreds of laws followed that ramped up the prohibition of a plant historically viewed as medicine. The Harrison Act, the Marihuana Tax Act and the Boggs Act all represent an escalation of the war against cannabis, but the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the federal law primarily enforcing the current prohibition. The CSA, prepared by Attorney General John Mitchell at the request of President Richard Nixon, was passed by the 91st U.S. Congress in 1970 and signed by Nixon. The law replaced the Marihuana Tax Act (deemed unconstitutional the year before by the Supreme Court), consolidated several other laws and expanded the federal government’s role in enforcing drug laws and prohibition. A few years later, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to serve as the lead agency enforcing drug laws and overseeing changes (along with the Food and Drug Administration) to the CSA’s five Schedules.  

One of the most controversial aspects of the CSA was a Schedule I classification for cannabis and non-psychoactive hemp. This put cannabis in the same category as heroin, MDMA, mescaline and peyote—i.e., dangerous drugs of abuse with absolutely no medical value—suggesting the government deems cannabis to be worse than Schedule II drugs like crack cocaine, crystal meth and opium. Furthermore, the CSA made it a Class 1 federal felony for medical professionals and researchers to conduct legitimate studies on cannabis, which made it difficult to prove the safety and medical benefits of the plant that might justify a schedule change. Speaking of which, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied a petition to reschedule cannabis in 2001. The denial notice said that no evidence disputes the plant’s danger, abuse potential and lack of medical value.

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

Richard Nixon's Drug War

Scheduling Conflicts

The Start of Cannabis Prohibition

Wacky Wiley

The Muckrakers!

Nixon vs. Shafer Commission

Nixon vs. Lennon

Prohibition’s Racist Roots

Cannabis and the CSA

The Substance Schedules

The Boggs Act & Mandatory Minimums

420 in Popular Culture

Debunked 420 Myths

Myth Busting: 420 Edition