The government laid the foundation for cannabis prohibition with the Pure Food and Drug Act, which President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law on June 30, 1906. Before that time, states set their own public health laws, and cannabis was considered medicine and sold in pharmacies. On a national level, there was no such thing as an illegal drug. The Pure Food and Drug Act initiated the move toward prohibition by becoming the first national public health law, which included the power to label and remove products.
The stated goal of the 1906 Act was to ensure accurate labeling, reduce adulterated food and drugs, inform consumers and increase safety for products involved in international or interstate commerce. The law produced several positive improvements, but it also laid the groundwork for the escalating prohibitions that followed. A mere eight years later, the Harrison Narcotics Act ushered in opiate prohibition by placing an onerous tax on prescriptions and allowing for federal regulations. The same prohibitive-tax tactic would be employed in 1937 when the Marihuana Tax Act allowed the federal government to start throwing people in jail for cannabis offenses.
Cannabis prohibition does not have its roots in the natural democratic will of the people. Bureaucrats, moralists, pharmacy boards and the anti-alcohol temperance movement pushed to prohibit the medicine, eventually calling it “marijuana” to confuse the public, stoke growing racism and pass punitive prohibition laws. This, in turn, took cannabis out of the hands of doctors and pharmacists and into the hands of organized crime groups and a growing illicit black market. This cannot be the democracy the Founding Fathers imagined.
To quote Thomas Jefferson, "Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the [potato] as an article of food."
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