The issue of legalizing marijuana is a hot button topic these days, mainly because of the noise being created by lobbyists who are clamoring for legislation that will decriminalize the possession and use of the substance. And conservatives who have long relied on heavy turnout from evangelicals when abortion or same sex marriage proposals were on the voting block might be in for a battle with a powerful new voting bloc that has emerged: young people. November’s elections in Colorado and Washington showed that voters between the ages of 18 to 29 accounted for a greater share of the voters than when the same issues were on the ballot in 2008. In Colorado alone, 18 to 29 year olds accounted for 20 percent of voters casting ballots, compared to only 14 percent in 2008 (Maciag, 2012).
In the eyes of many Americans, particularly with the younger generations, marijuana is now seen as being in the same class as beer. According to Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling institute, “with the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes legal in about 20 states, and Washington and Colorado voting this November to legalize the drug for recreational use, American voters seem to have a more favorable opinion about this once-dreaded drug” (Jonsson, 2012). Unfortunately the federal government still ranks marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, in the same class with powerful narcotics such as heroin and LSD.
The federal government has not always held this stance in regards to marijuana. For most of human history, marijuana (or hemp) had been completely legal. The earliest known woven fabric was apparently made from hemp, and over the centuries the plant has been used for food, incense, rope and much more. According to the PBS show Frontline (n.d.), the first marijuana law established in America was enacted in 1619 and it required all farmers to grow Indian hempseed. During the infancy of America, our forefathers recognized the importance of hemp to a fledgling nation, including providing essential items to support war requirements. This stance would change in the early 1900s.
Most Americans at the turn of the century had never heard of marijuana. It was not until Mexican immigrants flooded into the western and southern states around 1910. In the west, the public quickly identified it with Mexican laborers who would smoke it to relax. Journalist would refer to marijuana as “loco weed” and states quickly passed laws in Utah, Wyoming, Texas, Nevada, Oregon and Washington outlawing the...