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What if Marijuana Had Never Been Prohibited?

© Michael Duvall / StockPot Images

Cannabis consumers and activists often ask the question: what if marijuana had never been made illegal in the first place?

Obviously, the variables that could result from that change in history are infinite. But we can conjecture about a few things.

My path to writing this piece began with this article from OZY entitled “Is Marijuana the New Martini?” The article discusses how people are replacing things like alcohol and prescription drugs with cannabis now that it is legal in some form in most states in the U.S. From the article linked above:

A study of more than 2,000 Canadian medical marijuana users published in Harm Reduction Journal in January found that 69 percent said they were using it as a replacement for prescription drugs, while 44.5 percent said it substituted alcohol. About a third of the prescription drugs for which cannabis was used as a substitute were opioids, and 59 percent of those surveyed said they completely stopped using opioids in favor of pot. A 2014 report found that states in the U.S. with legal medical cannabis had a 24.8 percent lower annual mortality rate from opioid overdoses.

If this is the effects of legalization, what would be different if marijuana had never been prohibited? What if, say, Harry Anslinger had taken a nasty fall on the steps of the Capitol Building and broke his neck in the mid-30s? What if states hadn’t started prohibiting cannabis in the early 1900s? What if they did, but without Anslinger and federal action, they saw the error of their ways and re-legalized decades ago? What if people actually liked Richard Nixon and he got the U.S out of Vietnam immediately and he had *less* problems with black people and hippies so he didn’t push for the Controlled Substances Act?

How many alcoholics wouldn’t have been created? How many lives that were destroyed by alcoholism would have remained relatively intact? How many beatings wouldn’t have been endured? How many deaths avoided?

If people had always had the option to legally use cannabis as medicine, how many of those people would have lived longer? How many would still be with us?

How many people would have avoided the criminal justice system? How many people would have provided for their family with a job in the legal cannabis industry?

While there is no way to ever quantify prohibition in terms of numbers, I doubt anyone would dispute that the answer to all of the questions above is “millions”. Some may even say “tens of millions”. In any case, we are talking about a seismic shift in the lives of many people, all from one tiny change in history. So many lives that would have been better off if marijuana prohibition had never existed.

I’ve never been a person who is big on “what ifs”, but in this case, I think a little trip back in time can provide helpful perspective to those fighting for legalization today.


  1. If cannabis had remained legal, a lot of suffering could have been avoided.

    Promises Made:
    Cannabis was widely grown and legally used by people when the Constitution was ratified in 1787. When the States subsequently ratified the Bill of Rights in 1791, the 9th Amendment validated the rights of people to continue to legally grow and use cannabis, and the 10th Amendment established the rights of people to continue to legally grow and use cannabis under their state’s laws. In 1868, Section 1 of the 14th Amendment established that citizens, both freeborn and newly emancipated, had privileges and immunities to continue to legally grow cannabis.

    Promises Denied:
    The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 created the original malformed federal definition of “marihuana”, which was cleverly misconstrued to revoke the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens to continue to legally grow and use cannabis. The subsequent definitions of “marihuana” have been persistently malformed, because each definition consistently fails to clearly describe how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis.

    Corporate Advantage:
    The Amendments established no rights, privileges, or immunities to corporations to grow cannabis, so they tacitly supported the opportunities created by the clandestine cannabis prohibition. Corporations also appreciated the competitive advantage to develop substitutes for cannabis resin and fibers, such as pharmaceuticals and petroleum-based fibers like nylon. Now, they look forward to growing varieties of cannabis which were mislabeled “hemp” in 2018, but that should still require an amendment.

    Poor Results:
    If the versatile and valuable renewable natural resource that cannabis is, had never been prohibited under the guise of “marihuana”, people would have retained a “countervailing power” that the economist John Kenneth Galbraith observed was needed to offset the power of big corporations, and the states would not have been able to maliciously misconstrue federal “marihuana” law.

    According to the Constitution, there is a necessary and proper way to restore and protect the rights, privileges and immunities of citizens to grow and use cannabis. People should contact their members of Congress about reconstructing the definition of “marihuana”. Congress can specifically reconstruct the definition by invoking Section 5 of the 14th Amendment to restore and protect the exclusive privileges and immunities of citizens to grow cannabis established by Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, as well as the rights to use cannabis established by the 9th and 19th Amendments, but We the People have to tell them how.

    This reconstruction of the current malformed definition will carefully deschedule cannabis by clearly describing how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis in plain terms that children, parents, legislators, and law enforcement officers can understand. It will also explicitly preserve the prohibitions that control the undesired proliferation of marijuana, and implicitly retain the Schedule 1 status of marijuana itself, for separate consideration of the adulterated medical value that marijuana derives from carefully descheduled cannabis plants:

    The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is the intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

    This clear and comprehensively reconstructed definition will also help to prevent misconstruction or abuse of the Constitution’s powers, extend the ground of public confidence in the Government, and best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution, as well as establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, by adhering to the self-evident truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    See the Founding Documents:

    Congress is working on several inadequate marijuana bills. It is the obligation of citizens to contact our members of Congress about simply restoring and protecting our rights, privileges, and immunities to grow and use cannabis by reconstructing the current malformed federal definition of “marihuana”. Just dangle your vote before them.