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The use of cannabis medically is not something new. It has been used medicinally since antiquity, spanning throughout human history and across civilizations. The medicinal and intoxicant properties of cannabis had been known and documented throughout Europe since the 1200s. In 1854 cannabis became listed in the U.S. Dispensatory officially legitimizing its medicinal use. The Ohio State Medical Society held the first clinical conference on cannabis in 1860. During this conference Dr. Fronmueller described his clinical use of cannabis as analgesic treatment for inflammatory and neuralgic pain in hundreds of patients. During the second half of the 19th century, over 100 scientific articles were published in Europe and the U.S. on cannabis medicine efficacy.
The peak use of cannabis in Western medicine was the late 19th and early 20th century. There were numerous cannabis preparations marketed by pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, Burroughs-Welcome, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Parke-Davis and Eli Lilly. The use of medicinal cannabis in the U.S. began to decline in the 20th century due to factors that included difficulty in replicating the effects, unpredictable response to oral administration, inability to isolate the active constituent, variable potency in the cannabis and the availability of other potent synthetic alternatives to cannabis.
Cannabis soon became increasingly associated with recreational users. In 1936, there was the release of the movie Reefer Madness. This movie falsified accounts of Black and Hispanic pushers of marijuana turning Whites into homicidal, deranged fiends. The movie was released by Harry Anslinger, the chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). Due to this movie, and the pressure from the FBN, congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which taxed marijuana at $1.00 per ounce for medical purposes and $100.00 per ounce for un-approved purposes. What this law did was essentially stifle medical cannabis use by imposing excessive red tape and prison sentence for tax non-payment. The law also gave individual States sentencing discretion, which in some states was severe.
In 1942, although vigorously opposed by the American Medical Association, cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. Interestingly, in 1939 New York City Mayor La Guardia recruited The New York Academy of Medicine to investigate personal and societal harms from marijuana. Their 1944 report concluded the hazards attributed to marijuana were unfounded or exaggerated.
In 1964 Israeli scientists Mechoulam and Gaoni identified delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the primary psychoactive constituent of marijuana. This was the scientific breakthrough that reignited research and clinical interest in cannabis.
In 1971 the Shafer Committee was formed, by Congress, to study the risks from cannabis use for the purpose of legal regulation. This committee found that extensive misinformation surrounded marijuana, and that social and legal policy was disproportionate to individual and social harm. What was their recommendation? That marijuana should be deemphasized as a problem, and possession decriminalized. Also in 1971, Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon described case histories of his patients who showed substantial clinical benefit with cannabis treatment of previously refractory medical conditions.
In the early 1990’s cannabinoid receptors were identified and cloned as well as the isolation of an endogenous (within an organism) cannabinoid. There was a landmark 1999 Institute of Medicine report describing the scientific and clinical basis for supporting medicinal marijuana use.
So what happened? In 1971 there was the passage of the Controlled Substances Act that officially criminalize all recreational and medicinal use of cannabis. Cannabis was designated a schedule I substance, which are substances that are supposed to be highly addictive, unsafe and without medicinal value. This virtually halted all scientific research on cannabis. There was now only one DEA authorized source of cannabis, and in order to obtain it, you have to apply and receive approval through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In 1996 California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215), which became the first state to allow seriously ill patients to use cannabis for medical purposes. In 2014 Congress passed the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which forbids the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with the implementation of state medicinal cannabis programs.
In 2015 The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act was introduced to the Senate. This is the most comprehensive medical cannabis legislation proposal submitted in Congress. Some of the objectives include: amending the Controlled Substance Act so that it does not apply to any person acting in a capacity involving medical marijuana; reclassify marijuana to Class II; exclude cannabidiol from the definition of marijuana; prohibiting federal banking regulators from discriminating against providing financial services to businesses involved in marijuana-related legitimate businesses; protect depository institutions from federal criminal prosecution from providing financial services to marijuana-relates legitimate businesses; direct the DEA to issue licenses for marijuana and marijuana-derivative research; and direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to authorize VA health care providers to provide veterans with recommendations and opinions regarding participation in state marijuana programs.
There are variable laws among states regarding the use of marijuana. In Florida, there are currently two classifications for its use; Low-THC Cannabis and Medical Cannabis.