Cannabis Counterculture & The War on Drugs

Since the mid-sixties, cannabis has come to be regarded by some as a magical plant, making it the substance of choice for counterculture movements. At a time when America was divided between government-sponsored calls for war and a hippie population advocating for global peace, cannabis made its mark as being one of the perfect symbols for an uprising population.

From its euphoric effects to its relaxation properties, cannabis was truly the ultimate escape for the time. 

When Did the War on Drugs Start?

Regardless of who you ask, the question of “who started the war on drugs” cannot be fully answered without a mention of the 37th American president, Richard Milhous Nixon. 

In 1971, in an attempt to cool the youthful rebellion and anti-government movements for which drugs like cannabis had become a symbol, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs”. From this executive declaration, there was an almost overnight increase in the number of federal anti-drug agencies. 

President Nixon then went on to classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug, which is the category reserved for the most dangerous of narcotics. Though the rather severe restriction of cannabis was later eased up in most part through state-level laws, the initial restrictions were a sign of how far the executive of the day was willing to go with the war against drugs.

War on Drugs Timeline in America

Before the “War on Drugs” declaration by President Nixon in 1971, previous administrations had issued similar drug restrictions, albeit mild. An example is the Smoking Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, which made the importation, possession, and use of opium for recreational smoking illegal.

In reaction, President Jimmy Carter based his presidential campaign on, among other things, the decriminalization of marijuana. Though this approach had its fair share of criticism, especially given the fact that one of his predecessors had quite literally declared a war on drugs, this decriminalization of cannabis set the stage for some of the freedoms we enjoy today.

In the years following President Nixon’s declaration, the War on Drugs was mostly focused on stopping the importation of cocaine from South America. This anti-drug effort later became a literal war with numerous instances of drug raids being made by heavily armed police or even military.

Cannabis Legalization News

Though reforms have been building over the years, calls against the legalization of cannabis have been preventing efforts to ease restrictions on cannabis. While it’s illegal at the federal level, most states like California, Colorado, and Massachusetts have instituted state-level laws that legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Despite most states legalizing cannabis either for recreational or medical use, there are still legal hurdles for those previously incarcerated for cannabis-related charges due to the War on Drugs.

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