Marijuana has been used for medical purposes for at least 4000 years. It was a commonly known painkiller, anti-inflammatory, and anti-nausea drug that was used for a multitude of conditions throughout the ancient world. In more modern times, marijuana was the analgesic of choice until the development of aspirin in 1899.
Marijuana was effectively outlawed in the United States by the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. The Act implemented a complicated tax scheme, which could result in fines for any infractions. Interestingly, one of the major opponents of the Act was the American Medical Association.
In 1956, mandatory sentencing was set for marijuana possession for the first time. By 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act created a list of five "schedules" for illegal and prescription drugs, marijuana was asserted to have no medical value and was placed on the rigorously controlled Schedule I. However, it was the "War on Drugs" begun in the 1980s that created extremely harsh federal penalties for marijuana users.
Modern Medical Marijuana
During the 1970s and 1980s, several studies were performed to determine the medical value of marijuana. The results were striking. Marijuana has been shown to have a dramatic effect on patients suffering from glaucoma, AIDS, muscular spasms and chronic pain.
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Several states have followed suit. These states generally require patients and their caregivers to register and pay an annual fee.
At this time, marijuana remains a tightly controlled Schedule I drug. Although numerous medical groups such as the American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Public Health Association have spoken out in favor of medical marijuana, the federal government's position has not changed.
This has made it difficult for medical marijuana research to continue. The FDA has approved numerous recent studies, but the Drug Enforcement Agency has not yet granted permission for the research to progress.
Additionally, in the states that permit medical marijuana, distributors are regularly the target of large scale enforcement efforts. Due to the difficulty of acquiring marijuana, some marijuana clinics and patients have turned to black market sources. This can be dangerous due to the unknown strength of black market marijuana.