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Since the 20th century, most countries have enacted laws against the cultivation, use, possession, or transfer of cannabis for recreational use. Naturally, these laws impact adversely on the cannabis plant's cultivation for non-recreational purposes, but there are many regions where, under certain circumstances, handling of cannabis is legal or licensed, and others where laws against its use, possession, or sale are not enforced. Many jurisdictions have also decriminalized possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation or a fine, rather than imprisonment. By effectively removing the user from the criminal justice system, decriminalization focuses more on those who traffic and sell the drug on the black market. However, this does not solve the problem of how a user will obtain the "legal amount" of cannabis, since buying or growing cannabis is still illegal. Increasingly, many jurisdictions also permit cannabis use for medicinal purposes. Some countries allow the sale through drug companies. However, simple possession can carry long jail sentences in some countries, particularly in East Asia, where the sale of cannabis may lead to a sentence of life in prison or even execution.
Under the name cannabis, 19th century medical practitioners sold the drug, (usually as a tincture) popularizing the word amongst English-speakers. It was rumoured to have been used to treat Queen Victoria's menstrual pains as her personal physician, Sir John Russell Reynolds, was a staunch supporter of the benefits of cannabis. Cannabis was also openly available from shops in the US. By the end of the 19th century, its medicinal use began to fall as other drugs like aspirin took over its use as a pain reliever.
In 1894, the Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission commissioned by the UK Secretary of State and the government of India, was instrumental in the decision not to criminalize the drug in those countries. The Report, which at over 500 pages remains one of the most complete collections of information on cannabis in existence, shows the stark contrast in the way that the American and British governments went about deciding whether to criminalize cannabis. In 1937 the F.D. Roosevelt administration crafted the first national US law making cannabis possession illegal in the US via an unpayable tax on the drug. Hollywood supported that effort with the realease of "misinformation documentaries" such as the iconical "Reefer Madness" (1937).
The name marijuana (Mexican Spanish marihuana, mariguana) is associated almost exclusively with the plant's psychoactive use. The term is now well known in English largely due to the efforts of American drug prohibitionists during the 1920s and 1930s, which deliberately used a Mexican name for cannabis in order to turn the populace against the idea that it should be legal, playing upon attitudes towards race. (See 1937 Marihuana Tax Act). Those who demonized the drug by calling it marihuana omitted the fact that the "deadly marihuana" was identical to cannabis indica, which had at the time a reputation for pharmaceutical safety.
Although cannabis has been used for its psychoactive effects since ancient times, it first became well known in the United States during the jazz music scene of the late 1920s and 1930s. Louis Armstrong became a prominent and life-long devotee. It was popular in the blues scene as well, and eventually became a prominent part of 1960s counterculture.
Decriminalization and legalization
Main article: Legal issues of cannabis
In recent decades, a movement to decriminalize cannabis has arisen in several countries. 12 US states have passed by majority vote of the citizenry, laws allowing some degree of medical use, while a further 6 states have taken steps to decriminalize it to some degree. This movement seeks to make simple possession of cannabis punishable by only confiscation or a fine, rather than prison. In the past several years, the movement has started to have some successes. These include Denver, Colorado legalizing possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, a broad coalition of political parties in Amsterdam, Netherlands unveiling a pilot program to allow farmers to grow it legally, and Massachusetts voting in favor of a bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis. These laws passed by states and cities to decriminalize marijuana do not result in marijuana being legal, however. The Federal Government has the power to regulate marijuana because of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Additionally, under the Supremacy Clause, any state law in conflict with federal law is not valid. These issues were squarely addressed by the United States Supreme Court in Raich v. Ashcroft, 352 F. 3d 1222.
In Alaska, cannabis was decided legal for in-home, personal use under the Ravin vs. State ruling in 1975. This ruling allowed up to four ounces of cannabis for these purposes. A 1991 voter ballot initiative recriminalized marijuana possession, but when that law was eventually challenged in 2004, the Alaska court's upheld the Ravin ruling, saying the popular vote could not trump the state constitution. In response to former Governor Frank Murkowski's successive attempt to re-criminalize cannabis, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state. On July 17, 2006, Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins awarded the Case Summary judgment to the ACLU. In her ruling, she said "No specific argument has been advanced in this case that possession of more than 1 ounce of cannabis, even within the privacy of the home, is constitutionally protected conduct under Ravin or that any plaintiff or ACLU of Alaska member actually possesses more than 1 ounce of cannabis in their homes." This does not mean that the legal possession threshold has been reduced to one ounce, as this was a mere case summary review filed by the ACLU, not a full case. Reinforcing Ravin, Collins wrote "A lower court cannot reverse the State Supreme Court's 1975 decision in Ravin v. State" and "Unless and until the Supreme Court directs otherwise, Ravin is the law in this state and this court is duty bound to follow that law". The law regarding possession of cannabis has not changed in Alaska, and the Supreme Court has declined to review the case, therefore the law still stands at 4 ounces.
In 2002, Nevada voters defeated a ballot question which would legalize up to 3 ounces for adults 21 and older by 39% to 61%. In 2006, a similar Nevada ballot initiative, which would have legalized and regulated the cultivation, distribution, and possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older, was defeated by 44% to 56%.
In 2001 in the United Kingdom, it was announced that cannabis would become a Class C drug, rather than a Class B, this change took effect on January 29, 2004. Since then there has recently been some controversy amongst UK politicians about the message this sends out, with some calling for its reclassification to Class B.
The Government of Mexico voted to legalize the possession of cannabis under 5 grams on April 28, 2006. However, as of May 3, 2006, Mexican President Vicente Fox has said that he will not sign this proposed law until Congress removes the parts that would decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs and vetoed the bill on May 4, 2006, sparking broad controversy over the bill. In the early summer of 2006 Fox and the Mexican congress came to an agreement and legalized possession of small amounts (and also measured amounts of other drugs). On July 17, 2006, Italian Social Solidarity Minister Paolo Ferrero, speaking of the urgent need for depenalising the consumption of light drugs, said that "a joint is less harmful than a litre of wine." In the Australian Capital Territory, possession of up to 25 grams, or five plants, is not a criminal offence but carries a $100 fine. In South Australia however, possession of cannabis is an offense, with fines ranging from $150 to $300 for possession and cultivation of small amounts. There is much confusion on the subject, with many people believing that possession of a certain amount is legal. In South Australia however, this is a myth.
Legality in Hong Kong
Cannabis is regulated under section 9 of Hong Kong's Chapter 134 Dangerous Drugs Ordinance. Cultivation and dealing with cannabis plant is illegal and a fine of $100,000 and to imprisonment for 15 years can be laid by the court. Anyone who supplies the substance without prescription can be fined $10,000(HKD). The penalty for trafficking or manufacturing the substance is a $5,000,000 (HKD) fine and life imprisonment. Possession of the substance for consumption without license from the Department of Health is illegal with a $1,000,000 fine and/or 7 years of jail time.
Legality in the United States
Main article: Legality of cannabis in the United States
See also: Cannabis rescheduling in the United States
Under federal law, it is illegal to possess, use, buy, sell, or cultivate marijuana anywhere in the United States. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, Federal law in the United States preempts conflicting state and local laws. Nevertheless, some states and local governments have established laws attempting to decriminalize cannabis, which has reduced the number of "simple possession" offenders sent to jail, since federal enforcement agents rarely target individuals directly for such relatively minor offenses. Other state and local governments ask law enforcement agencies to limit enforcement of drug laws with respect to cannabis. In the 2006 election, amendment 44 of Colorado making it legal to possess less than 1 ounce of marijuana, failed and the election was 40-60, yet it is still a misdemeanor to possess up to one half pound, and is punished mainly by fines unless sale is established.
The National Center for Natural Products Research in Oxford, Mississippi is the only facility in the United States that is federally licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to cultivate cannabis for scientific research. The Center is part of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi.
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