Dani Geen holds a 1 1/2 gram 'care packages' of medical marijuana at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif.
(USA TODAY) -- In 1979, U.S. taxpayers were helping
to fund the eradication of marijuana fields in Mexico. Municipalities
around the country were passing anti-paraphernalia laws prohibiting the
sale of bongs and rolling papers. Only 27% of the nation favored
legalizing marijuana, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll taken that year.
forward to 2013, when a Gallup Poll conducted in October found that a
record 58% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana for adult
use. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug
for medicinal use. Most significantly, the states of Colorado and
Washington will allow the legal sale of marijuana for recreational use
starting this Jan. 1.
You'd think Americans were talking about an entirely different plant.
DeAngelo, 54, founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif.,
one of the largest medical cannabis dispensaries, attributes much of the
shift in attitude to the attrition of a generation under the influence
of bad information as portrayed in the 1938 movie, Reefer Madness. "As younger folks have come up to vote, age is a significant factor in determining support for cannabis reform," he says.
explains that he conceived the name "Harborside" not only because the
facility is situated by the port of Oakland, but because "a harbor is a
place of safety, where you come to make repairs, a sanctuary, a place to
get supplies, a protected zone."
Still, to potheads with long
memories, Haborside sounds uncomfortably like "herbicide," a poison used
to destroy marijuana fields. In the late '70s and early '80s, there
were reports that herbicide-tainted marijuana was making its way to
Keith Stroup, 70, founder of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and its current
legal counsel, recently recalled that because the herbicide paraquat
turned marijuana leaves yellow, rumors spread that unscrupulous dealers
salvaged what crop they could and passed it off as "Acapulco Gold," a
high-potency strain. Indeed, he says, a small percentage of pot
confiscated by the Drug Enforcement Administration tested positive for
However, Stroup adds, there never was a documented case
that an American consumer was sickened from smoking paraquat-sprayed
Beyond fueling the paranoia of the time, the herbicide's real
legacy may be that it helped invigorate the grown-in-America marijuana
industry at a time when 60% of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. was
imported from Mexico. Today, Northern California cannabis growers are
Harborside's major suppliers.
Both DeAngelo and Stroup gave up
hearty laughs when it was pointed out that the name Harborside sounded
weirdly inappropriate. DeAngelo says the association between Harborside
and herbicide had never entered his mind, though, if it had, he might
have chosen something different for a business founded to help patients
deal with glaucoma, anxiety and the nausea associated with chemotherapy.
points out that marijuana legalization seemed a real possibility in the
1970s as a dozen states decriminalized possession of personal amounts.
But NORML's momentum was thwarted as the Reagan administration and
conservative forces successfully elevated the rights of parents to
protect children from illicit drugs over the rights of adults to indulge
in recreational use.
The momentum began to shift again in the
1990s as marijuana became increasingly associated with medicine.
According to Google's Ngram Viewer, a program that measures the
frequency of phrases appearing in books scanned by Google, before 1994
references to "medical marijuana" were always trumped by both
"legalization" and "decriminalization." But in the mid-1990s, references
to medical marijuana started to appear with added frequency. By 2000
and through the decade, it dramatically eclipsed usage of the other
Clearly, when it comes to our acceptance of marijuana use,
it's a different world. The accompanying chart purports to point out
some of the ways our perceptions have changed.
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