And marijuana use was so politically toxic that when Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, he said he "didn't inhale."
MEDS OF A DIFFERENT SORT
Marijuana has been used as medicine since ancient times, as described in Chinese, Indian and Roman texts, but U.S. drug laws in the latter part of the 20th century made no room for it. In the 1970s, many states passed symbolic laws calling for studies of marijuana's efficacy as medicine, although virtually no studies ever took place because of the federal prohibition.
Nevertheless, doctors noted its ability to ease nausea and stimulate appetites of cancer and AIDS patients. And in 1996, California became the first state to allow the medical use of marijuana. Since then, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have followed.
In recent years, medical marijuana dispensaries — readily identifiable by the green crosses on their storefronts — have proliferated in many states, including Washington, Colorado and California. That's prompted a backlash from some who suggest they are fronts for illicit drug dealing and that most of the people they serve aren't really sick. The Justice Department has shut down some it deems the worst offenders.
LEGAL WEED AT LAST
On Nov. 6, Washington and Colorado pleased aging hippies everywhere — and shocked straights of all ages — by voting to become the first states to legalize the fun use of marijuana. Voters handily approved measures to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults over 21. Colorado's measure also permits home-growing of up to six plants.
Both states are working to set up a regulatory scheme with licensed growers, processors and retail stores. Eventually, activists say, grown-ups will be able to walk into a store, buy some marijuana, and walk out with ganja in hand — but not before paying the taxman. The states expect to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for schools and other government functions.
But it's not so simple. The regulatory schemes conflict with the federal government's longstanding pot prohibition, according to many legal scholars. The Justice Department could sue to block those schemes from taking effect — but hasn't said whether it will do so.
The bizarre journey of cannabis in America continues.
Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle
Associated Press researcher Julie Reed Bell contributed to this report from Charlotte, N.C.
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