How did Marijuana become Illegal in the US? Cannabis has been part of the United States since before the country existed. However, it’s come a long way since those early days when the crop was grown to make rope. Ironically, the first cannabis-related law in one of the original colonies was a requirement to grow it. Not only was it not discouraged, the farmers were actually forced to grow it to get the fibers.
Today, there’s a lot of controversy about whether it should be legal or not. But, how did Marijuana become illegal in the US in the first place?
Unfortunately, it’s a complicated history, and it’s really not as straightforward as you’d think. Plus, a lot of urban legends have come around that help make things more confusing.
It Was Fashionable, For a While…
It was around the middle of the 1800s that people realized the medicinal benefits of cannabis in the United States. But, this is also when states started to think about regulating their pharmacies and what they were selling. Even though some decided to ban cannabis, others allowed it. It even became popular as a recreational drug, and many of the major cities had hashish parlors to go along with their opium dens.
It’s a Poison
At the beginning of the 20th century, a rumor started going around that cannabis is a poison. And for many different reasons, this caught on. A lot of states banned the substance in 1906, and most of them have kept it that way to this day.
The beginning of the end was the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act – the law that required ingredients to be labeled on everything. So, before this, products could be sold with completely secret ingredients. It wasn’t all bad, though, because there were obviously some safety issues around selling things without letting people know what’s in them. But, this kicked off a series of laws and government actions over the past century, and things slowly spiraled to where we are today.
How did Marijuana become Illegal in the US?
The actual laws against cannabis are less interesting than the reasons they came about. Many of them had official justifications, but there are a lot of theories below the surface that hint at why they were made. They also tie into themes and issues that are still familiar today.
Battling With Mexico
One of the first reasons for an anti-cannabis law had to do with Mexicans. The beginning of the 1900s saw a pretty solid border between the US and Mexico, but the armies were still keeping a close eye on each other. After the Mexican revolution, there were more and more bandits out causing a bit of trouble, and one well-known trait of the Mexican fighters is that they enjoyed smoking marijuana cigarettes
California was the first state to ban that plant, and many believe that it was a kind of legal maneuver against the habits of these soldiers. This was also the birth of the name marijuana. The term the Mexican’s used for the plant was marihuana, so the media took hold of this, switched the spelling, and started giving it a bad reputation. This distanced it from the common term cannabis that people already associated with medicine – and made it feel like something evil.
Different cities throughout the history of the country have outlawed specific drugs, and it’s argued that they have done it in order to keep an eye on certain groups. For example, San Francisco banned opium which allowed officials to keep a closer eye on many Chinese immigrants. Some places in the south started using this strategy, except they were keeping an eye on Mexicans with marijuana.
Another big influence was that 13 year period when alcohol was completely banned. The federal government learned that it wasn’t able to fully ban any sort of drugs or alcohol without making an amendment to the constitution, so they had to think of something else. They realized that taxing the sale of narcotics would be a good way to regulate and prevent the use of cannabis and a lot of other drugs.
Marijuana Tax Act of 1937
There was a team effort between some less than ethical government officials and newspapers with obvious agendas to spoil the reputation of the plant. They popularized quite a few questionable studies to get the public’s attention with facts that weren’t necessarily true. For example, they made claims that the plant makes people violent, and they particularly focused on some minority groups to try to use racial tensions to further their cause. It worked, and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 essentially made cannabis illegal.
Controlled Substances Act
It took some time, but the law was eventually declared unconstitutional. However, the government then passed the Controlled Substances Act to make sure it could ban all kinds of drugs. In another move of questionable politics, marijuana stays high on the list of dangerous drugs making it illegal to most people.
The Push for Medical
In 1996, California again became the first state to pass a cannabis law. This time, though, they were the groundbreakers in allowing the use of medical marijuana, and it inspired many other states to follow.
As you obviously know, Colorado and Washington recently led the charge to make recreational marijuana available to everyone, so you’re a part of history! But, don’t forget about everything that’s happened to get to this point, and be aware that it’s probably not going to be a simple path to getting the whole country on the same page.