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Making of a menace: abridged history of marijuana

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APRIL 20, 2017

Here you’ll find an abridged look into the historical narrative of stigmatization of hemp and marijuana through economic means and racism. So, how is it that marijuana became illegal then legal once more?

1600s: Domestic production of hemp in 13 colonies.

  • Virginia Assembly in 1619 required farmers to grow hemp
  • Used as legal tender on the East Coast before the Civil War

1850: Marijuana added to the United States Pharmacopeia as “cannabis” to treat various symptoms such as opiate addiction, alcoholism, leprosy and excessive menstrual bleeding.

1906: President Teddy Roosevelt signs the Pure Food and Drug Act, or Wiley Act, requiring labeling for over-the-counter remedies. Alcohol, morphine, opium, heroin and marijuana are labeled “addictive” and/or “dangerous.”

1900-20s: Fear and prejudice against Mexican-American culture rises as Mexican immigrants arrive in Texas and Louisiana after the Mexican Revolution.

1930s: Great Depression

  • Massive unemployment creates public resentment and fear of Mexican immigrants, which leads to government concern over marijuana and a flurry of research linking marijuana to “racially inferior” underclass communities.
  • Claims arise that marijuana causes men of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women
  • Mexican immigrants used term “marihuana” instead of “cannabis,” which was already used in American medicines and tinctures, demonizing the plant by blaming Mexican immigrants.
  • Prohibition advocates use marijuana as tool of exploitation against “despised minority groups.”

1931: Twenty-nine states have outlawed marijuana.

1934: Uniform State Narcotic Act urges states to accept responsibility for marijuana control.

1936: Reefer Madness film leads to banning of narcotics in films.

1937: Marijuana Tax Act is passed as a part of the “evil weed” national campaign criminalizing marijuana and restricting access to authorized individuals for medical/industrial uses.

1940s: “Hemp for Victory,” a government-made film, promotes farming for wartime needs.

1960s: Counterculture Presidents Kennedy and Johnson commission research

1970: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) founded

  • Repeal of most mandatory minimum sentences

1970: Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, same as heroin and LSD.

  • Most marijuana came from Mexico and Colombia, but Mexico begins herbicide treatment with paraquat.
  • Reagan and Bush administrations enforce stricter smuggling penalties, indirectly encourages domestic cultivation in Hawaii and California
  • Schafer Commission says marijuana isn’t bad, Nixon doesn’t care.

1973: Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) created

1974: High Times founded

1976: Parents’ anti-marijuana movement

  • Support of DEA and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lead to 1980s War on Drugs

1986: Anti-Drug Abuse Act increases penalties, introduces mandatory sentencing and institutes three-strikes rule.

1989: George H. W. Bush’s War on Drugs begins.

1996: California becomes the first state to legalize medical use of marijuana.

October 2010: Attorney General Eric Holder says that U.S. government will continue to “vigorously” enforce federal law.

November 2010: California Proposition 19, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana by those over the age of 21 in non-public spaces, and home-growing is defeated.

November 2012: Washington and Colorado legalize recreational marijuana.

2014: Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prevents U.S. federal government from interfering in state implementation of marijuana laws and regulations.

November 2014: Alaska and Oregon legalize recreational marijuana.

2015: Federal government removes obstacles to marijuana research.

August 2016: DEA declines to change class/reschedule marijuana.

November 2016: California legalizes recreational marijuana, and now we can all (at least those of us over 21) can finally get high.

Happy 4/20, Bears!

Information in this article was provided by the following sources or directly linked:

Bonnie, Richard J., and Charles H. Whitebread. The marihuana conviction: A history of marihuana prohibition in the United States. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974.

Bonnie, Richard J., and Charles H. Whitebread. “The forbidden fruit and the tree of knowledge: an inquiry into the legal history of American marijuana prohibition.” Virginia Law Review (1970): 971-1203.




Contact Robert Patrick Van Tooke at [email protected].

APRIL 20, 2017