Cannabis Prohibition: The History

Averting another imminent shutdown, and providing funding for the government through 2016, the recent federal spending bill passed with the usual media hype and attention last week. The effects of the whopping two thousand page bill include: 1) Adding 1 trillion dollars in debt to the economy 2) lifting the ban on crude oil exports 3) changes to current obamacare legislation. Divisive issues to say the least. Through it all there was, in the words of representative Dana Rohrbacher, “A victory for so many” that has received relatively little affair. Prohibition and federal prosecution of marijuana is now over, at least for medical marijuana patients.

Under the new legislation, MMJ patients and dispensaries can no longer be raided and harassed by federal agents, signaling the federal government’s changing views in respect to state-led regulation of cannabis. Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance said of the passing legislation, “the war on medical marijuana is over; Now the fight moves on to legalization of all marijuana. ” How close to full legalization are we?

Cannabis was once endorsed by the US government

Despite it’s current legal status, prior to 1937 Marijuana was not only fully legal, it was fully thriving. At one time, marijuana was one of the world’s largest agricultural crops. Popular Mechanics magazine even touted hemp’s ability to produce over 25,000 products. Captains of industry, particularly the Nylon and Paper industries, took note of how this agricultural commodity might compete with their own businesses in the long run. Around this same time, near the end of the Mexican revolution, yellow journalism gave these industries the perfect means to capitalize on the influx of Mexican immigrants coming into the U.S.. Propaganda playing on the public’s xenophobia and racism created the first steps in a public campaign against cannabis.

First they stopped referring to cannabis as cannabis and instead began to call the plant “marihuana;” the name the Mexican immigrants used to reference their favorite flower. A longstanding herbal and recreational remedy then became associated with unsubstantiated reports claiming immigrant youths committed savage acts of violence upon unsuspecting, civilized, white communities. The “dreaded marijuana” was said to be responsible for a slew of crimes such as rape, cannibalism and acts of disrespect to white society by African American youth; as well as that wild jazz.

Then Reefer Madness Struck

Of course, print was not the only medium through which public fears were exploited and ignorance manipulated. Propaganda was shown in televisions and classrooms around the nation, distributed as documentaries, and mandated by compulsory education. The most famous of which, “Reefer Madness” a.k.a “Tell Your Children”(1935), portrayed marijuana as being “harder to track and control than heroin, opium, alcohol…” and “more vicious and more deadly, than these soul destroying drugs”. In it, a group of upstanding teens become immediately hooked on and addicted to marijuana after being introduced to it by an older, shady gentleman and his crew of lovely hang arounds. Our teens’ quick spiral downwards, puts trainspotting to shame, and they quickly engage in murder, rape and general abandon.


Though perhaps most appalling are the references to “top scientific minds” having witnessed these descents into madness. These highly questionable, completely fabricated “records” and news stories include: 1) a 16 year old lad, apprehended in the acts of staging a holdup 2)  a young boy, under the influence of the drug, killed his entire family with an ax and 3) reports of 17 year old girls in the company of 5 young men all portrayed and presented as if they’d actually occurred. These tactics had an impact…

The fear campaign and it’s corporate sponsors were handed a win in 1937 with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. Under the act, marijuana and hemp growers/manufacturers were required to buy a stamp from the government before they could grow. However, there were no stamps… Marijuana was effectively criminalized.


So began the Govt. hypocrisy

Fast forward to 1942. During WW2, hemps resourcefulness trumped xenophobia and corporate interest with the release of the propaganda film Hemp For Victory. That same year, the United States Department of Agriculture urged farmers to grow as much hemp as possible. The government cited past uses, once again touting hemps “indispensable” nature (interesting side note, the government denied ever having made the film until about 1989). By 1945 the war had ended and by 1948 during the Red Scare, the vote to extend marijuana prohibition took place.

A man by the name of Henry Anslinger testified to congress that marijuana was, in fact, not dangerous or violent at all. Going against previous, and frequent, tirades touting his belief marijuana caused violence, Anslinger instead argued marijuana made people pacifistic, sapping them of will and energy. He posited that the communists would use the drug to drain Americans of all strength and moral value, leaving our nation of drug addled zombies vulnerable to attack. Congress was swayed by Anslinger’s voice and voted to extend the act and prohibition, again criminalizing marijuana and hemp manufacturing.

Nixon nixed marijuana

Though studies throughout the decades worked tirelessly to chip away at the propaganda and the stereotypes it had created, the idea that marijuana would cause one to be the laziest of space cadets, void of both drive and intellect perpetuated. In 1971, then-president Nixon, commissioned an official study into the effects of Marijuana.

Over a two year period, the study commissioned 50 additional projects to study marijuana and its effects on man and culture. Nixon who saw “homosexuality, dope, and immorality in general…” as “…the enemies of strong societies” attempted to sway the results. He warned the head of the committee that he wanted “a goddamn strong statement about marijuana” he certainly got one.

The commission’s chairman Raymond Schafer presented the commission’s report Marihuana; a signal of misunderstanding. Their findings? Prohibition and criminalization began from unsubstantiated tales. Marijuana was reported as harmless, an aid even, to individual wellbeing. The commission believed the best course of action was the decriminalization of marijuana as a whole, citing prohibition was likely unconstitutional in the first place. True to form, Nixon ignored the findings and advice of the commission’s study, and moved marijuana to Schedule 1. This schedule is typically reserved for the most dangerous drugs society has seen – heroin, meth, bath salts, and more.


The next major move in prohibition came quickly in the form of Reagan’s Monkey study, better known as the Heath/Tulane study. While still governor of California, Ronald Reagan commissioned a study on the effects of marijuana. One that would strengthen his war on drugs, and to great effect his presidency, as proof Marijuana killed brain cells.

In the study, monkeys were given 30 joints a day.  Death occurred in monkeys around 90 days due to atrophy. Afterwards, the dead brain cells of the monkeys who had been exposed to the marijuana were counted and compared to those who had not been exposed. The finding was that marijuana killed brain cells, causing severe brain damage. Reagan stated these findings had come from the most reliable sources however his study has since become a warning of horrible scientific reporting affecting national policy.

It took six years for information on the true methods of the study to surface, in 1980 it was revealed that the monkeys were actually given 63 columbian strength joints a day for three months. Pumped through a gas mask, the dose was given all at once in a 5 minute interval, oxygen free. Translation? They suffocated the monkeys to death, attributing the natural loss of brain cells to marijuana. To this day, this flawed study is used as proof the brain dead stoner exists.

Government hypocrisy and bad policies hit home

The effects  of 79 years of prohibition have been anything but positive, mostly youth, most of whom have little to no criminal records have been labeled criminals and felons, while a true criminal empire has and continues to flourish beyond control built on the back of prohibition.

Individuals seeking a completely harmless substance have been forced to interact with the black market, a market that unregulated has the potential to introduce these individuals to more harmful and illegal substances, destroying lives. Perhaps in line with prohibitions original values are the staggering racial disparities in arrest/conviction rates, with african americans 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana even though usage is equal amongst races. Though most of the arrested do not end up in jail, the fact that 52% of all drug arrests are due to marijuana must be a massive waste of government expenditure to say the least , and shows the high demand for cannabis, a demand that has been filled in large part by unchecked criminal enterprise.

Which brings us to the point; Today, public support for the end of prohibition is overwhelming with over 58% of americans in support of legalization, 4 states have full legality, 20 states embrace medical cannabis, CBD is legal in just about every state, and through it all there have been little negatives to report in those states that have legal marijuana laws, society has not crumbled as a result, teen use has not risen, and all is well. There are seven states whose residents have decided not to partake, New Mexico, Idaho, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee voted against medical or legal marijuana, but if the federal government continues on the path of last week’s spending, the states just may be able to sort it out themselves.

What do you think?

Where do you stand on full legalization? Let us know!