Why was cannabis made illegal?

Cannabis was a key ingredient in many mass-produced legal drugs in the early 1900s before restrictions increased and it started being labelled as poison. To understand why, it’s important to look back to what was happening in the United States at the time, just after the Mexican Revolution.

During this time there was an influx of immigration from Mexico into the U.S. Not surprisingly, these new Americans brought with them their culture and customs. One of these customs was the use of cannabis as a medicine and relaxant. Mexican immigrants referred to the plant as “marihuana”, while Americans were only familiar with “cannabis” due to the presence in almost all tinctures and medicines at the time.

When the media started to play on the fears that the public had about these new citizens by falsely spreading claims about the “disruptive Mexicans” with their dangerous native behaviours including “marihuana” use, the rest of the nation didn’t know that this “marihuana” was a plant they already had in their medicine cabinets.

The demonization of the cannabis plant was an extension of the demonization of the Mexican immigrants. The idea was to have an excuse to search, detain and deport Mexican immigrants. That excuse became marijuana.

During hearings on marijuana law in the 1930s, claims were made about the plant’s ability to cause men of colour to become violent and solicit sex from white women. This imagery became the backdrop for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which effectively made illegal all use and sales. While the Act was ruled unconstitutional years later, it was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act in May of 1971.

Two American men have been marked as the culprits for the modern prohibition of marijuana; Harry Anslinger, the 1st Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the author of the 1937 Tax Act, and William Randolph Hearst, a publishing and timber mogul, who was considered to be his co-conspirator.

In 1936 a propaganda film called “Reefer Madness” was released, telling the story of teenagers who were enticed into smoking “reefer” (cannabis) which in turn led them to live a life of horrendous crime. It demonized marijuana as a dangerous drug and played on the racist attitudes of white Americans at the time, mimicking Anslinger’s campaign which depicted African-Americans as being more disposed to the drug. One of his most infamous quotes being: “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”.

Meanwhile, Hearst had lost hundreds of thousands of acres of timberland to Pancho Villa during the Revolution, plus his paper mills were being replaced with hemp. So, he took advantage of his publishing empire to taint the public’s perception of cannabis by linking it to Mexicans. These campaigns worked and, by the end of the 1930s, the use and possession of cannabis was banned entirely and the plant had become regulated in every US state.


This is an excerpt from the book ‘The Ultimate Guide To Investing In Cannabis‘ by Investment Advisor Jacob Coombs.

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