Why Is Weed Illegal In The US?
The last few years have given rise to dramatic changes to the regulation of cannabis in the US. In this article we explore exactly what lead to the prohibition of weed in the 1930s.
When And Why Was Marijuana Made Illegal?
The first law that officially deemed the possession of cannabis illegal was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
Prior to this, cannabis was widely used across the US as a medicine, industrial fiber, and much more.
Recreational cannabis use was also very popular in the US from the 1850s onwards.
In fact, cannabis was often referred to as a “fashionable narcotic” at this time and was sold in oriental-style hashish bars (similar to opium dens) which were slowly spreading across major cities like New York.
However, restrictions on the use of cannabis (recreationally, medicinally, and even industrially) began to set in from roughly 1906 onwards.
This included subtle changes to packaging and labeling standards, followed by tighter restrictions on sales and transportation.
In 1925m, the US strongly supported the regulation of Indian Hemp and hashish at the International Opium Convention held in Geneva.
Following the convention it was illegal to ship Indian Hemp to countries that had banned its use. Furthermore, countries that wanted to import it had to provide special import certificates to do so.
Many states adopted the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act following the convention, which pushing states to invoke uniform laws governing the trafficking of narcotic drugs.
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, established in 1930, further encouraged states to adopt the act. By the mid 30s, approximately 9 member states had some kind of cannabis regulation in place.
Finally, in 1937, the US Government passed the Marijuana Tax Act which effectively made the possession and transfer of marijuana illegal under US federal law.
Harry Anslinger, The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, And Reefer Madness
There are countless different theories about what influenced the decision to criminalize cannabis in 1937.
However, it is hard to deny the important role of Harry Anslinger, the Bureau of Narcotics, and the infamous Reefer Madness campaign.
Mr Anslinger was put in charge of the Department of Prohibition (responsible for managing alcohol prohibition) in Washington DC in 1929.
However, thanks to the corruption and scandal that surrounded prohibition (which eventually ended in 1933), Anslinger was soon appointed the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930.
During his role as commissioner of the Bureau, Anslinger quickly took a hard stand against cannabis, claiming it caused people to commit violent crimes, act irrationally, and even become overly sexual.
One case Anslinger pointed to regularly as evidence of the dangerous influence of cannabis was that of Victor Licata, a 21-year-old man from Florida who hacked his family to death with an ax while apparently under the influence of cannabis.
However, it has been documented that Licata suffered from a long, complicated history of mental illness which undoubtedly led him to commit the murders.
Anslinger’s use of the Licata case to illustrate that marijuana use could invoke violence wasn’t unique.
In fact, he referred to a variety of other violent crimes, all of which he implied were committed under the influence of cannabis. These files are now referred to as Anslinger’s Gore Files and include stories of rapists, police killers, stabbings, and much more.
Numerous critics suggest that these weren’t Anslinger’s original views.
In fact, some critics claim Anslinger even openly stated that he didn't consider cannabis a dangerous substance prior to joining the FBN.
However, that apparently all changed as he became the bureau’s commissioner in 1930.
Many critics claim Anslinger set his sights on cannabis in order to strengthen his new position at the Bureau.
In his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs author Johann Hari wrote:
“From the moment he took charge of the bureau, Harry was aware of the weakness of his new position. A war on narcotics alone — cocaine and heroin, outlawed in 1914 — wasn’t enough. They were used only by a tiny minority, and you couldn’t keep an entire department alive on such small crumbs. He needed more.”
To help strengthen his position that cannabis was a dangerous and deadly substance, Anslinger reached out to 30 different scientists and investigators for support.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, all but one came back saying that cannabis wasn’t dangerous.
However, Anslinger took the opinion of 1 of these scientists and ran with it, arguing that cannabis could cause psychosis and even insanity.
Another major tool Anslinger used to strengthen his approach to cannabis was racism.
Anslinger associated cannabis use with black and Latino people, even going so far as to say that black Jazz musicians were making satanic music under the influence of substances like cannabis and heroin.
By doing so, author Johann Hari said Anslinger was able to tap “into very deep anxieties in the culture that were not to do with drugs” and attach them to cannabis.
Anslinger’s strong views would eventually go on to influence the public via a variety of mediums, including the infamous Reefer Madness propaganda film run from 1936-1939.
The film followed a variety of incidents supposedly created by the influence of cannabis, including a hit-and-run, manslaughter, suicide, and more.
Enjoy Your Freedom: Get Cannabis Delivered Today
Today, cannabis unfortunately remains illegal in the US under federal law. Thanks to the efforts of Harry Anslinger, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and campaigns such as Reefer Madness, a strong stigma still surrounds cannabis use.
Luckily, many states have decided to legalize cannabis to some degree.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a legal state like California and Nevada, make sure to join greenRush to make use of your freedom and get weed delivered to your door.
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