In the 600’s Muslims started smoking the reefer to get around the Qu ‘ran’s ban on alcohol. The ban is technically on intoxicating substances, but weed was never mentioned specifically, so people started lighting up like a Grateful Dead concert. In 1378 the Emir of Jonemia was like, “Yo, Allah doesn’t have a sense of humor about loopholes, you cheeky fucks. Knock it off or I’ll rip your teeth out.” That isn’t me being colorful; the punishment for smoking weed was having teeth forcibly removed from your face hole. Humorously, that lead to an increase in cannabis consumption over the next twenty years. Just goes to show, if you tell people they can’t do something, they gonna do it.
Every country has its own story to tell about the criminalization of cannabis, but I don’t have time to tell the history of the world so if you want to know more, visit your local library.
In 1906 the United States passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which would lay the groundwork for the creation of the FDA. Before 1906 food and drugs weren’t regulated, which lead to a whole mess of harmful preservatives (like formaldehyde) being put in food as well as a booming industry in snake oil medicines. Companies would also put stuff like opium in products to get customers addicted. One of the things the law did was require products containing 11 potentially addictive substances to be labeled; acetanilide, alcohol, alpha or beta eucaine, cannabis indica, chloral hydrate, chloroform, cocaine, heroin, morphine, and opium. The Pure Food and Drug Act saved countless lives since being enacted but it opened the door for federal enforcement of Cannabis.
Cannabis infused products were popular at the local drugstore during the second half of the 1800’s, but smoking it wasn’t much of a thing until the Mexican revolution of 1910 brought an influx of weed toking refugees across the border. In 1913 a cop in El Paso, Texas was killed while chasing a couple across the border. The cops noticed most of the Mexicans they arrested smoked weed so they made the conclusion that weed was the cause of their criminal activity (instead of things like poverty and desperation) so in 1915 El Paso passed the first local ordinance against possessing cannabis without a prescription.
The revolution also sent Mormon missionaries in Mexico bicycling back to Utah, bringing with them foreign cultural practices they learned while bothering motherfuckers, like taking bong hits. Church Elders were like, “Oh shit, they found a plant that makes you happy!” So in 1915 Utah became the first state to ban cannabis.
Between 1906 and 1937 various laws were passed to halt or control the use of cocaine and heroin such as The California Poison Act, The Harrison Act, Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Tax, and The Uniform State Narcotic Act. Cannabis wasn’t the target of these acts, but it started tumbling down a slippery slope of legislation thanks to them.
Unarguably the biggest dickbag in the crusade against weed was Harry Anslinger. In 1929 he was appointed as assistant commissioner to the treasury department's Bureau of Prohibition. His job was to enforce alcohol prohibition. He is widely reported to have given less than two shits about marijuana during prohibition because it had no harmful effects and since anyone could grow it anywhere it would be impossible to regulate. His position changed when prohibition ended and he was about to be out of a job prohibiting things.
Anslinger started collecting what he referred to as “The Gore Files.” That is, police reports from across the country cataloging cases where people had committed atrocious crimes while under the influence of marijuana. His favorite story to parade around was the case of Victor Licata, who ax murdered his parents, two brothers, and sister while they slept. During the investigation, it was discovered that Licata smoked marijuana cigarettes. It was also discovered that he had a long history of being completely batshit insane and, “subject to hallucinations accompanied by homicidal impulses." He was diagnosed with Dementia Praecox, which would later be reclassified as schizophrenia. A year before the murders police had tried to have him institutionalized but his family promised to keep a better eye on him. Of the 200 cases in the Gore Files, 198 of them were found to have nothing to do with marijuana. The other two couldn’t be verified because there is no evidence of them existing.
Anslinger knew firsthand what a pain in the ass prohibition was in regards to passing laws and enforcing them so in 1937 he drafted the Marihuana Tax Act. The law said, “every person who sells, deals in, dispenses, or gives away marihuana must register with the Internal Revenue Service and pay a special occupational tax.”
The real bitch part of the law was: “it is illegal to transfer marihuana except pursuant to a written order of the transferee on a form obtained by the latter at the time he pays the transfer tax. The order form when issued must carry the name and address of both buyer and seller and the amount of marihuana to be purchased. Other provisions require the form to be issued in triplicate, one copy to be retained by the Internal Revenue Service, the other copy to be kept in the buyer's files, and the original to be delivered to the seller and retained by him. Both original and copies are open to inspection by federal and state law enforcement officers.”
The rules were so prohibitive that cannabis disappeared from drug stores overnight. Worse, doctors and universities stopped researching the medicinal properties of cannabis. Harry Anslinger popularized the term “marihuana” when referring to cannabis because it was the Spanish word for… uh, marijuana. By doing so he tapped into racial tensions against Mexican immigrants who were blamed for taking everyone’s jobs, despite the fact that it was the great depression and there were no jobs.
According to hippie legends William Randolph Hearst and the DuPont family conspired with Anslinger to destroy the hemp industry because hemp is the greatest plant on the planet and they didn’t want to compete with it. As much as I love a good conspiracy theory, there isn’t much substance to the claims. If hemp was such a threat to them, they would have just got into the hemp industry. Hearst absolutely helped Anslinger’s fear campaign against marijuana, but not because it was a cheap way to make paper, but because it was a great way to sell newspapers. Who wouldn’t buy a paper with the headline: “Murder Weed Found Up and Down Coast—Deadly Marihuana Dope Plant Ready for Harvest That Means Enslavement of California Children.”
Hemp made a comeback during World War II thanks to a shortage of ropes and shit. The government put out a propaganda film called HEMP FOR VICTORY!, that encouraged farmers to start growing hemp for the war effort. After the war was over the government was like, “Man, that shit was pretty useful. Let’s go destroy all the fields now.”
In 1952 President Truman signed “The Boggs Act,” which set mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana convictions. It was repealed in 1970 because law makers noticed mandatory minimum sentences don’t actually help and are unnecessarily harsh. Then in 1986 President Reagan said, “Man, fuck people,” and brought mandatory sentences back.
In 1970 Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which repealed the Marijuana Tax Act, and just made weed plain ass illegal.
In 1972 Pennsylvania Governor, Raymond Shafer, presented President Richard Nixon with a report he made after investigating the effects of marijuana called amazingly “The Schafer Report.” It basically said, “This is dumb and we have better things to worry about. Decriminalize weed.” Nixon LOL’d and threw it in the trash. The next year he created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to wage his war on drugs.
I could spend a bunch of time talking about Nixon and his war on drugs but I’ll just let his Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs and Watergate superstar, John Daniel Ehrlichman, do the talking.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
If you enjoyed this blog and didn't read the last two you should.