Hard facts about the ban on cannabis in the US

Many people are still short of hard facts when asked why cannabis is actually illegal. The claims we hear today are based on tales that were spread during WW2 just after the prohibition of alcohol ended, just before the movie Reefer Madness hit the silver screens. 

A modern person would believe that cannabis was banned because a scientist or doctor sat down to research the plant which results led to the scientific evidence that it is more harmful than other legal drugs we use on a daily basis — just like alcohol and cigarettes.

The truth is far more complicated and was established during a time when the world was shaken with political disasters. A little fact on the side: The use of cannabis has been illegal for less than 1% of the time that it’s been in use. Its known uses go back further than 7,000 B.C., also stated in a recent post we published: “5 things you need to know about medical cannabis

Racial background

In the early 1900s, the western states developed significant tensions regarding the influx of Mexican-Americans. The revolution in Mexico in 1910 spilled over the border and Mexicans brought the plant to the United States. A few years later, tensions between the small farmers and the large farms that used cheaper Mexican labor arose, followed by the depression that increased tensions, as jobs and welfare resources became scarce. Fueled by racism, California apparently passed the first state marijuana law, outlawing “preparations of hemp, or loco weed.”

Anslingers ego trip

In 1929 Harry Anslinger was put in charge of the Department of Prohibition in Washington DC. He was an ambitious man and Anslinger recognized the Bureau of Narcotics as an amazing career opportunity. At this time, alcohol prohibition had been a disaster and its distribution was entirely in the hand of the Underworld.

So alcohol prohibition finally ended–and Harry Anslinger saw a chance to stand out. In order to create the monster he was to fight gloriously, he drew upon the themes of racism and violence to draw national attention to the problem he wanted to create.
Here are some famous quotes by Anslinger:
  • “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
  • “Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”
  • “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
  • “Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”
  • “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”
  • “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

But what evidence did Anslinger use to prove his theory? Apparently, he wrote to the 30 leading scientists on narcotics at the time, asking if cannabis was dangerous, and if it should be a banned.

Twenty-nine wrote back and said no.

Victor Lacata’s case

Anslinger used the one scientist who stated that cannabis should be banned to drive his anti-cannabis campaign further. He also used a famous criminal case to strengthen his theory: a Victor Lacata from Florida hacked his family to death with an axe. Anslinger claimed: This is what will happen when you smoke “the demon weed.” The case became notorious and american parents were terrified. (Years later, it was proven by a medcial student that there was no evidence Lacata ever used cannabis.)

Hearst wanted timber, not hemp

William Randolf Hearst helped Anslinger in his war on cannabis. The owner of a huge chain of newspapers had lots of reasons to help. First, he hated Mexicans. Second, he had invested in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didn’t want hemp paper to become his competition. Dupont chemical company and various pharmaceutical companies later aided in the effort to outlaw cannabis. Dupont had patented nylon, and wanted hemp removed as competition.

His efforts in demonizing drugs and drug users, using lies and racist propaganda, led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and on August 2, 1937, marijuana became illegal at the federal level.