In the history of humanity’s interaction with the plants, no other herb has helped so many…
…seen such popularity and use, and been held in such criticism and controversy than Cannabis.
Anyone who has done any serious study on the subject of Marijuana’s trail should understand the misconceptions, half-truths, and bold face lies that have become attached to Marijuana’s reputation. Below we’ll examine the history of just how America’s favorite plant went from a garden neighbor of wheat, corn, and barely in the days of our founding fathers to an outlawed substance in the United States. Along the way, we’ll touch on significant events in the history of the Cannabis movement and also take a look at how Marijuana is coming back in a big way.
420smokers presents; The Cannabis Conundrum: A History of Wide Spread Deception and the Prohibition of Marijuana.
Back in the Day
It is important to note that though Cannabis has seen a widespread and mostly worldwide prohibition in the last one hundred years or so. This is far from the case before our current time period.Known use of the Marijuana plant dates back as far 8,000 BC with hemp cord being found in pottery in the area that is now Taiwan. Hemp is a derivative of the cannabis herb capable of crafting nearly anything from plant-based plastics to military grade fabric. Other strains of Marijuana were grown for medicinal and religious purposes in the area during the time period. With Emperor Shen Neng of China recording Cannabis’s use as a medicine for a variety of purposes.
Fast forward some to 1776 with the founding of the United States and we’ll find that another group of would-be leaders were also very knowledgeable on the benefits of Marijuana. Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were not only growers of cannabis but smokers of the plant as well. With the later even having being quoted as saying “Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.” By the 1800s, Marijuana plantations thrived in states like Mississippi, California, Georgia, Nebraska, Kentucky, New York, and South Carolina.
So now you may be asking yourself: with all this widespread love of the Cannabis back in the day.
How did America come to outlaw the plant and so savagely punish its users?
Well, it all started in the early 1900s with tensions mounting along Mexico’s Border States thanks to the influx of Mexican-American immigrants following the Mexican revolution. Hostilities began to breed racism in the hearts of many locals and politicians in the area. One of the hypocritical ‘differences’ this bigotry seemed to focus on was that many Mexican’s smoked Cannabis and had brought the plant with them. Slowly this racist dialogue led to many states that had once flourished from the production of Marijuana outlawing its usage. When Texas outlawed Cannabis one senator stated on the senate floor “All Mexicans are crazy and this stuff is what makes them crazy.”
Throughout the twenties, as its use was being cracked down upon in many places
Cannabis began seeing wide usage on the jazz scenes of New Orleans and Chicago and eventually made its way to Harlem where Marijuana became an integral part of the scene. Due in part to Cannabis’s connection with jazz, a new and uglier racially motivated condemnation of Marijuana had reared its head with African-American and Latino-American musicians use of Cannabis being targeted as ‘the problem’. As one newspaper in 1934 editorialized: “Marijuana influences Negroes to look white people in the eye, step in white men’s shadows and look at white women twice.” Thanks to this racist hatred and blatantly false ‘morality’ films like Reefer Madness.
by 1937 the United States Congress had passed the Marijuana Tax Act which criminalized the use of Cannabis and its cultivation.
This Act was also aided in passing by propaganda filled articles in the newspapers of William Randolph Hurst, a mogul with investments in the timber industry which manufactured his newsprint paper. Hurst believed that growing use of hemp made products would endanger his timber industry investments.
Weeds Popping up in Pop Culture
Despite Marijuana’s illegal status throughout the U.S. after 1937, cultivation, sale, and use continued through the 40s and 50s and came back in a big way during the 1960s. Marijuana use became associated with many different counter culture groups in the 60s from the hippie movement to the anti-war effort with its association with the later leading to the infamous War on Drugs, which was all but a war on marijuana, being declared by President Nixon.
Photo from biography.com
Years later, when one reporter asked Nixon’s assistant on domestic affairs John Ehrlichman about the war on drugs, Ehrlichman responded by saying that Nixon’s war declaration was based on the two enemies of their campaign: black people and the anti-war left. Ehrlichman goes on to say that by associating hippies with Marijuana and African Americans with Heroin, that they could disrupt those communities by arresting their leaders, breaking up meetings, raiding their homes, and vilifying them to the media. Ehrlichman ends the quote by saying, of course, the Nixon campaign new they were lying about the drugs.
Just like in the 20s and 30s with Jazz, Marijuana use was a massive influence on the music scene of the 1960s.
With artists and bands like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Grateful Dead getting stoned and writing songs and albums that have since become rock classics. Cannabis’s impact on folk-rock, psychedelic rock, and straight up rock n’ roll in the 60s cannot be understated. Many Marijuana historians agree that origins of stoner’s favorite three numbers 420 even began somewhere on a grateful dead tour bus.
Throughout the seventies, eighties, and nineties, Marijuana use became slowly more socially acceptable and more widely spread as the truth came out.
Marijuana soon found a place within the pop culture of the eras with films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused showing their love for the plant. President Bill Clinton even admitted to using Cannabis in college, though he famously stated that he ‘did not inhale.’
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending that we’re still in the midst of. Beginning with California’s legalization of medicinal Marijuana in the late 90s, many states have followed suit, in direct disobedience of the federal government’s firm statute that Cannabis is a schedule one drug and that it should be and will continue to be prohibited. Though it has been a hard fight resulting in many dispensary owners being arrested and their shops being raided by DEA SWAT teams, as well as legal action in many other instances with some still serving life sentences, the tide has most certainly turned on the legalization of Cannabis.
Photo from: Benjamin Rasmussen/The New York Times
In 2014 Denver, Colorado, became one of the first places to allow recreational use of Marijuana and since many jurisdictions have followed their lead including the home of our law makers, Washington D.C.
Amazing steps are being taken every day to once and for all banish the negative stigmatism behind Cannabis and prohibition of this incredible plant is coming to an end. Hopefully, within the next few years, we will see legal action being taken to once more allow not only recreational users access to Marijuana but also the countless people medical Marijuana helps every day. Stay tuned to 420smokers for more tidbits of stoner history and news on the legalization front.