Why Was Pot Criminalized in the First Place?

With such emphasis on repealing the laws against marijuana all over the world, people wonder why pot was criminalized in the first place.

Justin Trudeau's Reefer Madness

Justin Trudeau's Reefer Madness

Cannabis criminalization is slowly being repealed throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada. With researchers proving that science reports were made biased by government bodies in the past, many people are beginning to wonder why good ol' Mary Jane was villainized and criminalized in the first place. 

Believe it or not, the reasons why cannabis became illegal all had to do with racism, greed, and politics. 

Cannabis was actually legal until the mid 1910s.

Cannabis was actually legal until the mid 1910s.

What actually started to spark the problem was the Mexican Revolution that was beginning to boil over in 1910. Many Mexican people, fearing for their lives, began to migrate to the United States. They regularly used cannabis for a number of things - but they called it "marijuana" rather than the more American term of cannabis. 

Much like with other racist scares that continue to this day, newspapers began to talk about the "Mexican Menace.Southern states, worrying that there would be more Mexicans in the area, began to spread lies about Mexicans smoking marijuana then killing people in their drug-induced haze. 

By 1915, El Paso became the first city to ban cannabis - and they used that law to round up Mexicans, jail them, and deport them. Many other Southern cities followed suit. 

Also added to the reason why it was banned was Harry Ashlinger.

Ashlinger was the head of the Department of Prohibition, and with the end of Prohibition coming, he was out of a job. His solution was to save his hide by turning more people against cannabis. 

After all, as long as people hated some sort of drug, he would have a job. So, he set out to sway people's opinions by writing to newspapers, science groups, and anyone who would listen. 

Newspapers as large as the New York Times were complicit in the scare.

Newspapers as large as the New York Times were complicit in the scare.

By the mid-1920s, it became clear that the media loved to sell newspapers decrying the dangers of marijuana...even though many of the writers actually smoked cannabis themselves, not realizing that cannabis was marijuana. 

Despite the reputation for integrity that many of the newspapers had, most of them had taken to sensationalism to sell more papers than before. Even the New York Times was guilty of this. In 1927, the New York Times reported that "a widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant."

With money on the line, newspapers were willing to throw cannabis under the bus. The increased propaganda also moved legislators to vote to ban it in more and more states as time passed. 

In 1936, Reefer Madness came out as an anti-marijuana propaganda film.

To this day, Reefer Madness has gone down in history as one of the most oversensationalized propaganda films in American history, villifying cannabis as one of the most dangerous, madness-inducing drugs to ever have been ingested by a human being. 

By 1936, all but two states had banned cannabis. The Marijuana Tax Act was passed that year barring people from having it unless it was for a medical reason. 

By the 1950s, mandatory minimum sentences began to be required by federal law for the possession and use of narcotics - and yes, that included marijuana. With that, the fate of marijuana's legality was sealed for the rest of the 20th century. 

By the 70s, the hype kind of died down...but Nixon's "War on Drugs" reignited the anti-cannabis legislation.

By the 70s, the hype kind of died down...but Nixon's "War on Drugs" reignited the anti-cannabis legislation.

Nixon was the one who was credited with creating the DEA - one of the biggest anti-marijuana departments in American history. Under the "War on Drugs," the number of people who spent time in prison went from 150 to upwards of 700. 

The equally anti-cannabis Reagan administration made things even worse, and began to regularly spread anti-cannabis propaganda throughout the US. There was even evidence of tests showing marijuana's benefits being muffled by the DEA during this time. (Anything to get those votes, right?)

Perhaps the worst part of the Reagan Era's aftermath would have to be the Zero Tolerance policies that were put into place. With these policies, people who had even the smallest amount of cannabis were arrested and given insanely harsh jail sentences. 

The prison system continues to get clogged with nonviolent offenders who are jailed for drug usage. As of right now, there are still people in jail who were arrested in the 80s due to the Zero Tolerance policies that were put into place. 

To make matters worse, jail has a way of turning nonviolent offenders into violent reoffenders - which means that crime and recidivism rates both skyrocketed after these laws were put into place. 

Word got out about cannabis being beneficial, though.

And, that means that we can no longer be fooled by the propaganda that was fed to us in yesteryear. Scientists are coming forth to talk about how their research was muzzled. Historians and sociologists are pointing out how many of the laws were designed to be targeted towards minorities. It's becoming clear that the marijuana hatred that was inspired was based on falsehoods, hate, and greed. 

It's clear that marijuana has been the victim of a lot of injustice over the years - and that level of propaganda should have no place in our society. So, maybe it's time we take a stand, legalize it, and recognize it as the safe substance it is. 

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Why Was Pot Criminalized in the First Place?
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