If the word “marijuana” sounds somehow mysterious, forbidden, and exotic to much of the US population, it’s no surprise at all. It was injected into American culture to sound that way back in the days of cannabis prohibition. Since the 1920’s, it’s replaced the word that was more commonly used prior: cannabis.
Undoubtedly the word “cannabis” doesn’t conjure up the same dark images in the minds of everyday Americans that “marijuana” does and it’s for a good reason. Before 1910, it was a common plant used in medicines and many herbal preparations; it certainly wasn’t illegal. People didn’t smoke it in the US nearly as much as they consumed it in other ways; it was Mexican immigrants that brought smoking the plant with them when they came to the US between 1910 and 1920.
As immigrants came from Mexico, India, and the Far East, cannabis became viewed as something foreign that only “undesirables” had an appetite for. Lawmakers became fearful that the immigrant use of it would “initiate our whites” into the habit of cannabis consumption.
“Within the last year we in California have been getting a large influx of Hindoos and they have in turn started quite a demand for cannabis indica; they are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast…the fear is now that they are initiating our whites into this habit… We were not aware of the extent of this vice at the time our legislature was in session and did not have our laws amended to cover this matter, and now have no legislative session for two years (January, 1913). This matter has been brought to my attention a great number of time[s] in the last two months…it seems to be a real question that now confronts us: can we do anything in the Hague that might assist in curbing this matter?”–Hamilton Wright, chief architect of US narcotics policy
The California 1913 Poison Act Amendments
Prohibition began in California in 1913 with a bill that had the intention of outlawing opium, cocaine, and other narcotics. The section of the bill that had to do with cannabis was originally written as an amendment to Section 8 and was accidentally moved to Section 8(a). The difference was that Section 8 allowed for possession with a prescription; Section 8(a) did not.
Other states banned cannabis around the same timeframe:
1911 – Massachusetts
1913 – Maine, Wyoming, Indiana
1914 – New York City
1915 – Utah
1917 – Colorado & Nevada
The funny thing about all of the prohibition was that cannabis really wasn’t that popular anywhere in the United States before prohibition. It was only after the prohibition wave started that the plant began to gain in popularity as a recreational drug.
Propaganda and The Great Depression
By the time the Great Depression rolled around, prohibitionist sentiments were at a high point. Alcohol prohibition didn’t end until 1933, but cannabis prohibition was just getting cranked off.
Harry Anslinger was the single most influential person responsible for outlawing cannabis in the United States. He was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that was created in 1930 and his hatred of cannabis was well known.
“Reefer Madness” embodies the kind of outlandish propaganda he was involved in pushing in the 1930s. Cannabis was blamed for all of society’s current ills, including it being used to promote racist ideas.
“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.” — Harry Anslinger
Of course we know today that cannabis doesn’t drive anyone to violence like what was commonly believed back in that era. In fact, in comparison to alcohol, cannabis is much less harmful to the individual and society as a whole.
Federal Tax & Prohibition
The first steps toward prohibition was the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937“, which created a dollar tax on anyone who grew or sold cannabis. It also required that people comply with the enforcement provisions written into the bill. Violations of those provisions would be punished either by imprisonment or a fine of up to $2000. $2000 in 1937 would be equivalent to around $34,000 in 2016.
Mandatory Sentencing of Those Found In Possession
The Boggs Act of 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 made a first offense possession of cannabis punishable by a minimum of 2 to 10 years in jail with a fine of upwards of $20,000. It wasn’t until 1970 that the US Congress repealed the mandatory penalties for cannabis related crimes.
Marijuana Tax Act Declared Unconstitutional in 1969
The Gateway Drug Theory
All of these laws and taxes were the result of many decades of anti-cannabis propaganda, which included everything from myths and misconceptions about how cannabis affects the body all the way to the racist cries of people like Harry Anslinger. For years, white people and lawmakers of America were convinced that “marijuana” was evil, many orders of magnitude worse than alcohol, and something only consumed by “the degenerate races”, as Anslinger had said.
When the argument about its affects on the body and its connection to minorities started to waver, the gateway drug theory emerged heavily in the 1980’s. It had been around since the beginning of the prohibition trend in the early 1900’s, but it was known by other names, such as “stepping-stone theory”.
The whole idea of the gateway drug theory is that the use of any psychoactive drug will vastly increase the likelihood that the person will try other, possibly more harmful psychoactive drugs.
Finally, In 2016, The US Attorney General Admits Cannabis Is Not A Gateway Drug
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has finally relented and made the statement that cannabis is not the gateway drug it’s been touted as for nearly the past century. She made the statement at a townhall meeting in Richmond, Kentucky to talk about the dangers of opioid abuse with a group of teenagers.
When asked about the issue of cannabis, she had the following to say.
“There a lot of discussion about marijuana these days. Some states are making it legal, people are looking into medical uses for it, and I understand that it still is as common as almost anything,” Lynch replied. “When we talk about heroin addiction, we unusually, as we have mentioned, are talking about individuals that started out with a prescription drug problem, and then because they need more and more, they turn to heroin. It isn’t so much that marijuana is the step right before using prescription drugs or opioids.”
“It’s not as though we are seeing that marijuana is a specific gateway.” — US Attorney General Loretta Lynch
It’s not exactly music to my ears, but it’s an obvious admission that cannabis isn’t the end-of-the-world drug that lawmakers and shills have made it out to be the past 100 years.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has shown through their studies that cannabis does not cause people who use it to move onto other, potentially more harmful drugs. Even though this is the case, there are multiple ballot measures that will be voted on later this year during the Presidential election and their opponents are out in full force to convince the public that cannabis legalization will cause the prescription overdose plague to spread.
Who's Pushing The Propaganda Now? Big Pharma.
The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity has found that the ones who are out spreading the anti-cannabis propaganda are the same pharmaceutical companies that the US Attorney General blames for the prescription drug epidemic.
This only makes sense for them to do, because as more and more people turn to cannabis as a source of pain relief, prescriptions for opioid pain killers are falling. Many people who have access to cannabis, either through a legal medical marijuana program or on the street, just aren’t turning to prescription drugs like they used to. And pain isn’t the only symptom of illness cannabis can treat, so other drug prescriptions are expected to fall further as the states take up legalization in full force.
Gateway Drug Rhetoric Is Beginning To Falter... Except For This One Guy
Since 25 states and Washington DC in the United States have their own medical cannabis programs, the amount of “gateway drug” talking points are rapidly decreasing. With the medical and industrial uses of the plant coming back to light in the US, more and more states see it as a good thing to legalize, not only for the health and happiness of their citizens, but also for the tax revenue it could generate.
One of the only politicians recently to even utter “gateway drug” is the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who arguably keeps making a fool of himself when he says things like:
“Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country.”
And when he was running for President:
“Marijuana is against the law in the states and it should be enforced in all 50 states.”
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie warned. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
We can only hope that Chris Christie doesn’t become the next Attorney General of the United States.