The War on Weed: A Brief History of America’s Racist Cannabis Laws

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Cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells, save the lives of countless epileptic children, treat PTSD, heal bones, treat brain trauma, and a slew of other uses science is only beginning to understand. And yet, the only thing dangerous about this seemingly miraculous plant is that police will kidnap, cage, or kill you for possessing it.

To understand why the state is so adamant about locking people in cages over a plant, we have to look at the history of that plant’s prohibition.

WARNING: The conspiratorial stupidity and mania surrounding the prohibition of cannabis are massively infuriating. 

Using the data compiled at DrugLibrary.orgNick Panetta, the public relations director of UGA NORML sums up the history of drug war quite eloquently.

Historically, marijuana drug laws are the product of a lack of knowledge, and what must either be described as propaganda or complete lunacy. Prior to the federal Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, 27 states had passed laws against Marijuana. Those states could be categorized into three groups: Southwestern, Northeastern, and Utah.

Looking at the legislation, it’s obvious the Southwestern states outlawed marijuana to control an undesired Mexican population. It wasn’t marijuana that legislatures were fighting, it was its users; cheap Mexican labor was a problem. Congressmen rallied around statements such as, “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy”, and “Give one of these Mexican beet field workers a couple of puffs on a marijuana cigarette and he thinks he is in the bullring at Barcelona.”

Northeastern states had entirely different reasons for the ban. According to a 1919 New York Times editorial, “No one here in New York uses this drug marijuana. We have only just heard about it from down in the Southwest, but we had better prohibit its use before it gets here. Otherwise all the heroin and hard narcotics addicts…and all the alcohol drinkers…will substitute this new and unknown drug marijuana.”

Utah, however, enacted marijuana law for its own reasons. When the Mormon Church decreed polygamy a mistake in 1910, those in disagreement fled to Mexico. Failing to establish settlement, the group returned to Utah in 1914 with marijuana. The Church, opposed to euphoriants of any kind, declared marijuana prohibited and wrote it, with other religious prohibitions, into the state’s criminal law.

Meet Harry Anslinger:

With 27 states prohibiting marijuana, it wasn’t long until federal legislation tried to control this “growing problem”. Not yet able to mandate criminal law, a common states’ rights issue of the time, the legislation came in the form of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

marijuana-history

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 moved through congress very quickly. The Congressional committee hearings lasted one hour each over two days. The hearings featured several testimonies: Harry Anslinger (the newly named Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics), industry spokesmen for rope, paint, and birdseed, and medical testimony from Drs. James C. Munch and William C. Woodward.

Each argument can easily be paraphrased. Mr. Anslinger essentially said that marijuana was a “national menace”. The paint and rope spokesmen didn’t care; they could use other resources. The birdseed spokesman claimed they absolutely needed marijuana seeds to produce shiny coats, and to this day possess an exemption to use “denatured seeds.” Dr. Munch conducted an experiment, from which he couldn’t draw a conclusion. Dr. Woodward, a representative of the American Medical Association, stated, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug.”

The bill went to the Congressional floor on Aug. 20; it was there for less than two minutes. When asked what the bill concerned, the Speaker replied, “I don’t know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it’s a narcotic of some kind.”

When asked if the AMA supported the bill, one member of the committee replied, “They support this bill 100 percent.” This was a lie, but the bill passed anyway. It then cleared the Senate without debate, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law.

Afterward, Mr. Anslinger named Dr. Munch his expert witness; a position he held until 1962. During that time, Dr. Munch went on to repeatedly testify, “After two puffs on a marijuana cigarette, I was turned into a bat,” and claimed that he flew around the room for fifteen minutes before finding himself at the bottom of a two-hundred-foot high ink well.

From that point on, when the public perceived an increase in drug use, the answer was new criminal law with harsher penalties in every offense category. When the federal government discovered that organized crime was funded through illegal narcotics, even harsher penalties were enacted. Through repetition of this pattern, drug penalties increased eightfold over 20 years. The war on drugs had begun.

Enter Richard Nixon:

On June 18, 1971 President Richard Nixon stated in a press conference that drug abuse in the US was “public enemy number one” and declared a “war on drugs.” Although the Nixon administration claimed the action was a matter of public health, Nixon’s chief adviser later admitted the real target was blacks and hippies. In a 1994 interview with journalist Dan Baum, Nixon’s adviser John Daniel Ehrlichman stated,

“You want to know what this was really all about?” Ehrlichman bluntly asked Baum of the war on drugs. “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.”

According to Baum, that was the end of the conversation, “he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door,” recalls Baum.

What has ruined millions of lives and ended countless others, has been nothing more than a political play to remove the party’s opposition.

Those who continue this madness are either incredibly foolish or profiting from it. As the Former UN Secretary General said in an op-ed, “The war on drugs is a war on people.”

The time to end the drug war is now. Please share this article with your friends and family so that they will know the lunacy and corruption that led to the suppression of this amazing plant.


Matt Agorist is an honorably discharged veteran of the USMC and former intelligence operator directly tasked by the NSA. This prior experience gives him unique insight into the world of government corruption and the American police state. Agorist has been an independent journalist for over a decade and has been featured on mainstream networks around the world.


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About Matt Agorist

Matt Agorist is an honorably discharged veteran of the USMC and former intelligence operator directly tasked by the NSA. This prior experience gives him unique insight into the world of government corruption and the American police state. Agorist has been an independent journalist for over a decade and has been featured on mainstream networks around the world. Agorist is also the Editor at Large at the Free Thought Project. Follow @MattAgorist on Twitter, Steemit, and now on Minds.